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Cork is Ireland’s southernmost county and the starting point for our Wild Atlantic Way road trip. Cork’s coastline is spectacular and we loved every minute of every mile.
The rugged coastal scenery is as wild as you would imagine and the driving challenge of single track lanes and hairpin bends is unforgettable.
The Irish charm of the locals makes a great time guaranteed while you dine on amazing seafood, washed down with a pint of the black stuff.
The entire route is incredible and some roads stood out as exceptional. We’ve whittled the route down to bring you the best scenic drives in Cork.
Wild Atlantic Way, Cork: our route
In August 2016, we spent 2 weeks driving the Wild Atlantic Way in Counties Cork, Kerry and Clare. We’ll return in early 2017 to drive the rest of it. Here’s the route we took through County Cork.
Distance: 208 miles / 333 km Driving time: 7 hours
Best scenic drives in Cork
Kinsale to Courtmacsherry
If your Wild Atlantic Way road trip begins in Kinsale, you’re in for a treat to kick off your journey. The road hugs the rugged coastline between Kinsale and Courtmacsherry.
The cliffs at the Old Head of Kinsale will take your breath away. The road twists and turns, passing wonderful, isolated sandy coves and historic sites such as Timoleague Friary.
It is such a terrific road to begin the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s not too challenging, there lots to see and do along the way and the views are only a glimpse into what is yet to come.
The drive comes to the prettiest end at the village of Courtmacsherry. Even the cormorants stand by to admire the colourful high street!
Top tip: the Wild Atlantic Way is well signposted all along the route. Some of the best sights can be found just off the main route though, so try to explore a little and you’ll find your own hidden gems.
Distance: 26 miles / 42 km Driving time: 1 hour
Baltimore to Mizen Head
This leg of the Wild Atlantic Way is where we realised how the route deserves its name. This is the area that begins to get wild!
The hills are covered in a blanket of coarse, colourful heather and even in August, the Atlantic winds blow the cobwebs away. Don your walking boots and get out of the car on this scenic drive.
More inspiration: 15 incredible things to do & see in Cork
Baltimore has a fantastic walking route up to the huge white Beacon, marking the entrance to Baltimore harbour. The highlight from here is the views rather than the Beacon, just try not to get blown off! The road westwards is terrific and takes in the attractive town of Schull, a wonderful family friendly beach and culminates in at the dramatic cliffs of Mizen Head. It feels like a long drive but totally worth it.
Top tip: Barleycove Beach is an absolute highlight along the route. This is a must see and if the weather is dry, a perfect spot for a picnic. You won’t believe you’re in Ireland when you see this beach!
Distance: 38 miles / 60 km Driving time: 1 hour
Dursey Island to Eyeries Loop on the Ring of Beara
Essential Reading: A brief guide to driving the Ring of Beara
The Ring of Beara is a worthwhile drive around one of our favourite peninsulas on the Wild Atlantic Way. The most scenic stretch is this circular loop from the Dursey Island cable car to Eyeries village and back again.
On the east bound leg of the route, leave the coastal road at Allihies and drive along the Old Copper Road up past the copper mines.
The lane is almost an off road track with loose gravel and is quite rocky in parts. Even so, in a small 1.2 litre rental car, we had no problems driving around it.
The only people we met were walking the route and were somewhat surprised to see us driving it! Our intention was to walk the copper mine path too but as fair weather outdoors folk, and with the great Irish summer abandoning the Beara Peninsula for the day, we chose to drive it. And we’re so glad we did!
Essential reading: what to pack for Ireland
Top tip: Don’t miss a day out on Dursey Island (no cars allowed) and visiting the old copper mines along this route.
Distance: 31 miles / 50 km Driving time: 2 hours
Look at it! Healy Pass is a dream road. Because it’s often overlooked by tourists in favour of the Ring of Kerry route, you’ll meet hardly any other drivers.
Healy Pass was created by Timothy Michael Healy during Ireland’s famine years to help prevent starvation, serving as a short cut across the Beara Peninsula and joining Cork and Kerry.
The road twists, winds and turns through the desolate landscape of the Caha mountain range. With scenery littered with rocks and grazing sheep, waterfalls and lakes it’s an exhilarating journey.
We’d recommend driving Healy Pass south to north because as you reach the highest point of the pass, the view of Glanmore Lake in the distance is breathtaking.
We love this road so much we drove it in both directions and consider it top of our list of the best scenic drives in Cork.
Distance: 8 miles / 12 km Driving time: 1/2 hour
These routes were the best scenic drives in Cork that we drove on part 1 of our Wild Atlantic Way road trip. Let us know of other scenic drives in Cork we may have missed.