West Cork is a foodie paradise, a place apart, with endless kilometres of wave-lashed Atlantic coast, hidden villages, market-towns and small, family run farms which specialise in quality, often organic, produce. Cork City is the gateway to West Cork and the Wild Atlantic Way, which follows the coastline around to Kerry.
This route will take you on a meandering, relaxed route through West Cork and back towards the City. However, some of the places we mention operate on a seasonal basis, so make sure to click through to their websites to check on opening dates & times. And if you are arriving in early September, make sure to check out A Taste of West Cork – a free-wheeling, event-packed festival celebrating all that is unique about West Cork.
Some 26kms or 35 minutes’ drive from Cork City – the historic fishing harbour town of Kinsale is one of the great foodie towns of Ireland. Its narrow medieval streets are packed with places to eat, for breakfast, try 9 Market Street for simple yet wholesome fare or the Lemon Leaf Cafe for a lengthy breakfast menu that’s very big on organic, healthy options (also, pancakes).
From Kinsale – drive west for 20 minutes to the pretty village of Innishannon, where you can stop at Rohu's Country Market for sandwiches or picnic supplies. Or just ten minutes further down the road in the market town of Bandon, you will find Urru Culinary Store & Cafe, a one-stop shop for everything foodie related in West Cork and where they can make you up a picnic hamper for the road ahead.
If it’s already approaching lunchtime, stop off in Bandon (just 20kms from Kinsale) at The Poachers Inn and award winning, seafood heavy gastropub fare (as recommended by the Michelin Eating Out In Pubs Guide since 2008).
Or - continue on to Leap village and turn left for Glandore (55kms) a tiny village high up on a hill over a harbour. Stop off at Hayes Bar & Kitchen for great light lunches, with chowder and smoked fish plates a speciality. It’s a gorgeous spot, looking over the little harbour.
After lunch, cross over the road bridge from Glandore to the other side of the bay and the fishing village of Union Hall and visit Union Hall Smoked Fish where you can buy smoked delicacies from their store.
Or – climb into a sea-kayak and go on a three-hour seaweed foraging tour along the coast with Atlantic Sea Kayaking in Union Hall – learn how to harvest and use edible seaweed and other foraged foodstuff from the West Cork coast.
From Union Hall – it’s just 10kms to Skibbereen and the acclaimed Good Things Cafe, where chef Carmel Somers has an inventive vegan, coeliac and vegetarian friendly menu with a focus on using local, seasonal and, where possible, organic ingredients.
Skibbereen also has a very lively, very busy Farmer's Market on Saturdays. One of the best in West Cork.
Or – For your evening meal, you can travel 10kms from Union Hall to Mary Ann's Pub & Restaurant in Castletownshend. This Michelin Guide-rated gastropub is in a low-beamed, 15th Century coach house and tavern. If you need to work up an appetite, visit nearby Drishane House & Gardens – a Georgian gem looking out over a typically gorgeous West Cork bay.
Or - for a very special occasion, make a trip to The Island Cottage Restaurant on Hare Island. This tiny cottage, which you can only reach by a small ferry boat, hosts a very small number of diners during the summer season. The set menu features what is taken from local fields or waters that day. It’s a unique place but is very popular and has a limited number of tables – so do try to book well ahead.
Also – If you have the time, enjoy a unique learning experience at the Firehouse Bread School attached to the cottage restaurant on Hare Island, travel by boat across the bay to the school and enjoy a one-day course in bread baking in this magical setting.
Head to the Kalbos Cafe – healthy, hearty breakfasts are on offer in this family run café, using mostly West Cork ingredients. Their Gubbeen Bacon Butty with Caramelised Onion & Brown Sauce will set you up for a morning’s exploration.
Travel On To – It’s a 15 minute drive from Skibbereen to Glebe House & Gardens - a grand Georgian farmhouse on five acres of gardens and fields on the coast close to the gorgeous fishing village of Baltimore. The Glebe was crowned Ireland’s Best Café & Teashop as recently as 2015. It’s a magical place for brunch, lunch or just mid-morning tea and cake. Just picture taking tea in the cosy, country kitchen of your dreams.
Also Nearby - There is The Mews Restaurant in the scenic harbour village of Baltimore, fine dining in a gorgeous setting. If you wish to stay a little longer in the area, this is the perfect place for a special evening meal.
From Baltimore, you can travel about an hour (54kms) to Clonakilty, where you can have lunch in Deasy's Harbour Bar & Restaurant (it’s just outside Clonakilty, which is also about a 40 minute drive from Skibbeereen). Deasy’s offers the perfect traditional pub setting with food that is anything but commonplace. Fresh salads, seafood and inventive use of seasonal, local ingredients make this Michelin Pub Guide recommended gastropub a little gem far off the beaten track. Worth finding.
Or - just beyond Clonakilty on the road back towards Cork City, you will find the village of Timoleague. Try Monks Lane for food and wine in a gorgeous setting, or Dillons Restaurant for a pure West Cork gastronomic experience.
Clonakilty and Timoleague are also home to the Lettercollum Kitchen Project – a country store, organic garden and cooking classes collective which celebrates and promotes the best of West Cork growing and making.
From Clonakilty to the small pleasure boat harbour of Crosshaven, it’s a one-hour, 60km drive. This village is home to the Royal Cork Yacht Club (founded in 1702, the oldest in the world) and the famous Cronin's Pub & Mad Fish Restaurant – a very quirky Victorian sailor’s pub with an award-winning seafood restaurant (listed in the Michelin Pub Guide).
Or – Near Crosshaven, in the little bay of Myrtleville, look for Bunny Connellan's Restaurant, in a very scenic, cliff-top setting, for seafood & more.
From Crosshaven, it’s just a 30 minute, 22km drive back to the city and the end of a two-day West Cork foodie odyssey which will have shown you some of the very best of this stunning part of Ireland.
These are just some of the great places to eat and drink in and visit in West Cork. It is a beautiful, wild region, steeped in food culture that takes influences from the land, the sea, a great tradition of farming and from the many new arrivals who now call this place home.
West Cork deserves exploring and rewards the adventurous. If you can, take your time, go off road and discover it for yourself.