South-West Ireland Visitors' Guide - Irish Travel.
The Ring of KerryThe Ring of Kerry

South West IrelandTravel Guide

South West Ireland

The coastline of the South West is a meandering mix of inlets, coves and peninsulas, so there is plenty of opportunity for cliff-top walks and rambles. Inland, the landscape is scarcely less rugged: throughout the region, farmland is interspersed with rocky outcrops and bogs which break up the luscious green vistas.

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Top Attractions in the South West

Discover the world famous attractions of Ireland's South West

1 Cork City

Top Attraction
Shopping & Souvenirs

It's the second largest city in the Republic but the locals call Cork "the real capital of Ireland". They might not be the most impartial judges, but many visitors are inclined to agree, leaving this compact and alluring destination with an enduring fondness and a full belly: Cork is known throughout Ireland for its exceptional food.

Port of Cork City
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If you're sampling any of Cork's many pubs, be sure to try a pint of Murphy's – the city's answer to Dublin's more famous Guinness.

Insider Tips

Perhaps the best way to experience this charming and friendly seaport is on foot, though be aware that it is a little hilly! A signposted walking tour will guide you past St. Finn Barre's Cathedral and the riverside quadrangle of University College to the panoramic viewing point of Shandon Church tower.

2 Blarney Castle

Situated five miles north-west of Cork city, Blarney Castle is a solid fixture on almost any tour itinerary. It is best known for the famous "Blarney Stone" which visitors are encouraged to kiss, in accordance with a tradition which spans the centuries.

Blarney Castle, County Cork
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Built 600 years ago by Cormac MacCarthy, one of Ireland's greatest chieftains, Blarney Castle has attracted millions of visitors who continue to flock here in the hope that they will be gifted with the power of persuasive and elegant speech - or, as we call it in Ireland ... Blarney.

Insider Tips

The spiral steps up to the famous Blarney Stone can feel very narrow at peak times. Those with limited mobility should proceed slowly and carefully however many people may be waiting behind.

3 Dingle

Top Attraction
Irish Pub Experience

If you look up the word 'quaint' in a dictionary, don't be surprised to find a little picture of Dingle, a fishing port full of charm and allure. Expect its narrow streets to be bustling with visitors during high season. When you're ready to take time out, stop off at one of the many small Irish pubs and enjoy a pint of Guinness with the locals.

Dingle, County Kerry
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This picture is from Dingle Whiskey Distillery which is well worth a visit if you're partial to a tipple.

Insider Tips

Self-drive tourists should keep in mind that the roads leading to Dingle a quite twisty and narrow and you will likely come across some tour buses en route. Turn off the radio, tell the kids to pipe down and enjoy a slow, safe journey to a destination that is well worth the trip.

4 Jameson Distillery

Top Attraction
Irish Pub Experience

Even since production moved to a modern facility nearby, the world-famous Old Midleton Distillery continues to draw huge numbers of visitors who are as curious about The Jameson Experience as ever before. Over 130,000 tourists visit Midleton ever year to learn more about the home of Irish whiskey.

Jameson Distillery, Cork, Ireland
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The charm and elegance of the original distillery buildings reflect the pride in the product that was made here. Expect an engaging insight into the culture and history of Ireland, told through one of the nation's most famous exports.

Jameson Irish Whiskey was founded by John Jameson in 1780. The company was originally set up in the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin City. The operation remained in Dublin until 1975 when it relocated to Midleton, County Cork.

At the beginning of the tour there is a very informative audio-visual presentation detailing the whiskey making process used by Jameson throughout the ages. You are then taken to the old distillery dotted along the trail there are antique vehicles, water mills, barrels and casks which really add to the sense of heritage.

The final leg of the tour is the pay-off... a glass of Jameson! There is the option to have this straight up or with Ginger & Lime. If you are quick enough to volunteer there is a comparative tasting of an Irish whiskey, a Scottish whiskey and an American bourbon with an explanation on the differences and making of each.

Insider Tips

Road signs to the Distilery are not as obvious or as plentiful as you might expect. Drivers should plan their directions before they set off.

5 The Ring of Kerry

Top Attraction
Great Outdoors

Ireland's longest circular route covers some staggeringly beautiful scenery, including lakes, beaches, glens, castle ruins, off-shore islands, mountains and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean to the west. A journey around the Ring of Kerry is a must for any first-time visitor to Ireland.

Knockatee Loop on the Ring of Kerry
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In a car or bus, the Ring of Kerry's 180 km can provide distractions enough to fill a day, but there is no shortage of places to stay overnight and, depending on your interests, you can certainly find plenty of interesting diversions to make it a trip of two or more days.

Insider Tips

The route can also be cycled or even walked. Look out for the 230km "Kerry Way", Ireland's longest way-marked trail, which passes through towns such as Glenbeigh, Caherciveen, Waterville, Sneem and Kenmare. During the peak season the Ring of Kerry (or Iveragh Peninsula) can be quite slow moving, especially heading in the anti-clockwise direction favoured by tour buses. So sit back, relax and enjoy the mesmerising views.

6 Killarney

Top Attraction
Shopping & Souvenirs

The definitive Irish tourist town, Killarney has something for everyone and, after Dublin, is generally the first place name to be added to the itinerary of any Ireland tour.

Cahernane House, Killarney, Co. Kerry
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Though perhaps offering fewer historical and cultural attractions than its east-coast counterparts, Killarney more than makes up for this with the welcoming bustle of the town itself and the staggering natural beauty of its neighbouring namesake, the national park just five minutes' drive away.

The town of Killarney will provide ample diversion for those looking to go shopping and those looking for a Guinness and some traditional music. For the many who choose to do both, there is no shortage of good restaurants to segue your daytime and nighttime activities in the town.

Insider Tips

Those who are seeking a little culture during their time in the South West should head to the heart of the Killarney National Park, where they will find the region's most impressive stately home, Muckross House. Just one mile away, you will also find Muckross Abbey, a beautiful construction which - after two hundred years of service - was burned to ruins by Cromwell's troops in 1652.

7 Cork City Gaol

Great for Returners
History & Culture

As a city, Cork retains a great deal of its historical and archaeological heritage, and there is no finer example of this than Cork City Gaol, a towering edifice situated just 2km north-west of Patrick's Street. Opened in 1824, the gaol was heralded as "the finest in three kingdoms", though inmates at the time might not have agreed.

Inside Cork City Gaol
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Located in the Sunday's Well area of Cork, Cork City Gaol is currently a museum and visitor attraction. Visitors can step back in time and witness what life would have been like for both prisoners and guards of Ireland's most famous gaol. Open 1824 to replace the old Gaol of Northgate Bridge it soon became seen as marvel of architecture and a feat in logistics for its time.

In its hay day of the 19th and early 20th Centauries Cork City Gaol was home to some of Ireland's most notorious prisoners. During the early 1800's the gaol's walls housed many temporary prisoners before they were taken to convict ships bound for Australia. Later in the same century the gaol's guests included Young Irelanders Derry Lane, Terence Bellew McManus and Ralph and Isaac Varian. In the 20th century its most famous prisoners included Fenians James Mountaine and Brian Dillion and revolutionary nationalist Countess Markievicz.

Today the gaol has been redesigned as a visitor centre, refurbishing the cells as they would have been hundreds of years ago. Original scrawlings on the walls of the cells added with eerily realistic wax figures of both guards and prisoners give the whole experience a very voyeuristic feel.

Unlike their predecessors, visitors today have the freedom to roam the gaol's catacombs for the price of €8 (concessions available). The tour takes visitors back in time, recreating the harsh realities of nineteenth-century incarceration, while exploring some of the underlying causes of contemporaneous crime.

The self-guided tour of the gaol is available in 13 different languages. Cork City Gaol has a souvenir shop, tourist information, picnic area and a cafe.

Insider Tips

Be warned that this is an old stone building and prisoners here did not enjoy the benefits of central heating. Wrap up warm if you tend to feel the cold.

8 Cork City Museum

Great for Returners
History & Culture

Built in 1845 the Cork Public Museum known then as The Shrubberies is located on the grounds of Fitzgerald Park. It was originally built by Beamish family and was for years their family home. Cork Corporation eventually purchased the house and its surrounding land and used it as a showcase for the Cork International Exhibition of 1902 and 1903.

Cork Museum
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The museum officially opened in 1910 but after the burning of Cork City in 1920 it was used as the city's Municipal Offices. After being used as an Air Raid Protection office during World War II the museum finally opened in 1945.

Today, the Museum gives an expansive history of Cork and covers a wide selection of topics. Everything from barrel-top caravans to costumes of the 18th century, from Ireland's oldest shovel to a selection of Cork Silver can be found within the museum exhibitions.

The Riverside Café has recently opened within the Museum and gives visitors the perfect opportunity to enjoy the marvellous views. Cork Public Museum really has something for all ages and, if the weather holds up, a walk around the magnificent Fitzgerald Park is a must.

Insider Tips

A good museum for those with children. It's quite small and interactive. If they get bored or restless, the park outside is a great place for them to let off steam.

Fitzgerald Park

Opened to the public in 1906 and has since become a bustling attraction for both visitors to Cork City and locals alike. The magnificent gardens of the houses of Sunday's Well can be seen from one side of the Museum while the roadside view is flanked by buildings owned by University College Cork.

9 Kinsale

Great for Returners
Shopping & Souvenirs

Bring your Euro and a sense of curiosity as you explore the small, Bohemian shops which line the narrow streets. A favourite destination for international and Irish visitors, Kinsale is hugely popular on our own Ireland tours.

Kinsale Harbour, County Cork
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Insider Tips

The tourist information offers maps of the narrow shopping streets which surround it in Kinsale centre. This is the starting point for most of the local walking tours.

10 Franciscan Well Brewery

Great for Returners
Irish Pub Experience

The Franciscan Well Brewery was founded in 1998 by Shane Long. It was built on the site of an old Franciscan Monastery. It is said that the well within this monastery had was given to curing the aliments of those who drank from it. People would come from across Ireland to make use of its miraculous powers.

Brewers, operating from the well today, still harness its unique output while adding modern technology and techniques learned from across Europe. It is currently Ireland Number 1 Craft Brewery. The Franciscan Well have collaborated with fellow Cork drink makers Jameson Whiskey to create a truly Corkonian beverage a Jameson-Aged Stout.

Franciscan Well Cork
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The brewery is where new drink ideas are formed and if they pass the brewers standards they are then served up at the Brew Pub in Cork City. If they are successful here then they will be exported further afield.

The Brew Pub, located within the original brewery on Cork City's North Mall, is currently one of the city's hot spots. It's a modern pub with an historical twist. The original brewing vat sits in the middle of the beer garden, alongside a huge pizza oven. The latest creations from the brewery are tested by the clientele and, if the weather holds out, entire evenings can be spent arguing about the best pizza and beer combination.

The inside of the pub, built on the burial ground of the old monastery, is also a fantastic spot to sample some of Cork's finest delights ...as long as you don't mind the occasional ghost.

Insider Tips

Arrive hungry and try the freshly baked pizza which is available in the beer garden out back. Delicious, salty dough that makes you want to linger for just one more trip to the bar!

Our own visit

We couldn't resist visiting this amazing brewery ourselves to sample the legendary beers and pizza. Click here to find out how our visit went.

11 Kenmare & Sneem

Great for Returners
Bring your Camera

Ideal for a lunchtime stop more than a full-day excursion, Kenmare and Sneem both give a great insight into the relaxed pace of life which characterises this part of Ireland. Pull up a chair and take your time over a nice coffee ... or maybe a Guinness.

St Patrick's Day in Sneem, County Kerry
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Insider Tips

The more spiritually-minded might enjoy a detour to Kenmare Stone Circle. But some visitors find the €2 entrance fee to be an all-too-earthly welcome to such a mystical spot.

12 Kerry Bog Village Museum

Great for Returners
History & Culture

A living-history museum, Kerry Bog Village offers a heritage-award-winning insight into the harsh realities of life for the rural poor in famine-ravaged eighteenth-century Ireland. Thatched cottages within the village are decorated and furnished to represent, with well-researched exactitude, the real-life experiences of those who lived their lives in this part of Ireland during the nation's harshest times. A valuable and rewarding trip if you want to understand this chapter of Ireland's history.

Kerry Bog Village Museum
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Insider Tips

Stop for an Irish coffee to warm the cockles!

13 Skellig Michael

Great for Returners
Religion & Spirituality

Today, the Skellig Islands themselves are a birdwatcher's paradise. During the boat trip out to the Islands themselves, you can expect to see gannets, kittiwakes and storm petrels. Skellig Michael has also, in recent years, been part of the set of the newly rebooted Star Wars movie franchise. Click here to find other famous on-screen destinations in Ireland.

Puffins on Skellig Michael
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Insider Tips

The 90-minute boat ride is worth every minute but be warned that the crossing can get a bit choppy. Take travel sickness tablets if you get sea sick!

14 Elizabeth Fort

Great for Returners
History & Culture

Elizabeth Fort was built in 1601 by Sir George Carewan and was named after Queen Elizabeth I. It is located outside the medieval walls of Cork City, Originally built on wood, stone and mud it is torn down within two years by the people of Cork after the death of Queen Elizabeth. English reinforcements are brought in and seize control. The people of Cork are forced to pay for the forts reconstruction

Elizabeth Fort, Cork City
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In 1626 the fort is rebuilt in stone. The design takes on the present day star shape and the majority of the fort from this rebuild survives today. Oliver Cromwell orders the fort walls the be heightened in 1650.

During the 18th century the fort is used as an army barracks. Including the barracks in the nearby Barrack Street, there are 750 soldiers housed here. In the early 19th century the fort is used as a prison for convicts waiting on transportation to Australia. In 1929 the Fort became a Garda station and was in use as such up until 2013.

Today the Fort is a free visitor attraction and a fascinating step back into history. There are different aspects of each of the stages of the forts history including statues of soldiers, cannons and model radio control rooms. Probably the most spectacular part of the tour today is the view that visitors receive of Cork City and the nearby St.Finbarr's Cathedral.

Insider Tips

Parts of the fort, the car park and the restrooms are all wheelchair accessible, making this one of the city's more appealing historical buildings for those with lower mobility.

15 English Market

Great for Returners
Shopping & Souvenirs

The English Market is a food market which connects Princes Steet and The Grand Parade in Cork City. It has been in its present location, in one form or another, since 1788.

The English Market, Cork City
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The name 'The English Market' was thought up in the 19th Century to differentiate it from The Irish Market (currently the Bodega on Cornmarket Street). From 1788 until 1980 the interior of the market changed very little. A fire on 19 June 1980 saw the Cork City Council undertake an extensive refurbishment of the property.

Today the market is a focal point for Cork's shoppers. The diversity of its products, friendliness of its traders and its overall aesthetic beauty ensure both locals and visitors to the Cork City flock to its stall on a daily basis. Queen Elizabeth II, on her 2011 Tour of Ireland, made sure to drop by The English Market to take a look around.

Breaks from the shopping can also be enjoyed in the market's cafes. The ready to eat hot dogs, from one of the many butchers, are also an unmissable treat. So if you are in Cork and are looking for the best quality food, exotics produce or simply going for a stroll, a visit to The English Market is essential.

One amazing treat that we came across was in The English Market was The Chocolate Shop. A delightful one stop shop for the finest chocolates found throughout Europe. They are completely independent and are not tied down to any particular manufacturer. They only stock chocolate that passes their standard... and wow, it's quite a standard. A must for any chocolate lover in Cork City.

Insider Tips

If you're staying in self-catered accommodation in Cork, then the Market is a must. Lots of the produce available here is fresh meat and fish. A dream for any visiting foodie. There are also lots of ready-to-eat delights available to enjoy while you wander round.

16 Shandon Bells

Great for Returners
History & Culture

Built in 1722 and overlooking North Gate Bridge, Shandon Tower is one of the most Famous members of Cork City's skyline. Originally the site housed St. Mary's Church before it relocated to Shandon Street in 1693. At the start of the 18th century the area around Shandon became the hub of the world's butter trade.

Shandon Tower, Shandon Street, Cork, Ireland
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The famous Red and White sporting colours of the Cork teams in both Gaelic Football and Hurling are said to have their origins within the walls of Shandon Tower. The North and East walls are made of red sandstone while the South and West walls are made of a white ashlar limestone.

The eight bells of The Shandon Tower are accessible through steep steps which takes you up past the clockwork operating the four sized clockface. These clock faces became known locally as 'the four faced liar' due to the four clocks seemingly never showing the same time. The salmon shaped weather vane known as 'the goldie fish' is four meters long and covered in gold leaf.

Caulfield Orpen designed the The World War one memorial and is said to be one of the finest of its kind. There are five stunning stained glass windows including St. Luke's window by Hubert McGoldrick. After climbing the 132 steps the views on Cork City are nothing short of breathtaking. Ringing the bells that are heard across the city of Cork is a once in a life time experience.

Insider Tips

A bucket-list experience for anyone who wants to ring church bells, but a less attractive prospect for anyone with mobility issues. You should arrive expecting lots of narrow steps.

17 Beara Peninsula

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

The Beara Peninsula runs along Ireland's south west coast, between Kenmare Bay in County Kerry and Bantry Bay in County Cork. There is evidence of human settlements in the Beara Peninsula dating back to 3,000 B.C. In the 17th century the area was used by the British army against French invasion. There are currently 6,000 people living here, before the Great Famine of the 1840's there was almost 40,000. It is home to two mountain ranges, Slieve Miskish Mountains & Caha Mountains, and is part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

A lone sheep on the Beara Peninsula, Soutb West Ireland
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Insider Tips

To get the most out of this beautiful and expansive landscape, a car will almost certainly be needed. Hire a car in Cork or seek out a local tour guide to show you the best local spots.

Our own visit

On hearing about the rejuvenating tranquility of this magical place, we couldn't resist a visit of our own. Find out more about our journey to the Beara Peninsula

18 Torc Waterfall

Great for Returners
Bring your Camera

Located 5 miles from the County Kerry town of Killarney, Torc Waterfall is one of the town's more spectacular tourist attractions. The surrounding woodland is heavily populated with red deer. A public hike leads from the waterfall to the top of Torc Mountain. The waterfall is one of the highlights of the 120-mile Kerry Walking tour.

Torc Waterfall, Killarney, County Kerry
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Insider Tips

If you would like a slightly longer hike there is a loop trail that takes you up and around the falls for a beautiful view of the lake and then down into the meadow where you might even see wild deer.

19 Black Valley

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

The Black Valley is area of MacGillycuddy's Reeks in western County Kerry. The Black Valley is seen as the remote part of MacGillycuddy's Reeks, MacGillycuddy's Reeks is seen as a remote part of Ireland. The area was the last part of Ireland to be connected with electricity and telephone networks, (1979). The valley is located between the Gap of Dunloe to the north and Moll's Gap to the south.

Black Valley,  County Kerry
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Insider Tips

There are lots of B&Bs, hostels and other acommodation options in the area, making this a beautiful spot for a secluded overnight retreat. However, keep in mind that most pubs and eateries are 25-30 minutes' drive away.

20 Inch Beach

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

Inch Beach, contrary to its name, is a 3 mile long blue flag beach. It is not one of the best kept secrets but, due to it remote location, is usually only visited by people in its vicinity. If you are lucky enough to be near by on a good weather day you won't want to be anywhere else on the planet. It is a haven for bathing, angling and water sports. Inch Beach is located 14 miles east of the town of Dingle, County Kerry.

Inch Beach, on the coast of County Kerry
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Insider Tips

This is a very popular spot for kite surfing but many visitors will get just as much enjoyment by simply packing a camera!

Where to stay

Hotels

Bed & Breakfasts

  • Taobh Coille County Kerry

    A high quality guesthouse found in the idyllic Kerry village of Kells ,Cahirciveen. Enjoy picturesque views of Dingle Bay. Taobh Coille is a working farm, ensuring a fresh breakfast every morning.

  • +353-(0)66-947 7626
  • taobhcoille.com
  • agnesosullivankells@eircom.net

Hostels

Bru Bar & Hostel Cork City

Lively hostel accommodation, a stones throw from Cork City Bus Station. Choose from private rooms to 4 & 6 bed dorms. Friendly staff and live music 7 nights a week.

Kinlay House Cork City

Hostel accommodation for individuals or groups of 100 guests. Five minutes from the city centre bars, cafés, restaurants, and attractions.

Top of the Rock Cork City

Drimoleague, West Cork, the heart of West Cork's wonderful walkways where every corner is an adventure.

Mount Brandon Hostel Cork City

Located at the foot of Mount Brandon on both the Wild Atlantic Way and Dingle Way, Mount Brandon Hostel is the ideal base for hillwalkers, surfers and anglers visiting the region.

Food and Drink

Restaurants

Liberty Grill Cork

Greenes Restaurant Cork

The Castle Cafe Cork

Cafe Paradiso Cork

The SpitJack Cork

Isaac's Cork

Cornstore Cork

Feed your Senses Cork

The French Table Limerick

The ButteryLimerick

The Copper Room Limerick

Taikichi Limerick

AZUR Limerick

Cronins RestaurantKerry

Mick & Jimmy's RestaurantKerry

Irish Pubs

Fionbarra's Cork

Franciscan WellCork

The Idle Hour Cork

The Hi-BCork

Tom Barry's Cork

The Crane Lane Cork

Castle Inn Cork

Dolan's Limerick

Jerry Flannery'sLimerick

The Locke Bar Limerick

North Star Pub Limerick

Dick Macks Kerry

West Kerry BreweryKerry

Blind PiperKerry

Traditional Fish and Chips

KC & Son & Sons Cork

Jackie Lennox Cork

Golden Fry Cork

Dino's Cork

Bartie's Cork

Chish N Fips Cork

Luigi's Limerick

Donkey Ford'sLimerick

Rio's Limerick

Enzo's Limerick

Kanon’s Korner Kerry

Mike's Take AwayKerry

Quinlans Fish & ChipKerry

Other Regions of Ireland

Find the attractions and destinations of the other regions of Ireland here.

Guinness Barrels
Dublin
  • Visit here for:
  • Guiness Storehouse
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • Trinity College
East Ireland
East
  • Visit here for:
  • Glendalough Monastic Site
  • Castletown House
  • Brú na Bóinne
Kilkenny Castle
South East
  • Visit here for:
  • Kilkenny City
  • Rock of Cashel
  • Tintern Abbey
Cliffs of Moher
West
  • Visit here for:
  • Wild Atlantic Way
  • Cliffs of Moher
  • Clonmacnoise Monastic Site
Giant's Causeway
Northern Ireland
  • Visit here for:
  • Belfast City
  • Titanic
  • Giant's Causeway
Irish Music
North West
  • Visit here for:
  • Belfast City
  • Titanic
  • Giant's Causeway