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. The South West is also home to two of Ireland's top tourist towns: with good reason, Killarney and Cork are firm fixtures on the to-do lists of most first-time visitors to Ireland.
In recent years, the towns and their people have become the main attractions of the southwest. Boasting the likes of Kinsale, Clonakilty, Kenmare, Killarney, and Dingle, to name but a few, the Counties of Cork and Kerry have become synonymous friendly, welcoming atmospheres, vibrant nightlife, and stunning scenery.
The region is also home to world-famous attractions such as the Blarney Castle, the English Market, the Ring of Kerry and the Jameson Distillery. Below we have drawn up a list of the essential visits during your time in the southwest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This picture is from Dingle Whiskey Distillery which is well worth a visit if you're partial to a tipple.
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.
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 every year to learn more about the home of Irish whiskey.
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.
Road signs to the Distillery are not as obvious or as plentiful as you might expect. Drivers should plan their directions before they set off.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Opened in 1824 to replace the old Gaol of Northgate Bridge it soon became seen as a 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 1800s, 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ailments 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 their unique output while adding modern technology and techniques learned from across Europe. It is currently Ireland Number 1 Craft Brewery. The Franciscan Well has collaborated with fellow Cork drink makers Jameson Whiskey to create a truly Corkonian beverage a Jameson-Aged Stout.
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 a 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stop for an Irish coffee to warm the cockles!
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.
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 seasick!
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
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 fort's 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.
Parts of the fort, the car park and the restrooms are all wheelchair accessible, making this one of the city's more appealing historic buildings for those with lower mobility.
The English Market is a food market that 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 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 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.
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 around.
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.
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 white ashlar limestone.
The eight bells of The Shandon Tower are accessible through steep steps that take you up past the clockwork operating the four sized clockfaces. 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 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 lifetime experience.
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.
The Beara Peninsula runs along Ireland's southwest 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 the French invasion. There are currently 6,000 people living here. Before the Great Famine of the 1840s, there were almost 40,000. It is home to two mountain ranges, Slieve Miskish Mountains & Caha Mountains, and is part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
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.
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
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.
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.
The Black Valley is an 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.
There are lots of B&Bs, hostels and other accommodation 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.
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 its remote location, is usually only visited by people in its vicinity. If you are lucky enough to be nearby 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.
This is a very popular spot for kite surfing but many visitors will get just as much enjoyment by simply packing a camera!
Cork is served by an international airport with connections to 49 European destinations. The airport is just 8km from the city centre and is well served by local taxis and buses. Flights from non-European cities are only possible via Dublin or with a European stop-over. Taxis from the airport are available directly outside the terminal. Details for the airport-to-city bus service (journey time: 10-20 mins, bus numbers 226, 226A and 252) can be found here.
You have a number of options if you're travelling from Cork Airport to Kerry. To drive will take an hour and 30 minutes. There are a number of car rental companies located in the arrivals hall of Cork Airport. There is no direct bus from Cork Airport to Kerry but Parnell Bus Station operates a route to Tralee, the bus between Cork Airport and the city leaves every 30 minutes during the day. The same bus can also take you to Kent Railway Station in Cork City, from here you can catch a train to either Killarney or Tralee.
If you are flying to Ireland from North America your best bet is to fly into Dublin Airport and head southwest from there. Unfortunately, there is no longer a flight connecting Dublin and Cork airports. If you are renting a car, Dublin Airport has numerous car rental companies on its grounds. The journey to Cork City will take 2 hours and 50 minutes (travelling on the M7 and M8 motorways). Travelling to Killarney will take 3 hours and 40 minutes (travelling on the M7 motorway). The most popular way to travel from Dublin Airport to Cork is via the bus. The direct services of GoBe Expressway or Aircoach are a cheap and hassle-free way to travel. To travel to Kerry from Dublin Airport means travelling to Heuston Station in Dublin City (route 747) and from there taking the express service to Killarney (M7 Express Service).
The best way to travel to the southwest from Shannon Airport (in County Clare) is by bus. Bus Eireann's Route 51 travels to Cork City, via Limerick. The bus from Shannon Airport to Kerry would also require a change over in Limerick. You can rent a car at Shannon Airport and drive the relatively short distance to either Cork or Kerry (1 hour and 50 minutes to Cork City & 1 hour 57 minutes to Killarney).
There are two primary places that buses and coaches stop in Cork. The first is Parnell Place bus station. This is the main bus terminal for all of the state-run buses in and out of Cork. The other location (Patricks Quay) is just across the river via a footbridge from the main station. This is where all the private bus companies pick up an drop off passengers. Both of these are right in the city centre. Both are also an easy walk to Patrick Street – the main street of Cork and also the ideal place to catch buses for local journeys.
The main bus stations in Kerry are found in the towns of Tralee and Killarney. Both of these connect Kerry with bus routes to and from the larger towns and cities of Ireland. The bus from Dublin City to Tralee takes 3 hours and 40 minutes and Killarney takes 3 hours and 48 minutes.
Kent Station is Cork city's only railway station. It is within easy walking distance of the city centre (journey time: 10 minutes walking). You will find information about trains to and from Cork here. Top Tip: Tickets are much cheaper online so it is worth booking ahead.
The towns of Killarney and Tralee are home to Kerry's two main train stations. You can find routes in and out of these stations to and from larger towns and cities across Ireland. Both Killarney and Tralee train stations are located in their town centres.
Arriving in Cork by car is quite straight forward. The city is well serviced by motorways and there is a clear ring road around the city. The best city centre location to aim for is Parnell Place bus station. This is close enough to the edge of the city to not be stuck in traffic and also close enough to the centre to make it an easy walk. There are a number of multi-story car parks in the centre (see here). Alternatively, if you do not want to go into the city centre, there is a park-and-ride system which is available here.
Kerry also has a great road network between its main towns. Like most counties in Ireland, once you go beyond the primary and secondary roads in Kerry everything seems a lot more compact and narrow. This is especially true on the infamous roads of the Ring of Kerry.
There are direct ferry services to Cork harbour (20 minutes from the city) from France and Spain. There are also ferry services to Ireland from the UK and the Isle of Man. These arrive in places like Rosslare (3 hours from Cork) and Dublin (3.5 hours from Cork). You will find more information on Ferry routes to ireland here.
Cork is well served by a reliable bus service and you're well advised to look into bus routes before making any final decisions about student accommodation.
The most common bus routes for UCC and CIT students are the 205, 208 and 219.
The city benefits from an affordable bike hire scheme which can be a very cost-effective (and eco-friendly) way of getting to and from your places of study. Cork has a total of 32 pick-up and drop-off stations, two of which are in the vicinity of UCC.
An annual pass costs just €10. Thereafter, the first 30 minutes of each journey is free and trips lasting up to one hour cost just €0.50. Find out more...
A good taxi cab service is in operation throughout Cork and you can find the main taxi rank situated conveniently in the centre of Patrick Street. Some taxis are licensed to pick up passengers on demand (known as hackney carriages), others are for advanced bookings only.
A taxi from Patrick Street to UCC might cost in the region of €5-8 depending on traffic. The same journey to CIT's Bishopstown campus would be more like €8-12.