The rebel county has a ton of beautiful islands worth exploring. Why stay on the mainland when there are islands calling!

We bet you’ve been to Cork but have you been to one of Cork’s many islands. My daydreams have long consisted of setting sail (aka hopping on a ferry) to explore or stay on a little gem of an island. It is a core trait of a good adventure. Cork is one of only six counties in the country to have permanent island communities, having seven inhabited islands in the West Cork Islands group and a large number of islands that are uninhabited.

Whether you are a naturalist, a bird-watcher, an explorer or just simply looking for some peace, you’ll find what you are looking for here on one of these stunning islands in Cork. If its craic you want, we recommend postponing your trip until the third weekend of June, where every year the West Cork Islands invite you to discover them and become an ‘Islander’ at their annual West Cork Islands Festival.

1. Inchydoney Island

Inchydoney is a hidden paradise off Ireland’s west coast. Far from the crowds, it is a place where luxury and adventure collide. Spend your days exploring the rugged beauty of West Cork by kayak, bike, or your own two feet. It is a place where people are kind, where the views are jaw-dropping, and where you can escape the monotony of life for a little while. Go for a surf with Inchydoney Surf School, the idyllic little surf shack on the edge of the beach. If there are no waves, don your togs and go swim a few strokes on the blue flag beach outside the Inchydoney Lodge and Spa. Or simply walk the length of the gold strand, you’ll often find you have it completely to yourself. If you want more than just a stroll on the beach, there are a number of looped walks around the island. Bikes are also available for hire, so there is no excuse not to get out and explore the Wild Atlantic Way.

Getting there: Inchydoney is located just outside the town of Clonakilty. Roughly 50 minutes from Cork International Airport and Cork City, 2.5 hours from Shannon Airport and 3.5 hours from Dublin Aiport. Buses run daily from Clonakilty to Cork, where onward connections by Rail and Air can be made for those travelling without a car.

Where to stay: Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa is a place you must stay at least once in your life. A hotel perched on a beach, on the Wild Atlantic Way. Pure perfection.

Inchydoney: the perfect combination of luxury and adventure

2. Sherkin Island

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Located just a short ferry ride from the quaint fishing village of Baltimore in West Cork, Sherkin island boasts some of the best scenery in Ireland. With white sandy beaches, never-ending views of the crashing Atlantic and rich flora and fauna throughout, you will struggle not to relax here. The island does have a buzz in summer, especially during the sailing regatta in late July and the annual music festival in August, however, it’s not hard to steer clear of the hustle and bustle. Simply rent a bike at the harbour and within minutes you’ll be lying in a sandy cove without another soul in sight.

Getting there: There is a regular ferry service from Baltimore harbour which costs €10 return for an adult.

Where to stay: The Islander’s Rest hotel offers rooms for €60 per person sharing during high season.

3. Spike Island

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If you are a history buff, then Spike Island is the Cork island for you. The island’s history has included monks, monasteries, rioters, redcoats, convicts, you name it! Nowadays, it is dominated by the 200-year-old Fort Mitchel which was once a prison holding. Its most recent claim to fame is that it was the winner of Europe’s leading tourist attraction 2017 at the world travel awards.

Getting there: Take the ferry from Kennedy Pier, Cobh, and enjoy a fully guided tour of our island and fortress.

Where to stay: As its an uninhabited island, you can’t stay the night so book yourself a hostel or hotel in Cobh or one of Cork cities many places to stay.

4. Cape Clear

Cape Clear is Ireland’s southernmost inhabited Gaeltacht island located eight miles off the coast of West Cork. At just one mile long and three miles wide, it is not exactly huge, but what it lacks in size it definitely makes up for in beauty. Home to bustling harbours, dramatic sea cliffs and a certain wildness to the landscape, the island is also home to some incredible wildlife – whales, leatherback turtles, sun fish, dolphins and sharks are all regularly spotted in the surrounding waters. There is an abundance of activities to choose from, including kayaking, snorkelling, fishing and diving.

Getting there: A regular ferry runs from Baltimore.

Where to stay: There is a limited amount of B&B accommodation on the island. We highly recommend the glamping option at Cheire Haven. Located right on the water, it offers some pretty epic views.

6 of the most scenic walking routes in Cork

5. Garnish Island

This is the island to visit if you are into your flora and fauna. Garnish Island near Glengarriff is situated in a protected part of Bantry Bay, therefore giving it a micro-climate unlike anywhere else in Ireland. You will discover plant life not normally found in Ireland. The best part of the island is the seal island that you pass on the ferry ride over. Where you’ll see hundreds of seals, and hopefully a white-tailed sea eagle and a few dolphins. Garnish itself is world-renowned for its gardens which are laid out in beautiful walks and a Martello tower on its southern shores which has been restored by the OPW with amazing views from the top.

Getting there: Take the Garnish Island Ferry from Glengarriff Pier.

Where to stay: Book yourself a night in one of Glengarriff’s many places to stay.

6. Bere Island

Bere Island is a bit of a beauty. Located at the entrance to Bantry Bay, the island boasts incredible views of the Slieve Miskish and Caha Mountain ranges on the Beara Peninsula. The iconic Beara Way claims 20km of the island. For adventurers, there are two sandy beaches for some sea kayaking. But also many an archaeological site including ring forts, standing stones, wedge tombs, Martello towers and the old military barracks.

Getting there: You can reach Bere Island from Castletownbere via ferry.

Where to stay: Bere Island Holiday Homes are the perfect option if you’re travelling in a group. These self-catered four-bedroom homes are ideally situated and offer cracking views across the water.

7. Dursey Island

Finally, Dursey Island’s number one attraction is its cable car! Situated on the Beara Peninsula in Co Cork, it is the only cable car to traverse open sea water in Europe. Open since 1969, the cable car was traditionally used to transfer people, sheep, cows and other supplies to Dursey Island from the mainland. These days, it also takes the odd tourist across too. It’s the best way to greet the blissful ruggedness of the island. Whales and dolphins are common visitors to the area too.

Getting there:  The cable car runs constantly from 9am-8pm during the summer months and costs €8 for adults.

Where to stay: If you are planning to head across to the island, be sure to bring your own supplies as there are no shops or restaurants but wild camping spots are plentiful!

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By Orla O'Muiri

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