The rugged Caha and Slieve Mikish Mountains tumble down to the craggy coastlines framing unforgettable sunsets and mesmerising views. As you cross from Kerry into Cork, stop in brightly painted villages, uncover archaeological treasures and fill up on fresh seafood.
The Beara Peninsula Drive, also known as The Ring of Beara, snakes its way along the endless coastline from the village of Glengarriff in Co. Cork to Dursey Island at its tip, and on up to Kenmare in Co. Kerry (or the other way depending on where you’re from). You could easily drive its 137km in a day, but what’s the rush when there’s so many reasons to stop and places to uncover along the route?
An even better way to explore this unique part of Ireland is on foot or by bike on The Beara Way. It’s very easy to navigate as walkers and cyclists can follow their own well-marked circular route from any village or town along the peninsula.
It doesn’t really matter if you turn left or right, you’ll find dramatic scenery whichever way you go.
The Beara Way Cycle Route, sign-posted with a logo and bicycle symbol, hugs the coastline on quiet country roads (although the usual care is advised). Cyclists can relax in the natural beauty, coasting from the summit of The Healy Pass on a shorter route from Lauragh to Adrigole.
Or if you want, make a longer trip of it and bike the hugely popular Ring of Beara cycle route which takes you from Kenmare through picturesque towns on the peninsula, with the promise of hot food (and hot tubs) at the finish line.
Walkers can hike 184km along the peninsula on the well-marked Beara Way, which winds through rugged mountain and seacoast scenery. The route can be broken into 18 sections, mainly rated from moderate to easy with only one hard section from Adrigole to Castletownbere.
You can opt for a shorter hike of two to three days by combining a couple of sections or tackle the entire Beara Way in seven to ten days depending on your pace.
Whichever way you choose to travel, by bike, on foot or in your car, there’s many attractions you won’t want to miss. Check out some of the must-sees below or find your own hidden gem.
Just ninety minutes from Cork City past the town of Bantry, Glengarriff makes a good base for exploring. Check out the dramatic sea on your left as you head south along the coast. Glengarriff is warmed by the Gulf Stream so it enjoys a unique micro-climate.
You can see it for yourself in the world-renowned sub-tropical gardens on Garnish Island - a quick ferry trip from the harbour past a colony of very tame seals. Or get even closer to the sea-life as you kayak from the old fishing pier, through the sheltered coves of Glengarriff Bay. Stop off for tea and scones in the historic Eccles Hotel when you get back.
South of Glengarriff is the village of Adrigole which leads you through The Healy Pass to Lauragh. It’s like The Land that Time Forgot with views of the forest fringed Glanmore Lake across Kenmare Bay. You could easily drive for miles without passing a sinner as you wind your way over the top on this jaw-dropping road. Popular nearby pitstops include Josie’s Lakeview House or Pedals & Boots Café, for home-made soups and sandwiches. Hire bikes here or cosy up by the wood-fired stove.
Further down the coast is the bustling town of Castletownbere – the largest white fish port in Ireland and the biggest on the peninsula. Watch the trawlers land their catch or just grab a seat and chill in the famous MacCarthy’s Bar (with the book of the same name). Kilcatherine’s point to the south offers views of endless ocean.
A ten-minute ferry trip from Castletownbere takes you to Bere Island with its great forts, Martello tower, Ardnakinna Lighthouse and a number of looped walks. Get the lay of the land in the Bere Island Heritage Centre. It’s also a haven for bird watchers and nature lovers who can settle in for a few nights in a local B&B.
The most western point of the Beara Peninsula (and the tip of County Cork) is the sparsely inhabited Dursey Island. A ten-minute ride on Ireland’s only cable car takes you there. As you swing 250m above the Atlantic - six passengers at a time, not including sheep – watch out for dolphins and whales (and the odd basking shark in the right season). Bring food and water as there’s no shops or restaurants on the island.
You’ll also want to stop at the pretty villages of Allihies and Eyeries with their brightly painted buildings. Allihies was a site of copper mining since the Bronze Age and you can uncover the story in The Copper Mine Museum.
Look for the golden sand of Ballydonegan Beach, one of the best on the peninsula, a part of which was man-made from crushed rock extracted from the mine. There’s lots of nice places to eat here, O’Neill’s pub with its distinctive red façade is hard to miss and known for its seafood chowder.
As you journey towards Kenmare you’ll reach Ardgroom, a magical and mystical place with an impressive stone circle and the world’s tallest ogham stone. In nearby Kilmakilloge you can rest for an hour in Teddy O’ Sullivan’s, where mussels are landed each day from the harbour just in front of the pub.
Kenmare links the Beara Peninsula to the Ring of Kerry and is equally known for its stunning setting and gourmet food. It’s also a good base for your Beara trip but you could pitch up here for a few days and explore Gleninchaquin Park set in the valley against a backdrop of woodlands lakes and spectacular rock faces.
And in the very unlikely event that you still haven’t seen an archaeological site on your trip around the Beara Peninsula, we can guarantee you’ll find one at Bonane Heritage Park in Kenmare.
Check out our Cork destination page and enjoy planning your visit to one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland.