Top 5 best islands off County Cork

Get off the mainland and onto the best islands off County Cork for hiking, wildlife watching, and history learning.

The islands off Ireland’s coast are the best bits of the nation gathered in a 5 km (3.1 miles) radius: views of mountains and sea, close encounters with flora and fauna, and friendly locals.

In the southwest of the country, Cork strings together a handful of islands that are small in resident numbers but overflowing in tourism offerings. These are the top five best islands off County Cork.

5. Dursey Island (Oileán Baoi) – the Island of the Bull

Dursey Island is one of the best islands off County Cork.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

At the very tip of the Beara Peninsula lies the Island of the Bull, Dursey Island. 

The transport oddity is worth the trip alone: Ireland’s only cable car (Europe’s only cable car that crosses open seawater) flies you high above the Dursey Sound to reach the shore.

Once on the island, the only entertainment is natural, as there are no shops or restaurants to pursue. Though, as with all the islands on this list, the breadth of Dursey’s wildlife and scenery is what makes it worth the trip.

Address: Co. Cork, Ireland

4. Heir Island (Inis Uí Drisceoil) – one of the best islands off County Cork

Heir Island is truly magnificent.
Credit: @heirislandferry / Instagram

Well-preserved cottages of the last century dot the landscape of Heir Island, a four-minute ferry from Cunnamore Pier.

Heir Island is bustling with business, whether that’s restaurants with cookery classes, yoga and meditation retreats, or a sailing school.

As one of the best islands off County Cork, Heir Island is flourishing in wildlife and is actually designated the richest 10 km sq (6.2 miles sq) in Ireland for flowering plants.

Address: Co. Cork, Ireland

3. Sherkin (Inis Arcain) – an easily accessible island

Sherkin is one of the best islands off County Cork.
Credit: Fáilte Ireland

Sherkin is an easily accessible island at a ten-minute ferry ride from Baltimore Pier. Traditional sailboats reconstructed by locals mark the seascape, along with the playful seal.

Once on the island, tourists can enjoy the well preserved historical buildings, such as the Franciscan Friary and the Dun na Long Castle, along with a backdrop of varied scenery.

Like many of the best islands off County Cork, Sherkin attracts talented painters who make their art available to browse in the local shop or by appointment in their studios.

Address: Harboursmouth, Co. Cork, Ireland

2. Bere Island (An tOileán Mór) – a must for the active traveller

Bere Island is a must for the active traveller.
Credit: Fáilte Ireland

Accessible by a drive-on car ferry, Bere Island makes its mark as an island with a still vibrantly active community.

Tourists can see this in the Heritage Centre, a testament to how much the residents put in care in fostering the past and the present.

That past is marked by the many places of interest spotting the island. These include signal and defence towers built as British defence of their coastline, the Bronze Age Ardaragh Wedge Tomb, and the Gallan Standing Stone.

Bere Island is one of the best islands off County Cork.
Credit: Instagram / @kavlad87

We also recommend visiting the Bardini Reefer Shipwreck poking out in the channel between the island and the mainland.

For the active traveller, three looped trails creating a shamrock shape show you the best in natural wildlife on the island. A 5 km (3.2 miles) run is held every Saturday on the island’s east end. Protected spots for swimming and fishing dot the shoreline.

Address: Co. Cork, Ireland

1. Cape Clear Island (Oileán Chléire) – a thriving Gaeltacht region

Cape Clear is a must-visit.
Credit: Fáilte Ireland

The southernmost inhabited island and the furthest ferry ride at 50 minutes, Cape Clear Island offers the best scenery of the ocean and the Irish coast.

Whether by the road or well-kept field paths, tourists can reach every corner of the island within a day trip (if using summer ferry times).

Keeping your head to the ground, one can see a variety of species in mushrooms, bees, and more.

Lifting your head up provides the best views. To the north and east are the layered coasts from Mizen Head to Beara Peninsula. To the south and west are the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse and the wide-open Atlantic Ocean.

Cape Clear is one of the best islands off County Cork.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Cape receives droves of international and rare birds as the first and last stop across the Atlantic, as well as the commonly breaching whale or dolphin.

As a nationally recognised Gaeltacht region, Cape Clear keeps the Irish language alive daily. This is particularly true for those visiting in the summer months.

Throughout July and August, the island population triples with Irish language summer students.

An overnight stay only adds to the experience. After watching the gorgeous sunset and taking a night kayak in the South Harbor with close-ups of glittering bioluminescence, tourists can choose accommodations from self-catered apartments to cosy yurts.

This is undoubtedly one of the best islands off County Cork.

Address: Co. Cork, Ireland

By Hannah Ni’Shuilleabhain

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