Food, music, history, shopping and culture plus a healthy dose of fun make Ireland’s second city the perfect mini break
Why go? For the craic of course. Cork city really is the place to eat, drink and be merry, with pubs, bars and great restaurants tempting you inside along every street and alley you wander down. Friendly locals are always ready to strike up a conversation, whether you’re asking for directions or ordering a pint of Guinness, and a young student crowd gives the historic city a hipster vibe.
While you’re there, it’s worth adding on an extra night or two to explore other parts of the county, such as Kinsale, just 18 miles south west of the city. The starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way – a 2,500km touring route of Ireland’s magnificent Atlantic coastline – the craic continues in many of the pretty harbour town’s pubs.
When? Any time of the year for the weather hardy (be prepared for Ireland’s frequent grey skies and ‘mizzle’) but time it with one of the many festivals such as the Midsummer, Folk, Harbour or the St Patrick’s day parade, and you’ll see Cork city really come to life. We arrived on the last day of the Guinness Jazz Festival, and the whole place was strewn with bunting, music playing everywhere from the headline acts at Cork Opera House and Everyman Theatre to the Jamie Cullem-esque piano singer in our hotel bar.
Stay at: The River Lee Hotel, the perfect location for exploring Cork city, with everything you’ll want to visit no more than a ten minute stroll away. The lobby, bar and restaurant are spacious, light and airy, thanks to glass walls everywhere – even the lifts are glass so you get a great view of the city each time you whizz up and down to your room. Modern and contemporary décor (mainly neutral colours but with the odd bright purple, red or yellow chair and sofa dotted around) make the bar and library areas a nice place to hang out, or if the weather is up to it, the terrace on the river. Bedrooms have views over the river or towards city landmarks such as St Fin Barre’s cathedral, and come with a flat screen TV and Nespresso machine. Our bed was super comfy with crisp white linen, and goodies by The White Company in the bathroom.
In Kinsale, at stay at The Trident Hotel is a real treat, as rooms are super chic, having just been very tastefully renovated. Each one has fantastic views of the pretty harbour where you can watch the comings and goings of the boats, or the take offs, landings and fly bys of the herons and gulls that seem to have designated the hotel roof a landing spot for their aerial adventures.
You really must: Visit the English market, which has been the social hub of Cork city since 1788. You’ll see – and want to taste – the best of Cork’s foodie scene with meat, fruit, veg and seafood aplenty, plus locally produced cheeses (a special mention for Toons Bridge Dairy’s ricotta and mozzarella), chocolates and even fermented foods. A brisk stroll might be in order after that, so pick up one of the excellent Cork Walks leaflets from the nearby tourist office and discover the history of the city centre island, the Shandon area, the South Parish or the University area. Weaving our way through parks, past Georgian buildings and through the university campus then along the river was a great way to get a feel for the city.
For exploring the city by night, follow the Cork Heritage Pub Trail and discover some really unique and characterful watering holes. We loved The Oval off South Main Street. Once through the door and behind a heavy curtain, you’ll find an oval room lit only by candlelight. It was dark and intimate with really cool music playing in the background and band posters (from Radiohead to Talking Heads) all over the walls.
In Kinsale, it won’t take long to wander around the pretty streets away from the harbour, and whichever route you take you’ll most likely end up spotting an impressive old white building with red doors – The Old Courthouse, which is now a museum. The huge anchor in the front is from a ship in the Spanish Armada fleet and the crane is from the Lusitania, which sank off the coast of Kinsale in 1915, with the loss of 1500 lives. Both point to Kinsale’s strategic importance in maritime history.
To stretch your legs even more, a walk around the harbour to the coastal path known as the Scilly walk, will take you from the town up to Summercove and Charles Fort. You’ll get glorious views of Kinsale and work up some property envy at the fabulous Grand Design houses overlooking the water.
Dine at: Farmgate Café on the top floor of the English Market in Cork city. The lunch menu will make your mouth water with classics such as Irish Stew and sausages with puy lentils and mash, all cooked to perfection. The menu is created each day based on what the chef chooses from the stalls in the market down below, or sourced by owner Kay Harte from producers across the county. Another must eat in the city is a slice of pizza at the Franciscan Well Micro Brewery, located on the site of the ancient Shandon Friary. Serving great craft beers and hot from the oven pizzas, it’s a nice place to hang out for a cheap bite and great beer.
In Kinsale, we had a scrumptious dinner at Fishy Fishy. We were guaranteed the seafood would be fabulous given that owner Martin Shanahan is a former fishmonger and our organic sea trout and pan fried John Dory certainly didn’t disappoint.
Bring home: Scrumptious artisan chocs from Danero Cork Chocolate (95 South Main Street, Cork City) – make sure you have one of their sensational hot chocolates while you’re there. At Cork Craft & Design http://www.corkcraftanddesign.irish/index.php/en/ you’ll find lots of interesting local crafts to browse, likewise at the Kilkenny shop, which has fashion and jewellery too. https://www.kilkennyshop.com/
To book: Aer Lingus operates 4 daily flights from London Heathrow to Cork with fares starting from £54.99 one-way including taxes and charges. Visit aerlingus.com for further information.
The River Lee Hotel has superior rooms starting from £187 per night, based on two people sharing. www.doylecollection.com
The Trident Hotel has superior rooms starting from £92 per night, bed and breakfast included, based on two people sharing. www.tridenthotel.com
Enterprise Rent a Car has great value rental rates starting from €15.99; see enterprise.ie or call 1890 227 999. For more information viist ireland.com