Cork - Southern Comfort
Cork may play second fiddle to Dublin when it comes to tourist numbers, but Ireland’s southern “capital” more than makes up for that with its picturesque charm and wonderfully welcoming locals.
Dublin may be Ireland’s official capital, but most Corkonians would suggest that it is their city of 125,000 people that deserves the real title. Small it may be, but the city punches above its weight when it comes to arts, food, scenery and the wit of the locals. The city itself is only part of the story. Cork County is stunning, with some of Europe’s best scenery; a place where rolling green fields meet crashing waves of the Atlantic and the land gets more rugged the further west you go.
Walkable and welcoming
Cork City, dominated by the Lee River, splits into two channels—the city’s north end is hilly and offers some wonderful views of the city center, while the more well-to-do south sprawls out toward the countryside. The city is small and very walkable and the pubs are hospitable. The Mutton Lane Inn (3 Mutton Lane) for example is a warm, welcoming place, especially on a cold winter afternoon. Best of all, there are no TVs and the staff makes everyone feel at home. Another winner is Dan Lowrey’s Tavern (13 Maccurtain Street) located on the bank of the Lee and full of charm. That might have to do with the Killarney Cathedral stained glass windows or the dry humor of the staff. Either way, it’s a good place to while away an hour or two.
The bread and butter of Ireland
Just north of the city center lies the Church of St. Anne (Church Street, Shandon), an 18th century edifice with spectacular views of the city from its tower. The Cork Butter Museum (O’Connell Square, Shandon) is less than a minute’s walk away and is worth a visit, explaining as it does the role of butter in the county’s heritage and culture. Ten minutes’ walk south is the Crawford Art Gallery (Emmett Place), a wonderful mix of painting, sculptures and video installations.
Foodie heaven with a view
Cork (both the city and the county) is a foodie’s paradise, partly due to the rolling, pastoral land, and partly due to its location; the Atlantic Ocean provides a bounty of seafood. The city is a gateway to County Cork’s lush landscapes dotted with idyllic fishing villages and towns, all of which seem to be devoted to the good life. Luckily, the likes of Mizen, Sheep’s Head and the Beara Peninsulas offer the perfect landscape to walk off those extra calories. Towns such as Kinsale and Clonakilty offer Michelin-starred restaurants and organic cafes, as well as a small-town warmth you can’t beat.
Kiss the Blarney Stone
Eight kilometers from Cork sits Blarney, a charming townland with, you guessed it, Blarney Castle—home of the legendary Blarney Stone. Legend has it that one kiss of the stone will give you the gift of the gab, i.e. ability to talk with skill in any situation. Close by is the Blarney Woolen Mills, part retail outlet, part iconic piece of Irish heritage, where you can pick up a wool jumper for the cold winter months. Further south, on the coast, lie Cobh, a charming seaside town which was once the main port of embarkation for emigrants heading to America. It was also the last port of call for the Titanic, and this fact has provided a boon to the town’s tourist industry, with a Titanic Trail Tour, a Titanic Experience and a Titanic Memorial all competing for the tourists. A must see is the striking neo-Gothic St Colman’s Cathedral, which offers a fantastic view of the town and the harbor.
In truth, you would need a month to see all Cork has to offer, but if you are here for a week, plan for two days in Cork City and five in the county—head south to the coast and go west. You won’t be disappointed.