I just got back from Ireland, and BOY did we do everything we could. Eight days, three major cities and a bunch of daytrips in between. I’m sharing the top 5 activities in Cork, Ireland for ya, so you have an idea of what’s worth doing (in other words, I did all the trial and error for you).
Cork is a county in the Southwest of Ireland, and Cork City Centre is the main spot to be. I recommend staying there and doing one half-day trip outside of the city. You’ll need two full days in Cork, Ireland to get a real feel for the place. It’s very local – not many tourists – and it’s very focused on growing Ireland’s culinary scene.
How to get there: BUS! We used City Link to get around. Apparently the trains take too long, so most people are apt to using busses in Ireland.
Where to stay: Maldron Hotel Cork – it’s a typical hotel, but very budget friendly , clean and centered in a safe and convenient spot in the city. It accommodated four of us comfortably in one room.
Top 5 Activities:
- Taste some of the best food in Ireland
Ireland is not known for its food. Let’s be honest about this. Yet, Cork has much more than Shepherd’s pie and fish & chips. The English Market, for one, is a huge market with stalls of everything you could ever need: fresh meat and fish, berries and vegetables, honey and chocolates – all locally sourced. It’s been a resource for Corkonians since the 1780’s. You can go peruse the many food stalls, or go eat lunch upstairs at The Farmgate for local Cork meals like traditional blood pudding found in Cork (Drisheen), Rock Oysters or savory tarts. Everyone is so open and happy to speak with you – I enjoyed my conversation with David, who runs a chocolate shop at the market called “David.” All his chocolate is handmade in small batches – AND he has free samples. I picked up some dark chocolate for my mom, but ended up eating the entire thing on the plane ride home (oops??)
For dinner, I recommend the Cornstore restaurant, which plays on traditional Irish food (try the Cannelloni of Butternut Squash) and Corn Market which is an artisanal food spot near the restaurant that reminds me of a small section of Chelsea Market here in NYC. Both are across from the Rising Sons Brewery – a new craft beer brewery in Cork.
- Cork Bar Hopping
Even though it only starts getting dark in Ireland at 10pm in the summer, the bars are hopping around 8pm, right after dinner (early for most places I’ve been in Europe). Another tip: you can order half pints everywhere! It’s amazing. Then you don’t have to down a whole pint if you don’t want to, or you can try more of the local beers. The best spots include:
- Mutton Lane Inn – tiny speakeasy type spot in a little alley behind the English Market – it’s where the sheep (mutton) were herded into the market in the old days.
- Reardons (21+) – great outside space with a live band
- Old Oak – on the main shopping street, live bands 7 nights/week
- Crane Lane Theatre (21+) – one part pub, one part ballroom and one part cabaret, Crane Lane is the best late night stomping ground.
- Franciscan Well Brewery & Brewpub – one of the first craft brews in Ireland, it’s a fun place to be; heated garden area, pizza (most pubs don’t have food in Ireland!), Irish storytelling nights and live music. If you don’t make it, be sure to try their beer at a local pub.
- Sin é – your classic old guy bar. Grab a whiskey, sit down and listen to some crooning Irish dudes 7 nights out of the week. This is the go-to pub for the Cork City Centre natives.
- Rising Sons Brewery – another new craft microbrewery, is a great spot to watch sports on TV.
- Cork Opera House
This one’s simple: see a show. We stumbled upon the Cork Opera House 20 minutes before a show, and spontaneously grabbed tickets. It was Prodijig, a super modern Irish step-dancing show. Basically, the dancers in the show had just won Ireland’s version of “So You Think You Can Dance,” and they were super skilled and energetic. The choreography was creative and nuanced – how could Irish step look SO COOL? No better place to see it but in Ireland, either.
- Day Trip to Blarney & Cobh
The Blarney Stone is dubbed as the “least hygienic tourist attraction in the world,” so…we obviously had to do it. Using Paddywagon tours, we took a half day trip (9am-4pm) to Blarney Castle and Cobh (a port city that was the Titanic’s last stop). Doing the tour was much more convenient than doing both stops on our own, and the Blarney Stone admission was included in the 30€ for the bus tour per person.
First stop: Blarney Castle. It was totally beautiful. The castle and ground are worth seeing on their own, but while you’re there you should probably kiss the Blarney Stone. It’s an interestingly acrobatic moment – first, you must climb the Stairs from Hell, which is what I named them. It’s a very narrow staircase that you must climb while simultaneously waiting in line. The line to the top took about 30 minutes, and once you get there, get ready to literally bend over backwards while holding onto two rods suspended in midair. But apparently doing so will give you the Gift of Gab.
From there, we traveled to Cobh (pronounced “Cove”) which is a port city. My relatives left Ireland from Cobh, like many others, to travel to the U.S. in the late 1800s during the potato famine. Another ship that left those gorgeous shores? The Titanic. Like I said, it was the ship’s last stop before its fatal voyage…#Drama. If you go, grab a sandwich and picnic in the park near the “Titanic Experience” museum (the building was the original ticket office for those boarding the Titanic). From there, WALK. It’s such a beautiful town. We made it all the way to the church at the top – great views of the city.
Ok, so #5 is mostly about food again – BUT THAT IS WHAT I LIKE, OK? Shandon is a small neighborhood in Cork that is worth checking out.
Shandon Sweets, circa 1920, is the only sweet manufacturer left in Cork. We conveniently stopped in when the father/son candy-making duo was making a batch of candy sticks. We were welcomed into the back to see it up close. Afterward we chatted about the business, the city…everything. I concluded here that I love Irish people…they’re just so NICE.
At the top of the street is the Butter Museum – not the most interactive museum, but if you read everything and watch the short documentary, it gives you a good idea of how the dairy industry shaped Cork – at one time Cork was the center of all food trade in and out of Ireland (which totally explains why they have the best cuisine). You could say bread and butter was their bread and butter. LOLZ.
Last stop in Shandon? The Shandon Steeple. Apparently it’s a great view of Cork and you get to ring the bells at the top in any tune you desire. It was closed when we tried to go up, so note that it closes at 5pm.
Whew, that’s the Cork lo-down – let me know if you have any questions on what to do/see in Cork. It’s truly a great city, and a must for your Ireland road trip.
Continue the Ireland convo on Twitter @MaryinManhattan