Cosy, cosmopolitan and Ireland’s original foodie city, Cork makes for a cracking short break
Bring an appetite for a stroll around the Marina Market — with more than 35 food vendors to choose from, there are temptations wherever you look. All of the stalls are spread out around the edges of this industrial space, selling everything from fresh warm doughnuts to loaded spuds and Nashville fried chicken. When you’ve grabbed your grub, head to one of the battered leather couches to watch the world go by. It runs cool events too, like a graffiti space, where local artists produce pieces as you watch, or movie nights at Charcú, the charcuterie, wine and craft beer bar. 8am-8pm; Mon-Sun. — NB
If you like that, try this: Check out the food trucks at Harley’s StrEAT Market, in the city’s VQ (Victorian Quarter).
Details: marinamarket.ie; harleysstreat.com
Most tourists head to the historic Shandon district to ring the bells (they’re on the first floor of St Anne’s Church, accompanied by song sheets, but intrepid visitors can continue climbing through tight passageways to the tower balcony). Fewer know that the district is also home to the city’s oldest sweet shop, Shandon Sweets. Run by the Linehan family, this nostalgia-loaded mini factory and shop has been creating and jarring up the likes of bulls’ eyes and pear drops since 1927. For a real flavour lucky dip, however, pick up a pack of local favourite ‘brus’, the name given to the leftover ‘shrapnel’ from sweet production. — TB
If you like that, try this: Continue your candy crawl at Cocoa, a boutique chocolate café set within the charming Winthrop Arcade on Oliver Plunkett Street.
Details: shandonbells.ie, €5pp; shandonsweets.com; cocoacork.ie
Michael Collins spent the two nights before his assassination on August 22, 1922, at the Imperial Hotel on Cork’s South Mall. Room 115 has been refurbished as part of a wide-ranging (and admirably sustainable) programme of upgrades, and is a classy stay. It may not technically be a ‘suite’, as the room doesn’t have a separate living space, but it’s tastefully done, with a sleek four-poster, subtle memorabilia and a guest book to leave comments in. Bonus points for avoiding any spookiness, too. — PÓC
If you like that, try this: Another historic Cork hotel, The Metropole has been undergoing major refurbishments, while Hayfield Manor will add a garden bar this year.
Details: imperialhotelcork.com, rates from around €360 off-peak; themetropolehotel.ie; hayfieldmanor.ie
Know Nano Nagle Place? If not, you’re missing out. This restored convent is on Douglas Street, and here a museum tells the story of education pioneer Nano Nagle and Cork life in the 18th century, set alongside regenerated heritage buildings and a beautiful walled garden. But the real joy is the Good Day Deli, a bright and airy café with a South Pacific influence. Surrounded by lush plants and historic architecture, this is the perfect place for a serene brunch of hibiscus pear pancakes and apple bruschetta — and it is one of Cork’s best outdoor eating spots. — NB
If you like that, try this: The Butter Museum in Shandon is a quirky museum telling the story of “Ireland’s most important export”.
Details: nanonagleplace.ie; gooddaydeli.ie; the buttermuseum.com
This killer cocktail bar on MacCurtain Street is on its 20th menu of “seasonal, nature-led” drinks. The menus change every 12 weeks, but don’t worry, it’s not as pretentious as that sounds. Service is friendly, the nibbles are good (try the bravas spuds with Gubbeen chorizo sauce) and cocktail ingredients throw a laser-focus on Irish ingredients — a ‘Jammy Git’ mixing Glendalough Gin, Longueville House Apple Brandy and Mary O’Connell’s damson jam with cava rosé (€13), for example. It’s a sister venue of Hotel Isaacs and Greenes Restaurant. — PÓC— PÓC
If you like that, try this: The Shelbourne is another class cocktail act across the street, and it has some 400 choices of whiskey to boot…
Details: caskcork.com; theshelbournecork.ie
It’s one thing to wander around the English Market and dream about the dishes you can cook up with the produce. The place has been trading since 1788, and its stalls are “the stomach and soul of Cork city”, as chef Ross Lewis has said. But it’s even better (and easier) to head up to Farmgate Café and leave it to the professionals. Go for breakfast, and you can get Coughlan’s sausages cooked up into a fry, or Stephen’s streaky bacon on thick wedges of French toast. The best seats are along the bar, where you can people-watch as you eat. Failing that, grab your own menu to go from the stalls and enjoy an impromptu picnic in Bishop Lucey Park across the road. — NB
If you like that, try this: Get some eggs benny or johnnycakes at Liberty Grill on nearby Washington St.
Details: farmgatecork.ie; libertygrill.ie
If you’re seeking a secret accommodation in Cork, here’s a hidden gem within a hidden gem. Parade House and Garrison House are two 1930s barracks buildings managed by the Irish Landmark Trust which today act as sympathetically restored self-catering properties. That’s impressive in its own right, but the fact that the houses also sit within the 17th-century walls of Cork’s historic Elizabeth Fort makes a stay here truly unique. During your stay, eat in with goodies from the English Market or Miyazaki Japanese takeaway on your doorstep. — TB
If you like that, try this: Elizabeth Fort is also open to the public and makes for a scenic detour from the bars and restaurants of Barrack Street.
Details: irishlandmark.com, two-night minimum stay, from €372; corkcity.ie/en/elizabeth-fort
Vegetarian? You’re in the right city. Denis Cotter’s Cafe Paradiso wrote the manual for elevated Irish veggie dining (six courses, €65), working wonders with local and Irish produce — a Cáis na Tíre cappelloni with chanterelles, leek and lemon thyme is just one example. Newer kids on the block include Sonflour, where Eugenio Nobile and Lorenzo Barba’s mantra of ‘inspired by Italy, grown in Ireland’ sees a casual, thoughtful and sustainable experience with dishes made from scratch (yes, including the pasta) in a kitchen right beside you. — PÓC
If you like that, try this: It’s not exclusively vegetarian, but the veggie options at Izz Cafe are yum. Palestinian food, especially manaeesh (a regional flatbread), is the focus — “You’ll be glad it’s not pizza,” as they say.
Details: paradiso.restaurant; sonflour.ie; izz.ie
The Crawford Art Gallery is one of the finest in the country, but its free tours give you a much greater insight to the art held within its walls. There are tours every Thursday evening and on Sundays and bank holidays, and frequent themed tours that focus on a particular topic, like LGBTQ+ walks that tell the story of the extraordinary Dr James Barry, or highlight pieces by queer artists. Either way, be quick — the gallery will close at the end of the year for extensive renovations. — NB
If you like that, try this: Take a tour of the Blackrock Castle Observatory, where astronomy meets 16th-century history.
Details: crawfordartgallery.ie; bco.ie
With the second-largest natural harbour in the world, Corkonians aren’t shy to showboat their city’s mega maritime credentials. And what better way to experience them than with a salt-sprayed voyage with Cork Harbour Cruises. Departing from Custom Quay in the city centre, the two-hour guided cruise aboard the Cailín Óir journeys down the River Lee into the harbour proper, with sights such as Blackrock Castle, Spike Island and postcard Monkstown popping through the seascapes. Check out its sunset trips too. — TB
If you like that, try this: Atlantic Sea Kayaking runs two-and-a-half-hour ‘Under the Bridges’ tours, offering a very different perspective. Ocean Escapes offer private group and family tours of the harbour on their whip-fast Ribs.
Details: corkharbourcruises.com, €27; atlanticseakayaking.com, €60pp; oceanescapes.ie, €40pp.
This short strip of shops and restaurants pulled off one of the country’s best pandemic pivots (remember those?). For months, outdoor dining was the lifeblood of the tourism and hospitality industry, and this colourful street led the charge by bursting into life with continental-style seating, friendly service and later, a row of vibrant canopies (because… erm, rain). Nash 19, Clancy’s, Quinlan’s and Burnt pizza are just a few of the eateries along a mighty little strip that has shown cities all over the island what al fresco atmosphere can mean. — PÓC
If you like that, try this: Oliver Plunkett Street offers some of the country’s best browsing, with excellent eats at places like Goldie and Elbow Lane.
Details: princesstreet.ie; goldie.ie; elbowlane.ie
Street art is adding splashes of colour to cities all over the island, and Cork is no exception. Ardú is a street-art project responsible for several large-scale murals (there’s a self-guided audio tour on its website); official tourism website Pure Cork has a page pointing out more pieces, and you’ll spot dozens of electrical boxes featuring playful portraits of local heroes like Roy Keane, Mary Elmes and Sultans of Ping, along with lashings of local wit. “Ireland is like a bottle,” as one quips. “It would sink without a Cork.” — PÓC
If you like that, try this: Murdo MacLeod’s famous 2002 portrait of Roy Keane with a raven’s skull hangs in the Crawford Gallery.
Details: arducork.ie; purecork.ie/pure-street-art
A cocktail tastes all the better when it comes with an epic view. And that’s just what you get at The Montenotte’s panoramic Glasshouse bar, set on a hillside with all of the city spread out before you. The bar itself is a beaut, with brass fixtures, loads of greenery and plenty of colour, giving off a tropical Art Deco vibe. There are big plans afoot at the hotel itself, too — work will soon start on the woodland suites, set on stilts or in the treetops overlooking the river and the city. Once complete, it will be one of the most unique accommodations in Ireland. Read our Montenotte hotel review here. — NB
If you like that, try this: Grab a cocktail at the new Latin-American inspired Paladar Bar on Bridge Street, or Sophie’s Rooftop Bar at The Dean.
Details: themontenottehotel.com, rates from €245; paladar.ie; thedean.ie
Like your eggs Benedict with a side of drama? Then book a seat at one the city’s most vibrant calendar events…Sunday Drag Brunches at Chambers Bar. The afternoon sessions (hey, don’t expect these divas to get up before noon) on Washington Street are hosted by local legend Candy Warhol, and guests can enjoy two mimosas, a brunch course, board games, music and bottomless queer-friendly craic. — TB
If you like that, try this: For an equally fabulous brunch option in the city, head to the super-tasty Sketch at the Imperial Hotel.
Details: chambersbar.ie, €25; imperialhotelcork.com
We may be a few stitches behind our Nordic neighbours when it comes to embracing our native woollen apparel, but thanks to The Banshees of Inisherin, even Vogue is hailing the comeback of traditional knit! Blarney Woollen Mills, just a 20-minute bus from the city centre, is celebrating 200 years in business this year and is an iconic Cork spot to add something cosy to your wardrobe. — TB
If you like that, try this: Afterwards, pay a visit to neighbouring Blarney Castle (psst…cue the perfect backdrop for an impromptu fashion shoot).
Details: blarney.com; blarneycastle.ie
Those with a keen eye for collectibles will love Mother Jones, which is packed with antiques, furniture and a hell of a lot of chintz. There are stacks of old postcards, still bearing the penmanship of their authors, as well as vintage lamps, old signs and antique crockery. At the back, there’s vintage clothing from York St Clobber. It’s just one of the cool bars, shops, restaurants and hang-outs of the VQ (also known as the Victorian Quarter), a district that aims to be “the liveliest, most sustainable, cultured, and well-connected neighbourhood in Ireland”. — NB
If you like that, try this: Nine Crows on French Church Street is well stocked with 1990s vintage.
Details: victorianquarter.ie; facebook.com/motherjonesfleamarket; shopninecrows.com
Spike Island provides a surprisingly deep dive into Cork Harbour’s history, going far beyond a simple prison tour. Starting with a ferry ride from Cobh (be sure to book ahead), tours proceed to bring to life a sixth-century monastery, a British fortress, the Victorian world’s largest prison and a simple home. Tours of the ‘modern’ block (it served as a prison again from 1985-2004) are harrowing in their own way... not least due to archival RTÉ footage featuring the unmistakable voice of Charlie Bird reporting on the riots of 1985. There are ‘After Dark’ tours too. — PÓC
If you like that, try this: Back on the mainland, Cork City Gaol adds another spooky prison tour.
Details: spikeislandcork.ie, €24/€11 (day)/€29 (after dark), including ferry; corkcitygaol.com
There’s nothing quite like a ramshackle bookshop, stacked with wobbly towers of books in no discernible order. But that’s of little use when you want a specific title. At Vibes & Scribes, the second-hand books are organised into precise themes and genres, laid out in a traditional bookshop style. There are loads of film, art, music and travel books, as well as a huge selection of manga, graphic novels and fantasy. — NB
If you like that, try this: Get your own artsy notebook at Badly Made Books, where handmade journals are covered with beautiful photography and illustrations.
Details: vibesandscribes.ie; badlymadebooks.com
Hugging the banks of the River Lee, Fitzgerald’s Park is the perfect picnic spot in the city, where you can bring in a few treats and park up by the rose garden or one of the giant sculptures. Don’t miss a walk over Daly’s Bridge (otherwise known as the Shakey Bridge), which has a distinct wobbliness as you stroll (or jump) over to Sunday’s Well. As it’s almost a century old, the bridge underwent a restoration in 2019, reopening at the end of 2020. But don’t worry — it’s still as bouncy as ever. — NB
If you like that, try this: Work has begun on the grand redevelopment of Bishop Lucey Park, part of the bigger regeneration of the Grand Parade Quarter.
Set in a former chapel tucked down Tobin Street, the Triskel is one of Cork’s most vibrant arts hubs and makes a colourful stop on any city itinerary. An eclectic events calendar is kept chock-a-block with live music, festivals and exhibitions, with the centre featuring everything from a free-admission gallery showcasing contemporary art to an arthouse cinema (an ambient spot to see An Cailín Ciúin). — TB
If you like that, try this: Pull up a pew at other churches-turned-venues from Live at St Luke’s to just-launched St John’s Church in Monkstown.
Details: triskelartscentre.ie; liveatstlukes.com; liveatstjohns.com
Cork’s trending markets are giving the city the air of, dare we say, a Celtic Copenhagen? And none more so than The Black Market. This indoor collection of a dozen black shipping containers is a popular neighbourhood haunt in Ballintemple, with stalls from Taste of Home (which features incredible Lithuanian food) to the already legendary Soma coffee. Keep an eye out for upcoming events too, from sustainable fashion shows to the Irish Cupping Tasters Championships, which tests the nation’s most astute coffee palates! — TB
If you like that, try this: Airbnbing in the area? Blackrock’s Sunday market is an idyllic spot to stock up on provisions.
Details: theblackmarketcork.ie; facebook.com/blackrockvillagesundaymarket
There’s a lot to see on the campus of University College Cork, so it’s best to take one of the public tours that run throughout the week. You’ll tick off all the major sites, from the Crawford Observatory to the Honan Chapel, a small church with a beautifully intricate mosaic floor and Harry Clarke stained glass windows. Allow plenty of time to wander around The Glucksman, a modernist gallery with a frequent rotation of exhibits. — NB
If you like that, try this: Pop into the Lavit Gallery on Wandesford Quay to see work by local artists.
Details: ucc.ie; glucksman.org; lavitgallery.com
Cork was Ireland’s original foodie city, with creative chefs and restaurants showcasing the best seafood, veggies and artisan produce from their county long before low food miles were in fashion. The summer Cork on a Fork Festival is an ideal time to chow down, with outdoor dining in full swing, a food trail of festival specials and tasting menus, and lots of talks, demos, masterclasses and events underway. ‘How to make the perfect Churros’ at Kiely’s was just one example last year... yum. —— PÓC
If you like that, try this: Fab Food Trails’s three-hour foodie tour of Cork takes in producers, restaurants, markets, pubs and “superhero retailers”.
Details: corkcity.ie, August 16-20; fabdoodtrails.ie, €75pp
The Cork Harbour Greenway has made some of the city’s most scenic spots reachable by bike. Running from Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium through to the seaside town of Passage West, the route follows Cork’s yesteryear tram lines as well as the former Passage railway. Rent a set of wheels via the city’s shared bike service. — TB
If you like that, try this: For added ‘Lee to Sea’ feels, go further afield on the Carrigaline to Crosshaven Greenway
It’s tiny, it’s hip, and it’s tasty. Plugd is a coffee shop on Cornmarket Street that’s part cafe, part record shop, where you can browse through boxes of vinyl before sitting down with a flat white. With exposed brick walls, an old fireplace and a rotation of locals popping in, it’s a great place to rest your feet for a while and marvel at how many independent businesses thrive in this city. — NB
If you like that, try this: Soma is just over the road from the English Market and sells excellent single-origin coffee.
Details: plugdrecords.com; somacoffeecompany.ie
If you’re planning a night out in Cork, don’t discount the new ’burb of Ballincollig from your gig guide. Since the town became part of the city’s enlarged boundaries just before the pandemic, hugely popular gastro pub and live music venue The White Horse has never been more accessible, thanks to ramped-up bus links from the city centre. Upcoming acts include the Hot House Flowers and Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny. — TB
If you like that, try this: Coughlan’s on Douglas Street is great for gigs. Sin É is also an excellent spot for trad.
Details: whitehorse.ie; coughlans.ie; facebook.com/sinecork
Cosy but cosmopolitan, Cork feels tailor-made for festivals, with the October bank holiday jazz gathering one of the best. Running since the 1970s, it’s brought Ella Fitzgerald, BB King and other legends
Leeside, but the programming around fringe and Irish acts is imaginative too (and it’s a great occasion to just hang out in the city). Earlier in the year, June brings the Cork Midsummer Arts Festival, a summer extravaganza of theatre, music and spectacle — this year, Siobhán McSweeney (of Derry Girls) stars in Beckett’s Happy Days at the Opera House. — PÓC
If you like that, try this: Hit the Cork Choral Festival (April/May) or the Cork Folk Festival (Sept/Oct).
Details: guinnesscorkjazz.com; corkmidsummer.com
It’s sightseeing, but not as you know it. Naomhóga Chorcaí is a friendly rowing community in the city with the ethos of promoting the tradition of currach rowing…and perhaps speaking a cúpla focail in the process. It offers guided Saturday-morning rowing sessions which are open to the public. Outings are first come, first seated, and cost €10. Tip? Bring a few bob, as the group docks at Lapp’s Quay, where you can pick up a coffee to fuel your row back to base. — TB
If you like that, try this: For an alternative morning workout, jog up Patrick’s Hill and catch your breath with some of the best views of the city.
Cork’s Victorian waterworks have been restored as a visitor experience, with a ‘Lifetime Lab’ aiming to engage kids with science and maths. See the former boiler and engine house, learn about engineering, energy, waste, water and environmental issues, and consider Cork’s history and how it has evolved as a city. It’s open midweek, and also weekends from April. — PÓC
If you like that, try this: The Cork Carnival of Science features games, events, food, and “non-stop, family-friendly experiments” at Fitzgerald’s Park in June.
“No mobile phones. Talk to each other.” That’s what the sign says outside the Hi-B bar, and boy, do they mean it. Stories about this small lounge, a first-floor survivor from a long-gone hotel, and its legendary owner, Brian O’Donnell, are legion. A rebellious spirit, wicked sense of humour and cracking conversation... sounds a lot like a certain city. “Tis only a day for the fire or the high stool,” as a Facebook post this chilly January put it. “Fire is on, pints are cold and creamy.” — PÓC
If you like that, try this: The Castle Inn on South Main Street is another old gem with a cosy snug and fireplace.
Details: Both pubs are on Facebook
NB: Details subject to availability and change. For more to see and do in Cork, see purecork.ie and corkcity.ie