There is always a lot going on in Cork city -- it is a huge city, and it takes time to absorb. If you're coming from rural Ireland, the contrast is like night and day. So rather than stress yourself out, give yourself some time to enjoy it. The city is made for walking, with its picturesque lanes and quays. There is lots of great food, art, and culture all over the place. So plan to take your time here soaking it in. You're in for a treat.
What to See and Do
First thing's first, visit the Beamish/Miller brewery for a tall cold one. It will keep you mellow. And eat. Cork is the place for epicureans, with loads of great restaurants along the lanes. I'm still dreaming about the dinner we enjoyed at Café Paradiso - organic vegetarian creations that were absolutely sublime.
Cork city has loads of historic architecture. Tour St. Finn Barre's Cathedral, on Dean Street, a stunning, Gothic-style cathedral completed in 1879. Elizabeth Fort is off Barrack Street near the cathedral. Built in the late 16th century, this fort was converted into a prison in 1835. St. Anne's Church in the Shandon area was built in 1722, and it is these bells that you'll hear resounding across the city. Blackrock Castle Observatory is a 15th century castle converted to a science center, on the east edge of the city. Blarney Castle is renowned for it's stone which bequeaths the "gift of gab" - this is a true thrill to kiss the stone and tour the authentic castle, located in Blarney northwest of the city on the N20, and whilst there shop for irish gifts at Blarney Woollen Mills.
The city centre has lots of shopping on St. Patrick's Street and Grand Parade. Visit the English Market for a taste of farmer's produce, fresh charcuterie and cheese, and pastries to delight - a historic covered market built in 1788, located on Grand Parade.
Cork's culture and arts seem to be located along the quays. Vibes and Scribes is an art supply and bookstore on Coal Quay. The Cork Opera House on Lavitt's Quay is a modern home of the arts - stop in to find out their current schedule of events. Around the corner on Emmett Street is the Crawford Art Gallery. Free-guided tours of the gallery are at 2:30PM on Saturdays. They also host summer art workshops. On display was a comprehensive exhibition of Irish stone carver Seamus Murphy. They have a large collection of paintings by Norah McGuinness, as well as some exquisite sketches and stained glass by Harry Clarke. The Everyman Palace Theatre on St. Patrick's Quay has a schedule of running shows and is located on the north side of the River Lee. The Lewis Glucksman Gallery is worth a visit. It is in an internationally acclaimed building on the main campus of University College Cork.
The Shandon area on the north side of the River Lee is a fun place to explore. Centered around St. Anne's Church, it is a the top of a hill overlooking the city. The Shandon Craft Centre houses local artisans and studio workshops. From handmade instruments, to stained glass, handcrafted jewelry, crystal, weaving, knitwear, and fine ceramics, this is a good place to browse for gifts. The Buttermarket Café is within the centre - family run for 23 years, they serve breakfast all day, lunches, and homemade soup and quiches. The Centre will be closing within the year for renovations, so check it out while you still can.
The Cork Butter Museum commemorates the Cork Butter Market, in use from the late 1700s until 1924 - learn about it here.
The Lifetime Lab is Cork city's old waterworks, on Lee Road west along the River Lee. A visit here provides an education in Cork city's environmental issues and its industrial growth. There are lots of pretty walking paths nearby along the river.
Where to Eat and Drink
Café Paradiso is the city's premier gourmet, organic vegetarian restaurant and highly recommended for lunch, dinner, and dessert - try the chocolate and olive oil mousse cake (www.cafeparadiso.ie). Quay Co-Op Vegetarian Restaurant on Sullivans Quay is a cafeteria-style spot with two levels of seating. They serve homemade cakes, soups, lasagnas, pizzas, sweet and savory tarts, and various daily specials (www.quaycoop.com). Wild Ways is a modern, fast food organic place, with soups and sandwiches (www.wildways.net). Maher's Pure Coffee on Phoenix Street looked like a great café. Nutmeg Organic Restaurant was also appealing. O'Conaill is an Irish chocolatier with a huge selection of hot chocolates.
Where to Sleep
Gort-Na-Nain Vegetarian Guesthouse and Organic Farm is located just south of the city in Nohoval; highly recommended www.gortnanain.com. Café Paradiso has a B&B with three double rooms to relax in after a fine meal (www.cafeparadiso.ie). Kinlay House Hostel is located in the Shandon area and highly recommended for budget travelers (www.kinlayhousecork.ie).
How to get there
From Novohal, head north to the R611 through Ballyfeard to Carrigaline. Follow the signs to the N28 north to Cork city centre.
From Clonakilty, take the N71 north to the N22 east Cork city centre.
From Midleton, take the N25 west to Cork city centre.
See www.irishrail.ie for a current schedule.
See www.buseireann.ie website for all current travel details and restrictions.
When to go
April through October, when the days are longer and the sun more likely to show. Cork St. Patrick's Festival in March. West Cork Music Festival in April. Cork International Choral Festival in early May. Eurochild International Festival in June. Ocean to Sea - An Ras Mor from Crosshaven to Lapps Quay in early June. Cork City Marathon in early June. Cork Midsummer Festival in late June. Live at the Marquee in late June/early July. 56th Bupa Ireland Cork City Sports in late June. Beamish Cork Folk Festival in late August/early September. Frank O'Connor International Festival of the Short Story in September. East Cork Early Music Festival the third week in September. Cork ‘20' International Car Rally in late September. Murphy's Cork Film Festival in mid-October. Guinness Cork Jazz Festival in late October. Cork ArtsFest in November.
Written by Liz O'Malley - Summer of Travel 2007