Cork is one of those places with the best of both worlds: it’s a really lively, vibrant city with lots of sights, good shopping and great nightlife, yet only an hour or two from beautiful, isolated, coastal countryside where you can get that end-of-the world feeling – like it’s just you and your bike, your kayak, your surf board or your golf clubs. With such diversity, it’s hard to shortlist just five top experiences, but stripping out the many quirky visitor attractions of the area (which include the original Jameson Whiskey Distillery in Midleton, the White Star Line Ticket Office in Cobh where so many boarded the ill-fated Titanic, famous Blarney Castle where you can get ‘the gift of the gab’, spooky Cork City Gaol and a ridiculous number of majestic houses, castles and gardens, by the way), I’ve come up with the following; include one or two of these in your break and it’s sure to be ‘pure daycint’ as the Corkonians would say!
Make a date with a music or arts festival
Cork has a strong festival programme, which attracts the best of film, jazz, folk, literary and musical talent year round. If music and arts are your main motives for travelling, it would be well worth planning your trip around one of these well-established summer events. Cork City Council have a list of all the festivals, including dates and how to book tickets.
Sample Cork’s emerging foodie culture and animated nightlife
Narrow streets and laneways filled with unique pubs, clubs and live music venues make up the landscape of Cork, Ireland’s second city, after dark. With students making up a third of its population, the city is renowned for its vibrant cultural scene. But I’m getting ahead of myself – first, a bite to eat. By day, for a real local Cork experience, eat at the Farmgate Restaurant in the English Market, at Liberty Grill or at Nash 19. By night, if you are looking for cheap bites and fab food; anywhere on French Church Street will hit the spot. Sober Lane also has excellent pub grub and Scoozies is top for casual dining. U2’s Bono has been overheard saying that Jackie Lennox’s Chip Shop on the Bandon Road has the best chips ever. Or for a real treat for vegetarians or non-vegetarians alike, splash out at Café Paradiso (book well in advance).
For a pint of the black stuff, Murphy’s and Beamish are the stouts of choice in Cork (rather than Guinness) and some great traditional pubs for a pint include The Castle Inn, The Oval, Sin É and no trip to Cork would be complete without a visit to the Hi B! To take the night up a notch, wander the central island of the city centre, along Washington Street, Patrick Street and the small streets and lanes on either side. Some of the places to keep an eye out for include Reardens, a late bar Wednesday to Sunday, with live music every Friday and Sunday; nearby Cubins; newly established night club and music venue The Savoy; Soho Bar & Restaurant with four floors; The Pavilion Nightclub, which used be the old Pavilion cinema, with a range of good music and DJs; Cyprus Avenue, a great music venue; and City Limits Comedy Club. Bowery and The Voodoo Rooms are probably the best clubs in the City.
Take a kayaking trip on the river in Cork City, in the sea at the Old Head of Kinsale or in Lough Hyne
Ireland’s first marine nature reserve – built on an island, the city centre is embraced by two channels of the River Lee. An evening trip under the bridges of the beautiful River Lee, as far as Blackrock Castle, enables you to get a great perspective on the city. Out in the sea, half day, full day and even moonlit sea safari trips allow you to really experience some of Cork’s amazingly scenic coastline. Check out www.atlanticseakayaking.com www.h2oseakayaking.com and www.kayakcorkharbour.ie
Go hiking or biking on the beautiful Beara or Sheep’s Head Peninsulas
Imagine a cycling route hugging the wild Atlantic Coast – nothing between you and America –peninsulas ringed with plunging cliffs, a landscape unspoilt because it’s often inaccessible by main road. Cork’s 90km Sheep’s Head Way and 197km Beara Way should provide food for thought – sure they’d keep you occupied for a weekend anyway! The Sheep’s Head Way is one of the most recently created waymarked ways in Ireland. The route combines low, rugged hills and splendid cliff coastline with quieter roads, paths and tracks, to make a complete circuit of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. The Beara Way uses minor roads, tracks and paths, crossing a number of small towns and delightful villages, with history and heritage in evidence along the way. There are also 18 lovely looped walks in Co. Cork, ranging in length from 1 to 6 hours walking. Detail on all of the above is on www.discoverireland.ie/walking and www.discoverireland.ie/cycling
Feel like you’re on the edge of the world at Dursey Island, Mizen Head, Cape Clear or Baltimore
Hitched tenuously to the mainland of the Beara Peninsula by Ireland’s only cable car, high over dolphin-strewn Dursey Sound, Dursey Island (population: 6) is a walker’s paradise with castle ruins, standing stones, open bog and wild winds some of the attractions to be stumbled upon! If you’re on the other peninsula, Cape Clear is a perfect alternative: although altogether more cosmopolitan with a population of 120, restaurants, pubs and access via a number of ferry companies, it is a Gaeltacht island steeped in culture, and has the only manned bird observatory in Ireland. If you don’t fancy the trek out to an island, a drive out the coast can be as rewarding.
An hour from the city, Glandore Harbour, between Rosscarbery and Skibbereen, with the equally beautiful villages of Glandore to the east side and Union Hall on the west side, feels a world away. The pretty port village of Baltimore is a breath of fresh air and a departure point for good snorkelling, kayaking and dolphin and whale-watching. Further out again, beautiful Schull breaks the journey to the spectacular Mizen Head, where you can visit the Signal Station, a ten minute walk along the path, just down the 99 steps and across the Arched Bridge…
Getting there: lastminute.com offers flights to Cork from London, Manchester and Edinburgh
Staying there: You can book a range of hotels in Cork through lastminute.com