I spent 24 hours in Cork City before embarking on a road trip around County Cork. It was my first time in Ireland’s second city, though I’m not a newcomer to the Emerald Isle – having spent time in West Cork, Kerry, Wexford and Dublin. Ireland’s capital tends to steal the limelight, but laid-back gastro haven Cork City, I found, sits quite contentedly in its shadow.
From the fresh produce at the famed English Market to hearty pub grub, visitors and locals can enjoy the city’s reputation as the foodie capital of Ireland. I was here for traditional music, Guinness and local craft beer and fresh seafood, and the city didn’t disappoint.
Being a Londoner, Cork City’s prices felt – though not cheap – comparatively modest. The city’s growing number of welcoming hipster joints, chic cafes and pubs did dent my bank account a little; the food and drink here is enticing, and moreish! But there are a bundle of free attractions, and many of the locally-made craft souvenirs felt authentic rather than touristy. The best thing about Cork City? I was made to feel at home before I could finish my first reasonably-priced pint.
Flights: The return flights were £79 with £17 each for baggage with Ryanair. We’ve booked flights for less before, out of season, but this was a June-July trip so was bound to be a little pricier.
Accommodation: As we only had one night, we opted for a room within a flat booked through Airbnb (£25 each). This meant we could be in the dead centre of town, without having to splash out. Equidistant between the Victorian Quarter and St Luke’s Cross, it was a perfect stroll away from the pubs and bars we were aiming for on the first night (priorities in check) and a handy base for exploring the next day.
On the ground
6pm: Being a fairly organised duo, it was to our horror that we realised we’d left one of our backpacks on the train to the airport. (Side note: we managed to retrieve it in London a few weeks later, phew). With the lack of toiletries now between us, we were forced to stock up on more pricey miniature travel items at Stansted’s Boots (£3.66 each). If we thought our luck was down, it was about to plummet even further. Flashing above us on the departures board was our flight, delayed by almost two hours. Forced to forget about our potentially delightful evening at one of Cork’s dining establishments, we instead each bought a cold and unsurprisingly disappointing Meal Deal sandwich and crisps combo (£3.99 each). The airport was full of delays and so this felt like the cheapest and easiest option for a couple of hangry travellers.
10pm: We finally checked into our Airbnb. Our host was friendly, accepted our apologies regarding the late arrival graciously, and showed us to our room. She assumed we were shattered (correct) and might want to get straight to bed, but we weren’t about to let some tiredness get in the way of our live music and pub plans, so off we went!
11pm: Though we were late to the party, Cork was still awake and full of energy. We wandered down to the pubs, bars and restaurants and spent the night in Sin É, an old pub renowned for its live music ‘trad’ sessions. There were about a dozen young musicians sitting in the pub’s well-worn booths and armchairs playing everything from the tin whistle to the banjo, and onlookers singing along and swaying with sloshing pints. I had two pints of Guinness and shared some packets of crisps and nuts (£8.95). The walls and ceilings of the pub are pasted with music posters and slogans, and the whole ambience of the place epitomises Ireland’s warmth and spirit.
1am: Demolishing a large pizza (£7.15 each to share) along to a soundtrack of Eminem in a brightly lit late-night pizza joint didn’t feel inherently Irish or healthy, but having skipped a proper dinner and with 4.5 pints of Guinness in us, it was a fitting end to the night.
10am: After a lie-in we went to explore the city. We strolled past pastel-washed houses lining the steep hills on our side of town, wide open riverside walkways and an abundance of cute cafes. We stumbled across a vintage indoor market called Mother Jones Flea Market. Inside was a ramshackle nest of clothing, books, records, jewellery and furniture run by various stall-owners. Despite a growling stomach, I was eager to pop in, and came out with a little pendant (£4.50).
11am: We’d heard very good things about artisan Cork Coffee Roasters, so hunted it down for a morning brew. We sat in the window of the bright red, plant-strewn cafe, watching the city waking up with a latte (£2.50) and flat white in hand. Again, tempted by the city sights we detoured away from breakfast options and found ourselves at the famed English Market. This was both a delight and offence on the senses, from the flowers to the fish market. We soon lost sight of each other in the myriad stalls. Cork city's veggie, vegan and organic food scene is booming and there was a huge selection of it at the English Market. Knowing that we might not be able to stock up on some items in rural Cork, we bought a Vpud (£2.70 each), a vegan black pudding, which absolutely tastes like the real thing.
12pm: Very much in need of some food by this point, we found an ideal brunch spot in a veggie eatery, Café Gusto. This was a find – we were so hungry at this point we’d have eaten anything, but we were spoiled with huge portions of flavoursome Instagram-worthy brunches. I had poached egg, roasted sweet potato, caramelised onions and goats cheese on sourdough toast (£5.82). We now didn’t need to eat for a long while.
1pm: Wanting to walk off brunch, we visited St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, gorgeous Fitzgerald Park, the shaded and leafy University College Cork gardens and walked along the River Lee. We didn’t go for the tour, but had a peek at Cork City Gaol’s impressive exterior. We headed up the hills again and did as the tourists do and rang the Bells of Shandon in the belfry of 18th century St Anne’s Church, overlooking 360-degree views of the city and beyond (£4.50 to climb the tower and ring the bells).
4pm: After considerably more time spent on our feet than anticipated, I fancied a well-earned beer in the sun. We came across what became one of my favourite haunts in Cork, the Franciscan Well Brewery. The brewery and bar sits on the ancient site of a 13th-century monastery, hence the name. The wood-panelled bar opens up to an expansive beer garden filled with pretty hanging baskets. A trio of musicians were playing at a table across from our beer-barrel-turned-tabletop and I sampled some lovely red ale (£5.08).
6pm: We collected our belongings from the Airbnb and bought tickets for a bus trip (£2.52) from the city centre to Cork City airport where we'd pick up car to drive onwards to West Cork. We were going to grab dinner in town, but decided to save ourselves for a lovely traditional Irish home-cooked dinner of locally caught salmon (caught at Union Hall in West Cork) at my boyfriend’s grandmother’s in a tiny village called Inchigeelagh.
The final tally
Overall spend: £51.37 + flights and baggage (£96) + accommodation (£25) + coach journey (£2.52) = £174.89
Notes: Cork City is a great jumping-off point to explore the breath-taking rugged wilds and remote peninsulas of West Cork – I’d highly recommend one night in Cork City and then a few days exploring the rural delights nearby by car.
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