A weekend in Cork
Not many people sit on the fence when it comes to the city of Cork. Ireland's unofficial second capital is loved by proud residents but can come as a bit of a disappointment to some tourists when they arrive. Aesthetically, Cork is a pretty ordinary town-cum-city but as with most of the larger Irish settlements, it's a place where the Irish live and the big hotels congregate and from where the tourists can jump off into a surrounding wonderland.
Cork is a geographically interesting city. Steep hills surround the city centre on all sides with the confluence of two rivers creating an island at the base. Cutting through the city centre is the shopping area of St Patrick's Street on which the English Market can be found.. This famous Cork institution is an atmospheric place to get lunch-to-go and soak up the hustle and bustle of classic covered market. Not that you'll be short for choice for wining and dining as the city centre is awash with both traditional and craft-inspired bars and restaurants.
Even if cathedrals aren't your thing, St FInbarre's Cathedral should be one of those to make the cut on a tour of Ireland. Ornately beautiful inside and out, this is a highlight of the city. On this theme there's also St Anne's Church and the Shandon Bells. As well a 120ft tower allowing great panoramic views of the city, there's the unique of opportunity to have a go at ringing the bells.
Surrounding the city are some real top class visits which can easily take up two days of an itinerary.
Top of many an Ireland bucket list is Blarney Castle where you can famously kiss the Blarney Stone for the 'gift of the gab'. Whether or not this aspect of the attraction offends your soul, there's plenty more that makes Blarney a great place to visit. At nearly €20 it's an expensive outlay for Ireland but with the well-preserved castle ruins, a poison garden and extensive grounds plus shopping in the Blarney Woollen Mills and the pubs and little shops of Blarney village this is a pretty full daytrip.
A visit to a distillery is another essential experience for Ireland and the Jameson Distillery Midleton ticks that one off. This famous brand of god's urine has been produced in the little County Cork town of Midleton since the 1970s. The tour is an interesting trudge around the former site's strangely pretty warehouses and production rooms.
Another great daytrip just 30 minutes by train from Cork is the coastal town of Cobh. This unassuming little port town is one of Ireland's most significant historical hotspots and you can explore the town with a recommended Titanic Trail walking tour. The quality attractions of Titanic Experience Cobh and Cobh Heritage Centre also tell the stories of Cobh's place in Irish history as the main point of emigration during the Irish famine and all times of economic hardship.
Just off the coast is Spike Island, a curious place that has served as a monastery, defensive fort, British prison and Irish prison throughout a fascinating history. Although a bit of a difficult visit with limited boat services this is definitely a unique place to see. Finally, Cobh is home the very impressive St Colman's Cathedral which towers above the town (up an admittedly giant hill). Without even mentioning the little cafes, shops and pubs on offer, I think we've given enough reasons to visit Cobh!
For one of Ireland's most beautiful but most underrated drives, you can explore the West Cork Coast. As you head south west from Cork you'll drive through a multitude of bustling towns and villages - such as Clonakilty, Rosscarbery and Glandore - where you'll want to stop and have at least six lunches. If you just want to include one stop on your drive it should probably be Kinsale. With a pretty harbour, the imposing Charles Fort and a reputation as a real foodie hotspot, Kinsale encapsulates everything cool about West Cork.