Unveiling Cork: Ireland’s Crown of Culture

There is something about Cork, the Rebel City, where I took a recent short break. I had driven there from Ireland’s capital, Dublin. A short detour en route had led to Blarney Castle, barely ten kilometres from Cork city.

Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle

Kissing the Blarney Stone

“We don’t need to be here,” said my companion, glancing at her watch. “You talk too much already.”

I shrugged, and ignored the words, as I had joined a line of many others to kiss the castle’s Blarney Stone. It was over in a flash, but I adore talking, chatting, discussing, so my short visit to the castle and its magnificent gardens, had felt essential. Moments later we were on our way, headed for Cork itself, a city that grew on me hourly.

Friendly Faces of Rebellion

The local Corkonians were truly friendly and fiercely proud of their rebellious past. Friendship was everywhere. On a two-hour cruise to the nearby harbour town of Cobh, ships blew sirens, shoreside joggers waved, as did walkers and cyclists. In Cork, I spent as much time waving and chatting, as being the traditional tourist.

The city is Ireland’s second largest and has a long history of different struggles. One was the republican struggle, another the feminist, and the third was the social struggle for a better life. The ladies have been especially active. It is said the Republic of Ireland would not exist without the part played by Cork’s women.

Teetotal or otherwise, in Cork pubs are important. Most things start or end in one. That is despite nearly 20% of Corkonians not drinking alcohol. For me, I discovered the teetotaller’s mocktail, mixed in no time by a bartender from Chile – Cork is very cosmopolitan. The mocktail went straight down and that evening I drank three. A visit to Cork is about people, which is why pubs are essential. If you like chat and relaxation, Cork is where to go.

Street Art, Dancing, and Galleries

The city centre has largely been turned over to pedestrians, or environmentally friendly bicycles. There are broad pavements, narrow alleys, plenty of shops, although some have now closed thanks to the rise in online shopping. There is street art too, expressive, and artistic, such as the red-haired woman in the moonlight at the city’s Sullivan’s Quay. Or the painted line of famous authors decorating the side of an otherwise drab concrete building, barely any distance from the city’s exceptional Vibes and Scribes bookshop.

As for Irish dancing, no one should visit Ireland without seeing this astonishingly physical skill. Most well-known is the stepdance, where the upper body is held rigid while the dancer’s feet move so fast, they are a blur. Think Michael Flatley in Riverdance at Dublin’s 1994 Eurovision Song Contest and you have it. Meanwhile down the hidden alleyways of the city centre, especially its Huguenot sector, the children are not playing football, they stepdance.

Cork has many galleries, the Crawford Art Gallery being one of the most popular. Dedicated to both classic and contemporary visual arts, it houses over 8000 works. At its heart is a collection of Roman and Greek casts, brought from the Vatican Museum in 1818. There are other museums, too – the Butter Museum, Nano Nagle Place, the Triskel Arts Centre, and plenty more.

Cork – the Food Capital

Cork happens to be the banana capital of Ireland. Just as well, because I adore the things. A giant ship berths in Cork weekly, carrying 4.5 million bananas, mostly from Costa Rica. Cork, through its huge natural deep water harbour, the second largest in the world, handles 9.1 million tonnes of traffic throughout the year, in addition to bananas. It also exports plenty of butter, the United Kingdom being its primary customer.

Cork has earned its title of the country’s food capital and has many places to eat. Buying food is simple, a favourite being the English Market, with its six entrances, that has been trading since 1788. It has an impressive selection of sustainable foods and once even merited a visit from the late Queen Elizabeth II, an occasion that Corkonians remember fondly.

For restaurants, I was spoiled for choice in the city, and ate local food whenever possible. There were Skirts and Kidneys, Coolea Cheese, Timoleague Brown Pudding, and many others. A Skirt is pork and comes from the diaphragm and belly of a pig, while Coolea Cheese is like Dutch Gouda. Meanwhile Timoleague Brown Pudding is a blood sausage originating from Timoleague, a village 45 kilometres south-west of the city. As for desserts, Cork has plenty. I chose Carrageen moss pudding, made from a species of red seaweed known as Irish moss. I downed plenty of this light and fluffy dessert.

A Perfect Short Break

For a short break, look no further than Cork. I ate too much, talked plenty, remained teetotal, learned a lot, and saw a ton. I wager I will return there soon.


If you go…

Where it is

Cork is in the Irish province of Munster in County Cork and can be found at the following co-ordinates:  51°53′50″N 8°28′12″W

Getting there


Dublin: 297 kms (185 miles)

Belfast: 264 kms (164 miles)

London: 442 kms (442 miles)

Manchester: 359 kms (223 miles)

Paris: 1185 kms (736 miles)

Cardiff: 483 kms (300 miles)

Edinburgh: 723 kms (449 miles)


Cork’s Kent Station offers easy access to the national rail network and is only a 10-minute walk from the City Centre. From Kent Station one can also access local towns such as Cobh, Mallow, and Charleville. For more information see http://www.irishrail.ie/.


The airport is located just 10 minutes from Cork City centre. Bus and taxi services are available just outside the arrivals area. Cork offers direct flights from almost 50 destinations around Europe and a direct transatlantic flight to North America. See https://www.corkairport.com/destinations/direct-from-cork-airport.


Cork has a good bus network connecting the county with Dublin, Limerick, Galway and many more destinations. Buses usually operate from 6am until midnight. Bus Éireann, the national public bus service, departs from Parnell Place Station as does Expressway while private operators like Citylink, Aircoach, K Coaches, Paddywagon, GoBus, CobhConnect, CorkConnect, Cronins, BGM Coaches and Dublin Coach operators arrive/depart nearby. See https://www.buseireann.ie


Located just 15km from Cork City centre, the ferry terminal offers easy access to and from mainland Europe. Brittany Ferries operate daily services between Cork-Roscoff (France) and Cork-Santander in (Spain). Cork is also accessible via ferry from Rosslare and Dublin. Both ports offer daily services between Ireland-UK and are just a 3-hour drive away via car/bus. Operators at these ports include Irish Ferries, Stenaline and P&O Ferries.


Cork is linked to Dublin via the M8 motorway and takes just over 2.5 hours. Car hire is available from depots in Cork City and all major airports.

Cork has an abundance of affordable on-street parking throughout the county. In Cork City, there are also numerous multi-story car parks with thousands of spaces available.


There is a very helpful guide at https://www.corkconventionbureau.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Visit-Cork-Accessibility-Guide-1.pdf

Travel advice


Places to eat

1. The Oliver Plunkett

Address: 116 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork, T12 P957

Tel: +353 (0)21 422 2779

Email: info@theoliverplunkett.com

Web: https://theoliverplunkett.com

2. Clancy’s Cork

Address: 15-16 Princes Street, Cork City, T12 V6FH

Tel: +353 (0)21 234 4455

Email: info@clancyscork.ie

Web: https://clancyscork.ie

3. Sketch

Address: The Imperial Hotel, 76 South Mall, Cork, Ireland, T12 A2YT

Tel: +353 21 427 4040

Email: reservations@imperialhotelcork.ie

Web: https://www.imperialhotelcork.com

Places to stay

1. The Imperial Hotel

Address: 76 South Mall, Cork, Ireland, T12 A2YT

Tel: +353 21 427 4040

Email: reservations@imperialhotelcork.ie

Web: https://imperial-hotel.tablepath.com

2. The Metropole Hotel

Address: MacCurtain Street, Cork City, Ireland, T23 EEC3

Tel: +353 (0) 21 464 3700

Email: info@themetropolehotel.ie

Web: https://www.themetropolehotel.ie

3. Maldron Hotel

Address: 93 South Mall Street, Cork, Co. Cork, Ireland, T12 EE72

Tel: +353 (0)21 203 7000

Email: info.southmall@maldronhotels.com

Web: https://www.maldronhotelsouthmall.com

Other things to see

1. Rebel City Tour of Cork, +353 212 411894


2. The Cork City Tour (hop on/hop off bus), +353 214 309090


3. Cork Harbour Cruise, +353 879 544140


4. English Market, +353 214 274407


5. Cork City Gaol Heritage Centre, +353 214 305022


6. Cork Opera House, + 353 214 270022


More information

Pure Cork


Cork Tourist Information Centre

Address: 125 St Patrick’s St, Centre, Cork, T12 AE81, Ireland

Tel: +353 1800 230 330

Discover Ireland


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Richard Villar

Travel writer, doctor & international mountain leader

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