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Cork, Ireland – Where to stay, what to eat, what to do

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Cork, Ireland – where to stay, what to do, and what to eat in Ireland’s former provincial capital turned quirky foodie destination in the south of Ireland.  

Cork, Ireland along the River Lee

From our amazing home that we rented in Killarney, it was time to go to my family’s ancestral hometown – of Cork.

Shops along the river, Cork Ireland

To the Irish, Cork is the true capitol of Ireland – where the provisional government was set up ahead of Ireland’s independence from Great Britain.

Nowadays, Cork is a bustling, quirky city with a bit of a tougher reputation (Cork is known for street brawls as pubs let out and football fans vent some pent up frustrations, but we felt entirely safe the whole visit) but tons of Irish charm and delicious food.

There are typical Irish and British chains in Cork (which we visited more than my husband and I normally would when traveling, but with young kids chains often work the best for quick, easy, and reliable meals), as well as tons of interesting artisanal offerings, tons of fresh produce and meats, and more fresh and delicious seafood than you can imagine.

River bridge, Cork Ireland

 

Cork is a small city that feels a lot larger than it actually is – it is easily walkable (and if we are being honest, not aways easily driven as the streets are quite steep and very narrow) and offers something for everyone.

Cork Ireland along the river

 

Where to Stay: 

-The River Lee

While it would be nice to be a bit closer to the English Market and more shops and restaurants, the River Lee’s more quaint surroundings were perfect for us, especially as we were in town the final nights of the World Cup. Being in a quieter area with less pub goers was perfect for our group (we had my parents and my young kids with us), but the entire city center was easily walkable from the River Lee, even for our four year old who tires quickly.

River Lee hotel, Cork Ireland

The River Lee is a very Americanized hotel, with large, soft beds, a big living space, and beautiful views of the city. There is also a health club in the building that guests can access free of charge (we planned to take our kids swimming there, but in truth, we never got around to it.) They didn’t have coffee makers in the room (which suited us just fine as we’re a bit of coffee snobs and there are two fantastic spots right across the road), but did have a full tea service, large clean bathrooms, and a really nice staff. It was probably our poshest stay in Ireland, in a price range of a decent hotel in a larger American city ($190- mid $200’s a night in peak summer season, depending on timing.)

 

bright yellow house, Cork Ireland

 

Where to Eat: 

Wier Room, River Lee Hotel.  While many hotel restaurants lack charm, style, and chic food – the River Lee’s Wier Room was one of Cork’s sleekest, most stylish and inviting spots – and the food was phenomenal. Sit back and order a cocktail (gin cocktails are the rage in Ireland, especially in Cork where numerous local artisanal Gins are distilled) in one of the plush couches on the patio, grab a blanket if it’s chilly, and watch the River Lee sparkle under twinkling cafe lights.

Must order: Seafood chowder (with hunks of fish so large they could count as a filet), and the Scallops over Black pudding. Also had an affordable kids menu and though the space certainly had an adult vibe, kids were welcome and treated well.

 

-Miyazaki. Sushi and ramen, mostly to-go. Incredibly fresh and fast, with a dine-in only menu that is worth waiting for!

Must order: Ask for recommendations and enjoy the staff picks!

 

-Quinlan’s. We had already had Quinlan’s in Killarney (be sure to stay in the Killarney Holliday Village while visiting Killarney!!), so we had very high expectations for the seafood restaurant – and we were not disappointed, in the least. Must order : calamari, fish and chips, Kerry crab claws, shrimp, fish and chips, seafood chowder. Kids menu available – very affordable, and HUGE portions. Our kids loved the calamari and chips just as much as we did – not a crumb was left on their plates (which is a big deal in our house, with our fussy eaters.)

Sadly, with a mustard allergy, many of the foods on Quinlan’s menu weren’t meant for me (but this is a pretty rare allergy, and I really appreciate Quinlan’s meticulous labelling – they notified diners of just about anything that could possibly be an allergen in dishes) but we ordered up a ton of calamari, fish and chips, crab claws, mussels, and shrimp – and I don’t think we had a scrap of food left on the table when our waitress checked in on us. Quinlan’s is one restaurant I could have eaten at every single day whilst in Ireland and be utterly and completely happy.

 

-JD Wetherspoons (chain) This ubiquitous British chain pub spot, nestled down a quirky cobblestone street full of bars and restaurants (many of which were closed the Sunday night we were visiting) is not the fanciest (Wetherspoons has a bit of a chavvy reputation similar to that of say, Chili’s, in America) – but it is delicious, quick, and a good deal when you’re in need of something hearty. It’s not the most creative or artisanal, sure – and you’re not going to find many hipsters anywhere near Wetherspoons – but it serves up solid British classics.

Wetherspoons offers delicious, affordable (many meals come with a beer, glass of wine, or well drink with the dinner and there was a great 3 for $14 appetizer special) and quick dinners with cheap drinks. While it might not be the flashiest or most creative pick, we wanted a reliable British pub meal and Wetherspoons fit the bill perfectly.

Must order : full breakfast fry up, shrimp, halloumi, chicken tikka skewers.

 

 

hillbillys, Cork Ireland

-Hillbilly’s (chain)

Fried chicken was NOT on my list at all in Ireland. Like, it didn’t even register. So when we saw this quirky take on an American southern staple in Ireland’s south, we chuckled a bit. And then, after shopping for a while, my mother brought back my kids some to-go boxes from the restaurant.

OH MY GOODNESS. Let’s just say my husband and I might have sampled half their food, just because we wanted to “make sure it was ok to eat”, if you get what I mean. When they didn’t show a ton of interest in the chicken, I swiftly made them PB&J sandwiches, thanked the Lord my mom over-ordered, and smuggled the rest for my husband and I. The chips were just fine, but the chicken was crunchy, well seasoned, juicy, and so much better than many fast food joints.

Must order: Chicken tenders.

 

Colorful building, Cork Ireland

 

The Best Coffee: 

-Cafe Depeche. This Depeche Mode themed coffee shop along the River Lee (across the street from the River Lee Hotel) is a tiny coffee shop with incredibly friendly baristas, fantastic pastries, and great espresso drinks.

Must order: Long blacks/flat whites, biscoff iced coffee, almond croissant.

-Cafe Serendipity. Right across from River Lee Hotel with a great brunch and delicious coffee.

 

 

City street, Cork Ireland

 

To Do: 

 

-Walk the River. The River Lee winds through Cork making it a perfect place to stroll along and catch in the sights of the quirky city. People watch, shop, and admire the colorful shop fronts along the walkways of the River.

-Shopping (be sure to stop into the Time Travelers Bookstore if you are into rare used books)

-English Market (I’ll be covering this more in detail soon)

-Fin de Barre Cathedral. Admission is a small donation- NO bathrooms on site. Small labyrinth prayer garden in the back, with one of Ireland’s oldest surviving organs.

-Cork street art. Cork has amazing graffiti and street art all over – there are great works of art adorning most streets if you wander around to look for them!

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