The center of Cork is located on an island between two channels of the Lee River.
St Patrick's Street runs through the heart of the city. It offers a host of shopping opportunities and boasts some of Europe's largest retail chains. Oliver Plunkett Street, which runs partly parallel to Patrick's Street, bustles with smaller shops, life and color. Second-hand books, hand-made chocolates, an infinite array of surprises can be found in the alleyways and lanes around this central shopping district. Heading west, one comes to the English Market , the culinary heart of Cork, boasting a huge array of fresh local produce, and tantalizing international delicacies. Following St Patrick's Street eastwards leads to the statue of Father Mathew , much respected founding father of the Irish Temperance Movement. Tucked off to the left, one finds the Cork Opera House , venue for national and international theater, opera, and concerts. The Crawford Art Gallery with its impressive collection to suit modern and traditional tastes is also to be found here. At the other end of St. Patrick's Street lies Grand Parade. A visitor might wish to turn left here, past the cheerful greenery of Bishop Lucey Park, and view the impressive Nationalist Monument, or turn right to ramble along the Coal Quay, with its bustling Saturday open-air market, second-hand shops, and enjoy a pint or a coffee in the spacious, gracious Bodega. One block further west lies North Main Street, and the Cork Vision Centre: situated in the historic St Peter's Church, it offers the visitor the opportunity to really get a feel for the city with a magnificent 1:500 scale model of the whole city.
Further south is the Triskel Arts Centre , a vibrant cluster of gallery, theater, and drinking spaces, with a Sushi Bar thrown in for good measure. Venturing west, one leaves the inner center of the city, past corner-shops, and pubs, and toward the Mardyke Walk. This delightful stretch, which has been an institution amongst locals for over a century, leads directly to Fitzgerald Park. The Cork Public Museum is situated within the park and offers a wealth of information for those interested in local and national history. Defined by the two channels of the Lee, the city center of Cork has a beauty of its own, easily and best experienced on foot. A stroll along any of the waterways can be surprising and rewarding, while the island itself invites the visitor to lose their way, yet easily to find it again.
North of the City
The "North Side" is defined by hills rising up from the river, and toward the city's more hidden charms. Dominating the landscape is St Anne's Church , the lime and sandstone (two walls built of each) clock tower can be seen from all over the city. One can climb the tower to ring the famous Shandon Bells, and savor the spectacular view from the top. Directly below "the bells" is the old Cork Butter Exchange, now home to the intriguing Cork Butter Museum , and the Shandon Craft Centre. Perched on a more western point of the hill, lies the Cork City Gaol ; this gloomy nineteenth-century prison welcomes the modern visitor with interesting exhibits and audio-visual displays.
On the eastern end, St Patrick's Bridge links the city center with the charming MacCurtain Street, a busy stretch of road offering everything from antiques to ice cream. Worth noting on this street is the majestic Everyman Palace , venue for local and touring theater productions, and the historic Metropole Hotel , head-quarters for the annual Cork Jazz Festival .
South of the City
The Gothic grandeur of St Finbarr's Cathedral dominates the horizon of Cork's "South Side". This 19th Century Anglican cathedral is as impressive on the inside as the gargoyle clustered exterior. Legend has it that the golden angel, perched on the cathedral's eastern extreme, will blow her horn to announce the ending of the world. In 1999, her two horns were stolen during construction work; they were returned some days later, to the great relief of locals. Nearby, one finds the ruins of the seventeenth-century Elizabeth Fort , a sombre reminder of the Cromwell's era, and the rambling character of Barrack Street, as featured in the film Angela's Ashes. The street also offers a number drinking and live-music venues, popular with students of the nearby University College Cork (UCC) . The stately college quadrangle is itself worth a visit, while the fascinating collection of Ogham stones (on public display), and the stained-glass windows of the Honan Chapel, make a visit to the campus an enlightening experience.
The eastern end of the South Side is dominated by the City Hall , from the steps of which President John F Kennedy gave a public address in 1963. Perhaps he glanced longingly at the Lobby Bar , just across the road, and famous for nurturing and presenting the best of Irish traditional music. To the other side of the City Hall is the bustling docks area, while further out of town parks and walkways follow the river as far as the quaint and curious Blackrock Castle. Currachs (Irish traditional rowing boats), schoolboy eights, and mammoth container ships share this stretch of the Lee, reflecting the tradition and the industry that so define the city.
Beyond the City
Cork also makes an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding area. Buses leave frequently to the famous Blarney Castle . Traditionally, a kissing of the Blarney Stone invests the visitor with the "gift of the gab", though the more reticent guest might prefer a silent stroll in the beautiful surrounding gardens. Cobh (pronounced Cove), is connected by an hourly train to Cork. The Cobh Heritage Centre documents the town's place in history as the departure point for generations of emigrant, commercial and leisure vessels, as well as the last port visited by the ill-fated Titanic. Picturesque, and boasting some of Ireland's finest restaurants, Kinsale is only a short bus-ride from Cork, as is the Jameson Heritage Centre Whiskey Distillery in Midleton. Further afield, the beauties of West County Cork lay just waiting to be discovered.
Cork - The Cauldron of Good Food in Ireland
Many of Cork's best restaurants share the same philosophy of applying high standards in culinary training to fresh, locally grown, and organic produce used in season. Some are oriented towards the preservation of traditional Irish cooking, such as the Arbutus Lodge in Montenotte, which also offers spectacular views of the city, the Farmgate Cafe , overlooking the English Market, where Drisheen and tripe can still be sampled, and Ballymaloe, whose sterling reputation has been built on the principle that good food and wholesome food are inextricably linked, resulting in the establishment of modern Irish Farmhouse cuisine.
The Ballymaloe tradition is continued with a more contemporary flavour in restaurants such as Harold's in Douglas, and the Crawford Gallery Cafe . Spiced beef or Irish stew can be had alongside a pint in less formal surroundings at Reidy's Wine Vault on the Western Road. Fresh seafood is a specialty at the reasonably priced and ever popular Isaac's Restaurant , housed in a converted warehouse on MacCurtain Street. Next door, Greene's bar and restaurant delivers excellent fish dishes and overlooks a waterfall. No. 5 Fenn's Quay serves up delicious bistro flavors amid a wonderful atmosphere.
To sample a truly creative menu, check out the Ivory Tower where traditional European cooking is given a Japanese edge with startling results. The Yumi-Yuki Club in the Triskel Arts Centre is great for a quick sushi meal with sake. Although there isn't exactly a plethora of vegetarian restaurants in Cork, vegetarians will not be disappointed with the excellent Cafe Paradiso on the Western Road, where artfully prepared meals are served by a young and dedicated staff. The Quay Co-Op on Sullivan's Quay, a self-service vegetarian restaurant, is a Cork institution.
While Cork doesn't have the same diversity of cuisines present in larger, perhaps more cosmopolitan cities, there are nevertheless some places to go for those with an appetite for foreign food. Enthusiasts of Chinese food will love the Ambassador restaurant on Cook Street. For Indian food, the Eastern Tandoori restaurant, opposite the Opera House , provides diners with voluptuous meals and impeccable service, as does the award-winning Indian Tandoori on Princes Street. The recently opened Ruen-Thai serves the best Thai food in town and has some great lunch specials. Eco Douglas embraces a wide range of cooking styles from Thai to Mediterranean at reasonable prices.
New Irish cuisine has overtones of the Mediterranean at Jacque's Restaurant on Pheonix Street, while Proby's Bistro near Crosses Green is more overtly Mediterranean. Ristorante Rossini on Princes Street is an Italian restaurant serving delicious charcoal-grill, pizza, and pasta dishes, while those seeking value for money should try Bully's on Paul Street.
Pubs If you are looking for a sophisticated stylish watering hole, try the Bodega on the Coal Quay. An eclectic selection of musical tastes are catered for here, there are regular Sunday gigs by top Jazz artists such as James Taylor and Louis Stewart, while on Thursday nights patrons are entertained in the Love Lounge by the ever popular Miss Ken D. For a similar vibe but on a smaller scale, The Roundy , just up the street, is an excellent location from which to acquaint oneself with this vibrant city's nightlife.
Lots of bars and restaurants are popping up around North Main Street. The most recent addition is Le Cheile, where friendly staff, sumptuous surroundings, and a low-key music policy, make this an essential stop-off for those who enjoy a cold drink and good conversation in a cosmopolitan setting. Similarly, the newly refurbished Raven Bar has lent this old part of town a European flavor with it's continental coffees and cool cocktails. For those interested in local beers, Cork has a long tradition of brewing. Located on South Main Street is the legendary Beamish and Crawford brewery. Directly opposite this are The Oval and Spailpin Fanach . The Oval is renowned for its lively, energetic atmosphere, with an interesting mix of all types of people. The 'Spailpin' is one of Cork's top bars: there are traditional music sessions nightly, the staff are friendly and if they run out of beer they can always pop over the road and pick up a keg or two in the brewery. The Franciscan Well on the North Mall is a micro brewery and its Shandon Stout should be tasted—it's creamy and smooth with a slight kick in the tail.
With Latino music and a late bar The Vineyard is another city-center hot spot guaranteed to keep you on your toes into the small hours of the morning. For all you alternative rocker types, there's Fred Zepplin's . If you're feeling adventurous take a trip down to the Hi-B, have a seat on one of the old red leather couches, grab a beer and eavesdrop on the local cognoscenti discussing anything from Samuel Beckett to moving statues. Sin E and LV are two of Cork's quintessential bars—for funky sounds and service with a smile these are hard to beat. Sin E shows the Racing Channel in the afternoon and, with a turf accountant on the doorstep, is the perfect spot for those who enjoy an afternoon flutter.
On the south side, Union Quay contains the Strip, five pubs in a row, the perfect pub crawl for the weary or lazy. One of the most popular is The Lobby Bar , it is among Cork's most important live music venues and patrons can enjoy the sweet sounds of trad, folk, and country while enjoying a fine view of the River Lee outside. The bingo at Loafers is a lot of fun on Tuesday's, and all proceeds go to charity. The Exchange on Georges Quay is the place for the discerning wine drinker; it has the best selection of old and New World wines available and DJs play at night.