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Cork: An insider’s guide to the best beaches, activities, food and drink

Enjoy beautiful food, coastal walks and historical landmarks in Ireland’s largest county

Ireland's largest county is not easily summarised in one – or 10 – articles. But any Cork primer should start in Cork city itself, and highly recommended is a visit to Cork City Gaol (, a fascinating museum that lays out in moving terms just how stark the 19th-century penal system was (the Governor's House is now a museum dedicated to the history of radio).

You might have to wear face masks and stick to limited numbers, but the English Market ( is every bit as interesting as any museum, its ornate vaulted ceiling the ideal cover for some of the best food producers in the country. Take your al fresco picnic to nearby Bishop Lucey Park.

For a different kind of market, the old Ford plant on Centre Park Road has been transformed into the food-and-craft Marina Market ( There's lots of food stalls to explore, including Taylor's, which does perfect bacon-and-egg sandwiches, onto which you should add a latke, a pan-fried potato pancake.

The big pedestrianisation push of 2020 has made a huge difference to the city centre, especially on Princes Street, where the likes of Nash 19 (, Oak Fire Pizza (, Quinlan's Seafood Bar ( and Clancy's ( have set up socially distanced outdoor seating along the street.


Legendary vegetarian restaurant Café Paradiso ( has a more distilled menu for in situ dining (snacks and tapas in the evening; larger plates at lunch), but their takeaway box dinners are also delicious.

East of the city, Midleton is home to Ireland's most extensive distillery, but it's also one of the hotbeds of Cork's "locavore" scene, thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Allens of Ballymaloe House (, whose influence extends far beyond the grounds of their hotel, cafe and cooking school. Until restrictions are lifted Ballymaloe is only open to hotel residents, but the fabulous Farmgate ( in Midleton is compensation enough, as is a wander around the Saturday farmers market, one of the oldest in Ireland (try the Volcano pizza stand).

A 20-minute drive south and you're in Ballycotton, where the cliff walk should prime you for the Field Kitchen in the garden of the Blackbird Bar (, which serves superb burgers prepared by Ballymaloe grads Adrian and Lisa Gallen – the fish for the fish 'n chips is bought from the local pier. And if you're looking to fill a picnic basket, The Trawl Door is one of the best delis in the county.

In the west of the county Kinsale now has a few rivals when it comes to quality cuisine, but it's not likely to surrender its unofficial title as gourmet capital of Cork any time soon, especially when the likes of the Black Pig Wine Bar ( – which has a lovely garden for outdoor dining – and St Francis Provisions (Short Quay, Sleveen) keep producing exquisite grub; if you're looking for something even quicker, the tasty toasties from the brand-new Nag's Head – a converted horsebox – are highly recommended.

Best way to enjoy Kinsale's food? It's following the Scilly Walk, a coastal trail that takes you out from the harbour out to Charles Fort – before going up to the fort you can stop at the outdoor seating of the Bulman Bar for a pint and some fine food.

Travelling west and have time on your hands? Ditch the N71 for the minor R600 roads that extend like a spider's web along the coast, past beautiful beaches – Howe Strand is a personal favourite, as are the two beaches on either side of a rocky peninsula at Inchydoney, close to the renowned spa hotel (

You could spend weeks exploring the peninsulas of west Cork. The 18th-century Bantry House ( is worth a visit for its wonderful Italian gardens (check out those views) and the faded grandeur of the house proper; when you're done, Manning's ( – on the N71 near Ballylickey – is a hive of delicious local produce.

The gardens at Illnacullin are even more spectacular – you can take the 10-minute ferry with Harbour Queen Ferry ( or Blue Pool ( from Glengarriff to Garinish Island (, a horticultural miracle that is one of the highlights of any trip to the county.

To the south, at the top of the Mizen Head peninsula, Ballydehob is a credible rival to Kinsale when it comes to eating well. Choices in the town range from American-style sandwiches from Ron D's food truck (every Wednesday) and the award-winning Levis Corner House (, who run a fruit and veg stall every Wednesday and from mid-July to the end of August will also have a food truck by Bia Rebel (@biarebel on Instagram) that serves ramen. Top of the heap is Robbie Krawczyk's Michelin-starred Restaurant Chestnut (, which does a sensational takeaway three-course set meal as well a picnic style "crann" box packed full of charcuterie and local cheese.

From Ballydehob, it's a short drive to Barleycove, one of the top beaches in the county; if this one is full, there are also gorgeous stretches of sand at Galley Cove and Cockle Beach, both a couple of kilometres west of Crookhaven (which is where you'll find O'Sullivans – the ideal spot for a pint and a crab sandwich.

If you want to really get away from it all, the boat tour ( around Fastnet is a beaut: throughout the summer, boats go from Schull or Baltimore via Cape Clear to visit what is generally thought of as one of the most perfectly engineered lighthouses in the world. Although you don't land on the rock, you get close to "Ireland's teardrop", so named because it was the last bit of Ireland emigrants would see before disappearing across the Atlantic.

The Sheep's Head Peninsula, southwest of Bantry, is all about the rugged landscapes. West from Durrus, the road brings you through Ahakista, where you'll find the Tin Pub, with picnic tables outside and a flower-filled garden that goes right down to the water). Beyond Ahakista, everything gets more delightfully desolate: the Goat's Path Road, between Kilcrohane and Gortnakilly, brings you over the western flanks of Mt Seefin and has the kind of views that will have you pulling over every couple of hundred metres.

West of Kilcrohane, the road climbs up to a parking spot by Bernie's Cupán Tae (, the "teashop at the end of the world". From here, there's a beautiful waymarked path that brings you to the dramatic cliffs and lighthouse right at the edge of the peninsula. It's only a couple of kilometres to walk in total, but give yourself at least 90 minutes, and when you're done, the scones and salmon sandwiches at Bernie's await.