There are a few things I’m embarrassed about. I don’t know my right from my left, for starters. No matter how many times people try to teach me, I still end up giving bad directions. I’m also embarrassed that I’ve lived an hour’s flight from Ireland for years and I’ve only been there twice. While learning my right from left is pretty much a futile pursuit at this point, traveling to Ireland isn’t. Which is why I’m spending the next 36 hours in Cork.

Cork, Ireland

36 Hours in Cork

Why Cork? Locals proclaim that Cork is the true capital of Ireland, and since the only other place I’ve been to in the Republic of Ireland is Dublin, it’s naturally the next place to go. As it turns out, I’ve chosen well.

Street in Cork, Ireland

Where to Stay in Cork

I arrive in Cork with my boyfriend on a sunny morning, ready to see what the city has to offer. Our first stop is the luxurious Hayfield Manor, a five-star hotel in the Cork city center.

The hotel has offered us a stay for the night, and we find ourselves in a spacious room overlooking the a pretty garden. Despite high expectations, the elegant decor and attention to detail still manage to impress us.

Hayfield Manor, Cork

We settle into Hayfield Manor, exploring the restaurant and cozy corners where deliciously graceful afternoon teas are served. We also look longingly at the spa, but with only 36 hours in Cork, we sadly don’t have time to indulge.

Shop in Cork

English Market in Cork

It’s okay, though, because Cork has enough to entertain us that we don’t miss it too much. We start our 36 hours in Cork by walking from the hotel into the city, heading straight for the English Market.

English Market, Cork

Cork’s English Market is one of the most famous covered food markets in Ireland. It has rows of vendors selling everything from fresh seafood to cloth-covered jars of jam and bright green bell peppers.

We take it all in, letting our appetites grow with our appreciation. It’s an impressive place.

English Market, Cork

Eventually we make our way upstairs to a balcony overlooking the stalls. Farmgate Cafe has come highly recommended, and we have local fish and salads for lunch as the market activity buzzes below.

Food at the English Market, Cork

Cultural Highlights of Cork

Back outside, we explore an open-air Saturday market in the square across the street, then turn our attention to Cork’s cultural side.

Like many Irish cities, this one is famous for its pubs and nightlife, but there’s a lot to explore during the day, too.

Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork

We start at Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork’s main religious landmark. The building is impressive with its Neo-Gothic arches and tall spires, but we discover a little garden maze that captivates us just as much.

Grass Maze in Cork

Above the cathedral we walk along the stone walls of the 17th-century Elizabeth Fort, a star-shaped fortress with big black canons and views across the city.

Elizabeth Fort, Cork

Diving deeper into Cork’s cultural highlights, we visit the two main art museums, the Crawford Art Gallery in the heart of the city center and the Lewis Glucksman Gallery on the grounds of University College, Cork.

The latter awes us with its striking contemporary architecture, and we’re climbing the steps for a better view before we even know what’s inside.

Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork

Around it, the university buildings are reminiscent of the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. Stone quadrangles draped in autumn leaves make us feel like students again, and a few cool modern buildings catch our attention, too.

University College, Cork

Cork Pubs

Having checked the box for our culture fix, we spend the rest of the afternoon in Cork doing what any good visitors should: exploring the pubs.

A colorful pub called Reidy’s Vault Bar first lures us in with its bright red door, and we try Beamish stout (don’t order Guinness in this city) in a lovely room with an ornate dark wood bar and lots of tables of various shapes and sizes.

Reidy's Vault Bar, Cork

From there our 36 hours in Cork take us to El Fenix, a small pub with a low wood beam ceiling and whiskey bottles with glowing candles on every table. It has a cozy ambiance that makes us want to settle in for the night.

Good Food Sign in Cork

Cork Restaurants and Nightlife

But Cork’s food scene calls again, and we find ourselves at dinner at Market Lane, a bustling bistro with a good selection of local food (the wine list could use some work).

My sweet potato and feta hash is a winner, and we end the day on a positive note.

Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork

Back at Hayfield Manor, live music has taken over the lobby and seemingly every other corner of the hotel’s ground floor. We’re pleasantly surprised to see such a lively scene, even if it could make falling asleep a bit tricky with the noise.

Colorful House and Door in Cork

The next day we continue our 36 hours in Cork with a leisurely breakfast at the hotel—we’ve been told by a Twitter follower that the breakfast is worth lingering over, and it’s true. But we don’t want to spend the rest of our 36 hours in Cork at the table.

Day Trip from Cork

No, we set off on a mission to one of the most famous landmarks in Ireland: Blarney Castle. But you’ll have to wait until the next post to read about it.

Street in Cork, Ireland

36 Hours in Cork, Ireland

In the meantime, I can safely say that while I may never know my right from my left, I’m glad I’m no longer embarrassed to have seen so little of Ireland.

My 36 hours in Cork have shown me the highlights of the city and left me wanting more. Which is good, because I’m off to spend a weekend break in Ardmore on the Irish coast next, and I can’t wait to discover it.

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Cork, Ireland

36 Comments on Lady’s Guide to 36 Hours in Cork

  1. I’ve been to Cork! A very long time ago, but it was such a lovely place. I also knew a guy who had such trouble remembering his lefts and rights that he had to subtly write them on either side of his rear vision mirror for driving! 😉

    • Went to Cork in 2010, first time in Ireland. Being a trip of a lifetime, my daughter and I spent a glorious month travelling all around Ireland, my family is originally from the midlands, went to the church my grandparents were married, original homested, etc. Loved it all want to go back again before I am far too old. Would love to take my son who is extremely proud of his Irish heritage. We are Canadian now

  2. I’m terrible at my rights and lefts, too! Glad I’m not the only one 😉 I didn’t make it to Cork while I lived in London so it’s fun to explore it through your photos. Looks like the weather really cooperated for your visit!

  3. As a Corkonian, I’ve enjoyed Part 1 of your piece; if you’re ever back this way, try venturing further afield to the towns of Kinsale (famous for its Gourmet Festival), Cobh (last landfall of the Titanic), and west to Clonakilty and Skibbereen, in easy reach of beautiful beaches…

  4. Cork looks awesome! I’m so glad this is on our list of places to visit when my boyfriend and I head to Ireland for a week in March. I’ll definitely stay tuned for the next post to see what else you guys got to see and do!

  5. Hi Julie, great post and pictures! I was in Cork a long time ago and now I feel like going back again. Pity you didn’t have time to visit Cobh down south. Now I’m curious about this famous landmark. Shall I guess? Or shall I only say you sound even more eloquent now? 😀

  6. We must have visited Ireland around the same time! I started in Cork too and then we hired a car and drove along the south west coast for a week, it was glorious. I’ve been writing up my road trip diaries here, if you’re interested!

  7. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m an American with Irish heritage and I’ve never stepped foot in Ireland! That will be changing soon, though, as I’ve started planning my first trip there. I had planned to focus on Dublin, but this has me rethinking my itinerary. Cork looks so charming!

  8. Ah, we were in Cork at the same time! Such fantastic weather, wasn’t it? You’ll have to head to Galway next — that may be my favorite town in Ireland.

  9. What a fantastic post on Cork. Lovely pics and you went to see nice places while you were here. Great choice of hotel too – I always love the charm of Hayfield Manor. I live here – well in Kinsale actually, just south of Cork. Cork is all the richer for welcoming guests like you. Thanks for posting!!

  10. Hello, I enjoyed reading 36 hours in Cork! My GGM was Cork born ~1859, and later met my GGF, from UK, marrying in NYC in 1884. We travel to Belfast in June to hub’s school reunion, and, from there, I look forward to seeing and experiencing Cork. Many thanks.

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