How To Spend The Day In Cork

We’ve done New York in a day (and it was as jetlaggingly awesome as you might expect).

Our second micro-trip is a bit closer to home: Cork in western Ireland.

It’s Ireland’s second city, but doesn’t snatch as many column inches as Europe’s other second cities (Rotterdam, Plovdiv, Lyon). As it turns out, Cork is a lively university town, known for its brews, secondhand shopping and busy port, which has given the city many architecturally interesting buildings (the Crawford Gallery chief among them). What’s more: it’s perfectly possible to see in a day if you catch an early flight.

Here’s how to do it.

8am: Meet at Heathrow

Aer Lingus flies out at 9.45am and back at 8.30pm, which means a perfectly manageable day trip.

10.15: Land in Cork

It’s a short hop across the Irish Sea to Cork. It’s raining (although according to the pilot, this constitutes “good” weather.) A taxi into town is swift: just 25 minutes to whip us along the Lee river, which bifurcates Cork, and into the city proper.

11.30: Visit the Crawford Gallery

Crawford Art Gallery

Start your day at Crawford Art Gallery (Tourism Ireland)

Cork’s main cultural institution is the gorgeous Crawford Gallery, which dates back to 1724. The city’s former customs house is today a warren of exhibition rooms that are either starkly modern or wonderfully heritage, with a nod to its maritime history in blues and petrol greys.

There’s the reimagined sculpture gallery (which includes some Canova casts, brought to Cork from the Vatican in the 19th century), which is painted in a bold turquoise; plus a wide open hall upstairs filled with Japanese-style furniture. Most of the work here is from Irish artists (and some of it from Cork’s own talent) and an hour is really all you need to see its three floors.

We would’ve had tea and cake in the quaint tea room downstairs, rumoured to serve Cork’s best brunch, but were headed elsewhere for lunch.

12.45: Wander the English Market

Cork’s English Market

Cork’s English Market actually sells traditional Irish treats (Tourism Ireland)

Cork’s English Market sells – contrary to its name – all manner of local Irish treats, such as spiced beef, salted ling (a traditional Irish white fish dish) and drisheen (a type of local blood sausage), underneath its 19th century arches. The market, which has been open for 230 years, is the kind of place you can snaffle cheese samples (try Toons Bridge, which sells West Cork cheese) and buy twee jars of chutney for a larder that you don’t have.

13.15: Lunch at Farmgate Cafe

Upstairs at the English Market is Farmgate Cafe, which overlooks the market. It’s split into a casual cafe and a more formal restaurant, where the menu has barely changed in 25 years, according to owner Kay. Regulars come for the traditional Irish dishes like lamb stew and fennel sodabread, and the cosily local vibe – notice the poems from Corkonians framed on the walls. Sides of steamed golden wonder potatoes, drooling butter, are quite the afternoon pick-me-up.

14.30: Visit Cork City Gaol

Cathy in Cork City Gaol

Cathy in Cork City Gaol (Lisa Collins)

To keep the energy levels up after the post-lunch carb slump, we visit Cork’s 19th century castle-like jail. The heavy-set building sits high above the city, overlooking Cork from its dark stone walls. An audio tour is an engaging way to learn about the jail’s history and, for our purposes, takes less than an hour. Bonus: there are play pillories which make perfect Instagram mock torture shots.

15.45: Go vintage shopping along St Patrick’s Street

St Patrick’s Street is Cork’s main shopping street with the usual high-street brands – but we’re here instead for the city’s vintage shopping opportunities. The Village Hall vintage market and studio, on St Patrick’s Quay, is a carefully curated school hall-like boutique overspilling with wigs, vintage electronics, dusty books and thick coats that wouldn’t look out of place in a detective novel.

16.45: Have a drink at the Franciscan Well

Cork is no stranger to brewing its own beer – big-label Irish brands Murphy’s and Beamish originate in the city. Nipping on their heels is a cohort of craft breweries, of which the Franciscan Well is the most atmospheric. For starters, it’s built on a Franciscan monastery that dates back to 1219; there’s a pizza oven in the garden, which gives it a festive summer vibe even in winter; and the 5.5 per cent Chieftain IPA will knock you for six if you have more than three pints of it.

Which might be just the vibe you’re after following an seven-hour day trip to Cork.

18.00: Taxi back to the airport

A short 25-minute taxi back to the airport…

20.30: Airport catch the last flight of the day out of Cork. The departure lounge is sweetly deserted.

21.30: Land in Heathrow

We’ve ignored County Cork’s wider charms, but a day is enough to see most of Ireland’s second city draws: craft beer, history, art and Ireland’s tastiest spuds.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Ryanair and Aer Lingus fly from London to Cork from £34 and £111 respectively.

Visiting there

For more information about booking a trip to Cork, visit