in may, I embarked on a two week road trip around certain parts of Ireland. starting in dublin, my itinerary took me to kilkenny, waterford, castlemartyr, and finally cork. the road trip also included day trips to the cliffs of moher, the ring of kerry, the copper coast, and the villages west of cork.
during the next several weeks I'm going to break down each destination, talking about the city, the hotels, the things-to-do, the food, and our itinerary. I'll give you an honest look at how safe I felt, how clean the city and the hotel was, insights on getting around, what was worth seeing and what to skip, and what I would do differently knowing what I now know.
I'll also be breaking down what it's like to drive in Ireland, particularly as someone coming from America, as well as advice on day trips while you're in Ireland.
we started our roadtrip in dublin, then drove through wicklow national park to our second destination, kilkenny, ireland, then we headed south to our third overnight, waterford, then to the countryside to castlemartyr, and finally to our last overnight in cork...
population - according to a 2016 census, the population of cork city and it's immediately surrounding suburbs was 208,669.
a brief history - like so many other cities and towns in Ireland, cork started as monastic city but became a viking town in approximately 920. today the city of cork is known as the "second capital" of Ireland.
safety - according to various reports cork has relatively low crime. we were only in cork for one day/night, but I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. even if I was by myself, I would have been comfortable walking around at night.
cleanliness - cleaner than Waterford, not as clean as Dublin. we certainly weren't constantly stepping over trash, dog feces or food like we were in Waterford, but the sidewalks and streets weren't quite as clean as they were in Dublin. it wasn't anything different than I've seen other big cities.
vibe - industrial. unlike Dublin where you get real sense of history while walking around, cork feels much colder and industrial. sure there are a few churches, and I do want to note that super touristy shopping area of cork has big beautiful buildings, but for the most part, when you get out of this area, it becomes very industrial feeling.
walking around - for the most part, cork is relatively flat. if you make your way off the beaten path a bit (for example, we walked to the franciscan well brewery) you may have some gradual inclines, but nothing that a good pair of walking shoes wouldn't take care of. there are some really San Francisco type hills in cork, but they lead you into the more residential areas, somewhere you likely wouldn't be wandering around on foot.
location - the metropole hotel is located in downtown cork, just a short walk across the river to all of the shopping and sites.
parking - parking at the metropole is self-park. since the hotel is right in a really busy place you're given a parking pass as hotel guest and you drive around the corner and park in a city parking ramp. parking as a hotel guest is a flat €7.50 per night, and just like in Waterford parking spaces are TIGHT! but there is a top floor and it's much easier to find an open parking space that isn't squeezed between two other cars
breakfast - the coffee at this hotel is THE WORST! I'm not a coffee snob at all, and this stuff tasted like diesel fuel. I took a sip, my face crinkled up, and Dylan said "is it that bad? like worse than gas station coffee?" and I responded with "I'd take a gas station coffee over this any day, happily." he looked at me like "are you sure you're not exaggerating", took a sip, and said "oh my god! gross!" after his reflexes spit the coffee back in the mug. it was terrible.
the rest of the breakfast was exactly what we'd come to expect from our previous hotels. a cold breakfast station with fruits, yogurts, breads/muffins, and cereals, then there was also a hot breakfast buffet with the standard items - eggs, bacon, sausage links, potatoes, grilled tomatoes, black and white pudding and sautéed mushrooms.
breakfast is €15 per person and we had a pass from the front desk so that it was put on our room bill, but you could just go to breakfast and have it charged to your room if you needed. planning breakfast at the front desk just makes it easier for the servers that it's all taken care of.
cleanliness - so the metropole hotel was clean, but I want to note that I didn't feel like our room was an accurate representation of what the pictures on hotels.com showed. it was sort of a rundown version of the picture. there was nothing wrong with our room at all. we stayed one night and booked a double room. we didn't need anything fancy, but the room was smaller than it looks in the picture with older furniture.
cost - the cost for our one night stay was $95.03 after taxes and fees.
the english market - I loved loved loved this market! now I suppose I'm a bit of a sucker for markets; the stalls of vendors with fresh produce, cheeses, meats, seafood, candies; it was lovely. if I lived in cork I think I could do the majority of my grocery shopping there and you'd always have a place to go for FRESH everything while also giving money to local merchants - a super duper winning combination in my book!
farmgate restaurant - farmgate restaurant is located on the top floor of the English market. this little cafe serves breakfast and lunch, and seats at the balcony that wraps around the market overlook the first floor of the cafe.
we stopped in and got coffee, a simple ham and gouda sandwich on a fresh baguette, and we splurged and shared a chocolate caramel bar. all were fantastic, and the cafe uses food directly from the market below. it was the perfect little lunch stop!
mutton lane inn - we accidentally stumbled upon a the mutton lane in when we were leaving the english market. we turned the corner and I saw this vibrant little alley tucked back between two buildings. of course we went to explore, and found this great little 'dive-type' bar tucked in there - the mutton lane inn. a long time ago the alley was used to run sheep into the English market, but today is an important part of cork's history.
food + drink
cafe paradiso - cafe paradiso is a vegetarian restaurant and one of the best meals that we had during our trip.
we decided to do the two courses for €33, and then we shared a bottle of wine. the food was sourced locally, fresh, and the flavors were amazing. we made reservations the same day and had no problem getting in, however we were there on a Monday so I suspect that day of the week is easier to get reservations at the last minute than other days. I would recommend getting reservations to be safe, and I would highly recommend a stop at cafe Paradiso if you're in cork.
I started with the sherry-braised little gem, potato gnocchi, smoked tomato butter, wild garlic, capers, mint, then had the confit artichokes, broad beans & scallion with lemon risotto, parsley broth, cratloe hills sheep's cheese, hazelnut crumb for my main dish.
Dylan started with the roast carrots, macroom buffalo mozzarella, burnt aubergine, honey, pickled fennel, ras-el-hanout crumb, then had the feta & pistachio couscous cake, smoky greens, lemon chickpeas, coriander yoghurt, zhoug oil, date jam for his main course.
rising sons brewery - when we got to cork we were not even aware of the rising sons brewery, but while we were chatting with the bartender at the mutton lane inn she recommended heading to rising sons. in fact, Dylan had wanted to go to the Franciscan well brewery and her advice was that rising sons was a much better brewery. and when a local recommends somewhere to you, you really consider their advice, so we decided to make our way to rising sons.
rising sons has won many international beer awards and I have to say - the beer was good! I tend to be more of a wine or vodka drinker; I like beer but it makes me feel really full, but I always give it a try when I'm at a craft brewery, and this non-beer drinker was impressed!
in addition, the inside is funky and fun, and they have a little patio out front if you want to sit in the sun and enjoy the weather.
the franciscan well brewery - alright, I wanted to like the franciscan well brewery. I really did. I turned the corner and saw white lights strung over a small cobblestone alley, and was excited.
we walked in, ordered a beer, and headed to the back patio. that's where it all went downhill. first, I ordered a stout, which I typically really like, and it was fine, but I've had much better stout's so at best I'd rate it as average. but what really ruined it was the patio. on the outside it looks awesome. very eclectic, lots of places to sit; I was digging the vibe. but what killed it for the both of us was 1) the garbage smell, and 2) the dirty tables.
it absolutely reeked of garbage. I mean, find a new place to put your garbage because GROSS. I'm trying to sit and have a drink and that's terrible. also, our table was dirty. sticky rings from other beer glasses and ashes from cigarettes. so of course we got up to move to another table, only to discover that the rest were the same. and of the 10ish tables on the patio only 3 were occupied, so I saw no reason that someone hadn't come out and wiped down the tables.
we didn't even finish our beers. the garbage smell was too m much. we totally abandoned ship and headed out.
the metropole hotel > the English market > mutton lane inn > tk maxx > rising sons brewery > three spoons > sostrene grene > merchants quay shopping centre > the Franciscan well brewery > the metropole hotel > le chateau > cafe Paradiso > the metropole hotel = 4.7 miles (7.6km), 1:39 of walking
pin this travel guide so you know all about castlemartyr resort, and if you missed my '3 days in dublin', 'kilkenny travel guide', 'waterford travel guide', or 'castlemartyr travel guide' posts be sure to check them out, and stay tuned for posts about what it's like to drive in Ireland, plus day trips to the cliffs of moher, ring of Kerry, the copper coast, and the villages west of cork!