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Situated in the southwest of the country, Cork is Ireland's second largest city behind Dublin, with a population of 120,000. The city straddles the River Lee, with the center on an island in the middle of the river.
There are dozens of bridges across the river and water plays an important part in the city's life and history: Cork is a seaport, and this adds to the cosmopolitan feel of this small city.
Cork lacks the tourist crowds of Dublin but is perhaps all the better for it. It offers an authentic taste of Irish life, with music spilling from the many pubs and good food served in lots of restaurants. The city also provides a base from which to explore the beautiful surrounding countryside.
The old gaol is just outside the city center and is a stop on the city sightseeing bus. It's around a 30-minute walk for those who feel a little more energetic. It has a good museum, chronicling a history that includes the transportation of convicts to Australia. Admission is EUR8.00.
The Lough Park is a Public Wildlife Refuge just half a mile southwest of the city center. It consists of a small spring-fed freshwater lake with an island at its center. There is lots of wildlife and the park also teems with locals enjoying the scenery, relaxing, or running in the grounds.
Blarney Castle lies just five miles to the north of Cork. The famous Blarney Stone is built into its ramparts. Kissing it means the visitor must lie on their backs and lean over the walls, but in doing so they are said to be blessed with the gift of eloquence. Admission is EUR14.00
Cork's English Market is one of the finest covered markets in Britain and Ireland and a must for foodies. Its focus is on culinary products, and you will find lots of stalls selling a huge variety of herbs, spices, fish, meat, oils, sauces, and cheeses. There are also cafes where you can sample some of the produce.
A stroll in the grounds of the university is a great way to soak up some of the city's culture. The architecture of the college buildings is beautiful, and the manicured gardens provide an attractive and peaceful retreat.
The peak tourist season in Cork is undoubtedly summer. This is when rainfall is lowest and warm daytime temperatures head towards 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The Midsummer Festival runs from mid-June to mid-July, with lots of theater, music, and art, adding to the enjoyment of visiting the city at this time. Visitors also come for the Cork Film Festival at the beginning of November and the Cork Jazz Festival on the last weekend of October.
Cork Airport (ORK) lies five miles to the south of the city center. It has good connections to UK airports and some international destinations across Europe. The 226 bus service connects the airport with the city center, leaving every 30 minutes. The 20-minute journey to Cork City Bus Station costs EUR7.40. Taxis are also available outside the arrivals hall and will charge EUR15-20 to take you into the city center.
The main rail station in Cork is Kent Station on Lower Glanmire Road. It has direct services to Cobh, Dublin, Midleton, Mallow, and Tralee, with connecting services to other cities and towns. There are frequent daily services to Dublin but do try to book online three days or more in advance. This means a ticket will cost EUR19.99 or less, whereas paying on the day at the station could cost you EUR77.00.
The main route to Dublin is the M7/M8 motorway, which should take around 2 hours 30 minutes for the journey. The N20 is the main route to Limerick and takes 1 hour 45 minutes.
Bus services in Ireland are operated by Bus Éireann. They operate services to Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Shannon, and Galway. GoBus offers express services between Dublin and Cork, with single fares from EUR14.00.
Cork is relatively compact and walkable, with most accommodation in or near the city center. Kinlay House is a good budget option, operating an environmentally conscious hostel on the north side of the city center. The Imperial Hotel has a good central location and comfortable rooms, while Hayfield Manor is a splendid 5-star hotel.
Barrack Street - this is where to go to experience Cork's buzzing nightlife. It is famous in the city for its number and variety of bars and clubs such as the Bierhaus, which has the largest selection of beers in the city. In this district, expect lots of live music - and a fair amount of noise too.
Shandon - Shandon is a quieter district of Cork, just around a mile northeast of the city center. It sits on the north bank of the River Lee and is home to the Church of St. Anne, which is noted for its tuneful bells. This historic district is now a conservation area, with lots of interesting architecture.
Midleton - this area is just outside Cork and is home to the famous Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery (set to reopen in March 2017). There is also an excellent farmers market on Saturday mornings.
There is a good bus service connecting the center of Cork to the surrounding suburbs. Most services operate from St. Patrick's Street and the South Mall. Fares cost from EUR2.10 for a single journey
There are lots of taxi ranks across the city. If hailing a taxi, look for the green and blue stickers on the front doors and light on the roof. If the light is on, the taxi is available. The starting fare is EUR4.00 and then around EUR1.80 per mile.
City center streets in Cork can be narrow, busy, and steeply sloped, so driving can be a bit of a challenge. Some city center streets are pedestrianized and there is a one-way system to add to the complexity. If you are confident with this sort of environment, car rental is widely available from companies like Enterprise and Budget, with rates from around EUR22.00 per day.
Opera Lane is one of the city's main shopping streets, featuring big brand fashion stores. Smaller boutiques are to be found in the side streets, selling jewelry, and souvenirs, while the English Market is the place to go for upscale food.
A quart of milk in Cork will cost around EUR1.22, while a dozen large eggs will cost EUR4.14. Main supermarkets and convenience stores include Tesco, Iago, and Centra Stores and can be found throughout town.
Clancy's Bar and Restaurant offers traditional Irish pub fare from around EUR10.00. Scoozis is very popular and offers grill-type food from around EUR15.00 for a main course, while the Ivory Tower is an upscale restaurant offering a modern take on Irish food, with a EUR45.00 tasting menu.