Set on a river-surrounded island, Ireland's historic yet vibrant second city comes to life in summer, when the days are long, the beer flows, and the living is easy

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Why go now?

Ireland's second city is an ideal summer destination, whether on a short break or as part of a longer Irish holiday: friendly, compact, lively – and sufficiently far west for the evening light in August to endure beyond 9pm.

Touch down

Non-stop flights operate to Cork from a wide range of British airports, primarily on the three Irish airlines: Aer Arann (0800 587 2324;; Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair. com); and Aer Lingus (08459 737747;

Cork airport is five miles south of the centre. Two competing bus operators offer links to the city. The Bus Eireann AirCoach (00 353 21 450 8188; runs at least hourly. The 20-minute run to Parnell Place bus station (1) is €4.10 (£3.40) single or €6.50 (£5.40) return.

The SkyLink Airport Express (00 353 21 432 1020; runs every hour on each of two routes, non-stop between the airport and the city, in about 15 minutes, serving the main hotel areas (including the two hotels mentioned below); €5 (£4) single/€8 (£5.40) return.

A cab to the city centre costs €15-€20 (£12.50-£17).

Get your bearings

The heart of Cork occupies an elongated island, created where the river Lee divides into two channels. The helpful tourist office (2) on Grand Parade (00 353 21 425 5100; opens 9am-6pm daily (10am-4pm on Sundays). For an overview of the city, head for the Cork Vision Centre (3), in the 18th-century St Peter's church on North Main Street (00 353 21 427 9925; It has a large relief model of the city at its centre, which you can view from a raised platform. Open 10am-5pm daily except Sunday and Monday, free.

Check in

MacCurtain Street, parallel with the northern branch of the river, and has a range of accommodation – including the characterful three-star Hotel Isaacs (4) at number 48 (00 353 21 450 0011; www., where a double room costs from €70 (£60), including breakfast, if you book in advance online.

On the south side of town, Jurys (5) is a stylish 21st-century property on its own islet off Western Road (00 353 21 425 2700; www.jurysdoyle. com). Room rates vary, but doubles are typically €120 (£100), including breakfast. There are also plenty of B&Bs along Western Road.

Cork has several backpacker hostels, of which the most attractive is Kinlay House (6) on Bob & Joan's Walk (00 353 21 450 8966;; twin room €48 (£40), including breakfast. Book ahead for weekend nights.

Take a view

Elizabeth Fort (7), south of the river, was built by the citizens in the 18th century on the orders of the British. It has a commanding position overlooking the city centre, and is now a police station. Repair work means the best views are closed off, but a couple of openings allow you to look out over the city.

Take a hike

Start at the National Monument just opposite the tourist office (2), which commemorates Irish rebels of the 18th and 19th centuries. Walk north, away from the river, along the broad and handsome Grand Parade – once a waterway lined with warehouses, as were the other main streets until 1780 when the authorities filled them in.

Turn right into the main shopping thoroughfare, St Patrick's Street, noting Ireland's most elegant McDonald's in the premises of a former wine merchant, and the curious lamp posts along the street. As it curves around, look to the left to see the tight bundle of lanes that comprise the Huguenot Quarter, where many Protestants fleeing France settled in the 17th century. They are now full of bars, restaurants and shops.

At the north channel of the river Lee, turn right to follow Merchant's Quay (8) for one block before walking south along Parnell Place. At the south channel, look across to the handsome bulk of the City Hall (9). Turn right for the final straight of the circuit, along South Mall – a muddle of ancient, modern and plain messy. Just at the corner of Grand Parade, look on your left to see an unprepossessing bridge, named after Nano Nagle, the 18th-century Cork woman who founded Catholic education in the English-speaking world.

Lunch on the run

The English Market (10) on Grand Parade owes its name to the era when only English settlers were allowed to shop at this elegant 19th-century trading forum. Today, it is open to all (8am-6pm daily except Sundays) and sells excellent local produce and traditional Cork food. From the stand at the Grand Parade entrance, you can buy tripe and drisheen, a sausage-like creation made from sheep's blood. This delicacy is also served for lunch, upstairs at the Farmgate Café (00 353 21 427 8134), where you can also enjoy fry-ups, soups, salads and abundant Barry's Tea.

Cultural afternoon

Cork's stint as European Capital of Culture in 2005 brought into focus the city's artistic and architectural heritage. The Crawford Municipal Art Gallery (11), on Emmet Place (00 353 21 490 7855; www.crawfordart, was created in the old Customs House thanks to the benevolence of one of the families who owned the Beamish & Crawford Brewery, and has been stylishly extended to show a wide range of Irish art. Open 10am-5pm daily except Sunday, admission free.

In the revitalised Shandon area, north of the river, the Butter Museum (12), in O'Connell Square (00 353 21 430 0600; www.corkbutter. museum), explores butter's role in the development of Cork, as purveyor of the product throughout the British Empire. Open 10am-5pm daily from March to October, admission €3.50 (£3).

Window shopping

While St Patrick's Street is the main shopping drag, the north end of Cornmarket Street (13) is more interesting. It hosts the Coal Quay market and a new shopping mall, the Cornmarket Centre, which opens this month.

An aperitif

In central Cork you are rarely more than one minute's walk from the next drinking opportunity. Most visitors, though, are keen to find a traditional Irish pub. Happily, there are still many of these – such as Dennehy's on Cornmarket Street (13). You could also try the rambling, friendly Counihan's (14), on the corner of Phoenix and Pembroke Streets, where only the plasma screens disrupt the ambience. One pub worth visiting for its name alone – plus, of course, heavy metal – is Fred Zeppelin's (15) on Parliament Street.

Dining with the locals

Gourmet vegetarian dishes are on the menu at Café Paradiso (16) , at 16 Lancaster Quay (00 353 21 427 7939;, where the decor matches the eclectic style of Denis Cotter's cuisine. It's probably the only place in Cork serving samphire tempura. If you fall in love with the place, there are now rooms upstairs. Scoozi's (17), at 314 Winthrop Avenue (00 353 21 427 5077;, is cheaper, meatier and more relaxed, and offers alfresco dining in summer. Start with the cheese course – a tasty Greek tartlet – and then move on to flaming chicken, skewered with vegetables.

Sunday morning: go to church

St Fin Barre's Cathedral (18), on Bishop Street (00 353 21 496 3387;, looks older than its 138 years thanks to its French Gothic façade. It was built in 1870 on the site where the saint was thought to have started a monastic school in the seventh century. Sunday services are at 8am and 11.15am; also open 12.30-5pm on Sundays, 9.30am-5.30pm on other days; €3 (£2.50).

Close by is Cork's hidden gem. On Abbey Streetthere is a sign to the grave of the aforementioned Nona Nagle; walk through the gate to find the grounds of Presentation Convent (19), the secret garden where she is buried.

A walk in the park

This stroll includes a couple of doses of culture as well as a profusion of greenery and flowers. Start at the entrance to the grounds of University College Cork (20), cross the bridge and you will find yourself at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery (21) (00 353 21 490 1844; www., a dazzling prism with a fascinating temporary exhibition to 24 October 2008: "Bookish: when books become art". It opens noon-5pm on Sundays, and 10am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday (Thursdays to 8pm), admission free.

From the gallery, wander down to the river and continue to the Gaol Bridge (22). Cross it, jig left then right and you find Fitzgerald Park – full of gorgeous flowers and open-air sculptures. Cork Public Museum (23) (00 353 21 427 0679) occupies a Georgian house in the park and traces the history of the city. It opens 3-5pm on Sundays; on other days 11am-1pm and 2.15-5pm (to 4pm on Saturdays), free.

Take a ride

Bus 224 departs approximately hourly from the stop on Merchant's Quay (8), taking 20 minutes to reach Blarney, which is five miles north-west. Singles cost €3.15 (£2.50), returns €5.70 (£4.80). Get off at the village green.

Icing on the cake

Blarney Castle (00 353 21 438 5252; is much more than a tacky tourist draw. This 15th-century fortress residence stands on a rocky outcrop in landscaped grounds. The climb to the tower is narrow and winding, but the views are spectacular, and the obligatory kissin g of the Blarney Stone requires some hilarious gymnastics. It opens 9.30am-5.30pm on Sundays, 9am-7pm on other days, admission €10 (£8.20).