Somewhere For The Weekend: Cork

Ireland's second city is compact and friendly, and currently abuzz with the annual arts festival. Aoife O'Riordain enjoys some Gaelic hospitality
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The Independent Travel

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

The Cork Arts Fest 2002 is in full swing in various locations throughout the city. The week-long festival, organised by the Cork Institute of Technology, features more than 70 events ranging from theatre to musical performances, dance, film screenings, lectures and art exhibitions. A highlight of the Arts Fest, which ends on Sunday, is the Gradam Ceoil 2002 on Saturday night at the Cork Opera House, which celebrates the best of traditional Irish music.

For further information contact the Arts Fest Office on 00 353 21 432 6445 or visit www.cit.ie/artsfest.

DOWN PAYMENT

The cheapest air fare to Cork I could find for this weekend is £85 return from Heathrow on Aer Lingus (0845 084 4444, www.aerlingus.com); book online for the cheapest fares. Ryanair (0871 246 0000, www.ryanair.com) is offering a fare of £128 return this weekend from London Stansted. Also try British European (08705 676 676, www.flybe.com) from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Birmingham; Air Arann Express (00 353 1 814 1058, www.skyroad.com) from Birmingham, Southampton, Bristol and Edinburgh; or Air Wales (0870 01 33 151, www.airwales.com) from Cardiff, which has return flights from £129. A taxi to the city centre costs around €12 (£8). There is also a regular shuttle bus from the airport that deposits you in the centre at Parnell Place. The single fare is €3.15 (£2.10).

INSTANT BRIEFING

The Republic's second city, Cork or "Corcaigh", takes its name from the Gaelic word for "marshy place". The city centre is actually an island marooned between two channels of the river Lee. The island has been a settlement for more than four millennia and has survived centuries of invasions from the Vikings, Normans, Danes and the armies of William of Orange to become the laid-back and friendly city that it is today. It boasts some impressive buildings and wide Georgian streets, such as Patrick Street and Grand Parade, all easily navigable on foot. The surrounding areas, linked by bridges, form the suburbs of the city and all are within relatively easy walking distance, with the north side sloping gently up the surrounding hills. The main tourist office is in Tourist House, Grand Parade (00 353 21 425 5100), and is open 9.15am-5.30pm daily except Sunday.

REST ASSURED

The city is not exactly overflowing with great places to stay, but those that do exist are generally quirky and interesting. Cork's swankiest hotel is Hayfield Manor (00 353 21 484 5900, www.hayfieldmanor.ie) in Perrott Avenue, which has doubles from €280 (£187) per night. Another luxurious option, overlooking the river Lee, is the Kingsley Hotel (00 353 21 480 0555, www.kingsleyhotel.com); Mary McAleese, the President of Ireland, is a regular guest. Double rooms cost from €350 (£230) per night. For an interesting alternative check into a townhouse or one of the grander B&Bs. Seven North Mall (00 353 21 439 7191, www.sevennorthmall.com) is a small townhouse a short walk from the centre and is one of the coolest places to stay. Doubles cost from €90 (£60).

MUST SEE

The three spires of the imposing St Finbarr's Cathedral on Bishop Street dominate the city's skyline. The cathedral is worth a visit not only for its scale and French gothic architecture, but also for its impressive stained-glass rose window. The Crawford Municipal Art Gallery (00 353 21 427 3377, www.crawfordartgallery.com) is one of Ireland's most important galleries outside Dublin and displays the works of noteworthy Irish artists such as William Orpen, Jack B Yeats and Walter Osbourne. Open daily 10am-4.45pm, closed Sundays.

Hop on the train in Cork for the 25-minute journey to Cobh Harbour (pronounced Cove). Return fares cost €4.40 (£2.90). Here you can pay a visit to The Cobh Heritage Centre and The Queenstown Story (00 353 21 4 813 591, www.cobhheritage.com). From the 1700s to the mid-1950s, some 2.5 million emigrants said goodbye to their native land at Cobh and boarded ships that would carry them to their new lives in America. The Queenstown Story chronicles the life of the port that played such a large part in Ireland's history, and which was also the final port of call for the ill-fated Titanic.

No trip to Cork is complete until you've tried your hand at ringing the Shandon Bells of St Anne's Church (00 353 21 450 5906), high on a hill on Shandon Street to the north of the city. Its bells hold a special place in the hearts of Corkonians, having been immortalised in a poem written by a local priest. It has an unusual weather vane in the shape of a salmon, and its clock is known as "the four-faced liar". Open daily from 10.30am to 3pm. To ring the bells costs €5 (£3.30).

MUST BUY

Cork is not what you'd call a top shopping destination. However, there are a handful of places to spend a few hours browsing. The English Market is an indoor food bazaar with stalls selling local vegetables, cheeses, meat, and breads. There is also a craft centre, housed in the atmospheric surroundings of the Cork Butter Market. Wander along Paul Street, the old Huguenot section of the city, which is filled with small shops and cafés. For designer labels, head to the Cork outpost of the swanky Dublin department store Brown Thomas (00 353 21 480 5555) on Patrick Street.

MUST EAT

One thing you will have to forsake on a visit to Cork is a pint of Guinness. The locally brewed Murphy's and Beamish are the dark beers of choice in this part of the country, so don't even think of ordering anything else. For lunch, try The Farmgate Café (00 353 21 463 2771) upstairs in the English Market. Food doesn't come much fresher than this, as most of it is sourced directly from the market below.

For something a little more demure, Jacques (00 353 21 427 9527) on Phoenix Street is a local favourite. One of the house specialities is roast duck, which has been a staple on the menu for more than 20 years. For a sophisticated dinner, book a table at Jacob's (00 353 21 425 1530), 30a South Mall, another of Cork's most popular restaurants.

INTO THE NIGHT

You'll have plenty of opportunity to stay up well into the small hours in Cork. To hang out with the local trendies, try The Bodega (00 353 21 427 2878), 46-49 Cornmarket Street, and The Raven (00 353 21 427 7307), 100 South Main Street. There is also traditional music most nights – and plenty of Murphy's – at An Spailpin Fanach (00 353 21 427 7949), 28 South Main Street. If cocktails are more your thing, The Vineyard (00 353 21 427 4793) is currently the city's coolest location for late lounging with a martini.

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