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How to explore Kinsale without a car
Plan a trip to vibrant Kinsale without a car.
Nicola BradyNicola Brady is a travel writer based in Dublin. She writes regularly for the Irish Independent, The Irish Times and Condé Nast Traveller, and has contributed to books on Dublin and Ireland for DK Eyewitness.
With its picturesque harbour, coastal footpaths and wealth of seafood restaurants, Kinsale ticks all the boxes when it comes to seaside towns. Take a walk along the narrow streets and you'll find art galleries, independent boutiques, not to mention some of the very best places to eat in the country. Kinsale is easily reached from Cork city, with regular buses running throughout the day and well into the evening, so you can stick around for a leisurely dinner.

It's well worth spending a full day in Kinsale, to experience both the town itself and the sights along the coastline, whether you want to see them on foot or by bike. Here are some ideas to give you some inspiration.

Photo credit: @lemon.limod

Start your day in Kinsale right

The bus to Kinsale leaves hourly from a few stops in Cork city centre – the train station, Clontarf Street and City Hall – so you can get on wherever is most convenient. Once you’ve arrived, get your bearings by meandering around the art galleries (the Gallery Kinsale is one of Munster's best for contemporary art) and boutiques on the market streets: Kinsale Leather is a chic shop selling handmade bags and accessories, while Granny’s Bottom Drawer stocks high end knitwear and homeware from around Ireland. There are loads of coffee shops, too - Wild and Tame is a small café on Market Street and Milk Market Café is just a few doors up the road.

Exterior image of The Milk Market Café in Kinsale, County Cork.
Grab a coffee at the colourful Milk Market Café.

When you’re fully caffeinated, make your way to Lower Road at the edge of the harbour and follow the signs for the Scilly Walk. This 6km walking trail leads you along the edge of the water and out the coast to Summercove, on a quiet path punctuated with benches and frequented by locals walking their dogs. The water here is calm and clear – take a look over the walls and you’ll see seaweed swaying with the tide and tiny fish darting around.

Kinsale Harbour in County Cork
Relax and enjoy harbour views.

The route officially ends in Summercove, but from there you can see Charles Fort at the top of the hill, just a few hundred metres away. It’s a striking building from the road, but it’s only when you step inside that you appreciate its scale. A giant, star-shaped fort set on the edge of the cliffs, the structure is remarkably intact despite dating back to the 17th century. The views from inside back to Kinsale are particularly good, too. You can take a guided tour or explore on your own.

If you’d rather take a guided cycling tour, there are a few on offer from Wild Atlantic Sports, from half day tours around the coast to full day excursions that include lunch. Otherwise, you can pick up your e-bike rental from their HQ at Kinsale College of Further Education, which is a ten-minute walk north of town.

Two people getting a tour of Charles Fort in Kinsale
Learn more about Charles Fort with a guided tour.

Spend the afternoon cycling along the coast

A bike is also a great option if you If you want to get out and explore the coast. The local section of the EuroVelo1 cycling route takes you from Kinsale out to Old Head, on a 27km loop. It can get fairly hilly, so the easiest way to tackle the route is on an e-bike, which you can rent from Wild Atlantic Sports. Once you leave Kinsale, the route passes the little bay of Sandycove, where you can sometimes spot wild mountain goats on the island. You’ll then cycle on quiet country roads that hug the start of the Wild Atlantic Way, taking you up some steep climbs along the way. Don’t worry, though – on an ordinary bike these hills would be thigh-killers, but one flick of the turbo button on the e-bike will power you through those climbs.

When you get to the Old Head, take a pit stop at the tiny Lusitania Museum and Old Head Signal Tower. At the edge of the garden, there’s a memorial frame made from thousands of perforated holes, which points to the spot where the Lusitania sank in 1912. There’s also a small café with outdoor seating, where you can get a cup of tea or a homemade chocolate brownie.

Cycle out to Old Head for the afternoon.
Cycle out to Old Head for the afternoon.

The route then takes you along the coast past Garrettstown Beach, where you can watch the surfers take on the waves from the shore. There are a couple of coffee trucks too – Running Goat serves up iced lattes with whipped cream, and you can get homemade acai bowls and smoothies at Bean and Berry. For a moment of zen, stop at the neighbouring Garrylucas Beach and unwind in The Sauna Snugg, then hop in the water to cool off and reenergise. On the way back to Kinsale, the route cuts inland, taking you past rapeseed fields and pretty villages like Ballinspittle.

People queueing to order at Bean and Berry in Kinsale, County Cork.

Photo credit: @bean_and_berry_

Grab a fresh acai bowl from Bean and Berry.

Where to eat in Kinsale

The Scilly Walk is bookended by two good options for a bite to eat. The Spaniard Inn is closer to Kinsale, serving pub grub like chowder and steak sandwiches. There are tables inside the pub, or you can eat on the outdoor patio that catches the lunchtime sun. When the tide is in, people often jump in for a quick dip.

For fish and chips, head to Dinos at the harbour and eat them at one of the benches by the water. Or, if you’re heading back from the cycle route, swing by the layby just to the left of Archdeacon Duggan Bridge where the Catch of the Day food truck is parked, selling crispy fried hake and perfectly golden chips.

A box of fish and chips from Catch of the Day in Kinsale, County Cork.

Photo credit: @lemonlimod

Grab a box of delicious fish and chips to-go from Catch of the Day.

All food is good in Kinsale, but it’s with seafood that it really comes into its own. At Fishy Fishy, they serve up whatever the fishermen have brought in that day – you might see local lobster, monkfish or crab claws poking out of a fish pie. You can also get small plates and cocktails in their adjoining wine bar, The Blue Room.

A platter of oysters from Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, County Cork.

Photo credit: @_send_fudes

Try the freshest seafood dishes at Fishy Fishy.

Bastion is Kinsale’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, serving a multi-course tasting menu to just 20 diners each evening. They also do a casual menu of light bites and wines by the glass in the bar, for something a bit more low key.

The Black Pig is a tiny tapas and wine bar that serves up dishes like Oysterhaven oysters with shallot vinegar, smoked Ummera duck breast and burrata with caponata. They also do a few different charcuterie boards, if you don’t want a full meal. 

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