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How to explore Cork and Midleton without a car
Forget the car and discover new ways to explore Cork and Midleton.
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.
The best way to explore Cork is to lace up your walking shoes and wander around the city on foot. Whether you want to check out the galleries or browse at a local market, most of the city’s top attractions are all within walking distance of each other. And if you want to discover the sights outside of the city, there’s plenty to see just a short train ride away, from natural coastal wetlands to one of the world’s most famous distilleries.

Here’s how to spend a day exploring Cork and nearby Midleton.

Photo credit: @lemon.limod

Start your day in Cork city

It’s impossible to cram all of Cork city into just one morning, but you can certainly tick off a good few sights in one go. Start off in the English Market, for a walk around the various food stalls and a coffee from one of the café stands. A five-minute walk away is the Crawford Art Gallery, the city’s premier repository of art. Inside the 18th Century building you’ll find work spanning thousands of years, from Greek and Roman sculpture casts in the Turquoise Gallery to a selection of stained glass and watercolours by 20th Century Irish master Harry Clarke. Keep an eye out for their schedule of guided tours, which are free and often dedicated to a theme, like mindfulness or LGBTQ+ art.

If you want to visit somewhere a little further out of the city centre, like Fitzgerald’s Park or the Glucksman Gallery, consider getting a TFI Bike – there are 36 locations all over the city, and they’re free for the first 30 minutes.

A couple admiring the artwork on display at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork.
Admire the incredible artwork on display at the Crawford Art Gallery.

To get acquainted with the geography of the city, board one of the morning tours run by Cork Harbour Cruises. Departing from Customs House Quay (a five-minute walk from the main bus station), the cruise takes you out along the River Lee and into the mouth of the bay, giving you a unique vantage point of all the waterside landmarks.

The boat passes right by the base of Blackrock Castle, where the 16th Century towers and turrets rise up from the edge of the rocky shoreline. You’ll pass by the follies of grand country estates, see the lines of pastel-coloured houses in Passage West and sail out all the way to Cobh. From the water, you can also see sights that are invisible from the road, like Monkstown Castle, built by Anastacia Archdeacon in 1636 as a present for her husband John, who was then warring in Spain. The story goes that when he returned and saw the newly built castle he assumed the enemy had taken over the headland and fired a cannon at it.

Take in sites of Blackrock Castle.
Take in sites of Blackrock Castle.

You’ll also pick up some interesting dinner party facts – for example, did you know that all of Ireland’s bananas enter the country via this very waterway every Wednesday? Or that Cork Harbour is the second largest natural harbour in the world, second only to Sydney?

In the summer, there are evening sailings that follow the same route, but return to the city just as the sun is setting. There’s also a bar on board, if you fancy a sundowner.  

Where to eat in Cork city

Just 500m from Kent railway station, 5 Points is a café serving up New York style bagels and sourdough toasties from 7.30am during the week, and 9am/9.30am at the weekend. Get there early if you want a homemade bagel – they sell out quickly at the weekend.

The city’s docklands are in the middle of a regeneration project, and Marina Market was one of the first places to pop up in the neighbourhood. Set in an old warehouse, there are over 35 food stalls selling everything from rotisserie chicken and sushi, to pizza and doughnuts. When your food is ready, you can sit at one of the communal tables or at a cluster of vintage couches. It’s open every day from 8am-8pm, and there’s often live music.

If you can get a reservation, a meal in the Michelin-starred Ichigo Ichie is one of the hottest tables in town. But if not, head chef Takashi Miyazaki also owns the Miyazaki Japanese Takeaway, where you can get the same taste of Japan at more affordable prices. It’s open at lunchtime, too.

Spend the afternoon in Midleton

In the afternoon you can opt to explore more of Cork, or you can take the short train journey out to Midleton (23 minutes; every 30-60 minutes), a bustling market town east of the city. (If you do, be sure to get a seat on the right-hand side of the carriage for the best views of the water.)

The station is 500m north of the town centre, so make your way down to Main Street, stopping for a coffee in Bitesize Bakery or a browse in Midleton Books, before heading for the biggest draw in town.

The Midleton Distillery Experience is in a handsome stone building that’s been a local landmark for almost 200 years. There are various tours on offer – a basic tour takes around 75 minutes and includes a whiskey tasting, though aficionados might prefer the two-hour experience, which includes a snifter of the good stuff (AKA Midleton Very Rare). Afterwards, you can get a coffee (or something stronger) in the bar and sit in the covered courtyard. 

Exterior image of the Midleton Distillery Experience in Co Cork
Get a taste of the good stuff at the Midleton Distillery Experience.

If you feel like stretching your legs, walk a kilometre past the rows of cute houses to the Choctaw Native American Monument on the edge of town. This sculpture of giant steel eagle feathers, known as 'Kindred Spirits,' commemorates a donation made by the Choctaw people to Ireland in 1847 to provide aid during the Famine. 

There’s a very short looped walk around the sculpture as part of Bailick Park, where you can sit and watch the birds swoop into the Ballynacorra River. From there, it’s about a 15-minute walk back to the village.

Choctaw Native Monument in Midleton, County Cork.
Check out the Choctaw Native Monument.

Where to eat in Midleton

With a casual, neighbourhood bistro vibe, Sage is open for lunch and dinner – you can get lighter bites during the day, like buddha bowls and noodle salads, and heartier grub in the evening, like hake kiev or rack of lamb. There are tables inside or out in the garden room, a sheltered outdoor space filled with giant herb plants and vines growing on the ceiling.  

For a quick lunch, the Grumpy Bakers specialise in sourdough bread and pastries, so you can pick up a giant sausage roll or brioche bun stuffed with thick cut bacon to eat on the go. And don’t worry, the gang are far cheerier than the name suggests.

If you happen to be in Midleton on a Saturday, you can pick up some freshly baked bread, pastries or local cheeses at the excellent farmer’s market, which takes place on Market Square.

Pastries for sale in the Grumpy Baker in Midleton, County Cork.
Grab a scrumptious pastry at the Grumpy Baker.
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