What happened when I signed up for a day tour to Cork and they set us free in the city for 2 hours? Well, the majority of the tour group headed straight for the castles and shopping. Me? Sure, I saw some castles, but my inner explorer led me away from the center into the back streets where I stumbled upon walls and walls of colorful graffiti. It’s unlikely that anyone from my group walked the same trail I did for those 2 hours. Of course, with little time, I couldn’t stray too far off, but it was nice to watch people trickle by on their way to work, from a cute cafe just scraping by to stay open in the recession.
Rock of Cashel
Let’s back up for a second. Prior to arriving in Cork, we stopped at the Rock of Cashel which, let’s be honest, doesn’t rock at all. It’s a poor excuse for a tourist spot, and I’m convinced the only reason tours bring people there is to show off the fact that Queen Elizabeth once visited. Photos of her visit are proudly displayed throughout the castle, if you can even call it that. We were allotted 45 minutes to walk around the grounds, but without anyone giving us the history and background of the place, we really only needed about 20 minutes to take our pictures and get out.
There’s more to Cork than what we were given time to see, but just like it’s sister cities, Dublin and Belfast, it’s full of shops, cafes, pubs, and churches catered to keep visitors busy and capture as much of their money as possible. With a tight schedule, if you were to visit Cork on your own, I’d say you wouldn’t need more than 2 days. Even the locals agree that Cork doesn’t offer tourists anything different than the nation’s capital, but it’s nice to take a trip to the South anyway for some contrast.
Unlike the Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle, I found to be worth the money and time. Notably famous for housing the Blarney Stone, you can lay down on your back, bend backwards in a not so lady-like fashion, and kiss the stone, while employees take a professional yet unflattering picture of you doing so. Sounds great, right? After your make out session with the stone, soak in the incredible views of the grounds and the town in the distance.
Note: To get up and down, you have to walk up 100 steps in a claustrophobically narrow tower. While there are handrails, please be careful because when the steps get wet, you’ll be dealing with a sore tailbone, if you slip.
Once safely back on the ground, take the time to explore the various gardens. There is a luscious fern garden with an abundance of greenery and a waterfall. Guys, if you’re looking for a romantic place to propose to your lady, this is it. I’ve never been to Indonesia, but the fern garden is what I imagine it to look like, based on photos I’ve seen. Other must-see spots in the park include the witch’s cave, Blarney House (spectacular architecture), a walk down by the lake, and the poison garden. The poison garden is disconcerting because there are some plants that are marked as dangerous simply for standing near them or smelling them. Was it really a smart idea then to include them in an open garden where people could accidentally make contact with them?
On our way back into the city, we encountered students protesting women’s rights mixed with police pretending to do their job of keeping everything under control and people looking to get rowdy on a Friday night. The trip ended with a cheery goodbye from our guide, an “Ireland’s 7 Wonders” pin, and a voucher for 5 euros off another tour. How thoughtful.
If you’re interested in taking a day trip to Cork when you’re in Dublin, visit corktours.ie for more info. Daily departures leave at 6:50am (that’s right, you heard me) and arrive back in Dublin around 7:30pm. It’s a long day so bring a book, music, or something to keep you entertained on the drive. They do make a rest stop on the way down to Cork as well as on the way back so you can use the restrooms and get a snack. Stay hydrated and enjoy!