Within the first few hours of arriving in Cork, Ireland, I already had four different maps in my bag with scribbles detailing all the must-see places. These markups were made by total strangers, most of whom I could barely understand due to their lovely, singsongy Cork accents. After taking the advice of the proud-spirited locals and our private chauffeur, Derry, I’ve compiled the ideal five-day itinerary for your next visit to County Cork.
Settle in at The River Lee, within walking distance of the heart of the city and steps from the picturesque University College Cork campus. True to its name, the hotel provides views of the river that runs through town and opens into the Celtic Sea at Cork Harbour. Set up an afternoon with Fab Food Trails, a guided walking tour of the top foodie hot spots in the city with a Cork native. Save room for dinner at the hotel’s recently relaunched restaurant, The Grill Room. Enjoy authentic dishes like Ballycotton seafood chowder with homemade Guinness brown bread. Finish out the night in a winter haven of cozy throws, warming cocktails and views of a snowy riverfront at The River Club Terrace. Room rates from $242 per night, doylecollection.com/hotels/the-river-lee-hotel
Coordinate a private chauffeur through Cronin’s Coaches or Specialized Travel Services for an exclusive touring experience of the Emerald Isle you won’t regret. This family-run service, started by mom and pop in 1957, is a comfortable, personal way to discover at your own pace. By the end of our trip, we were exchanging life stories over local brews with our driver, Derry (off duty, of course!). Head to the medieval Blarney Castle and Gardens, and kiss the Blarney stone for the gift of eloquence. Warm up back at The River Lee during daily afternoon tea complete with a three-tiered sweets tower and Cork-famous Barry’s Tea. Mercedes S-Class executive car $450 per day, croninscoaches.com; special-ireland.com
Via private car, make your way to the charming nearby harbor town of Cobh, notable as the Titanic’s last port stop. Live the history by walking through the same ticket office that was a departure point for passengers in 1912 with the Titanic Experience.
It was in Cobh where I learned of Ireland’s “cleanest towns” competition, one where cities across the country battle each other to exceed the highest standards of cleanliness year-round as a community. The well-kept paint jobs of vibrant homes that line the steep hill in Cobh clearly pay off, especially when you’re looking from atop St. Colman’s Cathedral.
The drive through rural East Cork is magical. Snowy, rolling hills in the countryside with grazing cows, just as you imagined. The Ballymaloe House (ballymaloe.com), a family-run hotel and restaurant set on 300 acres of farmland with a nearby cookery school, creates a new seasonal menu each day depending on what comes in from the farm and nearby Ballycotton boats. Take in mouthwatering dishes like slow-roasted East Cork lamb with mint bearnaise and braised celeriac.
Next stop: the Midleton distillery, where every drop of Jameson you’ve ever tasted is produced to this day. (Don’t worry, Derry’s driving.) Tour the 225-year-old site where it all began, and taste the goodness while guided through different stages of Irish whiskey-making. If you weren’t already, you’ll leave a whiskey lover.
Dedicate a day to the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive around southwest Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula, stopping along the way to take in the coastal landscapes and seaside villages. Don’t miss the Kerry Cliffs, a stunning—and oh-so-instagrammable—paradise of rugged Irish coastline.