Kinsale: What to do and Where to Stay
Posted on Sep 12, 2013 by Holly Hunt
The Co Cork town of Kinsale has always been a melting pot for all kinds of people, from wanderers to artists to chefs. See our guide below on what to do in Kinsale.
Maybe it’s the currents of the Gulf Stream from Mexico – claimed to only really affect Kinsale – that sweep them here. Or perhaps they are returning distant relations of those who fled long ago.
Whatever the reason, people come from every corner of the globe to call Kinsale home. And, along with a good dose of old-school Corkonians, this bubbling mixture of cultures, nations and characters expresses itself in ever increasing displays that are well worth taking the time to experience.
Famed as the gourmet capital of Ireland and haunt for yacht owners, Kinsale holds a haughty air of San Tropez-style snobbery. As a born-and-bred Kinsaler, I was a waitress as soon as I could smile, and knew the difference between a jib and a main by the time I could walk, but nowadays there’s a lot more to this eclectic town than yachts and oysters.
What to do in Kinsale
Here are a few suggestions from a local on the best way to spend your day in Kinsale.
- For breakfast, go to the farmer’s market on Short Quay every Tuesday to sample aromatic Italian coffee and Mediterranean olives (Short Quay, 021-4771021).
- Then, make your way to Desmond Castle and the International Museum of Wine (021-4774855) to listen to the story of the Wild Geese: the soldiers and emigrants who fled Ireland in the 17th century aboard French ships smuggling wine. Many ended up working in the wine trade in France or Spain or by trading to the 16 Irish ports licensed by the British for imports of wine to Ireland – chief among them Kinsale.
- Next, wander through the art galleries along the winding Main Street.
- Shop for delicate linens and soft wools at Granny’s Bottom Drawer (53 Main Street, 021-4774839).
- For lunch, try Fishy Fishy restaurant on Main Street to order a bowl of thick fish chowder, smoked salmon or some oysters. (021-4700415)
- Step aboard Spirit of Kinsale with Kinsale Harbour Cruises to view of the town from the water and learn local maritime history. (Pier Road, 021- 4778946).
- Back in town, stop at the Kinsale Museum and old courthouse to look at the Giant of Kinsale huge boots (he was said to be 8’1!). In 1915, it was here that the inquest into the attack on the RMS Lusitania was held, bringing the US into WWI. (021-4777930)
- Head over to the Tap Tavern to join the 9pm Ghost Tour to meet the older and spookier residents of Kinsale. The tour takes just over an hour and is entertaining for both adults and children (021-4772240).
Looking for something a little bit different? Discover four alternative excursions in and around the town.
1. Summer Cove
Distance: 10-minute drive from the centre of Kinsale – or 90 minutes walk along the Scilly Walk
Visit Charles’s Fort, one of the finest examples of a 17th-century star-shaped fort (021-4772263). Much of the original 17th-century structure remains. If you’re lucky (or unlucky!), you might spot the White Lady’s ghost on stormy nights. This general’s daughter threw herself to a Romeo-and-Juliet doom after believing her sleeping lover was dead. From here, walk along the shore to Jerseys Lower Cove along the sea and rugged headland. This route used to be more adventurous, but is now open to all walkers. Finally, head down the hill to the Bulman Pub (021-4772131) for soup and a pint as you sit on the wall, watching the dying sun dance on the water and the white sails of returning yachts.
Distance: 15 minutes outside Kinsale
Sandycove is a pocket of peace and tranquillity. Nearly every evening, you’ll find swimmers diving into the sea and swimming around Goat Island, many training for open-water crossings. If that’s your thing, jump right in; if not, wait until low tide and wade to the island – circumnavigating it takes about 15 minutes. True to its name, shaggy wild goats are the island’s only residents. If you don’t feel like wading through seaweed, a short walk takes you from Sandycove along the cliffs to an abandoned ‘famine village’ and graveyard – you’ll find one of the best views in the area. Driving back to Kinsale, turn right before the bridge and drop into the Dock Pub for a quiet old-school pint (Castlepark, 021-4772522).
Drive west out of Kinsale towards Ballinspittle and the “moving statue.” In the summer of 1985, the Lady of this grotto began to sway, and thousands arrived to pay their respects – many claim she is still moving! Continue on the R600 through Ballinspittle to the white sand of Coolmaine Beach, great for football or rugby as well as a kitesurfing mecca. This adrenaline-pumping sport combines surfing, windsurfing, wakeboarding and paragliding. When you are done struggling with kites and crashing waves, retire to the Pink Elephant, a pub overlooking the beach at the top of the hill (023-8849608).
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4. Old Head of Kinsale
Distance: 20 minutes south of Kinsale
This wind-blown promontory, stretching more than three kilometres into the Atlantic, has been an important site for navigation and fortification for thousands of years. The Eirinn clan, from which Ireland took its name, kept navigational fires burning here more than 3,000 years ago. It is one of the few landmarks in northern Europe shown on a map by the Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy, in AD 100. In 1169 the Norman de Courcey family took up residence. Over the centuries, primitive lighthouses were built to warn ships of the rocky shore – and warn land dwellers of invasions. Now well-heeled golfers frequent the manicured lawns of Old Head Golf Links’ world-class championship course (021-4778444). At €295 for 18 holes, the experience is not for those of us with light pockets, but even the drive out to the Old Head is worthwhile.
And if you are into twitching, take your binoculars, as nesting here is the only mixed seabird colony of its kind in this part of Europe. All other comparable colonies are on islands. If golf is too tame for you, try dangling off sheer cliffs. Kinsale Outdoor Education Centre (021- 4772896) offers climbing experiences on this historical site. When you feel you’ve had enough fresh air, make your way to the Speckled Door pub (Old Head, 021-4778243) to taste its mushroom chowder.
** The Spaniard Pub is in Scilly, Kinsale (021-4772436, http://www.thespaniard.ie)
Where to stay in Kinsale
Trident Hotel. World’s End, Kinsale, 021-4779300. Spectacularly located on the waterfront, this hotel upgraded recently to earn four stars. It offers a choice of places to lay your head, from standard rooms to master suites with private balconies. From €60 to €300 per person sharing per night.
Friar’s Lodge. Friar Street, 021-4777384. At this guest house in the heart of Kinsale you will welcomed with the enthusiastic hospitality of Maureen Tierney. She and her team provide luxury accommodation in 18 spacious hotel-style rooms. All the town’s pubs and restaurants are within easy walking distance. Rates begin at €60 per person sharing.
Glen Country House. Kilbrittain, 023-8849862. If you are trying to escape the madness of a crowded Kinsale, then this bed and breakfast, 25 minutes west of Kinsale past Coolmaine Beach, is the perfect retreat. Overlooking Courtmacsherry Bay, this Georgian farmhouse has been luxuriously renovated. The Scott family has farmed the land for more than 350 years, and the present owners, Guy and Diana, provide a personal and memorable B&B experience. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights Diana cooks delicious three-course dinners. Rates start at €60 per person sharing.
Where to go
Kinsale Arts Festival. Annually held in July. An article on Kinsale would be incomplete without a mention of the most explosive cultural week of the year. Kinsale Arts Festival turns the town into a living gallery and art space every July, with an array of cultural events that span visual art, music, dance, comedy, literature, film, theatre, family events, workshops and outdoor spectacles.
Even in our economic climate the organisers are not holding back. The nine-day programme will showcase the town and an array of international talents, including a memorable musical line-up at the outdoor amphitheatre at Charles’s Fort.
So hopefully this gives you all the info at your fingertips for what to do in Kinsale and also where you can stay. Kinsale is such a beautiful little town that we feel we really have to share its hidden magic and backstreets with you. Get under the skin of Kinsale and enjoy the wider hiking trails in Ireland on our Hiking and Island Hopping tour.
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