A local's guide to Cork

Ireland's second city takes first place when it comes to independent shopping, with quirky markets, vintage grottos and foodie pit stops aplenty. Here's our pick of where to go

By Pól Ó Conghaile
Published 22 Nov 2018, 08:00 GMT, Updated 15 Jul 2021, 15:01 BST
Cook Street and Holy Trinity Church, Cork

Cook Street and Holy Trinity Church, Cork

Photograph by Alamy

Independent spirit
Cork does a vibrant line in vintage. Start at Miss Daisy Blue, a Tardis squirrelled away in Market Parade. Treasures here range from cool cashmere to 1970s maxi dresses, and there's always a big collection of coats. And it's not just the goods that are recycled — the shop's wood panelling and its staircase are reclaimed from old local buildings. 

Approximately three-quarters of Cork's shops are independently owned, many located along strips like Oliver Plunkett Street or the tight-knit Huguenot Quarter. Magpies should check out the slightly mad mix of headpieces and accessories at Isobella Ru, while a handmade chocolate bar at Ó Conail Chocolate is essential. Isobella Ru: T: 00 353 87 132 4137

Cork's Victorian Quarter is rebooting. Not long ago, the area around MacCurtain Street "was home to the walking dead", one local tells me. But that's changing, thanks to hip restaurants like Cask, burger joint Son of a Bun and refurbs like the elegant new bar and tearoom at The Metropole Hotel. But if you call in at only one spot in this part of town, make it the old-meets-new, bric-a-brac bliss at Mother Jones Flea Market where you'll find anything from quirky tableware to vintage vinyl… and lots of local chitchat.    

Bites, books & beats
No trip to Cork is complete without a mosey around the English Market. You couldn't swing a cat in its tight walkways, but that simply means you're even closer to goodies like West Cork cheese, the challah and sourdough  at the Alternative Bread Company, and traditional foods such as drisheen (a type of blood pudding). Bag a table at Farmgate Café, where much of the market's fine fare features on the menu.   

Bibliophiles should make a beeline for Vibes & Scribes, sprawling along the waterfront on Lavitt's Quay. Arguably Cork's best bookshop, it has separate spaces for used and new tomes. 

It's not just bookworms who are well catered for in Cork. The city has a rich history of independent music, and it's ripe for exploration at Bunker Vinyl and Studio, a grungy basement store on Camden Place. New and used records here range from techno to Jimi Hendrix (whose bass guitarist, Noel Redding, used to live in West Cork), alongside a small studio space. 

Done browsing? Finish with a bite at Miyazaki — a shoebox-sized Japanese street food restaurant on Evergreen Street that recently claimed a Michelin star. There are just six seats, but chef Takashi Miyazaki's spin on local seafood and meat has got foodies in a frenzy. Highlights include the udon noodles with beef, and the crab miso soup.  

Fiona Kearney's top 5 places to shop
Fiona Kearney is the director of art museum The Glucksman, at University College Cork

Nano Nagle Place
Exploring museum shops is a bit of an occupational bonus for me. The design store at Nano Nagle Place — a lively community/heritage centre on Douglas Street — stocks quirky mementos and fascinating books focused on the area's history. 

Goldsmith and designer Tuula Harrington restyled my grandmother's wedding ring into a modern pendant, so I'm a big fan of her shop, DesignWorks. As well as her own stunning designs, she showcases a curated selection of jewellery by Irish designers. 

This is a treasure trove of toys for young and old. I recently bought a Dorothy doll for my goddaughter here, complete with a mini Toto and stick finger puppets of the Tin Man, Lion, Scarecrow and Wicked Witch of the West. 

Cork is often described as a foodie heaven, and for a special indulgence, I'd recommend the exquisite chocolatier Cocoa in the handsome surrounds of Winthrop Arcade. The handmade orange truffles are especially delicious. 

Run by sisters Lisa Grainger and Susan-Jane Corbett, this boutique is worth a visit for the stylish, minimal interior, as well as the distinctive, timeless clothes, designed by the likes of Roisín Linnane and Cathrine Hammel. 

Art attack
Keep an eye out for electrical boxes jazzed up with street art featuring Cork legends like hurler Christy Ring and actor Cillian Murphy. The splashes of colour are an effort to freshen up urban spaces by volunteer, guerrilla art group Mad About Cork

Want to make a long weekend of a spell in the south? Check out our weekend guide to West Cork

Published in the December 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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