Our drive from Belfast (in Northern Ireland) down to Cork (all the way down south) was the longest drive of the trip – probably about 4-5 hours. Luckily, I was asleep for most of it :) Here are some of the best things we did in and around Cork:
1. Flew falcons (and owls and hawks)
This was easily the most memorable activity we did the entire trip. Mike found a wildlife rescue center near Limerick (~ 1 hour away) that had nearly a hundred birds of prey on site. When we arrived at Animal Magic, we were surprised to find that the rescue center was actually run out of someone’s home! Rosie and Dennis were incredibly knowledgeable about and dedicated to their animals, and they spent 2-3 hours teaching us about the birds and letting us fly several species of owls, hawks, and falcons.While some of the birds will eventually be released into the wild once they are healthy, others are non-native species that cannot be released in Ireland. We learned that all the birds have to be flown almost every day to ensure they don’t get too fat to fly, lol. By the end of our visit, we each had our own favorites and knew many of the birds by name.
2. Visited the Jameson Distillery
Being whiskey lovers, we knew that a stop to the Jameson Distillery had to be on our itinerary. There are two locations for tours – one in Dublin and one in County Cork (we picked the latter location). The tour is very well organized, and takes you through the old distillery site (which is only used for tours now – they have a brand new facility where the actual whiskey making occurs).
The highlight of our tour was the whiskey tasting at the end, of course! You get a free pour of Jameson, either neat or mixed with ginger ale and ice. Mike, E and I also got picked to be “official whiskey tasters”, which means that we got to take part in a tasting comparing American bourbon, Irish whiskey and Scotch. The whiskeys had very distinct flavors, and I have to admit that my favorite was the Scotch – maybe a visit to Scotland is in the future…
3. Toured the Ring of Kerry
In all honesty, our Ring of Kerry tour with the Paddywagon Tour company was not my favorite activity – but I think it could have been, with a different tour group. We felt that our tour guide took too long at random stops (we were dropped off at a shopping mall for 45 min), and we ended up getting back much later than expected, which led to a huge scramble to ensure we retrieved our car from the parking lot before it closed. All the same, this is advertised as one of the most scenic drives in Ireland!
4. Made homecooked meals
While in Cork, we stayed at a 3 bedroom cottage on the Fota Island Resort, which was comfortable and spacious – highly recommend! We took full advantage of the luxe kitchen (complete with heated floors) and cooked dinner most nights. These ended up being some of our most memorable dinners of the trip:
[roast chicken and vegetables]
[seafood stew with bread baked that day]We picked up most of our groceries from the English Market, which had incredibly fresh seafood and meat at great prices. We also grabbed breakfast at a cute cafe on the second floor while we were there, and I got to try Irish-style porridge – creamy and flavorful, I could eat this for breakfast every day.
5. Had high tea at Fota Island Resort
I also enjoyed my first high tea experience at the Fota Island hotel on our last day in Cork! Lots of teas to choose from, and two trays piled high with sandwiches, pastries, and sweets. Clotted cream with scones, where have you been all my life?If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, here are a few of my tips:
- Bring layers and a good pair of waterproof walking shoes (I loved these boots I bought for the trip!) – Ireland rains nearly every day, and temps can vary by 20 degrees from AM to noon. We woke up one morning to ~50 degree drizzly weather, only to have the day clear up and hit 70 degrees by lunchtime.
- Highly recommend checking out Airbnb for lodging options – this was great for our group because we needed several bedrooms. We just rented whole townhouses or condos wherever we stayed, and it was much cheaper (and nicer) than booking multiple hotel rooms. They also came with kitchens and laundry machines – also great for saving money/ cutting down on packing!
- Do not skip the Guinness. Nuff said.