A blustery break in the oldest town in Ireland may seem like a rogue choice for a relaxing trip away, but the colourful coastal town of Kinsale boasts sprawling ocean views and a timeless charm fuelled with nostalgia for way back when.
Here at House of Coco we’re all about exploring off the beaten track, so if you’ve done Dublin to death and are still looking for that dreamy Irish love story straight out of PS, I Love You (you’ve got to start somewhere, right?) then this perfect blend of coast and country is for you.
Just a 30-minute bus ride from Cork airport, the narrow, topsy-turvy streets of Kinsale are a delightful alternative to dusty London walkways. There are no double-decker buses or scowling commuters in suits here, just a local minivan service and a steady stream of locals in wellington boots. Originally a medieval fishing port with a significant military history, Kinsale has a population of less than 6,000 – though this increases exponentially in the summer months when tourism peaks. Visit off season and mingle with the locals for a true Irish life experience filled with folk music, coastal walks and Guinness, of course.
Kinsale is internationally renowned its plethora of high quality restaurants and is frequently hailed as ‘The Gourmet Capital of Ireland’. Find one of the most famous seafood restaurants in the country, Fishy Fishy, on the edge of town. Though on the pricier side, the fish is caught locally, boasting dishes such as lobster thermidor and a chilled seafood platter served with homemade mayonnaise. If you’ve had your fill of oysters, make your way to the Black Pig Wine bar on lower o’Connell Street. Set in an 18th century coach house with a cobbled stone back garden, enjoy over 150 wines by the bottle and locally sourced, Spanish inspired dishes surrounded by plenty of Irish charm.
For penny saving travellers, there’s only one hostel in town. Dempseys’ bright blue exterior is hard to miss, situated on the hilly Barracks Lane – just outside of town. With basic bunk beds and drafty rooms, you get what you pay for. But the duvets are thick and the walk to the town square is a mere 10 minutes down the hill. For a more luxurious experience, stay at the Trident Hotel for harbour views.
Spend an afternoon wandering through winding streets laden with galleries, Irish pubs and gift shops. Stop for breakfast in the Lemon Leaf café before heading to the edge of the town’s natural harbour. The Scilly walk is a must-do coastal walk for anyone visiting for a day or two – meander towards the headland and through the scenic village of Summercove for unrivalled panoramic views of the peninsula. The Bulman pub – an iconic landmark painted in fiery orange, sits just 10 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. Stop here for a whiskey and ginger ale and sit next to a roaring log burner, before setting of towards Charles Fort (€5 fee). This 17th century stronghold is one of Europe’s best-preserved star-shaped artillery forts. On a clear day, its vast labyrinth of ruins is worth a visit for its spectacular views alone.
For history nerds and beach lovers alike head to St James’ Fort next – a smaller medieval fort framed by expansive views of the town on the opposite end of the peninsula. Beyond the ruins lies the Dock beach, a slice of sand offering the calmest of coves perfect for open-water swimming in the milder months.
In true Irish spirit, Kinsale is peppered with traditional pubs. With wooden beams and open fires, you’ll feel right at home where the Guinness is flowing every day of the week. Walk through the streets past 9pm and fiddles can be heard from every doorway. For a lively Saturday night head to the Folkhouse, where Kinsale’s younger crowd congregate amidst local live bands and whiskey. For a true trad session, Dalton’s bar is the place to be. From spoken word poetry to folk songs, you’ll find locals chiming with improvised solos in a true collaborative and uplifting Irish fashion.
From fine-dining to 17th century forts, this picturesque pocket of County Cork is the perfect wholesome mini-break for budget and luxury travellers alike.