The picturesque harbor town of Kinsale, located along Cork’s southern coast, is arguably one of Ireland’s best hidden gems. Situated along the coastal drive, The Wild Atlantic Way, this storybook Irish town boasts unspoiled coastlines, cobblestone streets, and twisty lanes line with playful colorful buildings. Besides the ascetical beauty, this cozy town is known for its galleries, artsy shops, gourmet restaurants, vibrant farmers market, and lively pubs.
Here are some of the highlights from our 4-night stay in Kinsale.
Strolling the waterfront
Originally a medieval fishing port, Kinsale has one of the most captivating waterfronts with a large almost never-ending Quay wrapping around harbor. We spent several evenings strolling along this sheltered bay watching the returning the fishermen each evening.
Kinsale owes its rich bold colors and unique character to the fact that 300 years ago it was an important garrison port town for Ireland’s international trading. It’s Georgian houses and Dutch architectural influences are still prominent today.
Nestled between the hills that surround the bay and the shoreline is Kinsale’s downtown. The downtown area dates to the early18th century and played a pivotal role in Irish history. It’s now one of the most popular seaside resort towns for locals and tourists alike.
Historic Charles Fort
Built in the 1670s to guard Kinsale Harbor, Charles Fort was in use until 1921 when much of it was burned down during the Irish Civil War.
It still stands as one of Europe’s best-preserved star-shaped artillery forts. This vast 17th-century fortification would be worth a visit for its spectacular views of the bay and downtown Kinsale alone.
The 18th and 19th-century ruins inside the walls make for some fascinating wandering, but our kids were more entertained by the cheeky fairy door hunt they provide for kids.
Kinsale’s roots in the wine trade are on display at this early 16th-century fortified house that was occupied by the Spanish in 1601. Since then it has served as a customs house, a prison for French and American captives, and a workhouse during the Famine.
There are lively exhibits detailing its history, and a small wine museum that tells the story of the Irish wine-trading families, including names such as Hennessy, who fled to France because of British rule and later became famous for its brandy.
EatTING Like The Locals
However, our favorite outing was the farmers market. A vibrant Wednesday market set in the beautiful Kinsale market square; we grabbed some local produce, homegrown goods, ice cream and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon.
Family Outings at the Pub
Irish pubs are full of laughter, cheer, big creamy pints and are surprisingly, kid-friendly. Yes, you read that correctly! In Ireland, kids are allowed with parents in local pubs, but only until 8pm. The feel of the local pub is so much different than the states, pubs are the center of the social universe in Ireland. It’s much more than just a drinking place —it’s where families mark births, deaths, birthdays and christenings, and where sports fans congregate to cheer on their teams.
Old Head Signal/Lusitania Museum (Near Kinsale)
This 200-year-old signal tower has been restored and converted into a museum dedicated to the RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915 with the loss of over 1,200 lives.
The panoramic views from the top of the Signal Tour were worth the climb; they even gave each kid a set of binoculars to take in the area’s steeped history and view the protected bird colonies along the western cliffs.
(Tip: in the neighboring village, The Speckled Door, which we stopped at, serves delicious food all day.)
Timoleague Abbey (Near Kinsale)
Along the road between Kinsale and Clonakilty, near Courtmacsherry is the village of Timoleague which is dominated by ruin of the great seaside Franciscan Friary from the 13th century. The friary was built on the site of a former monastery founded by St. Molaga in the 7th century.
Despite the fact that these impressive ruins stood out against the bright blue skies, we wouldn’t have even stopped off if it wasn’t for a bathroom break.
SToney steps vacation rental
One of the best things about staying outside of the major cities is finding hidden gems that allow you to soak in the local life. Our townhouse in Kinsale, the Stoney Steps Cottage, was one of our favorite places we have stayed at in our recent travels. Situated in the center of town, off a set of steps that takes you from the harbor quay to the hills above, the views from the apartment and availability to walk out the door and enjoy the city, were amazing!
If you want to read more about our 3-week road trip through Ireland, read our post on Ireland Itineraries for Families!
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(Disclosure: Burbs2Abroad traveled to the above locations as guests and was not compensated for this review. As always, our opinions are our own.)
Time of Year Visited: June 2017