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Shopping in Cork

There’s no shortage of shopping opportunities in Cork. Visitors will find everything from designer fashion brands and trend-setting music outlets to book stores and pop-up food stalls. Wander down the narrow lanes off of the main streets and the city has many quirky and fascinating emporia to explore.

Key areas

Snoop around the city and there are plenty of shops to discover, but those keen to spend some money should head to Patrick Street, Cork’s lengthy shopping stretch. Antiques and musical instruments are available along MacCurtain Street and French Church Street is peppered with clothes and shoe shops. If you want big brands, wander along Opera Lane where shiny, high street homogeneity awaits.

Markets

Cork has many impressive markets but the best is The English Market between Grand Parade and St Patrick’s Street. It exudes a wonderful, lively atmosphere, selling top-quality artisan foods. Originally established under British rule, traders had to swear allegiance to the Queen, but today it’s just top-quality vendors selling anything from seafood, cheese and meat to novelty gifts and crockery. If you’re brave, try some tripe (offal from animal stomachs) and drisheen (black pudding). The eateries upstairs are an essential introduction to the spirit of Cork too with all the ingredients coming from the stallholders below.

Along MacCurtain Street at weekends you’ll find Mother Jones Flea Market. Named after a celebrated trade unionist that left Cork for America in the 1800s, the market is now a hunting ground for all things vintage. The Coal Quay Market, on Cornmarket Street, is also worth visiting, for food, clothes, shoes and musical recordings and equipment, as well as the legendary verbal wit of the stallholders (best heard on Saturdays).

Shopping centres

There are several large shopping centres in the city including Merchants Quay on Patrick Street, which is home to a number of department stores like Debenhams and Marks and Spencer as well as fashion houses, bookstores and health and beauty shops over two floors. It also has a food court.

The huge Mahon Point Shopping Centre, found at Mahon Point, not only has a slew of stores to quell any shopping needs (from Argos to Zara; home improvements to health foods), but also has a 13 screen cinema, a farmers market and fast food joints.

Another option includes Wiltons Shopping Centre, on Sarsfield Road, which has over 75 stores to pick from. It also has a number of banks, restaurants and a Post Office as well as free car parking.

Opening hours

Standard shopping hours are Monday to Saturday 0900-1700/1800. Late-night shopping is on Thursday and Friday, with the bigger stores and many of the smaller ones remaining open until about 2000-2100. Many bookshops keep longer hours and some also open on Sunday 1200-1800.

Souvenirs

Visitors after a taste of Cork can take home local food specialities like Clonakilty black pudding and Cork spiced beef. Whiskey memorabilia, including bottles of the gold stuff, also make popular presents. On a tackier tilt, there are enough shamrock fridge magnets and Guinness key rings around to sink the Titanic. Those with literary friends to impress should look out for works by famous local writers like Frank O’Connor.

Tax information

Non-EU residents are entitled to claim VAT back on items purchased and taken home at the end of their visit. VAT in Ireland is 23%, but the VAT refund available is 18.07%, from which a small handling fee is deducted by the Refund Agency. Ask for a Tax Free Worldwide form in shops in order to make your claim.

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Vienna Woods Hotel

If you're after the charm of countryside living, you'll find it behind the yolk-coloured walls of Vienna Woods Hotel. Surrounded by some 9 hectares (22 acres) of woodland, this 18th century rural retreat is a charismatic and comfortable mid-range choice that mixes vintage furniture with modern facilities. There's free Wi-Fi, beds to lose weekends in and an onsite restaurant that does hearty Emerald Isle grub .

Hotel Isaacs

Most people come to Hotel Isaacs for its infamous Greenes restaurant, which serves up fine Irish dining and excellent wines on a charming little patio. Its rooms don't quite compete with the foodie flamboyance downstairs, but they're clean, spacious and practical, with a price tag that won't melt the credit card. Pick from 47 rooms, which come with en-suite bathrooms, complementary Wi-Fi, cable TV and one of the best locations in the city.

Crawford House

Just a 10 minute walk from the city centre, this smart, modern guesthouse is excellent value for money. Amalgamating three traditional houses, all rooms come with its king-size beds, huge baths and excellent traditional Irish breakfasts, served up in the conservatory. The staff here are lovely too. The quieter rooms are found at the back of the hotel.

Fota Island Hotel

It may be a little bit out of town, but it would be hard for you to swing a golf club anywhere near this 5-star retreat if it were any closer to Cork. The greens on its Championship-standard courses are as fine as the sheets in its ample, luxurious rooms. It has a gym, tennis courts and yoga, if you want to keep fit, plus a fine dining restaurant, complete with terrace, if you don't. Stylish, sophisticated and truly welcoming, Fota Island Hotel is worth blowing the budget.

Castlemartyr Resort

It may be 30 minutes out of Cork, but if you book a room at Castlemartyr Resort, you couldn't have truly envisioned leaving its grounds. This vast country manor dates back from the 17th-century and has the formal gardens to prove it. They, though, don't quite do its elegance justice. Its grace is admired from up close: it's found in the ruins of its 800-year-old castle, in the soothing splendours of its spa, around the 18 holes of its challenging golf course and in the unforgettable dining experience of its Bell Tower restaurant. Rooms, as you may have guessed, are worthy of the most magnanimous guest too.

Clarion Hotel Cork

Down on the promenade, next to the River Lee, the Clarion Hotel Cork is a stylish accommodation choice that isn't shy of stepping into world of avant-garde design. Its sleek rooms are generous and ultramodern, with clean lines and munificent king-size beds, while its fitness centre (including swimming pool and spa) squeezes in everything from aerobics to yoga. Step into its imaginative atrium though, and it's a world of fake grass, flaky croissants, fluffy sofas and strange, egg-shaped seating coves.