Tucked quietly on Ireland’s South Coast, Kinsale is a gem of a town that encapsulates the quintessential Emerald Isle experience. This coastal enclave in County Cork is famous for its candy-colored homes and buildings with swaths of hot pink, bright yellow, bold orange, and gorgeous greens painting a rainbow so charming, you might just expect to find a pot of gold in town. Kinsale welcomes throngs of visitors in the summer months, some of whom make the sailing mecca their holiday hotspot and others who stumble upon the town as they travel the 1,500-mile-long coastal road known as the Wild Atlantic Way.
From its historic attractions, waterfront walking paths, and cozy inns to its globally-recognized culinary scene and legendary Irish hospitality, Kinsale is a place that takes up space in your heart that’ll only make you yearn for your next visit.
Here are seven reasons to push Kinsale to the top of your travel plans in 2023.
1. Outstanding Culinary Chops
Wildly popular food-centric events through the decades including a gourmet festival, nationally-recognized chowder cook-off, and street food festival, have helped earn Kinsale its reputation as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. Fueled by The Good Food Circle; an elite consortium of restaurateurs, in addition to fun food tours, cookery courses, a rich tapestry of local food and drink artisans, and a wide spectrum of dining options ranging from formal to pub favorites prove Kinsale’s culinary scene is second to none.
Kinsale’s restaurant roster is a blend of time-loved stalwarts and new names making a splash. Jim Edwards Bar & Restaurant has been a favorite of locals and visitors alike for more than 50 years, while the carrot-colored Bulman Bar & Toddies Restaurant (simply called The Bulman by locals) on the outskirts of town is worth a stop on your way to or from Charles Fort. To watch a rugby match, pull up a seat at the long, hand-carved wooden bar at Oscar Madisons in the heart of downtown. Fishy Fishy might just be Kinsale’s most famous restaurant, best known for serving locally-caught seafood while its wine bar, dubbed The Blue Room, is perfect for small plates.
2. History Beyond Compare
A star-shaped medieval coastal fortress, a 16th-century castle, a church originally built in 1190 that has remained in continuous use through the present day… if it’s astounding history you seek, Kinsale delivers.
Constructed between 1677 and 1682, Charles Fort is one of the largest and most visited military installations in Ireland. Nestled among the rolling green hills just beyond Summercove, the fort (complete with drawbridge) overlooks the Old Head of Kinsale and affords sweeping views of Kinsale harbor dotted with handsome yachts and dinghies, and just beyond a panorama of the town.
Wear a sturdy pair of walking shoes when you visit as there are 12 acres within the walls to explore, and if that’s not enough, there’s the Charles Fort Walk, a well-marked footpath with captivating views of coastal headlands and bucolic countryside.
3. Cozy To Contemporary Accommodations
A fishing port for centuries, Kinsale’s tourism sector grew to become one of its leading revenue generators over the past century, and places to stay kept pace. Centrally located amid the town’s quintessentially Irish narrow winding streets, The White House is a family-run boutique Georgian three-story guesthouse with all the charm of a cozy inn but meets all the demands of the modern traveler.
If mobility isn’t an issue, as there isn’t an elevator, opt for room 10 on the top floor. An in-house pub, The Fifth Ward Bar, was named after the Irish neighborhood of the same name in Newport, Rhode Island, as the towns share an official “sister city” relationship. The restaurant here is well known for its seafood chowder, traditional fish and chips, and fresh catch of the day.
The Actons Hotel has been a harborside haven for more than 75 years. One of the largest full-service hotels in town, you’ll love the array of on-site amenities including Kinsale’s only swimming pool, (it’s an indoor pool), a separate children’s pool, and a two-story fitness center. Don’t miss the hotel’s afternoon tea, where the finger sandwiches, pastries, and cakes are a delight. No matter where you stay, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by purchasing a pack of universal plugs/electrical adapters. Hotel rooms don’t usually have them stocked in-room and you’re likely going to need more than one at once, from hair dryers to chargers for electronics.
4. Not-To-Miss Attractions
In the spring of 1915, during the second year of World War I, the luxury British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was struck by a German torpedo 14 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale. Today, the Lusitania Museum and Old Head Signal Tower in Kinsale is home to the Lusitania Memorial Garden, a tribute to the 1,200 people lost, the survivors, and the steamship’s final resting place. Just steps away, you’ll find the restored Old Head Signal Tower, built during the Napoleonic wars as Ireland prepared for the threat of a French invasion. If you climb the three floors to the top, you’ll be rewarded with a commanding view.
About an hour north — and well worth the trek — is a seafaring tribute of another sort. The Annie Moore Monument in Cobh, a striking bronze statue of a teenage girl with her two younger brothers, commemorates the massive wave of Irish immigration to the U.S. around the turn of the century. Named for the first emigrant to be processed on Ellis Island on January 1, 1892, you can learn about her voyage and her life of hardship in New York at the Cobh Heritage Centre.
A simple but powerful site that will stay with you for a long while is the Kinsale Garden of Remembrance. Just beyond a red gate, you’ll find rows of trees, 343 in total, planted to honor the victims of America’s attack on September 11. Overlooking a hilly grassland patchwork of green, the memorial is a somber place that makes a lasting impression.
5. It’s Great Outdoors
To get your daily steps in, head to the Scilly Walk, a 2.2-mile out-and-back trail that’s considered easy to navigate. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins or seals as they’re known to pop their heads out of the sea along the walk. While getting back to nature is all about the flora and fauna, you’re missing out if you don’t make a pit stop for a pint or pub grub at The Spaniard, a charismatic pub originally built around 1650 on castle ruins.
Kinsale’s sheltered harbor makes it ideal for water sports. Take paddleboard or kayaking tours with Atlantic Offshore Adventures or take their surf lessons at nearby Garretstown Beach. If it’s a windswept day, grab your camera and take in the adrenaline-hunting kite surfers. Home to the oldest regatta in Ireland, Kinsale is synonymous with sailing, and there’s ample opportunity to soak in the salty sea air on a harbor cruise or day sail. Even if it’s a balmy summer day, bring a jacket or warm sweater/sweater shirt as it can grow chilly by dusk.
6. Doing Nothing Means Doing Everything
Kinsale is the kind of town where the best day might be spent without an itinerary at all. If your travel plans allow, set a day or good block of time aside to simply wander. Grab a coffee and breakfast at the brightly-hued Cosy Cafe, then mosey on down to the harbor’s edge where you can take a seat on the wall and take in the view. For more savory palates, opt for salt and vinegar chips, a.k.a. french fries, a local favorite!
Explore the many boutiques — many of which stock the famous Irish woolen sweaters, and pop into galleries like the Giles Norman Gallery where you’ll be moved by the black and white Irish landscapes captured by one of the country’s most celebrated photographers. You can get a little more hands-on at the Kinsale Pottery and Arts Centre, the largest privately-run arts center in the south of Ireland. If you prefer a more formalized experience, Kinsale Heritage Town Walks is a great way to explore this historic medieval port town.
Looking to move at a faster pace? Rent a bike for a self-guided tour of the town, or opt for an e-bike at Wild Atlantic Sports, which is a great alternative for travelers who might need some help on those hills.
7. Easy Access To Nearby Points Of Interest
Kinsale is idyllically located so that travelers can bask in the coastal port’s seaside charm but also be close to other extraordinary points of interest. Cork City is just over a half-hour’s drive and is a vibrant metropolitan city with a ton to do, see, and experience. Make your first stop at the English Market, where trading has been done since 1788. One of the oldest roofed markets in Europe, here you’ll find organic and locally produced food, fresh bread and pastries, hearty soups, meats, cheeses, fresh flowers, and more.
About a half hour away, you’ll find the sprawling Jameson Distillery campus, a 15-acre expanse that includes the world’s largest pot still and a variety of tours and tasting experiences, so it’s easy to find the one right for your level of interest in Irish whiskey. Even if you’re a teetotaler, you’d find the Jameson story fascinating as the company will soon celebrate its 200th anniversary.
For more information on traveling to Ireland, check out these articles: