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How to do Kinsale like a pro - getting your parking for free and finding the freshest fish and chips

Local guide Dermot Ryan shares his hidden gems and hacks for the Cork destination.

The harbour at Kinsale
The harbour at Kinsale
Image: Shutterstock/JJFarq

IT MAY BE famous as the site of the Siege of 1601 and the sinking of the Lusitania during the first World War, but Kinsale is probably best known today as a colourful fishing town with winding streets, coastal walks, and a growing reputation as a foodie destination.

So if you have a day or two in Kinsale, how do you do them like an expert? We asked local historian and tour guide Dermot Ryan, who runs Kinsale Heritage Town Walks.

When’s the best time to go?

As a small town with plenty to do both indoors and outdoors, Ryan says that Kinsale can be visited at any time of year. However, the coastal spot is most popular in the summer when visitors can go walking, swimming, sailing or fishing.

“We also have lots of festivals in the summer, such as the Kinsale Regatta over the August bank holiday, and Heritage Week at the end of August,” Ryan adds.

Pro tip: If you want to explore Kinsale without the crowds, consider going in September when the town will be a bit quieter but the weather may still be good for outdoor activities.

Where should I park?

In recent years Kinsale has become even more popular as the southerly starting point for the Wild Atlantic Way, bringing visitors who plan to drive the coastal route. But where should you park up while exploring the area?

“Kinsale can be busy, but there’s always parking somewhere,” Ryan adds. “If you want to be in centre of the town, go to the car park near the tourist office.”

Pro tip: Park a little further out if you’re visiting for the whole day. “There’s lots of parking at the edge of the town, like near the fire station, which is a 10 minute walk away from the harbour. It’s paid parking in the town centre, but up near the edge it’s all free.”

Source: Shutterstock/Tyler W. Stipp

What are the must-see sights?

There’s plenty of history nestled among Kinsale’s winding streets of shops and eateries, so Ryan recommends strolling around the town and seeing a few landmarks along the way.

“The town is quite small and flat, so it’s ideal for walking around. You can see the Kinsale Museum – the old courthouse where the inquest into the Lusitania sinking took place – as well as Desmond Castle and St Multose Church, which is 800 years old and has lovely stained-glass windows,” he says.

Charles Fort, one of Kinsale’s biggest attractions, lies just outside of town. The 17th century star-shaped fortress played a big role in the Williamite War and the Civil War, and for €5 admission visitors can now explore the old fort and its coastal scenery.

Pro tip: Walk to Charles Fort from Kinsale town for the best views. There’s a sign-posted pedestrian path (the Scilly Walk) that runs from the harbour to the fort. “It’s a beautiful walk along the water’s edge, most of it is traffic-free, that takes about 30 to 45 minutes,” Ryan says.

Source: Shutterstock/JJFarq

Where can I get the best fish and chips?

You can’t go all the way to Kinsale without getting some fresh fish, and perhaps the most well-known restaurant in the town is Fishy Fishy, run by Martin and Marie Shanahan. It’s one of two eateries in Kinsale that has received a Michelin Bib Gourmand in the past – the other being Bastion.

“We have great high-end restaurants but also lots of mid-price restaurants and pub grub,” Ryan adds. “If you want ice cream there’s Jesk, which does all sorts of artisan flavours, and the Gourmet Pantry does the best pastries – you can’t stop eating them.”

Pro tip: If you’re looking for classic fish and chips, get a takeaway from Dino’s to eat overlooking the water. “There’s so many options in Kinsale, but Dino’s is the favourite chip shop,” Ryan says.

How can I escape the crowds?

Hop back into the car or take a local bus to the Old Head of Kinsale. The nearby peninsula stretches 3km into the Atlantic Ocean, and is the nearest land point to where the Lusitania sank in 1915 after being torpedoed by German U-boat.

Now, visitors can walk the 6km loop of the head or play a round of golf on its famous course. You can also see the old lighthouse, or visit the Signal Tower museum and the Lusitania memorial garden.

Pro tip: Bring your swimsuit and stop off at one of the area’s nicest beaches. “Sandycove is on the way to the Old Head – it’s a lovely beach, very small and secluded,” Ryan adds.

Source: Shutterstock/Tyler W. Stipp

What hidden gems should I look out for?

Just outside the hustle and bustle of Kinsale town is Summercove, one of the best places to stop and watch the fishing boats and yachts. “It’s a tiny village just at the edge of Kinsale, between the harbour and Charles Fort, that’s very popular with locals. It’s a nice place to visit,” Ryan says.

Pro tip: Head to the Bulman pub in Summercove for food or a drink, and watch the sunset over the water.

More: How to do Glendalough like a pro – including the handiest free parking spot to leave the car>

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Sarah Harford

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