THE ultimate summer activity must be setting out on a bright, sunny morning to a favourite spot with a basket full of tasty goodies, to while away a pleasant day with your favourite people.
What we put into our picnic hampers may have become more ostentatious over the years, (remember when it was just a cheese roll, a can of pop and a packet of Taytos?).
But I still firmly believe that a good picnic is all about location, location, location!
Who doesn’t love a spot of people-watching, the spectacle of boats in a harbour, or just the loveliness of sitting out in the fresh air surrounded by trees and wildflowers?
In every town, village and city, there will be secret spots that we know and love, so these are some of my favourites - spots that make me fall in love with Cork all over again.
For each favourite picnic spot, I’ve included a top Nibble Stop tip for where to stock up on all the very best of Cork-made perfect-for-picnic food and drinks!
James Fort, Kinsale
James Fort is often ignored by tourists who flock to the better-preserved Charles Fort across the bay, but the grassy knoll in front of James Fort overlooking Kinsale Harbour has long been one of my favourite spots for some quiet time with a view.
When boats from the Kinsale Yacht Club are out on the water, there is nothing better than watching them expertly tack back and forth on the waters and push out to sea.
There’s a wonderful view of James Fort and back in towards Kinsale town, then, when you’ve had your fill of picnic nibbles and sunshine, saunter down the hill towards tiny Kinsale Beach and head for a refreshing dip in the clear blue waters.
Nibble Stop: Gourmet Pantry Artisan Deli on Market Street in Kinsale.
Blue Pool, Glengarriff
This is the kind of spot that is hiding in plain sight! There are two piers in Glengarriff to board boats out to Garnish Island; Blue Pool is one of them and, as far as ferry piers go, this is definitely one of the most scenic.
Blue Pool is a secluded tidal inlet where the trees roll down to the still, reflective waters’ edge. There is a lovely looped coastal walk through the woods, with views out of Glengarriff Harbour dotted with tiny little islands. Take your pick of picnic spots: beside the calm waters of the pool, amongst the trees, or overlooking the coastline.
Nibble Stop: Manning’s Emporium, Ballylickey, or Glengarriff Food Truck Park.
Sheep’s Head Lighthouse, Durrus
If you like a little adventure pre-picnic, walking the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse Loop is for you! The Sheep’s Head Peninsula offers 88km of walks in total, taking in some truly stunning scenery, but the short 1.5km loop walk out to the precariously perched lighthouse clinging to the cliffs is one of the most dramatic and breath-taking.
Although the walk is not hugely challenging, it won’t be accessible or possible for all. But if you’re moderately able for a decent stretch of the legs, the rewards for an intrepid picnic-er are worth it.
The lighthouse itself offers a fabulous scenic place to settle in for a picnic, but choose your snacks wisely - winds can whip up here sending packets of crisps flying into the ocean below! Or, towards the end of the loop walk, after a short climb, ruined old stone houses offer gorgeous (and slightly more sheltered) views towards Bere Island.
Nibble Stop: Bantry - The Stuffed Olive; Skibbereen - Kalbo’s Café.
Gougane Barra Forest Park
I feel as though this entry needs no introduction! Even if you’ve never visited it before, the image of the diminutive church, St Finbarr’s Oratory, beside the calm lake waters at the entrance to Gougane Barra Forest Park, is very familiar to many.
But there is so much more to Gougane Barra than “Ireland’s smallest church”. Further into the forest park are a variety of trails that lead up to the park’s waterfall, or through stands of pines to the source of the River Lee, and lots of linking walks between.
Base camp, where all trails begin, is the perfect place for resting weary legs after an enjoyable hike (there are toilets here too, bonus!). But pick any number of little places to dip in off the main trail paths to stop for a restorative snack, sip, or full-blown picnic. Your soundtrack is the rushing water, the rustling branches above, and birdsong.
Nibble Stop: Pickled Deli, Macroom.
Blackrock Castle Observatory and Loop Walk
Cork has an embarrassment of iconic buildings and one of my favourites is Blackrock Castle Observatory (BCO). The historic castle has been a military fort and garrison, and is now a centre of excellent for science with MTU. Its dominating stance over the River Lee is formidable, and the amenity loop walk is probably one of the best vantage spots to admire it - and have a picnic too!
Of course, touring BCO should be on your list of reasons to visit; the view from the top of the tower is an opportunity not to be missed. Afterwards, in the cobbled courtyard below, treat yourself to a bite to eat in the uniquely located Castle Café.
Nibble Stop: Castle Café at Blackrock Castle Observatory.
Fitzgerald’s Park, Cork city
With 18 acres of gardens, trees, lawns, lakes and historic buildings, Fitzgerald’s Park is the jewel of Cork’s green spaces and a haven of tranquillity in our bustling city.
The 19th century Georgian edifice of Cork Public Museum sits effortlessly beside works of modern sculpture art and Diarmuid Gavin’s award-winning Sky Garden, all nestled underneath the dappled light of the park’s many trees along the banks of the Lee.
The Public Museum is one of the city’s hidden gems, home to a curated collection of over 40,000 individual objects that span the history of the city and the lives of the ordinary and extraordinary people who call Cork home. Collections are categorised into archaeology, civic history, social and economic history, political and military history, natural science, as well as a photographic and image archive.
It’s easy to find the perfect spot to settle in with your picnic here - spoilt for choice, even.
Nibble Stop: The Natural Foods Bakery, beside Cork Public Museum.
Bell’s Field, Cork City
Known to Corkonians for years, but made uber-famous thanks to Jock and Connor of The Young Offenders, Bell’s Field offers the best view of the Shandon skyline, including the Four Faced Liar herself.
Because of its new-found fame, Bell’s Field is proving a popular picnic spot for new and old visitors alike. Take a pew on The Bench, and cast your gaze over spires, steeples and winding streets before cracking open a picnic of the finest fayre Cork city has to offer!
Nibble Stop: The English Market.
Doneraile Estate and Wildlife Park
400 acres of parklands, herds of deer, playgrounds, tree trails, lakes and river walks; without a doubt the extensive grounds of beautiful Doneraile are a joy to explore, for little kids and big kids alike! Well maintained pathways create accessibility for everyone to delight in the grounds of the 18th century demesne. Sadly, this year the house is closed to the public yet again as the Office of Public Works progress with the next stage of renovations and conservation, and we will have to wait until 2023 for it to reopen.
But, in the meantime, there are all those acres to explore! Find picnic tables and benches dotted about all over the grounds so there is ample opportunity to find a spot that’s peaceful and quiet, or close to where children can play safely, too.
Doneraile is pet-friendly so bring your dog family for the day out too.
Keep pets on a lead at all times, and please clean up after your pooch.
Like all good picnic spots, there’s no entry fee for whiling away a few hours in the historic grounds, so grab a blanket and a basket and get out there!
Nibble Stop: Treat yourselves to Afternoon Tea in the elegant surrounds of the Townhouse Café, Doneraile (must be pre-booked).
Youghal Eco Boardwalk
Youghal, Cork’s most easterly town, has 5km of coastline to explore. The Youghal Eco Boardwalk is a 1.9km long accessibility-friendly all-weather coastal path that stretches between the dual blue-flag beaches of Claycastle and Redbarn beaches.
With bench seating dotted along the route, it makes for the perfect spot to take in views of the beautifully long coastline and fresh sea air while enjoying a picnic.
Youghal is a fascinating town to visit, full of history and heritage. Slob Bank is an Area of Special Conservation, perfect for nature and bird watchers along its 3km of waterside walkways or take a cruise along the Blackwater admiring old estate houses and ancient woodlands that bank both sides of that mighty river.
Nibble Stop: Boutique coffee roastery, Boardwalk Coffee, is the place to go for a life-affirming cup of house-roasted coffee and a sweet nibble to go with. They have an outlet on the boardwalk itself, or a larger café at Foxhole nearby.
Drakes Pool, Crosshaven
We finish our journey to the best picnic spots around Cork in a similar way to how we started: beside the calming waters of a secluded pool!
Not far from the Royal Cork Yacht Club and just off the main Crosshaven Amenity Walk, part of the Crosshaven Greenway, Drake’s Pool was named after St Francis Drake who moored his fleet there and hid from a chasing Spanish fleet in 1589, successfully evading them.
Ever since, it’s been known locally as Drake’s Pool; a beautifully calm little inlet where small boats glide in and out.
Roll out a blanket, pop a bottle of something delightfully chilled and fizzy, and watch the sun go down at the end of a long summer’s day…
Nibble Stop: Hassett’s Bakery, Carrigaline.