Cork (tours from Cobh), Ireland

Cobh is a quaintly charming seaside town built on a steep hill on the Great Island in Cork’s natural harbor. The town features colorful houses and the impressive spire of Saint Coleman’s Cathedral.

Cobh was the departure point for almost half of the six million Irish people who left the Emerald Isle behind for a new life in North America between 1848 and 1950.

When you cruise to Cobh you berth only 200 yards from the center of town so it is a great place to step off the ship straight into the warm ambience of Ireland. There are countless sights of historical interest and importance, such as the Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens located nearby.

The magnificent Regency country house and hunting lodge gives a fascinating insight into the lives of masters and their servants. There are guided tours of both the house and the Frameyard gardens and arboretum.

The architecture of the town center’s buildings is classically Victorian. St. Colman’s Cathedral in the heart of the town is home to the 49 bell Carillon – a set of bells played using a keyboard. It is the only instrument of its kind in the country and the largest in Great Britain and Ireland. There are regular free, hour-long demonstrations to entertain the entire town.

Cobh is only 20 minutes' drive from Cork city, the capital of Cork county. The city is built on an island on the River Lee and spanned by many bridges which create a glamorous continental feel, much like Venice. If shopping is a favorite pastime then the stylish boutiques and major department stores will keep you very busy.

The English market is indoors on Grand Parade and dates back to 1788. It is a foodie’s heaven with family-run stalls dating back through generations. The Irish love their visitors almost as much as their food and will gladly proffer samples such as Drisheen, a blood sausage and Battlebord, dried salted ling fish from the cod family.

In addition to this unique traditional fare there are quality meats, fish and speciality cheeses as well as delicious baked goods. For more formal dining there are some great traditional pubs serving the obligatory “black stuff,” Guinness. There is also a host of international eateries that you would expect from a modern, cosmopolitan city.

Ireland is synonymous with its famous whiskey and Irish Distillers, the makers of Jameson Whiskey, have a great visitors’ center in Cork. The Midleton Distillery is 10 minutes from Cork city, and is the largest in Ireland producing more than 8 million gallons of whiskey each year. The museum tells the whiskey story from its early beginnings in the 1800s to its state-of-the-art production facility today. You can even take some home as a warming reminder of your Cobh cruise.

Before you leave Cork, try to get to Blarney Castle, site of the famous stone. To kiss the Blarney Stone is to receive the mythical gift of eloquence. The history of Ireland is steeped in myths and legend. You may not see a real-life leprechaun on your cruise to Cobh, but you will leave with a magical feeling of warmth and heritage.