The largest of Ireland’s counties, Cork is also one of its most diverse. It encompasses a lively capital city, quiet country villages, rocky hills, picturesque beaches, and long stretches of flat, green farmland. Here, modern tourism (this is where you find Blarney Castle, after all) meets workaday Irish life, and somehow they manage to coexist gracefully. St. Fin Barre founded Cork in the 6th century, when he built a monastery on a swampy estuary of the River Lee, giving the place the rather generic Gaelic name of Corcaigh—which, unromantically, means “marsh.” 

Over the next 600 years, the little piece of swamp would ultimately become the crown in the Kingdom of South Munster, but by the end of the 12th century, the English had asserted their ownership of the region. Over the following centuries, Cork would change hands many times as the English and the Irish struggled for control. It resisted Cromwell's forces, only to lose to William of Orange.

Once firmly under English control, Cork thrived until the 18th century, when it was battered by the potato famine, which drained the region of its wealth and, ultimately, of its population.

It would not be until the end of the twentieth century that Cork would find its own true personality. It's now an affluent, foodie region of the country with a lovely stretch of coast and a laid-back personality. Its tough days seem long behind it.

The county's eponymous capital, Cork, is a university town, which keeps the population young and the arts scene ever evolving, and this also ensures that it has affordable restaurants and buzzing pubs and bars.

Range beyond the city to visit the pretty harbor town of Kinsale, famous for spearheading Ireland’s gourmet food scene in the 1990s and 2000s; the storied seaport of Cobh in East Cork; or the barren beauty of Cape Clear Island in craggy West Cork.