Cork (aka the Rebel City) and the second-largest city in Ireland (after Dublin) is one of Ireland’s most loved destinations and is a wonderful place to have an Irish vacation, whether you’re just passing through or staying for a while. This charming city is easily walkable and has an abundance of offerings for all kinds of travellers, welcoming families, solo travellers, couples, and everyone in between.
Cork is known for its friendly people and rich history, and while it may often be chilly, it’s actually said to be the sunniest city in Ireland, with its visitors and residents experiencing an average of at least 3.9 hours of sunshine per day (which is outstanding for Ireland!). There are plenty of excellent places to go in Cork during your Ireland trip, so we’ve highlighted some of the best things to do in Cork to kick-start your itinerary!
Top Things to do in Cork
Whether you’re a foodie, a culture vulture, or you love taking in the scenery, there are tonnes of places to explore when you visit Cork.
1. Get to know Cork on a walking tour
What better way to explore such a compact city as Cork than on foot? You can take a walking tour of the city to find out all about its history, buildings, and attractions from a local expert. This is also a really effective way to get an overview of the city and get your bearings when you first arrive! Cork City Walks offers both public and private tours and they take around 2 hours to complete, making it the perfect introduction to this popular Irish city.
2. Visit Blarney Castle & Kiss the Blarney Stone
The medieval Blarney Castle is an iconic Cork attraction and is a must for any culture vulture’s itinerary. Built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, this castle is the third of 3 fortifications built in the same spot; the first made of wood, the second made of stone, and the third is the intact structure you can visit today.
This historic site is the home of the almost 600-year-old Blarney stone, built by chieftain Cormac McCarthy. Legend has it that if you kiss the Blarney stone, the Legendary Stone of Eloquence, at the top of the tower, you’ll have the gift of the gab and never find yourself lost for words again!
Blarney Castle also has a peaceful garden area, ideal for a picturesque stroll or a relaxed picnic. You’ll find a variety of flora and fauna in Blarney Castle’s gardens: Bog Garden, Poison Garden, Fern Garden & Ice House, The Jungle, Herbaceous Border, The Seven Sisters, Himalayan Walk, and Arboretum and Pinetum.
Tours to Blarney and Cobh are common and make seeing this star County Cork attraction easy for those without a car. The tour takes you to Blarney Castle and beyond on an awesome full-day trip.
3. Wander down St. Patrick’s Street
As one of the main streets in Cork you’re sure to find yourself walking down St. Patrick’s Street a number of times. This street is full of shops in colourful buildings that date back to 1786. And while you may have your eyes on what new things to buy, don’t miss taking a peek at the architecture as it showcases the range of architectural styles as Cork has evolved over the last 200 years or so. On warm or sunny days you’ll find locals and tourists alike venturing down to St. Patrick’s Street for a good dose of socializing outdoors.
4. Marvel at St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
What’s a European city without a cathedral? A stop by St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral is only just minutes from St. Patrick’s Street and is worth a peek to see how the design from 1862 that was originally picked among many to be built with a budget of £15,000 ended up costing over £100,000. Today the cathedral stands tall with few remains from previous medieval cathedrals. The structure is built out of many local materials including Cork marble and limestone for a grand finish, along with beautiful stained glass windows.
4. Check out the foodie paradise at the English Market
The English Market is absolutely one of the top things to do in Cork. It dates back to 1788 and was set up by the Protestant, or ‘English’, corporation that had taken control of the city. That’s how it got its name. These days, the English Market is made up of many types of stallholders, including sellers of cheeses, olives, baked goods, wine, seafood, spices, meat, confectionery, and more. With such a variety of produce on offer, this market caters to all tastes and occasions, making it a real joy for foodies.
5. Take a boat ride to Spike Island
Spike Island is a spectacular attraction in Cork, bringing visitors from all over world to see its intriguing history and character. Spike Island has hosted a 7th-century monastery, a 24-acre fortress, and the world’s largest convict depot of Victorian times over the past 1,300 years.
This is one of the most celebrated Cork tourist attractions and, on this island in the Celtic Sea you can discover a curious history through museums, scenic walks, and exhibitions. You can get to Spike Island by ferry from Kennedy pier, Cobh and you should allow around 3.5 hours for your visit.
6. Spend a relaxing afternoon in Fitzgerald’s Park
Fitzgerald Park is the perfect place in Cork to reconnect with nature and escape from the city, even just for a little while. The park itself is around 12 acres in size and has a pond, a children’s play park, a sculpture trail, and a café for a spot of lunch or a coffee. This is a lovely corner of Cork where you can step out of the bustling city life and get back to nature.
7. Experience history at Cork City Gaol
The breathtaking Cork City Gaol is a stunning archaeological structure which used to house both male and female 19th-century prisoners. Cork City Gaol stopped operating as a prison in 1923 and, in 1927, Radio Eireann began broadcasting Cork’s first ever radio show – right in the centre of the building! Today, you can take a tour of the building with a guide book or audio guide, go into the cells, and see the fantastic exhibitions. It’s a truly fascinating addition to your trip to Cork and you can book your tickets here.
8. Treat yourself to a luxurious afternoon at Hayfield Manor
For fine dining and exquisite wines, visit Hayfield Manor. Everyone needs a little bit of luxury in their lives, and Hayfield Manor certainly offers that in Cork. You’ll have an awesome experience at this 5-star hotel and its award-winning gourmet restaurants that provide the ultimate foodie experience.
Hayfield Manor, which is known as one of the finest hotels in Cork, is also home to The Vine Wine Cellar which boasts a top-quality selection of fine wines and also offers wine tasting dinners, which includes a 5-course meal and an introduction to the wines being served that evening.
9. Stargaze at Blackrock Castle Observatory
How many people can say that they went stargazing from a castle? Well, if you choose to visit Blackrock Observatory then you can! Just outside of Cork’s city centre, this castle has been turned into the ultimate place to stargaze in Ireland. Adults and kids alike will love this special spot where you can take in the beautiful castle grounds before turning your gaze upwards to more natural beauty.
10. Ring the Shandon Bells
St. Anne’s Church stands tall among Cork’s colourful buildings with the clocktower sticking out prominently, it’s easy to spot on the north side of River Lee. Visitors to the city have the chance to ring the 18th-century Shandon Bells themselves from the first floor and see the inner workings of the clock, along with the 360-degree views of Cork from the top of the clock tower.
11. Visit Nano Nagle Place
In the 18th century, Honora ‘Nano’ Nagle founded the ‘Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ (a.k.a. the ‘Presentation Sisters’) and, during her life, set up 7 schools for the poor. In the centre of Cork, Nano Nagle Place is a restored walled convent that now focuses on schooling visitors on Nano Nagle’s story and emulating her belief that education should be for everyone. Learning happens all over this heritage site in the form of exhibitions, community projects, creative spaces and more.
12. Jameson Whiskey Experience
Whiskey lover or not, the Jameson whiskey experience provides an interesting look into how this spirit is made. On a tour you’ll be taken through to see where all of Jameson’s whiskey is made, along with the largest copper pot still and even a micro-brewery. Of course, no visit to a distillery is complete without a few whiskey tastings or a delicious lunch (only so you can try more whiskey of course!). If you missed tasting whiskey in Dublin, here or in Dingle are the other top spots to taste whiskey in Ireland.
13. Try a unique meal at Miyazaki
You may be wondering why we’ve included a takeaway restaurant on this list. It’s not just any takeaway restaurant… this one has a Michelin star! Michelin-starred chef, Takasahi Miyazaki, uses his Japanese culinary techniques paired with Irish ingredients to create delicious and affordable dishes for a truly unique experience that you only get the opportunity to try in Cork!
14. Get cultured at Crawford Art Gallery
Crawford Art Gallery is dedicated to historical and contemporary visual arts. A real journey through the ages, the 3,000+ exhibitions at this gallery range from 18th-century paintings and sculptures from Irish and European artists to much more recent video installations. There’s also a café on-site so that you can refuel for the rest of your Cork trip.
15. Check out The Village Hall
The Village Hall is quite literally a hidden treasure in Cork, full of delightful antiques and trinkets. This shop sells vintage furniture, costumes, clothes, retro homeware and other intriguing curiosities. Plus, it has a café which is rumoured to serve some pretty tasty cakes. Not only is this a truly beautiful shop selling all kinds of vintage treats, the building (which dates back to 1859) is also used to host events such as concerts, workshops, theatre, and exhibitions.
These are just a handful of the best things to do in Cork and when you visit there are so many things to see and do when you’re there.
When is the best time to visit Cork?
The most popular time to visit Ireland is in June, July & August, and Cork specifically is no different than the rest of the country! To beat the crowds it’s ideal to visit during the shoulder seasons, think May or September. Come October be mindful of the Guinness Jazz Festival, where accommodation fills up months in advance.
How many days do you need in Cork?
Need? 1 day. Stay? 1-3 days. Most people will recommend 2 days in Cork as it hits that sweet spot that gives you enough time to see the highlights in Cork without rushing and give you some time to wander since it is a city and wandering is best in a busier destination. Cork can be done in a day though, or even as a day trip from Dublin.
Where to Stay in Cork
For first-time visitors to Cork, the city centre is undoubtedly the best place to stay in Cork. Some top options include: