20 Things To Do In Cork

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Tucked away in the South-West of the country, Cork is the second-largest city in the Republic of Ireland. Even so, its compact city centre and relaxed vibe somehow makes it feel more like a large town than a big city. But, that’s not to say it isn’t jam-packed with a range of amazing things to do. Dramatic coastlines, kissable stones, a colourful history and charming locals means that Cork packs a big punch. In fact, Corkonians will proudly tell you that Cork is the “real” capital of Ireland.

Cork has a thriving foodie and bar scene, rivalling many a cosmopolitan city around the world. Luckily, there are also plenty of opportunities to walk off any extra calories you’re bound to consume. The stunning Cork countryside is punctuated by the quintessential green fields that the Emerald Isle is known for. Contemporary art galleries, beautiful historic buildings, and educational museums add to Cork’s thriving tourism industry. So to get you started planning your visit to this wonderful Irish city, here are the 20 best things to do in Cork.

cork
20 things to do in Cork

Cork, Ireland

20 Things To Do In Cork

1- Shop At The English Market

best things to do in cork ireland a delicious bowl of Irish stew
Eating a delicious bowl of Irish stew is a quintessential thing to do in Cork.

The English market is a vibrant roofed market in the heart of Cork City, offering a wonderful array of exotic and local delicacies.

The market officially started trading in 1788 and is actually the oldest trading covered food market in Europe.

A visit to the English Market will leave your mouth watering, with delicious cheeses, bread, sausages, condiments and other delectable food on offer.

The English Market is at Grand Parade, Cork, T12 F3PV.

The Crawford Art Gallery is a lovely (free!) gallery in the heart of Cork City.

Exhibitions change regularly, although the permanent collection is very extensive too, including both paintings and sculptures.

The Crawford Art Gallery is at Emmet Place, Cork, T12 TNE6.

3- Kiss The Blarney Stone At Blarney Castle & Gardens

things to do in cork with kids
Visiting Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney stone is one of the iconic things to do in Cork. Here’s an aerial view of Blarney Castle gardens in Ireland.

A trip to Cork is definitely not complete without a trip to Blarney Castle and Gardens in order to kiss the Blarney Stone. Blarney Castle is one of the most famous castles in Ireland.

According to the legend, if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you’ll gain the gift of eloquence. But, kissing the stone is no easy feat.

You’ll have to brave some narrow, spiralling steps to the top of Blarney Castle, and then lean, backwards, and upside down, at a dizzying height to reach the coveted stone (don’t worry, someone will be there to hold you).

If kissing a stone isn’t quite your thing, you can still climb the castle for the stunning views over Cork’s beautiful countryside.

The walk around the extensive gardens is well worth it too.

Insider Tip

  • Stop by the Blarney Woollen Mills after your visit to the castle for excellent local souvenirs and a lovely hot drink at the Mills Restaurant next door.

Blarney Castle is at The Square, Blarney, Co. Cork, T23 Y598.

4- Ring The Shandon Bells

St. Anne Church’s belltower in Shandon has the best 360-degree views of Cork City. Well, on a clear day at least.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always a given in Ireland.

Still, if you climb the 132 steps up the 36.5m (120 ft) bell tower, you’ll also have the chance to ring the tower’s eight bells by pulling on the corresponding ropes.

The tower is actually known locally as the “Four-Faced Liar” as the four different clocks on it never seem to tell quite the same time.

Shandon Bells is at Eason’s Hill, Shandon, Cork, T23 YN88.

5- Visit The Butter Museum

10 things to do in cork signpost for places in Cork Ireland
Looking for things to do in Cork?

Believe it or not, Cork has an entire museum dedicated to butter and visiting this museum is one of the strange but interesting things to do in Cork.

Ireland actually has a really long and rich history of butter making and trading, and a visit to the Butter Museum is both educational and interesting.

The Butter Museum is at O’Connell Square, Shandon, Cork, T23 H004.

6- Listen To Traditional Music At Sin É

things to do in cork Ireland Cork Streets
The streets of Cork are filled with brightly coloured shopfronts.

Irish trad (traditional) music is as much at the heart of Irish culture and history as a good pint of beer.

Although Cork has many fabulous Irish pubs, my favourite place to combine the two is at the quirky and cozy Sin É pub.

If you can find a seat that is.

It’s one of the smallest pubs you’ll ever visit, with walls covered in notes of money and postcards from visitors around the world.

If you’re thinking of tasting a stout beer in Cork, try Murphy’s (Cork’s answer to Dublin’s Guinness).

Sin É is at 8 Coburg St, Cork, T23 KF5N.

7- Stroll Around Fitzgerald Park

things to do in cork city Ireland
There are plenty of things to do in Cork to keep everyone happy.

Home to the “Shaky Bridge”, Cork’s only suspension bridge, Fitzgerald Park is a little green haven in the city.

Lots of great free events take place here during the summer, and it’s a lovely spot to have a picnic and relax for a while.

The park is also home to Cork’s Public Museum, a sculpture trail and a lovely little cafe.

Fitzgerald Park is at Mardyke Walk, Cork, T12 AW6R.

8- Escape To The Old Cork City Gaol

things to do in cork city Cork City Gaol
Visiting Cork City Gaol is a fun thing to do in Cork.

Cork’s Old City Gaol (jail) is a must-visit destination during your time in Cork.

The former prison is housed in a beautiful castle-like building and provides a fascinating insight into what life was like for its 19th-century inmates.

There are life-like wax figures, sound effects and props, with many of the cells open for you to step into.

The whole experience is really engaging and brought to life through the informative self-guided audio-visual tour.

Cork City Gaol is at Convent Avenue, Sunday’s Well, Cork, T23 VX25

9- Tour The Blackrock Castle Observatory

Embrace your inner geek with this perfect combination of history and science.

The iconic Blackrock Castle dates back to 1582 and is now used as a working astronomical observatory.

There are numerous attractions at the castle, such as the interactive astronomy exhibition, live planetarium shows and a behind-the-scenes guided tour that brings you down to the Dungeons, and to the turret for views of Cork Harbour.

Insider Tip:

  • Stretch your legs along the disused old Blackrock railway line after your visit to the castle observatory.

Blackrock Castle Observatory is at Castle Rd, Blackrock, Cork, T12 YW52.

10- Explore Cork City By Kayak

Gain a completely new perspective of Cork City by exploring it by kayak.

Cork’s city centre is essentially an island, surrounded by the River Lee on all sides.

You’ll kayak under numerous bridges and get a wonderful view of some of the old waterfront buildings.

This is a fun way to explore the city.

At times, you might even spot a seal on your adventure, as they do come and explore up-river into Cork.

11- Hike The Ballycotton Cliff Walk

The Ballycotton cliff walk is a little bit further afield, but well worth the trip for the spectacular views along East Cork’s rugged coastline.

It’s a nice and easy 7km (4.5mi) return walk, with rolling green fields on one side and the roaring Atlantic Ocean on the other.

Look out for the black Ballycotton Lighthouse out on a nearby island. And, if you’re lucky, you might even spot the odd dolphin or whale, so keep your eyes peeled (especially in winter).

Ballycotton Cliff Walk is at Verdon Terrace, Ballycotton, Co. Cork, P25 HK27.

12- Sample A Dram Of Whiskey At The Jameson Distillery

things to do with kids in cork
Visiting the Old Midleton distillery is an educational thing to do in Cork.

Aside from leprechauns and Guinness, Ireland is probably best known for its great whiskey.

At the working Jameson Distillery in Midleton, you can enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour, and, of course, enjoy some all-important whiskey tasting.

The Jameson Distillery is at Distillery Walk, Midleton, Co. Cork, P25 Y394.

13- Explore Fota Wildlife Park

things to do and see in cork three meerkats in Fota Wildlife Park
Spending a day with the animals is a fun thing to do in Cork with kids. Pictured here are meerkats in Fota Wildlife Park.

A visit to the brilliant Fota Wildlife Park will have you feeling like you’ve left Ireland altogether for somewhat more exotic parts of the world.

This isn’t your average zoo, as you’ll find large, open spaces where animals of different species get to roam free.

You’ll find everything from cheetahs and lions, to penguins and flamingos, and everything in between at Fota Wildlife Park.

You’ll want to allow quite a few hours to take it all in.

Fota Wildlife Park is at Cork Road, Fota, Cobh, Co. Cork, T45 CD93.

14- Travel Back In Time With The Titanic Experience

free things to do in cork Titanic
Exploring the Titanic Centre in Cobh is one of the top things to do in Cork.

Cobh (pronounced “cove”) is a bustling port town in Cork Harbour, where many magnificent cruise liners dock each summer. But, did you know that Cobh was also the Titanic’s last port of call before it sank?

At the time, Cobh was called Queenstown, and just over 2200 passengers and crew set off from Cobh on the Titanic’s maiden voyage to America.

You’ll truly travel back in time through the immersive Titanic Experience.

Housed in what was the original Star Line ticket office, you’ll learn about some of the 123 passengers who got on board the Titanic in Cobh, and allow you to see first-hand what life on board the Titanic was like.

Titanic Experience Cobh is at 20 Casement Square, Cobh, Co. Cork, P24 DW63.

15- Marvel At St Coleman’s Cobh Cathedral

things to do in cork Cathedral Cobh
Visiting Cobh Cathedral is one of the things to do in Cork if you love history and fine architecture.

Since you’re in Cobh already, why not take the trip up the hill to the imposing St Coleman’s Cathedral?

You’ll be hard-pressed to miss this stunning Roman Catholic cathedral towering high above the pretty town.

While the impressive 100m (328ft) tall bell tower and the views across Cork harbour out to the Atlantic are beautiful, make sure you head inside Cobh’s most iconic building too.

The architecture inside is simply breathtaking, with its exquisite glass-stained windows and incredibly intricate roof details.

St Coleman’s Cathedral is at 5 Cathedral Pl, Cobh, Co. Cork, P24 Y319

Insider Tip:

  • For a picture-perfect photo opportunity, head over to Cobh’s famous row of colourful houses known as the “Deck of Cards”.

Deck of Cards Houses are at 1-23 West View, Cobh, Co. Cork, P24 H598.

16- Discover Spike Island’s Dark History

The immense 24 acre (9.7 ha) star-shaped Fortress on Spike Island is just a short (15min) ferry ride from Cobh.

Although it was originally the site of a monastery, it is better known as “Ireland’s Alcatraz”.

It was once the biggest prison in the world, housing 2,300 convicts in the 19th century.

In actual fact, it only stopped operating as a prison in 2004.

The vivid but dark history of Spike Island is portrayed through exhibitions, videos and museum displays.

This is one of Ireland’s leading tourist attractions and has won numerous awards in recent years.

Definitely make sure this one’s on your list for things to do in Cork.

Spike Island is only accessible by ferry, which departs from Kennedy Pier, Cobh.

17- Ramble Through Farran Forest Park

top things to do in cork River Lee
The River Lee in Cork.

Farran Forest Park has a lovely 3km (2mi) woodlands loop walk, which takes in beautiful panoramic views across Inniscarra Lake and the surrounding countryside.

But, the main reason for visiting Farran is really to meet the local herd of red deer.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to do something a bit more adventurous, the Zipit circuit has a fun circuit of swinging logs, zip lines, rope bridges and cargo nets.

Farran Forest Park is at English, Co Cork, P31 C427.

18- Join A Brewery Tour at Rising Sons Brewery

things to do in cork at night a schooner of guinness
Drinking Guinness is one of the pleasurable things to do in Cork.

Rising Sons is an award-winning independent microbrewery in the heart of Cork city.

In addition to its selection of craft beers, it offers great food, including yummy Italian pizzas.

If you’re after an activity that is a little different to do in Cork, make sure you join their fun and informative guided tour to learn about all things to do with beer.

Of course, the tour finishes off with a taste of their award-winning beers.

Rising Sons Brewery is at Cornmarket St, Cork, T12 WK27.

19- Catch A Game Or A Concert At Páirc Uí Chaoimh

If you want to live like a true Corkonian (a person from Cork), you’ll have to attend a function at the newly refurbished Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium.

This is where some of the biggest concerts in Ireland are held, including the annual “Live At The Marquee” summer concert events.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh is at The Marina, Ballintemple, Cork, T12 PF30.

20- Indulge In A Spa Day

The Irish love a good spa day, so relax like a local and unwind in one of the spas in Cork.

Fota Island Resort, The Hayfield Manor, The Imperial Hotel and The Kingsley are just some of a number of luxury hotels in the Cork area where you can indulge in a variety of soothing treatments and bespoke spa packages.

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Joannda Stanton is a freelance writer and travel blogger based in the south of Ireland. Her wanderlust established itself very early on, with her parents moving her family internationally not once, but twice! After a year of teaching English in Japan, there was no turning back. Travel became a huge part of her life. In 2019, she took a massive leap, quit her successful corporate job, and went travelling full-time. So far, she’s travelled to over 40 countries, with some of her favourite destinations including Poland, Indonesia and Thailand.