If you’re planning a road trip of southern Ireland you’ll likely want to create a list of the best things to do in Cork.
The city of Cork is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Ireland. Cork is famous for its unique local Irish dialect, which you’ll hear chirped by friendly locals in restaurants and pubs.
Cork also offers some of Ireland’s weirdest and most wonderful attractions. Enjoy Ireland’s favourite city on the south coast by strolling through the Cork Butter Museum, haunting Cork City Goal, and world renowned Jameson Distillery.
History of Cork
Ireland’s southwest corner used to be a main point of contact to the outside world. It was in the 17th-century that the English built a line of forts along the Cork coast to protect against invasion from France and Spain. Later in the 19th-century, Cork was an important departure point for Irish families fleeing the hardship of the Great Famine.
The city of Cork sits perched on the banks of the River Lee. The iconic Irish waterway was where St Finbarr founded a monastery in AD 650. While Cork’s military and political importance has wound down, the city remains Ireland’s second largest city, offering an enticing bohemian cultural scene.
Best Festivals in Cork
There are plenty of fun things to do in Cork year-round. The city plays home to a handful of celebrated annual festivals, showcasing Cork’s unique bohemian vibe. The best festivals in Cork include:
- Cork Burlesque Festival, April
- Cork World Book Festival, April
- Cork Photo Festival, April
- Cork Harbour Festival, June
- Cork Midsummer Festival, June
- Cork Pride Festival, July
- Cork Puppetry Festival, July
- Cork Oyster Festival, September
- Cork Cheese Week, September
- Cork Folk Festival, October
- IndieCork Film & Music Festival, October
- Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, October
- Cork Film Festival, November
Best Things To Do in Cork
Whether you’re in town to celebrate a unique festival or are traveling on a road trip of southern Ireland, there are always plenty of things to do in Cork. We’d suggest booking a hotel in downtown Cork as it’s an easily walkable city. Spend three nights in Cork and you’ll have plenty of time to explore the city’s ancient attractions and contemporary curiosities.
Best Hotels in Cork
- The River Lee Hotel: luxury boutique hotel a short walk from Cork city centre on the River Lee.
- Montenotte Hotel: 4 star luxury hotel originally built in the 1820s.
- Hayfield Manor: 5 star luxury boutique hotel in Cork city centre surrounded by 2 acres of mature gardens.
O’Connell Square, 353-21-430-0600
Cork’s quirkiest museum tells the story of Ireland’s most important food export and the history of the world’s largest butter market.
The Cork Butter Exchange opened in 1770 and was where butter was graded before being shipped to the rest of the world to eat and enjoy. By 1892 the Cork Butter Exchange was exporting 500,000 casks of butter a year! Cork’s Butter Museum does an excellent job at explaining the art of home butter making as well as the modern success of the Kerrygold butter brand.
The gates of the market traditionally opened at 6am every day of the week. The salted butter was brought to Cork’s butter market in wooden casks called “firkins.” These butter firkins were made of oak or sycamore, compulsory for butter being shipped to tropical parts of the world. The butter was also brought by horse drawn cart from West Cork and Kerry along routes affectionately known as “butter roads.”
Church St, 353-21-450-5906
St Anne’s Shandon is one of the most famous landmarks in Cork, standing on a hilly slope north of the River Lee. The name Shandon comes from the old Gaelic name Sean Dun, which means Old Fort. As the name suggests, St Sanne’s Shandon was built on the site of an old fort.
Built in 1722 and standing 170 feet tall, the church has a facade made of limestone on two sides, and of red sandstone on the other two.
The St. Anne’s Shandon steeple is topped by a weather vane in the shape of a salmon, known as “the goldy fish” by locals. The clock face is known by locals as the “four faced liar” because, up until 1986 when it was repaired, each face of the clock showed slightly different times.
Visitors can climb the tower and for a small fee, ring the famous Shandon bells.
Convent Ave, 353-21-430-5022
Enjoy a leisurely 20 minute walk west of downtown Cork and you’ll find the restored City Gaol. Cork’s famous jail has been transformed into a museum complete with eerie furnished cells.
Cork City Gaol is a castle like prison featuring an exhibition that traces the lives of prisoners who were locked up here during the 19th and 20th centuries. As one would expect, conditions were miserable. One of the jails punishments was making prisoners run on a treadmill normally used to grind grain (youch!)
Visitors looking for oddly entertaining things to do in Cork will love the museums quirky curiosities. Cells are furnished with life-size wax figures complete with eerie sound effects. A stellar sound and image presentation help tell the social history of 19th century Cork, which helps explain why some locals turned to crime.
Bishop St, 353-21-496-3387
Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral is located in a quiet corner of town, dedicated to Cork’s founder and patron saint. Completed in 1870 with designs by William Burges, the church features a tripe-spired edifice in the Gothic Revival style.
Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral is made from Bath stone as well as locally sourced Cork limestone and marble. Step inside and you’ll find painted and a gilded apse ceiling showing Christ in Glory surrounded by a choir of angels as well as stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
On October 19, 2015 the Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, unveiled a labyrinth in the backyard of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. The labyrinth is situated on the landing of the stairway that leads down into the crypt. The labyrinth is located over the original 6th century foundation of Cork City and is also the site of an 11th century round tower. Cork’s famous labyrinth sits amongst beautiful trees and is focused on the golden angel, which sits over the communion table. The labyrinth is designed in the 5 circuit Medieval-style and is made of a gravel path and manicured grass.
Barrack Street, 353-21-497-5947
Elizabeth Fort is a 17th-century star fort offering beautiful views over the city of Cork. The historical monument was originally built as a defensive fortification on high ground outside the city walls. Cork’s buildings eventually grew around the fort, and over the years it took on many other roles – such as military barracks, prison, and police station.
Since 2014, Elizabeth Fort in Cork has seen increased visitation as it was developed into a tourism heritage site. Since opening to the public Cork’s fort has hosted a number of events and festivals, including the Cork Midsummer Festival, Heritage Week, Cork Heritage Open Day, Cork Photo, Culture Night and Cork Saint Patrick’s Festival.
Entrance to the fort is free, while daily guided tours at 1pm cost €3.00. Be sure to look out for the model soldiers, including a haunting nook featuring severed heads lobbed onto the end of tall spears.
Douglas Street, 353-21-419-3585
Located in the heart of Cork, Nano Nagle Place is a lush urban oasis on the site of a former 19th-century convent. Today, Nano Nagle Place houses buildings dating from the 1770s to the present day, all of which have been lovingly conserved alongside examples of fine Irish contemporary design.
Visitors at Nano Nagle Place can enjoy contemplative gardens, heritage centre, exhibition space, archive, garden cafe, community hub and design store.
The heritage centre explores the fascinating history of the “Venice of the Atlantic,” famous for its merchant princes and slum houses. The focus on the exhibit is on one woman, Nano Nagle, who worked tirelessly to help educate Cork’s poor and impoverished.
48 MacCurtain Street, 353-21-450-0913
If you’re a cocktail fan visiting Cork be sure to enjoy a late night tipple at Cask. Ranked as Cork’s best cocktail bar, the mixology wizard’s at Cask launch an entirely new imaginative menu every 12 weeks.
Wag your finger down the Cask Cocktail Bar menu and you’ll find a celebration of local Irish spirits, foraged ingredients and unique products sourced from small artisan suppliers.
Cask first opened in February 2017, taking over a stunning old building in Cork’s Victorian Square. The concept was the brainchild of award-winning cocktail expert Andy Ferreira and chef Bryan McCarthy. The duo is known for wowing Cork’s beverage scene with cutting-edge, seasonal and nature-led libations.
Cask’s bar team research local flora from root to flower to determine which flavours can be extracted and developed into truly unique Irish cocktails. Many of the cocktails at Cask Bar are based around Cork stories and characters. For example, a Farran Woods cocktail features young spruce shoots and new season nettles that are foraged from nearby Farran Forest Park.
48 MacCurtain Street, 353-21-455-2279
Located a stones throw from Cask, Greenes Restaurant is a sister property to the distinguished bar and located within Hotel Isaacs Cork.
Ranked as one of the best restaurants in Cork, Greenes offers an upscale dining room with a kitchen focussed on presenting global cuisine with a flare for local culinary products grown and raised in County Cork.
Greenes Restaurant is located in a converted 18th-century warehouse. Its upscale dining room features floor to ceiling windows that offer pretty views overlooking a petite waterfall.
Chef Bryan McCarthy leads the kitchen brigade at Greenes, crafting a distinctly Irish menu focussed on showcasing local, seasonal, foraged and organic Irish ingredients.
Tobin Street, 353-21-427-2022
Are you a film buff or art fan looking to enjoy a unique night out in Cork? Triskel Arts Centre launched in 2011 and focuses on offering a wide range of artistic programming from Jazz concerts to cultural cinema, visual art exhibitions and literary events.
Cork’s favourite arts space is housed partly in a renovated Neoclassical Georgian Church, which dates back to the 1700s. If you’re in the mood for a movie, Triskel Christchurch Cinema screens two titles each week. The cinema’s programmers focus on highlighting the types of movies you’d see at a film festival. There’s a strong focus on Irish film, LGBT stories, horror, experimental pictures and short film.
Triskel Arts Centre also plays home to Scrypt Cafe Bar, Cork Traveller Women’s Network and the Theatre Development Centre is the only full time operation dedicated to the development of theatre.
Washington Street, 353-86-703-7018
Looking to enjoy a fun night spent dancing with Irish Drag Queens under a glittering disco ball? Chambers is Cork’s only gay bar, offering DJ’s Wednesday to Sunday night.
Cork’s only late night LGBT venue is famous for its fishbowl cocktails, which are an ideal option if you’re looking to enjoy a fun night out with friends. Chambers Cork also offers a kitchen that serves pub classics such as pizza, nachos, salads and sliders.
If you’re visiting on a weekend be sure to check out Serve It Saturdays, Chambers most popular party, featuring dazzling drag perfomances by local queens Mia Gold, Letchya Le’Synn and Nettles.
Princess St, 353-1-871-5439
Between St Patrick’s Street and Grand Parade is Cork’s famous English Market. Established in 1610 as a covered fruit and vegetable market, Cork’s English Market was destroyed by first in 1980. After the fire, Cork’s iconic food market was refurbished by architect T.F. MacNamara.
Fresh produce and traditional Cork foods can be purchased in the English Market. Stroll around on a weekend and you’ll find meat, fish, breads, spices, eggs, speciality cheeses, olives, and Cork favourite “Triple & Drisheen.”
The English Market is open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 6pm.
3 Mutton Lane, 353-21-427-3471
One of Cork’s most popular pubs, Mutton Lane Inn is located on a tiny alley off St Patrick’s Street near the famous English Market.
Skip down the slender street and you’ll find a whimsical mural, inviting red velvet curtains and a calamity of kegs. Mutton Lane Inn’s famous mural runs the entire length of the lane. The spectacular piece of street art was commissioned by Cork City Council and the owner of the pub.
The petite pub is one of Cork’s oldest bars, the local watering hole featuring a sud-sloshed lineage stretching all the way back to 1787.
Step inside the snug pub and you’ll find the haunting space illuminated by flickering candles and fairy lights. Above the bar you can spot two of Cork’s famous Lord Mayors alongside JFK, Jackie and Johnny Cash.
Emmett Pl, 353-21-480-5042
The historic building that houses Cork’s most celebrated art gallery dates back to 1724. It was originally designed as the city’s custom house, became a school of design in 1850, and in 1884 was extended to accommodate art and sculpture studios.
Crawford Art Gallery in Cork houses examples of 19th and early 20th-century Irish fine art, including paintings by Jack Yeats and a trilogy of stained-glass windows by Harry Clarke. You’ll also find a petite collection by British artists and international works by art greats such as Miro and Rouault.
Crawford Art Gallery is well known for its bustling cafe, which serves gourmet lunches and High Tea. The room is well-appointed, decorated in works from the art gallery’s collection.
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Castle Rd, 353-21-432-6120
Blackrock Castle is located a short drive east of downtown Cork. The castle was originally built in 1532 as a safe haven against pirates and other invaders. Blackrock Castle tragically burnt down in 1722 and was replaced by another structure, which was also destroyed by first in 1827 (so leave your matches in your pocket please!)
Today, Blackrock Castle Observatory consists of a large circular tower with crenellated parapets resting in large corbels. It incorporates portions of the walls of the second castle, which were strong enough to withstand the impact of canon balls.
Most recently Blackrock Castle has been restored and used as an observatory, operated by the Cork Institute of Technology.
University College, 353-21-490-1844
Located in the heart of University College Cork, The Glucksman is one of the city’s most famous address for contemporary architecture. This harmounious concrete and glass university building regularly showcases temporary art exhibits.
Opened to the public by Presdient of Ireland, Mary McAleese on October 14, 2004, The Glucksman was named Best Public Building in Ireland by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland in 2005.
Designed by Irish architects O’Donnell + Tuomey, the multi-award winning building features a three floor gallery space, gift shop and tasty Bobo Cafe.
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14 North Mall, 353-21-439-3434
Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork is one of Ireland’s longest established and best respected craft breweries. The “Well” (as it’s affectionately referred to by locals) has gained national fame for its flavourful craft beers and unique collaboration with Jameson Whiskey.
Founded by Shane Long in 1998, Cork’s favourite craft brewery is located on the site of an old Franciscan monastery and well dating back to the year 1219. Legend has it that water from the well had miraculous and curative properties, and people would come from afar to drink from it.
Today, Franciscan Well Brewery is outfitted with modern brewing technology, crafting classic beer styles including lager, ale, stout and wheat beer. The Cork brewery has also collaborated with Jameson Whiskey to create the International Beer Challenge gold medal winner Jameson-Aged Stout, and Jameson-Aged Pale Ale.
Skip inside Franciscan Well Brewery over the dinner hour and hop outside to enjoy an al fresco feast on a spacious backyard patio. It’s here where you’ll find Cork’s best pizza, prepared before your very eyes, out of a friendly food truck.
The best place to enjoy an outdoor stroll in Cork is at Fitzgerald Park. The sprawling 18 acre green space plays home to the Cork Public Museum and is a short walk from the University College Cork.
Cork’s best park is named after a previous Lord Mayor of Cork in 1901, Edward Fitzgerald. Plan a stroll through Fitzgerald Park and you’ll enjoy a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. The park in downtown Cork City offers tree-lined avenues, blooming flower beds, sweet smelling rose garden, large central fountain and many inspiring statues and sculptures.
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Ballymaloe House is located a short drive east of Cork. It’s a family run country guest house offering a lauded restaurant and award-winning cooking school in the quaint Irish countryside.
The earliest iteration of Ballymaloe Hotel and its Irish cooking school were dreamed up by Myrtle Allen 55 years ago. Myrtle’s husband, Ivan Allen, bought the Georgian country house, built on the remains of a Norman castle, in 1947. Myrtle began cooking for guests from the farm’s produce in the 1960s and later the operation evolved into a 30-bedroom hotel, self-catering cottages and cooking school.
Internationally recognized as the birthplace of modern Irish cuisine, Ballymaloe House was voted Ireland’s Favourite Food Experience 2019 by the Independent and won a World Restaurant Award for having the world’s best dessert trolley!
The boutique hotel is located on a 300-acre farm, and the menus at its restaurant are written daily to reflect the seasonal vegetables available that morning. If you’ve signed up for a cooking course you’ll enjoy hands on experience within a lofty demo kitchen.
Cooking classes range from half-day to 12 weeks and are taught by Darina Allen (Myrtle is her mother-in-law). Novice cooks and professional chefs visit from all over the world to learn how to forage for mushrooms, ferment vegetables, bake pizza and cook their own baby food.
Distillery Walk, 353-21-461-3594
Whisky lovers visiting Ireland should make a point to plan a pilgrimage to visit the historic Jameson Distillery in Midleton.
Located a short drive outside fo Cork city, Jameson Distillery offers daily tours of its 1800s warehouse, distillery and waterwheel.
Visitors on the Jameson Distillery Tour also experience an insightful historical film and tutored tasting which helps better distinguish the subtle differences between the flavour profile of Irish whisky, Scotch and Bourbon.
Finish your tour at Jameson Distillery by booking an intimate tasting of the whisky brands finest bottles, or enjoy an Irish feast at the onsite restaurant.
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Blarney Castle is Ireland’s most famous historic castle, located a short drive outside of Cork. The Irish castle is so famous that many tourists in Dublin book day trips departing from the capital to whisk themselves away for a day.
Visit Blarney Castle and you’ll find yourself tip toeing up steep winding staircases to finally arrive on an open air rooftop. The current castle is actually the properties third iteration, build in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster.
Curious pilgrims have been visiting Blarney Castle to kiss its famous stone for over 200 years. The Blarney Stone is located on the castles rooftop and requires visitors to lie flat on their back in hopes of gaining “the gift of eloquence.” Ages ago, visitors had to be held by their ankles and lowered head first over the battlements. Today, the Blarney Stone is set in the wall and only requires you to lean backwards while holding on to an iron railing.
While Blarney Castle is most famous for its kissing stone, visitors should plan to spend hours on the property to explore its seemingly endless thematic gardens.
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