If you plan a trip to Ireland, include Cork in your itinerary! Cork has history, culture, food, and outdoor adventures – a wide range of activities and attractions for everyone. In this post, we’ll tell you why we love Cork and take you to the best fun things to do in Cork, Ireland!
One thing we love about Cork is the city’s remarkable history and heritage. There is plenty of opportunity to visit museums and historic sites around Cork, which we highly recommend. We’ll give a breakdown to help you navigate your stay.
County Cork has some great walking tours of the city to learn more about its past, or you can hop on a bus tour to see some iconic landmarks and attractions.
A must-do is to stop by the English Market. The market has been trading since 1788 and is a bustling spot to sample local delicacies! It is also a great way way to meet residents and experience the culture.
If you’re looking for outdoor activities, Cork has plenty to offer as well. The city is surrounded by beautiful countryside and coastline, making it the perfect destination for hiking, cycling, and water sports.
We would recommend a scenic drive along the Wild Atlantic Way, whale watching (more about that later) off the coast of West Cork, or exploring the gardens and parks in and around the city. You will find plenty of the best fun things to do in Cork – Let’s get started!
Exploring Cork City Centre
Exploring the city center is an absolute must. We recommend this being one of the first things you do. It gives you a sense of Cork, the people, and the fantastic heritage. Cork City Centre is a bustling area with many shops, restaurants, and attractions. You will find plenty to do!
St. Patrick’s Street is the main shopping street in Cork City Centre. It’s a pedestrianized street, so you can wander around without worrying about traffic. There are plenty of shops to explore, from high-end street stores to independent boutiques.
If you’re looking for unique souvenirs to take home, this is where to find them! There are plenty of gift shops selling traditional Irish items.
One of the highlights of Cork City Centre is Cork’s English Market. This historic indoor market has been trading since 1788 and is a must-visit for foodies!
You’ll find a wide range of fresh produce here, from locally caught fish to artisan cheeses. There are also plenty of stalls selling hot food, so you can grab a bite to eat while you’re exploring.
Tip: One of the most fabulous food tours we will do again and again is the Cook Culinary Tour. The food selection is delicious, and then add in the guide’s history, art, and local knowledge – priceless! The tour is two hours long and well worth the time. Book early to get a spot. The cancellation policy is excellent, with a notice of 24hrs.
Another great way to explore Cork City Centre is to stroll along the River Lee banks. The river runs through the city’s heart and under 29 bridges just in Cork! There is terrific salmon fishing and plenty of picturesque spots to stop and enjoy the views.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can hire a kayak or paddleboard and explore the river differently!
If you’re a fan of river cruises, we have a list of the Most Scenic River Cruises in Europe to help you out.
Cork is Ireland’s second-largest city, and there’s plenty of history to discover in the city centre. One of the best places to start is at the main entrance to University College Cork.
This historic building is home to a beautiful quadrangle open to the public. You can also take a guided tour of the campus to learn more about the history of the university.
Exploring Cork City Centre is a great way to spend a day in Cork. With great food, plenty of shops, and beautiful views of the River Lee, there will be something for everyone to enjoy.
Historical Sites in Cork
If you love history, you will find it in Cork. Here are a few of the historical sites we recommend visiting:
Cork City Gaol
The Cork City Gaol is a former prison that dates back to the 19th century. It is now a museum that provides visitors with a glimpse into what life was like for prisoners in Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries. The guided tour of the gaol is informative and entertaining, and you’ll learn about the history of Cork and Ireland.
Cork Public Museum
The Cork Public Museum is located in Fitzgerald Park and is home to a wide variety of exhibits that showcase the history of Cork and the rest of Ireland. The museum has been educating visitors for over 75 years, and it is a great place to learn about the Great Famine, the Irish War of Independence, and other key events in Irish history.
Charles Fort is a 17th-century star-shaped fort that was built to protect the town of Kinsale and its harbor. The fort has played an important role in Irish history, and it is a fascinating place to explore. The fort is open to the public. You are able to tour on your own or there are guided tours are available.
Tip: A great option is the County Cork Highlights Tour. At around $50, you can enter Blarney Castle & Gardens, Charles Fort, Kinsale, and Cobh with its Titanic Museum. There is also time for shopping and exploring, along with a sample of stout!
Elizabeth Fort is a 17th-century star-shaped fort that was built to defend the city of Cork. It has played an important role in the history of Cork, and it is a fascinating place to explore. The fort is open to the public, and guided tours are available.
Blackrock Castle Observatory
Blackrock Castle Observatory is a 16th-century castle that was built to protect Cork Harbor. It now houses an observatory and a science center that is dedicated to promoting science and technology. The castle is open to the public, and guided tours are available.
Cork Butter Museum
The Cork Butter Museum is dedicated to Cork’s butter production history. The museum has a wide variety of exhibits that showcase the history of butter production in the region, and it is a great place to learn about the history of Cork and the rest of Ireland.
Shandon Bells & Tower at St. Anne’s Church
The Bell Tower is a historic building from the 18th century. It is located in the heart of Cork City and is a great place to learn about the city’s history. The tower is open to the public, and guided tours are available.
The history of Cork is remarkable. If it’s your first visit, we recommend guided tours to make the most of your visit and get details you wouldn’t otherwise discover.
- You can get the Cork City Gaol tour information here.
- What you need to know about the Cork Public Museum’s hours of operation and information.
- You can book tickets for Charles Fort admission here.
- Entrance is free for Elizabeth Fort. If you want, a guided tour is only $5.
- Blackrock Castle Observatory entrance fees include access to the science centre, a tour of the 16th-century castle, and a live astronomy show. Tickets range from $5-$20.
- Cork Butter Museum tickets range from Free – to $5. They have butter-making demonstrations on Saturdays.
- The Bell Tower (Shandon Bells & Tower St Anne’s Church) tickets range from $5-$12.
Outdoor enthusiasts will also find a ton to do in Cork. With gorgeous landscapes and beautiful gardens, Cork is an excellent place to enjoy outdoor activities.
You can go on a day trip, take a leisurely walk, or engage in something more adventurous. Think it, and Cork will have it!
One of the best views in Cork is at Gougane Barra, a beautiful glacial valley with a lake and a church. It’s a great place to take a walk and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
The Fota Arboretum and Gardens is a beautiful garden in Cork with various exotic plants and trees. The gardens are located on Fota Island and are a great place to take a leisurely walk and enjoy the scenery.
For a day trip, Fitzgerald’s Park is a must-visit. It’s a gorgeous park with plenty of green space, a rose garden, and a fountain. The park is also home to the Cork Public Museum, which is also worth visiting.
Lough Hyne is a saltwater lake located near Skibbereen. It’s about a one hour and 30 mintute drive from Cork. It’s a unique ecosystem and an excellent kayaking, swimming, and hiking place. Hills surround the lake and have a variety of wildlife, including seals, otters, and dolphins.
The Grand Parade
The Grand Parade is a great place to relax and people-watch. It’s a pedestrianized street in the city center and is home to many street performers and musicians.
The Beara Peninsula
The Beara Peninsula, part of the Wild Atlantic Way, is a beautiful place to visit. It’s a rugged and remote area with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Dursey Island, located off the coast of the Beara Peninsula. This is a great place to go hiking and enjoy the Atlantic Sea kayaking.
For those who love to combine travel with hiking, Portugal is a favorite. Check out the Best Hiking in Madeira, Portugal for some beautiful inspiration!
Amazing Views from Blarney Castle
If you’re looking for a great place to take in some amazing views of the Cork countryside and gain some history, Blarney Castle is the perfect.
This historic castle is one of the best attractions in the area and offers a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else.
Tip: Many cruise trip destinations stop here at the port. If coming from a cruise and a full day is allowed onshore, the Blarney Private Tour provides a full day of exploring that includes your transportation and a trip to Blarney Castle, Jameson Distillery, and Cobh.
At the top of the castle, you get breathtaking views of green landscape like you have never seen. From up here, you’ll be able to see for miles around. No amount of picture perfection will be able to capture the beauty of the surrounding countryside you’ll see with your own eyes.
The Kiss of Blarney Stone
While you’re at the castle, don’t forget to kiss the Blarney Stone for good luck! This is a must-do activity for visitors to the castle and a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. Legend has it that if you kiss the stone, you’ll be blessed with the gift of eloquence.
After you’ve kissed the stone and taken in the amazing views, be sure to visit the visitor centre to learn more about the rich history of the castle. Here, you’ll find a wealth of information about the castle’s past and the people who lived here.
Overall, do not pass up an opportunity to visit Blarney Castle. Whether you’re interested in history or want to take in the beauty of the Cork countryside, this is a must-see attraction you won’t want to miss.
Exploring County Cork
There are so many fun things to do in County Cork that you won’t know where to start. Dive into its history, and nature, or just have a good time!
One of the top attractions we mentioned in historical sites is Spike Island, a former prison converted into a fascinating tourist destination. You can take a guided tour of the island and learn about its history, including its use as a prison, a military fortress, and a monastic settlement.
Fota Wildlife Park
For animal lovers, Fota Wildlife Park is a must-visit destination. This 100-acre park is home to a wide variety of animals from around the world, including giraffes, zebras, and kangaroos. You can even take a train ride through the park to get a closer look at the animals.
Tip: You don’t hear as much about Mizen Head, but it is worth a visit at about a two-hour drive from Cork. This is at the southernmost point in Ireland. The view from the cliffs offers incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean. They also have a great visitor center to learn about the area’s history.
No visit to County Cork would be complete without a trip to the Old Midleton Distillery. This historic distillery is the home of Jameson Irish Whiskey, and you can take a tour to learn about the whiskey-making process and sample some of the delicious whiskey for yourself.
As local legend goes, Cork is known as the “rebel city” due to its history of rebellion against British rule. You can learn more about this history by visiting the city’s oldest covered markets or by taking a tour of the city’s historic sites.
Tip: For a unique experience, head to the West Cork Model Railway Village. This miniature village is a great place to take kids and adults alike, and it features a model railway that winds its way through the village and surrounding countryside. Truly awesome!
You’ll have a great time no matter what you choose to do in County Cork!
Art and Culture in Cork
Cork is alive and vibrant in the arts scene. You’ll find visual arts, live music, and interactive exhibits. If you love art, the Crawford Art Gallery is a must-visit place.
You’ll experience works by both local and international artists. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Cork, you can also check out the interactive exhibits at the Cork City Gaol or the Cobh Heritage Centre.
Tip: For some unique experiences, consider a trip to the Titanic Experience in Cobh to learn about the city’s connection to the famous ship. You can also visit the 6th-century St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral or the Nano Nagle Place, a national cultural institution dedicated to the Presentation Sisters. They also have a great Café – Good Day Deli.
Cork is also home to a thriving music scene. You can catch live music performances at venues throughout the city, including the Shandon Bells and the Cork Opera House.
Finally, take a ride on the Dursey Island cable car to the mainland for a unique perspective on the city. The cable car offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and is a must-do activity for any visitor to Cork.
Cork in Summer
If you plan a trip to Cork during the summer months, you’re in for a treat. There are plenty of fun things to do, whether traveling solo, with friends, or with family. We’ve mentioned some of these gems above, but the summer months are prime time to take advantage of these spots!
Summer temperatures are usually between 60°F (15°C) to 70°F (20°C) and you can count on rain! No complaints, though, because this is what creates beautiful landscapes.
If you are considering a winter trip to Ireland; Dublin, Ireland, made our list of 25 Best Places to Visit in Europe in December!
Murphy’s Ice Cream
Of course, no trip to Cork, or anywhere as our family would attest, would be complete without indulging in some delicious handmade ice cream! There are plenty of ice cream shops throughout the city, but one of the best is Murphy’s Ice Cream. This family-owned business has been serving delicious treats for over 20 years, and their ice cream is made using only the freshest ingredients.
East Cork Beaches
If you’re looking to get out of the city and explore the surrounding areas, East Cork is a great place to start. Here, you’ll find beautiful beaches, charming towns, and plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy. One of the best things to do in East Cork is to take a leisurely stroll along the stunning coastline and take in the breathtaking views.
Another popular spot in Cork is Spike Island, “Ireland’s Alcatraz”, which was once home to a prison for male and female prisoners. This differs from The Cork City Gaol. You can take a guided tour of the island and they even have an after-dark tour of the prison. No, thank you! But we’d love to hear from someone who has!
Exploring the Wild Atlantic Way
If you’re looking for a little more adventure, exploring the Wild Atlantic Way is a must-do when visiting Cork, Ireland. This scenic coastal route spans the entire west coast of Ireland and offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and experiences to enjoy along the way.
The Wild Atlantic Way is more than stunning views. You’ll have the chance to sample some great food along the way. Many towns and villages along the route offer fresh seafood and other local delicacies. Some local specialties to try are smoked salmon, oysters, and crab.
Tip: There is an excellent whale-watching boat tour you should consider at County Cork. A local captain leads the tour, and it lasts around 3 hours. You’ll look for humpback whales, dolphins, and sometimes basking sharks! There is indoor and outdoor seating on the boat, which is a plus!
As you travel along the Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the area’s history. The route passes through many towns and villages that have been around since the 7th century.
The main attraction of the Wild Atlantic Way is the Atlantic Ocean itself. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to take in the beautiful ocean views and explore its wonders.
Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or just looking to dip your toes in the water, there are plenty of beaches and coves along the route to enjoy the ocean!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some romantic spots to visit in Cork?
Cork does fit the bill if you’re looking for a location with romance. Some romantic things to take advantage of are a stroll through Fitzgerald Park, with its rose garden, fountains, and sculptures.
If you’d like a more secluded and intimate setting, visit the Crawford Art Gallery, a stunning building that houses a collection of contemporary and classical art, finishing up the evening with a romantic dinner at Paradiso.
What are some indoor activities to do in Cork on a rainy day?
If you’re looking for indoor activities to do in Cork on a rainy day, there are plenty of options. You can visit the Titanic Experience in Cobh, an interactive museum that takes you back in time to the fateful voyage of the Titanic.
Another option is to visit the Cork City Gaol, a former prison transformed into a museum. You can also check out the Everyman Theatre, a historic theatre showcasing various performances.
What are some family-friendly attractions in Cork?
Cork has many family-friendly attractions that are sure to please both children and adults. You can visit Fota Wildlife Park, a 100-acre park that is home to over 70 species of animals. Another option is to visit the Cork Butter Museum, a museum that tells the history of butter-making in Ireland.
For a fun and educational experience, visit the Lifetime Lab at the Old Cork Waterworks, an interactive science museum.
What are some unique things to do in Cork?
Cork has many unique things to do that you won’t find anywhere else. You can take a tour of the Jameson Distillery Midleton, where you can learn about the history of Irish whiskey and sample some of the finest whiskey in the world.
Another option is to take a boat tour of the beautiful River Lee, where you can see the city from a different perspective. For a truly unique experience, visit the English Market, a historic covered market that has operated since 1788.