Located on Ireland’s rugged southwest coast, Cork is the country’s second largest city and is packed with intriguing attractions and a razor-sharp food scene against a backdrop of bucolic countryside.
Cork has inspired poets, writers, and artists for centuries thanks to its warm and wonderful character. The city is small enough to explore on foot and close enough to an array of natural attractions to allow day-trippers quick access to glorious beaches, stunning national parks, and glistening lakes.
Discover the 14 best things to do in Cork on your next vacation to Northern Europe.
Tour Cork City Gaol Museum
Housed in a 19th-century castle-like building, Cork City Gaol is now a museum offering an insight into what life was like for Cork’s inmates between 1824 and 1923. Despite its macabre theme, a visit to the city jail is one of the most interesting things to do in Cork.
Pick up an audio guide and wander the clink’s cell wings, hear about some of the former residents—both male and female—and check out the cells, fitted with startlingly lifelike wax figures. One of Cork City Gaol’s most famous former residents was the politician, revolutionary, and suffragist Constance Markievicz, who was imprisoned in October 1919 for making a “seditious speech”.
Admire Cobh’s Candy-Hued Harbor
The colorful houses snaking around Cobh Harbor have put this Cork town on the map. Working back from the waterfront, wander up Spy Hill for a spectacular view of Cobh’s gothic St. Colman’s Cathedral.
Take a sharp right, turning onto West View to admire the steep row of houses known as the “Deck of Cards”, reminiscent of San Francisco’s steep “Row of Ladies”. From vibrant red to pistachio-green, the residences on West View are painted every color of the rainbow and make for pretty photos.
Cobh waterfront is filled with pubs, cafes, and souvenir stores. Treat yourself to a coffee or ice cream and take a seat in the seafront John F. Kennedy Park.
Wander St. Patrick’s Street
Crossing the River Lee to discover St. Patrick’s Street, Cork’s main shopping thoroughfare, is one of the best things to do in Cork if you’re a fan of fashion. Curving from Saint Patrick’s Bridge to Daunt Square through the heart of the city, you’ll find everything from popular brands to designer department stores.
Browse Brown Thomas, Corkonians’ go-to for designer labels and chic homewares. Pick up essentials from Marks & Spencer or Boots drug store. Then veer off St. Patrick’s Street onto the pedestrianized French Church Street and Carey’s Lane to explore some of the city’s independent stores and cafés while on the lookout for arts, crafts, knitwear, and books.
Head for the Beach
Spending the day at the beach is just one of the many fun things to do in Cork. A short drive from the city, on the county’s south shore, you’ll find a string of sandy coves and blissful beaches.
Check out the golden sand of Myrtleville Beach near the mouth of the Cork River. Tall pine trees that flank the beach offer some shelter. You’ll find a couple of restaurants located nearby.
A little further off the beaten path, Ballycroneen Beach is an unspoiled stretch in the town of Cloyne that’s well worth a visit. Wrap up warm; even during the summer months, the North Atlantic whips up a crisp, cool air.
Marvel at Saint Fin Barre Cathedral
A three-spired Anglican church in the center of Cork, Saint Fin Barre Cathedral was designed by English architect William Burges. The building was consecrated in 1870 on the site of a medieval cathedral that was demolished in 1785.
Let the chiming bells draw you inside and marvel at the tall gothic revival arches that line the pews. Join a guided tour to take in the building’s elaborate stone masonry, which includes characterful gargoyles, graceful statues, and remarkable stained-glass windows.
Discover Blarney Castle
A 20-minute drive northwest of Cork city center lands you at Blarney Castle, one of the most famous castles in Ireland. The current castle was built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster and is the third to have been built on the site.
There are plenty of legendary tales that surround Blarney Castle, the most famous is that if you kiss the Blarney Stone—a hulking piece of limestone built into the walls—you’ll be bestowed with the “gift of the gab” (in other words, the skill of great charm and flattery, much admired in Ireland).
Kiss the stone if you must, although it involves bending precariously over the side of the castle. Otherwise, settle for exploring the medieval grounds and spectacular gardens, the various walking trails festooned with a variety of plant life.
The estate contains acres of ancient woodlands with footpaths running alongside the river and around Blarney Lake. The shortest route of three trails takes around 90 minutes. Wear comfortable footwear if you plan on going for a stroll.
Eat Your Way Around the English Market
A visit to the two-story English Market, which has stood on its Princess Street site since 1788, is one of the best things to do in Cork. The English Market offers a cornucopia of fresh produce, with a bakery, delicatessen, seafood counters, fruit and vegetable vendors, butcher, and wine stalls. Sniff out a selection of regional cheeses and snack on dainty handmade chocolates and cakes.
Save space for a hearty plate of Irish stew at Farmgate Café, a traditional café that sources all of its produce from within the market. Order the home-baked soda bread to mop up the delicious gravy.
Take the Jameson Distillery Tour
An easy drive from the city lies the town of Midleton, home to the Jameson Distillery, known as the Old Midleton Distillery, since 1825. A 60-minute Distillery Experience Tour, which includes a tasting, is one of the best things to do in Cork to get behind the scenes of this historic attraction.
Try whiskey straight from the cask in the Maturation Warehouse and hear about the history of the brand from a Jameson Ambassador, as you’re expertly guided around the Microdistillery, Cooperage, and the Distiller’s Cottage.
If you’re a whiskey connoisseur, choose the Triple-distilled IPA Edition, a silky-smooth drink finished in craft IPA barrels for a hoppy tinge. If you’re in the mood for whiskey-themed snacks, visit Fred’s Food Truck after your tour. The bacon in the BLT is glazed with Jameson, while the slow-cooked pulled pork in Fred’s Load It Up Sub is marinated in whiskey.
Explore Cobh Heritage Centre
Located within the town’s restored Victorian railway station, Cobh Heritage Centre provides a fascinating look into Irish emigration. Trace stories of emigrants here; over three million Irish people passed through the port, many traveling to North America in search of a better life at the time of the Great Famine.
One of the most interesting stories is that of Annie Moore, who left Cobh for the U.S., becoming the first-ever emigrant to be processed through Ellis Island, New York, on January 1, 1892. There’s a statue of Annie and her two brothers outside Cobh Heritage Centre.
Learn about the seafaring past of the region at Cobh Heritage Centre’s permanent exhibition on naval and military history. You can also hear the story of the Titanic, which called at Cobh before making its fateful voyage across the Atlantic.
If you’re keen to trace Irish ancestors, there’s a resident genealogist based at the Heritage Centre. Advanced bookings are required for an appointment.
Uncover Pretty Kinsale
The charming seaside town of Kinsale is a must-visit in Cork. Stroll the town’s winding laneways, including Main Street with its row of brightly painted buildings and independent stores. Stop by The Canvas Works for cute art prints and Granny’s Bottom Drawer for gorgeous homeware and knits.
Step inside the 15th-century Desmond Castle. Built as a customs house around 1500, it’s now home to the International Museum of Wine. Then, enjoy a relaxing harbor cruise on the Spirit of Kinsale. You’ll get a detailed commentary on the coast and the chance to spot seals, otters, herons, and cormorants.
After taking in the sights of Kinsale, try the fresh seafood at Max’s on Market Street, with dishes such as pan-fried scallops, plump and buttery, and delicate, broiled sea bass served with market-fresh vegetables.
Board the Ferry to Spike Island
Jump on a ferry at Cobh’s Kennedy pier to reach Spike Island in Cork harbor. Spike Island has a storied history; it was once home to a seventh century monastery and multiple prisons, including a 17th-century Cromwellian prison and a particularly brutal 1800s penitentiary. In fact, Spike Island’s last prison only closed its cell doors for the final time in 2004.
Dominating Spike Island is the 24-acre, star-shaped Fort Mitchel, considered to be the largest fortress of its kind in the world. Take in the museum and exhibition that charts the island’s history. There are several walking trails to explore, too. The Ring of Spike route hugs the coastline and takes roughly 30 to 45 minutes to complete.
Visit Killarney National Park
Ancient oak trees, grazing red deer, inky lakes, and thundering waterfalls are just some of the remarkable sights you might spot in Killarney National Park. The park is also known for its oceanic climate, enabling an exciting array of flora and fauna to flourish.
Choose to tour the Lakes of Killarney—Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake—or hike the majestic Purple Mountains. Take off on one of six guided walk trails. Ranging from one to four miles. If you plan on challenging yourself to a ramble, wear good quality walking shoes and waterproofs; Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle for good reason.
Visit Muckross House, lying in the center of the park near Muckross Lake, and one of the best things to do on a day trip from Cork. Take a self-guided tour of the 19th-century country pile and the elaborate gardens. Stop by Muckross Garden Restaurant for the views of the Victorian Walled Garden, Torc, and Mangerton Mountains.
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Stop by Fitzgerald’s Park
Spending time in Fitzgerald Park is another of the best things to do in Cork. Lying next to the River Lee, on the east side of the city, this leafy park is made up of manicured gardens, a serene pond, and various sculptures set out on a walking route. You’ll see the statue of Irish revolutionary and politician Michael Collins, who was assassinated in County Cork in 1922.
Stop by Cork Public Museum within Fitzgerald Park to learn about the city’s political, cultural, and social landscape. Among the items on display is a collection of Michael Collins’ personal possessions, including roughly 300 letters and telegrams that were exchanged between Collins and his fiancée, Kitty Kiernan.
Once you’ve taken in the exhibitions, make your way to the park’s café, The Natural Foods Bakery, for delicious baked goods and wholesome soups.
Tick Off Cork’s More Offbeat Museums
Ticking off the city’s offbeat museums is one of the most fun things to do in Cork. Housed in the
former Cork Butter Exchange, at one time the largest butter market in the world, The Butter Museum details the history of butter production in County Cork. Time your visit right and you may catch a butter-making demonstration.
Add the Glucksman Gallery, located within the picturesque campus of University College Cork, to your itinerary. The building is a modern masterpiece of limestone, steel, and timber, with three floors dedicated to national and international contemporary art and installations. Listen to artists’ talks, attend workshops, and pick up arty souvenirs at the gallery’s gift store.
The Old Cork Waterworks, a former waterworks overlooking the River Lee, completes a tour of the city’s more unusual museums, set in attractive red sandstone and limestone buildings with a lofty chimney. Here, you’ll discover an important part of Cork’s industrial heritage at the visitor center.
If Cork’s English Market whets your appetite or if a visit to the pretty port town of Cobh is on your wishlist, choose one of Celebrity Cruises’ thrilling cruises to Ireland that call at Belfast, Dublin, Cork, and more. Browse itineraries on our website and plan your Irish adventure.