The Best Things to do in Cork, Ireland

Written By: The Planet D

It’s no secret that Ireland is one of our favorite countries to visit. We have been all around from north to south and east to west. One of the best places to visit in Ireland is County Cork. Cork is the largest county in Ireland encompassing a huge portion of the southwest of Ireland. It is home to the second-largest city in Ireland, Cork City and it has some of Ireland’s most famous attractions. If you are looking for things to do in Cork read on because we have some amazing ideas to add to your Ireland itinerary.

Things to do in Cork, Ireland

Blarney Castle in Cork Ireland

While many people focus on travel to Dublin, Cork is an amazing city to visit. But visiting Cork city isn’t only thing is the second-largest city in the Republic of Ireland (after Dublin), it is the largest county in Ireland,

1. Visit Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle is located just outside of Ireland’s second-largest city, Cork. Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle is one of the most popular in Ireland let alone in Cork! But visiting Blarney Castle is worth visiting on its own. The grounds are beautiful and there is a lot to see including the Witches Garden, The Wishing Steps, and the Fairy Glade. Read our full visit to Blarney Castle here.

2. Kiss the Blarney Stone for the Gift of the Gab

best things to do in cork - kiss the blarney stone

When visiting Blarney Castle, you must not miss kissing the Blarney Stone for the Gift of the Gab. It is quite an adventure to kiss the Blarney Stone as you walk up 114 steps to the top of the tower. Once you reach the top, you’ll be taken to the stone where you hang upside down and reach out to kiss this legendary stone. Book your trip to Blarney Castle and Cobh with GetYourGuide The Blarney Stone is open check the website for details.

People do not Pee on the Blarney Stone

Kissing the Blarney Stone in Cork

Kissing the Blarney Stone gets a bad rap. Now after COVID I can only imagine what people are thinking! When we kissed the Blarney Stone people told us people peed on it, but after visiting it, we know that they have never been there before because there is no way anyone could pee on the Blarney Stone. You see, the Blarney Stone is at the top of a tower with security and staff standing guard. When business hours are over, the castle is locked. The Blarney Stone is disinfected after each kiss and it is regulated. Perhaps a hundred years ago people peed on the Blarney Stone, but that is simply not the case today.

Where to Stay Near Blarney Castle

  • Blarney Castle Hotel – Historic hotel dating back to 1837/
  • Blarney Woolen Mills Hotel –  Just a short walk from Blarney Castle in Blarney Village, this hotel resides in an old woollen mill originally built in 1823.
  • Kingsley Hotel – Four star hotel located on the River Lee in Cork. Close to Cork University, Cork’s City Centre and Saint Fin Barres Cathedral.

Mizen Head

Mizen Head in County Cork Ireland

Most people know of the Cliffs of Dover when visiting Ireland, but Mizen Head is an extraordinary destination to see the country’s wild sea cliffs. Plus, with a fascinating history, the visitor center at Mizen Head is almost as impressive as the cliffs themselves! Located at the tip of Kilmore Peninsula in County Cork, Mizen Head is a must visit attraction in Cork. You can explore the museum showcasing life in the lighthouse and the Marconi radio room where he made his first Trans Atlantic call. Read all about Mizen Head here at Mizen Head, Ireland – The Extreme Edge of Ireland

Lough Hyne – Kayaking at Night

Lough Hyne - Kayaking at Night

One of the most unique things to do in Cork is a night excursion on Lough Hyne with Atlantic Sea Kayaking. It takes kayaking to another level where you launch your kayaks into the beautiful Lough Hyne at dusk. Once it’s pitch dark, you in complete darkness and silence as your eyes adjust letting you discover the beautiful night skies. Book your kayaking at night tour with Atlantic Sea Kayaking or Book this highly rated kayaking tour to Castlehaven Bay.

Where to Stay near Lough Hyne

Stanley Gueshouse near Lough Hyne

Stanely Guesthouse – We stayed at the Stanely Guesthouse in West Cork to explore Lough Hyne and Mizen Head. Located in the village of Schull, it has beautiful views of the sea.

Cork City

No visit to Cork would be complete without spending time in Cork City. And there are plenty of things to do in Cork City. Book your Cork City Walking Tour where you’ll see many of Cork’s top attractions including the English Market, Shandon, University College Cork and Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

3. Bells of Shandon – St. Annes Church

things to do in cork - bells of shandon

One of the most surprising things to do in Cork is to visit the Church of St. Anne and ring the Bells of Shandon. Visitors are given headphones to climb into the bell tower as people ring the bells following along with sheet music telling them what strings to pull to play musical bells like Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head and Mama Mia.

Even if you don’t ring the Bells of Shandon, a visit to St. Annes Church is a must. From the top of the church, you are treated to beautiful panoramic views of Cork City.

Butter Museum

Butter Museum in Cork

It’s not at the top of most people’s things to do in Cork list, but a visit to the Butter Museum was a lot of fun! Take a tour to see how butter was historically made from the milk to the cream to the butter on the bread. We even had the chance to churn butter and taste our hard work on fresh bread at the end. I can now say that I have churned butter once or twice Living in an Amish Paradice! Check out The Butter Museum for opening times.

Blackrock Castle Observatory

Blackrock Castle Ireland

Blackrock Castle is one of Cork’s oldest surviving structures that is still in use today. Dating back to 1582 it is also one of the best attractions in Cork. Throughout the centuries it has been used as a lighthouse, a signaling station, and a gun battery. Today, it is used for many things including an observatory, and planetarium. If you want to dig into the stars a little deeper than just looking at them from a kayak, The Blackrock Castle Observatory located on the River Lee is the place to be. See the Daily Schedule for Blackrock Castle here.

English Market

English Market in Cork City

Located in the center of Cork City, The English Market is a must-visit. The market has been continuously running since the 1780s. It is one of the best places for shopping in Cork or to grab a quick bite to eat.

St. Patrick’s Street

Speaking of shopping, St. Patrick’s Street is the main shopping street in Cork. In fact, St. Patrick’s Street is often considered the best shopping street in all of Ireland.

Cork City Gaol Heritage

Cork City Gaol is a former 19th prison in the city of Cork. Take a tour of the museum that shows the harsh realities of prison life. On the outside the prison looks like a castle and was touted as one of the finest in 3 kingdoms. The doors to the jail closed in 1923 and in 1927, Corks’ first radio station began broadcasting from there until the 1950s. It underwent a restoration and was opened to the public as one of Cork’s most popular attractions in 1993. Visit the Cork City Gaol website for opening hours and information.

Where to Stay in Cork City

  • Mayborough Hotel and Spa – Historic hotel with parking, pool and 300 year old gardens.
  • Hayfield Manor – Located near the historic University College Cork with two award-winning restaurants and The Beautique Spa
  • River Lee Hotel – Chic hotel on the river with popular River Club Bar, Terrace & The Grill Room, in-house health and fitness club with a 20m swimming pool.

Elizabeth Fort

Located in the original walled city of Cork, Elizabeth Fort dates back to 1601 at the time of Queen Elizabeth I. At the end of 1500, Queen Elizabeth ordered forts to protect port towns with Cork being one of them. (hence the name). It was demolished in 1603, but rebuilt in 1624 stronger and mightier. Throughout the years it has been used as a fort, army barracks, female prison, and for the Cork City Artillery Militia. The star-shaped fort has seen the city grow around it and today it is partially open to the public to explore.

St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral

From St. Patrick’s Street, take a walk to St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a grand Anglican Church that is made of Cork limestone, and Cork marble.

city of cork ireland from above

University College Cork

I don’t know what it is about Ireland that makes us want to tour university grounds, but like Trinity College in Dublin, the University College Cork campus is a great places to spend a couple of hours. Dating back to the mid 1800s its a lovely campus. Places not to miss are the Crawford Observatory, Lewis Glucksman Gallery.

Crawford Art Gallery

The Crawford Art Gallery is a National Cultural Institution and is an excellent thing to do in Cork on a rainy day. The public art gallery and museum displays paintings from European artists dating back to the 16th century as well as Greek and Roman sculptures.

Have a Short Time in Cork?

Book this Hop-on-hop-off Cork Hopper tour to many of the best things to do in Cork in one day including:

  • Blarney Castle and Gardens
  • Visit the town of Cobh, the famous departure point of millions of Irish emigrants
  • Fota Wildlife Park, one of Ireland’s top attractions
  • And Irish whiskey experience at the Jameson Distillery
  • Get tickets and more information here. (easy cancellation within 24 hours of activity for full refund)

Fitzgerald Park

If you want to escape a bit of the city, Fitzgerald Park is a quiet oasis with lakes, fountains, and pathways wandering through green space. The Cork Public Museum is also located here.

Barleycove Beach

Barleycove Beach Cork Ireland

If you are looking for a beach in Cork, Barleycove Beach on the Wild Atlantic Way is one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland. Located near Mizen Head, a boardwalk leads down to the Sand Dunes of Barleycove Beach on the Mizen Peninsula. It is one of Ireland’s hidden gems.

Spike Island

Hop on a ferry from the City of Cobh to Spike Island. This is a great place to visit in Cork in conjunction with touring the Cork City Gaol. Spike Island was used as a prison and was known as Ireland’s answer to Alcatraz. Throughout its 1,300 year history, it has also been used as a monastery in the 6th century before being turned into the star-shaped Fort Mitchel. Its seclusion was exactly what monks were looking for in the 6th century (similar to the beehive monastery of Skellig Michael) and the offshore island made for the perfect prison at the time. Today, Spike Island is a heritage tourist attraction and one of the top things to do in Cork.

Glengarriff Nature Reserve

If you want to do some hiking, Glengarriff Nature Reserve is a good place to get outdoors to explore. This rugged glen encompasses 100 hectares that were once on Lord Bantry’s estate. There are several hiking trails to explore. The 1km riverwalk is an easy hike through the forest, Lady Bantry’s Lookout takes you up to see panoramic views over Glengarriff and Garinish Island and the waterfall walk takes you out to a waterfall located on the Canrooska River.

Drombeg Stone Circle

Drombeg Stone Circle near Skiberdeen

Ireland is filled with ancient monuments and the Drombeg Stone Circle near Skibereen recumbent stone circle consisting of 17 mysterious pillar stones. Artifacts found in excavations date back from 153 BCE and 127 CE.

Tour of the Jameson Distillery

Jameson Distillery in Midleton Cork

No trip to Ireland would be complete without tasting some Irish Whiskey. Located in Midleton, Cork, the Old Midleton Distillery tour takes you on a journey through the restored 19th-century warehouse to see the kilns, mills and casks and to sample a taste of the finished product. Book your Jameson Whiskey Experience

Titanic Experience

When thinking of the Titanic in Ireland, Belfast comes to mind since it was where the Titanic was made. But the town of Cobh in County Cork has very close ties to the Titanic. The Titanic Experience in Casement Square is located at the White Star Line Ticket Office. The Titanic was part of the White Star Line. On Thursday, April 11, 1912, 123 passengers boarded the Titanic in Cobh (formerly Queenstown) at its final port of call before leaving for America. This exhibit takes you through what life was like on board, tells stories of the survivors and victims of that fatal night. Check out the website

Other Things to do in Cobh

Things to do in Cobh

When visiting Cobh, other must-see attractions are the Cobh Museum, The Titanic Trail, (great to go with the Titanic Experience, St. Colman’s Cathedral, and the Queenstown Story Heritage Centre. (Cobh was once called Queenstown)

Fota Wildlife Park

Fota Wildlife Reserve Cork

If you are looking for something different to do in Cork, the Fota Wildlife Park is a 100-acre wildlife park located on Fota Island, is a great place to visit. Animals are free to roam in their natural environments.

Take a Drive from Kinsale

It’s no doubt that the Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland is one of the greatest drives on earth and this mammoth road trip begins in Kinsale. Kinsale is 30 minutes from Cork City and is known for its tasty seafood. Before setting off on your Irish Road Trip, take a stroll through the town to marvel at its colorful buildings and take a walk to Charles Fort along the Scilly Walk.

Gougane Barra

For that perfect Instagram shot, you may want to make your way to Gougane Barra. St. Finbarr’s Oratory is a tiny church sitting on an island waiting to be photographed. It’s so picturesque that it is a popular spot for Irish weddings.

Whale Watching and Foraging Tour

Whale Watching in Cork at Cliff House

Cork is one of the best places in Ireland to go whale watching. You can book whale watching tours, but you can also see whales from the coast. We took a whale watching and foraging tour from the Cliff House Hotel. It was wonderful to explore the coast in search of fin, humpback, and minke whales while foraging for plants. Keeping our eyes on the sea, we walked out to Ram’s Head as we searched for food and past sites like the Christian St Declan’s Well, Ardmore Round Tower, Sampson Wreck, and the old Coastguard Station. It was truly a spectacular 5km hike.

Cliff House Hotel Ireland

Cliff House Hotel – We stayed at this 5-star luxury oceanside hotel and it was heaven. Just 1 hour from Cork and Waterford. Check out Availability & Prices Trip Advisor / Booking.com

Bailey’s Hotel Cashel – We stayed at this 4 star luxury historic building located in downtown Cashel between Dublin and Cork. Check out Availability & Prices Trip Advisor / Booking.com

Things to do in Cork Ireland Map

Get your map of all the things to do in Cork to have each Cork attraction at your fingertips.

And there you have it folks, these are some of the very best things to do in Cork, Ireland. Cork is often overlooked by likes of Dublin, but there are so many amazing thigns to do here. Some of the best attractions in all of Ireland are located in County Cork. So what are you waiting for, make your way to Cork, Ireland right now!

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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