As Ireland’s second city, Cork is lively, cosmopolitan and well located with enough culture for everyone. Locals refer to it as ‘Ireland’s real capital’. With a mix of hipster and traditional pubs with live-music sessions and local produce, the city is the perfect weekend getaway, ideally for those in the UK. Read our guide to the best things to do in Cork.
Airline: Ryanair from London Luton (LTN) to Cork (ORK). From £45, return.
To the city: Bus Ēireann from outside the terminal.
Cost: €3.90 (Adult single).
Journey time to centre: 20 minutes.
Distance and direction from airport to centre: 7.7km (4.78 mile) south of the centre.
Need to know
Visa: UK residents can travel without a passport, but ID is advisable.
Travel: See the FCDO website.
Currency: Euro (£1 = €1.11 approximately).
Tips: 10-15% is recommended.
Travel Adapter: Type G (same as the UK).
Language: Irish Gaelic is the national language. English as a second language.
Best time to visit: June until August.
Quick Facts about Cork
- The first steamship to cross the Atlantic left from a Cork town.
- The Royal Cork Yacht Club is the world’s oldest yacht club.
- The planting of Ireland’s first potato.
- It had the largest butter market in the 1800s.
- Ireland’s only cable car is in County Cork.
The best things to do in Cork
- Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone – €18 (Adult).
- Shandon Tower and Bells – €5 (Adult).
- The English Market – Free.
- St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral – €6 (Adult).
- Elizabeth Fort – Free.
- The Glucksman Gallery – Free.
- University College Cork – Free (from outside).
1. Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone
Blarney Castle and gardens, which are the most visited in Ireland, is only 8km (4.97 mile) from Cork. Among the 60 acres are the Rock Close and Water Garden, the deadly Poison Garden and the prehistoric Fern Garden.
The Rock Garden is believed to be the site of an ancient druid settlement. A trail leads to two flowing waterfalls and the wishing steps. Apparently, walking down the steps backwards with your eyes closed makes your wishes come true. There is the mystical Witches Stone, where witches once congregated. People leave offerings on top of the stone.
In the gardens is Blarney House, where the Colthurst family still live. Several woodland and riverside walks of varying lengths, with the gardens evolving through the changing seasons. To reach Blarney Castle, take bus 215 from Cork to Blarney village.
The castle is famous for the Blarney Stone. Over the last 200 years, many pilgrims have climbed the steps to kiss the stone, known as the Stone of Eloquence. As a result, the kisser develops better verbal communication skills and can talk their way out of any situation. Winston Churchill, Mick Jagger, the Simpsons, and millions of others have kissed it, which involves laying on your back, tilting your head and planting a kiss on the stone. The stone originates from 1446, and guard rails are now in place for safety.
2. Shandon Tower and Bells
The tower is part of Saint Anne’s Church, built-in 1772 as the oldest church in continuous use in Cork. The eight bells installed in 1752 weigh over six tonnes. The four-tower clocks are known as the ‘four-faced liar’, as the time on each face differs slightly. The clock machinery weighs two tonnes and is one of the largest caged clocks in Europe. The tower’s pinnacle is a 4m (13.12ft) gold leaf salmon that symbolises fishing on the River Lee.
The tower walls are 2m (6.56ft) thick, with 132 steps to the top. The tower is 36m (118ft) high and another 15m (49.21ft) for the pepper pot. On the first floor, pulling the ropes plays the bells. Take your time with the steps and use the side rails as it is narrow in places. The views over the city from the tower balcony are impressive, particularly on a clear day.
3. The English Market
Trading as a market since 1788, it has survived through the ages. A wide range of local organic produce and international foods are on offer. The 18th-century building retains its original character. There are several small and independent traders, and this bustling market is a hive of activity in Cork. It does not open on Sundays and public holidays.
4. St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
Standing proudly in Cork’s centre as a place of worship from the 7th century, this three-spire cathedral belongs to the Church of Ireland. Each of the spires supports a Celtic cross. The Gothic church, built from local stone, is beautiful and historically significant. There are several sculptures and gargoyles.
Inside the church, the sanctuary ceiling, the view from the gallery and the stained glass windows are worth seeing. The organ with 4,500 pipes is the most expensive part of the church’s maintenance costs.
5. Elizabeth Fort
This 17th-century star-shaped fort acted as a defensive barrier on high ground after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. It has served as a military barracks, a convict depot and a police station. There are bronze statues of battle scenes, and the fort provides a glimpse into Elizabethan life. Built in a residential area in the south of the city, it offers panoramic views.
6. The Glucksman Gallery
Part of the University College Cork grounds, this award-winning gallery made with limestone, steel, and timber has an interior exhibition space, a restaurant, and a gift shop. The exterior design is modern contemporary, and the gallery is suggested as one of the 1,000 places to see before you die. It promotes creative learning for the visual arts across three floors.
7. University College Cork
The University College Cork – National University of Ireland, founded in 1845, is one of three Queen’s Colleges. The main quadrangle, built by Sir Thomas Deane in a Gothic revival style, is the stand-out attraction where open-air events occur. The Long Hall and Clock Tower, comprising 5,000 square metres, surround the quadrangle.
There are enough things to do in Cork for visitors and locals alike. Compact in size, this liberal and cosmopolitan city packs a lot in. There is a mix of old and modern woven into the fabric of the buildings. Snug pubs with live music and friendly people provide ample evening entertainment. Food is slightly more expensive than in Europe, so budget accordingly.
Easy accessible from the UK, less crowded than Dublin and Galway and well situated to reach other parts of the Irish coastline, it is a city to add to your list.
Read about our European weekend breaks.