Cork Travel Guide: The Best Things to do in Cork, Ireland

Cork Travel Guide – culture, cuisine, craic

We all know Cork as the city of steps and steeples, but did you know it’s also the city of craic and cuisine?

Cork revels in its reputation as a gourmet destination, and with easy access to the countryside and coast, it’s a great base for working up an appetite in the great outdoors. During the summer, there are even more ways to enjoy the revelry in the heart of Rebel County as the city’s streets are transformed into an al fresco dining mecca.

So, what are you waiting for? If you are hungry for a holiday, head to Cork in Ireland’s Ancient East and enjoy the spoils of the city, coast and countryside.

Get the gift of the gab at Blarney Castle

cork city travel guide

Kissing the Blarney stone to get the gift of the gab is among the most famous legends in Ireland. But there is more to Blarney Castle and Gardens than just smooching the stone, although puckering up is a good place to start. With over 600 years of history and 60 acres of gardens to explore, prepare to be enchanted by this magical medieval stronghold.

Wander the woodlands and discover tranquil waterfalls and walkways. Stroll through the gardens, which are a riot of colour and curiosities. Have you ever seen a plant in prison? The Poison Garden is filled with toxic species, some are so deadly that they are locked away in cages. For a less dangerous dander, the double herbaceous border is a delightful display of summer blooms surrounded by a pretty rose pergola. For more spellbinding sights, explore the Witches Stone, Witches Kitchen, Druids Cave and the Wishing Steps. 

Blarney Castle is a mere 20 minutes drive from Cork city centre. So, having been bewitched by the countryside, it’s time to be charmed by the city. 

Cannons and canals and crafts, oh my!

The best things to do in Cork Ireland

Cork’s compact size makes it easy to get around. However, one of the best ways to get the lay of the land is on a cycle tour with Beyond the Glass Adventures. Not only will you explore more of the sights but you’ll move away from the tourist hotspots and venture further afield to the more local hangouts. Plus, you’ll have the lovely lilting commentary of local guide James, who has clearly snogged the Blarney Stone. He most certainly has the gift of the gab as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of Cork.

Whizzing around, you’ll visit the gorgeous grounds of the University of Cork and The Glucksman, the Best Public Building in Ireland. You’ll pedal through Fitzgerald Park and admire the Sky Garden pod. This installation was designed by Diarmuid Gavin and won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Cork is the city of steps and steeples

The best things to do in Cork Ireland

As you pedal up to the Shandon Bells, your thighs will discover why Cork is the city of steps and steeples – the city has more than 30 bridges and 20 church spires. From the top of these steep streets, I’m pretty sure you can count them all.

Cycling through the city, you’ll learn about the importance of the River Lee and why Cork’s nickname was “Venice of the North”. In the mid-1700s, the city had more canals and waterways than streets. In fact, Patrick’s Street and the South Mall were once river channels that allowed ships to dock in the city centre. See if you can spot the old cannon on Grand Parade, once used as a mooring post for ships. Just one of the interesting tidbits you’ll uncover on this cycling tour.

If you’d prefer an evening cycle, James will take you along a scenic greenway that follows the disused Blackrock railway line adjacent to The Marina. During this tour, you’ll hear the storied history of the harbour.

Cork Travel Guide: Stock up on the local spoils

The Marina Market Cork Ireland

Along this greenway is the magnificent Marina Market. This large, continental-style food and craft market has around 40 stallholders and is the perfect place for a pit stop. Refuel with a bowl of Raman and perk up with a cup of gourmet coffee. Stock up on snacks for the road and local craft souvenirs. You can always just relax on a bench and enjoy the buzz of one of Cork’s great creative spaces.

Have a wet and wild time in the harbour

The best things to do in Cork Ireland

Having seen how the river and harbour shaped and made Cork a great trading centre, it’s time to get more acquainted with the water.

A tour with Ocean Escapes is a wet and wild way to explore Cork Harbour and beyond. On board a comfortable, super fast, and fun rib, you’ll enjoy thrills and spills while discovering the secrets of the second-largest deep-water port in the world.

See charming, colourful Cobh from off-shore and get a postcard-perfect perspective of its row of Victorian houses, known as the Deck of Cards. 

As you zip past Spike Island, Ireland’s Alcatraz, you can admire its imposing star-shaped fortress. Passing Camden Fort Meagher, you can get a close look at the underground tunnels. Blasting by Fort Davis, you can look for the torpedo bays. As you hear about its fascinating military and maritime history, you’ll realise why no one ever dared attack Cork from the water.

Rush along the waves, out past Roches Point Lighthouse, tales of wartime are swapped for tails of wildlife. Ireland is one of the best whale-watching destinations in Europe. Seeing these magnificent mammals playing out in the wild, mere meters from the boat, is a remarkable experience and one that will linger long in the memory.

Follow in the footsteps of the Titanic passengers

The best things to do in Cork Ireland

Of course, the Cork travel guide would be complete without mentioning the Titanic. Cork Harbour is famous for being the last port of call for the Titanic, which dropped anchor just behind Spike Island near Roche’s Point.

There is a huge fascination with the unsinkable ship, and following the Titanic Trail through the pretty streets of Cobh is a great way to learn more. On a guided or self-guided tour, you’ll visit the places connected to the ship, for instance, St. Colman’s Cathedral. Many of the passengers attend morning mass here before boarding the ship. With its coastline views, this church is picturesque, and its spire is home to the largest carillon in the country. Hearing the 49 bells ringing out gives you goosebumps. However, one of the most poignant parts of the tour is standing at the actual departure pier. From here, on 11th April 1912, 123 passengers boarded the tenders that ferried them out to the Titanic. Less than four days later, 79 of those passengers perished in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.

Cork Travel Guide: Discover the secrets of Ireland’s Alcatraz

The best things to do in Cork Ireland

Nowadays, people board ferries in Cobh to reach Spike Island just ten minutes away. Throughout its dark and fascinating 1300-year history, Spike Island has been the site of a monastery, a fort, and, at one time, the largest prison in the world.

Along the 5km ‘Ring of Spike’ walking trail, engaging exhibits tell the stories from saints to sinners. Along with the stories of the island, you also get a side order of sweeping views. You can take a self-guided tour, but for an unforgettable immersive experience, take a tour with the skilled storytellers who guide you from the ferry to the fortress, passing Ireland’s largest artillery gun park, a former children’s prison and the outer island teeming with wildlife. After such an exhilarating experience, you’ll probably need a cup of tea. The former prison gymnasium is now a cafe ideal for relaxing and refuelling with hot drinks and sweet treats.

Delight in al fresco dining and drinks

The best things to do in Cork Ireland

What is it about fresh air and outdoor activities that make you ravenous? Thankfully, when hunger strikes, you are in the right place as Cork is the culinary capital of Ireland, shush, don’t tell the Dubs.

In the summer, eating out in Cork really does mean eating out. The streets of Cork transform into fabulous al fresco dining destinations. Join delighted diners as they tuck into delicious dishes showcasing local produce served on rooftops, terraces and balconies all across the city.

One of the best thoroughfares for local fayre is Princes Street in the heart of the city. Here, restaurants line both sides of the pedestrian street, filled with tables, heaters and giant colourful umbrellas. This means al fresco dining and drinking can take place whatever the weather. But sure look it, in Ireland a little bit of rain won’t dampen our spirits and the welcome you receive in Cork will keep you warm all night long. So, cheers to that.

Don’t escape from it all, embrace it all

The best things to do in Cork Ireland

As you can see, Cork is a destination for those who don’t want to escape from it all but want to embrace it all. A place for those with an appetite for adventure and great dining experiences. 

Even though its canals and bridges, markets and outdoor dining give it a continental vibe, everything in Rebel County is pure Cork and peppered with charm, craic and creativity. So go on; it’s time to discover Cork, a destination full of surprises.

Cork Travel Guide: Leave No Trace

Remember, always follow the Leave No Trace principles to help make as little an impact as possible on our landscape. Keep outdoor areas safe, clean, and free from waste and hazards, and help protect the natural environment. Love this place; leave no trace.

If you are hungry for more blog posts about Ireland, here you go…

10 things to do with kids in the Phoenix Park Dublin.

Here is my foolproof recipe for traditional Irish scones.

You might also like my list of the  7 restaurants worth the drive from Belfast.

Similarly, you might also like my blog post entitled Discover Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden.

If you are visiting Ireland, take a look at my many blog posts, for example things to do in Ireland.

Furthermore, if you are looking for a place to stay in Ireland, I highly recommend Glenlo Abbey and Longueville House.

Additionally, click here to learn about the traditional Irish foods we use to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

Finally, click here to learn about Easter in Ireland: Traditions, food, and festivities.

Lastly, do you like this Cork Travel Guide? If so, please share it with others.

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