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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Cork

Cork, the Irish Republic's second city (third largest in Ireland after Belfast), has a highly competitive relationship with the capital, Dublin. Cork lies on Ireland's south coast and is linked to the sea by Cork Harbour and a narrow channel called Passage West. There's a strong seafaring and trading tradition here and all along the adjacent coastline.

In effect, the original city is an island enclosed by two arms of the River Lee. During the 7th century, St. Finbarr (Fin Barre) established a monastery on a small marshy tract where the cathedral of the same name now stands. Over the coming centuries, the town survived and, in turn, flourished despite Viking raids and later occupation by English forces. In 1920, during the Irish Civil War, large parts of Cork were destroyed by fire and the city saw its share of violence and bloodshed. Locals will happily tell visitors, as if it's a foregone conclusion, that Cork is 'the real capital.'

1 The English Market

The English MarketThe English Market FreckledPast

In the heart of Cork City and with an eye-catching fountain at its center, this quirky roofed food market has been trading since 1788. Developed and still owned by Cork City Council, it's one of the oldest municipal markets of its kind in the world. Artisan breads, fruit, and freshly caught seafood are just some of the specialities on offer. In recent years, the market gained worldwide fame when Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain dropped by on her first ever state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011. In addition to a wide range of produce, visitors can grab a coffee here or sample local fare at Farmgate Restaurant.

Hours: Open 8am-6pm Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays and bank holidays

Address: Princes Street, Cork (off St. Patrick's Street & Grand Parade)

Official site: www.englishmarket.ie

2 St. Patrick's Street

St. Patrick's StreetSt. Patrick's Street William Murphy

Initially conceived in the early 18th century by wealthy merchants presumably anxious to part their fellow citizens from their cash, this has remained Cork's main shopping hub. An easy couple-of-minute's stroll from The English Market and known locally as "Pana" the broad, curving street boasts many fine shops including upmarket department store Brown Thomas. Shopping, of course, is one thing, but the citizens of Cork are a sociable bunch and, particularly during fine weather, visitors will see groups of friends and family simply chatting and spending time together. Various architectural styles reflect change over the past two hundred years or so. Dating from 1786, and rebuilt on several occasions since then, St. Patrick's Bridge abuts the thoroughfare.

3 St. Fin Barre's Cathedral

St. Fin Barre's CathedralSt. Fin Barre's Cathedral John Lord

A leisurely 11-minute walk from St. Patrick's Street takes visitors to this Anglican Cathedral. If preferred, a bus journey (No's 214, 208, 203) will shave a couple of minutes off the journey time. The eye-catching structure in French Early Gothic style was designed by William Burges and consecrated in 1870. It's situated on a site where Christian worship has been taking place since the 7th century. By its completion, in excess of £100,000 was spent on the building, an enormous amount of money at the time. Prior to the re-design a more modest Georgian style building and bell tower stood in its place. The interior is richly decorated with fine mosaics in the choir and sumptuous artwork in the chancel.

Hours: Open Monday-Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm, Sunday 12.30pm-5.00pm (April-November only)

Admission: Adult €5, children & students €3

Address: Bishop Street, Cork

4 Fitzgerald Park

Fitzgerald ParkFitzgerald Park Andrew Bowden

Generations of Cork citizens and visitors have enjoyed the tranquil atmosphere of Fitzgerald Park, named after Edward Fitzgerald, the city's Lord Mayor who was instrumental in organising Cork's International Exhibition in 1902. The legacy is this oasis on the outskirts of Cork city, which still features the original pavilion and ornamental fountain from the era. The gardens play host to Cork Public Museum, Riverview Café, a variety of sculptures, a water-lily pond, and a skate park. Picturesque Daly's Bridge, built in 1926 and known locally as the "Shaky Bridge," connects to Sundays Well Road.

Hours: Museum - open 11am-4pm, closed for lunch 1pm-2.15pm

Admission: Free

Address: Mardyke Walk, Cork

5 Shandon Bells - St. Anne's Church

Shandon Bells - St. Anne's ChurchShandon Bells - St. Anne's Church Michelle O'Riordan

Crossing the River Lee to the north side of the city and two kilometers from Fitzgerald Park brings visitors to St. Anne's Church (1722) with the famous Shandon Bells tower. The church retains its original 18th century bells, which have become one of the city's must-see sights. The Tower forms a striking landmark, visible from many parts of the city, with its red sandstone (north & east) and white ashlar limestone (south & west). Visitors get the chance to ring the bells from the first floor, view the internal workings of the clocks, see the bells first hand, and take in spectacular 360° views of Cork City and beyond from the balcony.

Hours: Open summertime Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 11.30am-4.30pm, seasonal variations

Admission: Adults €5, seniors & students €4, children €2.50, family €12 (2 adults & up to 4 children), free into church

Address: Church St, Shandon, Cork

Official site: www.shandonbells.ie

6 Cork City Gaol

Cork City GaolCork City Gaol J Wynia

An easy four-minute drive from St. Anne's will take visitors to another one of Cork city's must-do's, the atmospheric and historic City Gaol, which opened in 1824 and closed in 1923. When the prison was originally built, it housed both male and female prisoners whose crimes were committed within the city boundary. In 1878, the City Gaol became an all female prison, which it remained until men opposed to the 1920 Anglo-Irish Treaty were incarcerated there in 1922-1923. The complex then became totally derelict until its restoration and re-opening to the public as a tourist attraction in 1993.

Hours: Open daily all year, March-October 9.30am-5pm, November-February 10am- 4pm

Admission: Adults €8, seniors & students €7, children €5

Address: Convent Avenue, Cork

Official site: www.corkcitygaol.com

7 Crawford Art Gallery

Crawford Art GalleryCrawford Art Gallery LWYang

Heading towards the city center, a two-minute walk from St. Patrick's Street, art-lovers may like to take in this regional museum dedicated to the visual arts, both historic and contemporary. The gallery receives in excess of 200,000 visitors per annum and hosts a range of permanent exhibitions including 18th-century European and Irish sculpture, a collection of Greek and Roman sculpture casts, and contemporary video installations. The collection has grown steadily, particularly in recent years, and now houses more than 2,500 items. A popular café is on the ground floor.

Hours: Open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm (Thursday late opening 8pm), closed Sunday

Admission: Free

Address: Emmet Place, Cork

8 Blackrock Castle Observatory

Blackrock Castle ObservatoryBlackrock Castle Observatory

The restored castle, dating from 1828 and the star of countless images and postcards, is now owned by Cork County Council and houses an impressive observatory and visitor center. Set in an enviable location on the shores of the River Lee where it meets Cork Harbour, it's well worth making the ten-minute trip by car, not only to visit the castle, but also to take in the scenic surroundings. The observatory features fun and educational things to do for kids, families, school groups, and science enthusiasts. A variety of special events also take place throughout the year.

Hours: Open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday-Sunday & Bank Holidays 11am-5pm

Admission: Adults €6.50, seniors & students €4.50, children (under 4) free, family (2 adults, 2 children) €18

Address: Castle Road, Blackrock, Cork

Official site: www.bco.ie

9 Kinsale Editor's Choice

Kinsale Kinsale

A little under a half hour's southerly drive from Cork, and at the gateway to scenic West Cork, is the quaint deep-sea fishing and yachting town of Kinsale. Originally a medieval fishing port, historic Kinsale is one of the most picturesque and popular resorts on the southwest coast of Ireland. Visitors will find no shortage of cafés and restaurants to suit every taste, and the surrounding scenery is quite simply breathtaking. In recent years, the town has also become a world-class golf destination. Other activities include heritage town walks, an annual gourmet festival, a wine museum and, in neighbouring Summercove, 17th-century Charles Fort.

10 Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone

Blarney Castle and the Blarney StoneBlarney Castle and the Blarney Stone

A ten-kilometer road trip northwest from Cork city takes visitors to one of Ireland's most talked about attractions, Blarney Castle, home to the world famous Blarney Stone, which is said to instantly give those who kiss it the Irish 'gift of the gab.' Built more than six centuries ago by one of Ireland's greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy, the castle has been attracting attention far beyond Munster ever since. Millions have flocked to Blarney, making it a world landmark and one of Ireland's greatest treasures. The famous stone is found at the top of the tower. Beautiful gardens surround the castle, and there's a range of activities and events year round.

Hours: Open June-August Monday-Saturday 9am-7pm, Sunday 9am-6.30pm, off-season variations

Admission: Adult €12, seniors & students €10, children (8-14) €5, under 5 yrs free, family (2 adults, 2 children) €30

Address: Blarney, Co. Cork

Official site: www.blarneycastle.ie

11 Fota Wildlife Park

Fota Wildlife ParkFota Wildlife Park Greg Clarke

Regularly featuring as one of Ireland's must-see attractions this 70-acre wildlife park, which opened in 1983, is an easy 17 kilometer drive east from Cork City. As much as is possible, animals are free to roam and visitors can observe and interact with them in a natural environment. For example those taking a well-earned break may be joined at their picnic table by ring-tailed lemurs (although of course they should not be fed) and giraffes wander freely in the central enclosure. Unlike many safari parks Fota is not a drive-through experience. On that, a word of warning, it's a lengthy walk around the park, and to get the most from it, at least half a day should be put aside for a visit.

Hours: Open Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm (last entry 5pm), Sunday opening 10.30am

Admission: Adults €14.50, seniors & under 16 yrs €9.50, under 3 yrs free, family (2 adults, 2 children) €44

Address: Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork

Official site: www.fotawildlife.ie

12 Cobh

CobhCobh

A 25-minute drive south east of Cork city takes visitors to the historic port of Cobh (formerly Queenstown). The town is famous as the last port of call of the Titanic on its fateful maiden voyage in 1912. These days it's still a favorite dock for cruise liners from around the world. Millions of those Irish who emigrated to North America and elsewhere during the 1800 and 1900s departed here, most never to return. The town is dominated by St. Colman's Cathedral, which dates from 1868. There's a 60-minute Titanic Trail walking tour, and other attractions include the Titanic Experience, the Cobh Museum, and the Queenstown Story Heritage Centre.

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