16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Cork
Cork is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland after Dublin. It lies on Ireland's south coast and is connected to the sea by Cork Harbour and a slim channel called Passage West.
Cork and the adjacent coastline have a strong seafaring and trading tradition, some of which is reflected in the cities tourist attractions.
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 flourished, despite Viking raids and later occupation by English forces. Today, many of Cork's tourist attractions recall its long history, and you'll find it a vibrant, lively city with plenty of things to do.
Plan your trip with our list of the top tourist attractions in Cork.
See also: Where to Stay in Cork
1. The English Market
Located 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. Under the possession of the Cork City Council, it's one of the world's oldest municipal markets. 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, or at any one of the many stalls selling freshly prepared meals and snacks (limited seating available).
Address: Princes Street, Cork (off St. Patrick's Street & Grand Parade)
Official site: www.englishmarket.ie
2. St. Patrick's Street
Initially conceived in the early 18th century by wealthy merchants presumably anxious to part their fellow citizens from their cash, St. Patrick's Street has remained Cork's main shopping hub ever since. An easy couple-of-minute's stroll from The English Market and known locally as "Pana," this broad, curving street boasts many fine shops and is regarded as one of the best places to shop in Ireland. One of the most popular is the 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
Europe is not short on cathedrals, and some impressive ones at that. But St. Fin Barre's Cathedral in Cork is one that will surely take your breath away. A nice walk from St. Patrick's Street will take you to the Anglican Cathedral.
The Gothic Revival building sits on a religious site that has been a place of worship since the seventh century. That original building stood until the 12th century. In the 16th century, a cathedral was erected, but was demolished in the 1800s.
In 1862, architect William Burges' design plans were picked from dozens of entries for a cathedral with a budget of £15,000. By the time it was fully constructed, the total cost exceeded £100,000, but the results were undeniably worth it. The building was made from Cork limestone, while the interior is of Cork marble. Though little remains of the earlier cathedrals, nine carved heads and the Dean's Gate still survive from the medieval building.
The echoey chambers of the cathedral are brilliantly lit through the stained-glass panels. One of the best features of the interior is its elaborate pipe organ. The organ was built in the 19th century with more than 4,500 pipes.
Address: Bishop Street, Cork
Official site: https://corkcathedral.webs.com
4. Fitzgerald Park and Cork Public Museum
Named after Edward Fitzgerald, the city's Lord Mayor who organized Cork's International Exhibition in 1902, Fitzgerald Park is a tranquil oasis on the outskirts of Cork city. It still features the original pavilion and ornamental fountain from the era.
In the gardens here, visitors will find a café, sculptures, a skate park, and a water-lily pond. Picturesque Daly's Bridge, built in 1926 and known locally as the "Shaky Bridge," connects to Sundays Well Road.
The park is also home to Cork Public Museum, located in the former "Shrubbery House." Highlights of this interesting attraction include collections of silver and ceramics, as well as displays relating to the history of Cork.
Address: Mardyke Walk, Cork
Official site: www.corkcity.ie/corkcityco/en/cork-public-museum/
5. Shandon Bells, St. Anne's Church
Across the River Lee on the north side of the city, St. Anne's Church (1722) is known for the famous Shandon Bells tower. The church still uses its original 18th-century bells, which have become one of the city's must-see sights.
St. Anne's Tower is a distinctive landmark on the city skyline, with its facing of 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 firsthand, and enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of Cork City and beyond from the balcony; although it's a climb of 132 steps, it's well worth the effort.
In nearby O'Connell Square, the Cork Butter Museum follows the long history of Irish butter making. Housed in the old Cork Butter Market, highlights include an extensive collection of vintage butter wrappers.
Address: Church Street, Shandon, Cork
Official site: www.shandonbells.ie
6. Cork City Gaol Heritage Centre
Not far from St. Anne's is another one of Cork city's attractions, the atmospheric and historic City Gaol, which opened in 1824 and closed in 1923. Originally the prison housed both male and female prisoners who committed crimes within the city's borders. 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 deteriorated until it was restored and opened to the public as a tourist attraction in 1993. For a memorable (and atmospheric) experience, look into the availability of one of the attraction's private evening tours.
Address: Convent Avenue, Sunday's Well, Cork
Official site: http://corkcitygaol.com/
7. Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone
Just northwest of Cork City is one of Ireland's most talked-about attractions: Blarney Castle. This attractive old fortress is best-known as the home of the world-famous Blarney Stone, said to instantly give those who kiss it the Irish "gift of the gab."
Built more than six centuries ago by Irish chieftain Cormac MacCarthy, the castle attracts tourists from around the world. Inside the castle, visitors can climb the battlement to kiss the famed stone and take in the views, and also explore the massive stone building - dungeons included.
You can also wander the castle grounds to find gardens, the Wishing Steps, Badger's Cave, the Witch Stone, and the Witch's Kitchen. Afterwards, shop for Irish sweaters, crystal, and gifts at the adjacent Blarney Woollen Mills.
Address: Monacnapa, Blarney, Co. Cork
Official site: www.blarneycastle.ie
8. Ballycotton Cliff Walk
The pretty fishing village of Ballycotton, about a 40-minute drive from Cork, is a favorite escape for its beaches and seafood restaurants. It's also a popular destination thanks to the beautiful Ballycotton Cliff Walk.
This awesome five-mile trail travels along the cliff top track from Ballycotton village to Ballyandreen beach, offering spectacular views along the way. A journey of around five hours, the path leads between rolling meadows of the East Cork countryside and the cliffs with beaches below.
9. Crawford Art Gallery
The permanent collections of the Crawford Art Gallery contain paintings, sculpture, and prints as well as crafts, stained glass, and ceramics. The sculpture galleries include Greco-Roman casts by Antonio Canova and Irish and European sculpture dating from the 19th century through modern works.
The museum's collection of paintings is extensive, with works ranging from the 16th century through the present, with a special exhibit dedicated to female artists. The gallery also frequently offers drop-in creative events, including presentations and hands-on experiences. The Crawford Gallery Cafe is a popular spot for a meal or coffee for both tourists and locals alike.
Address: Emmett Place, Centre, Cork
Official site: www.crawfordartgallery.ie/
10. Blackrock Castle Observatory
Set on the shores of the River Lee where it meets Cork Harbour, Blackrock castle's numerous battlements and sturdy fortifications seem to embody the castles of fiction and fantasy. Built in 1828, it is now owned by Cork County Council and houses an observatory and visitor center.
The observatory features a planetarium, a cinema, and several interactive exhibits. The facility also hosts visiting exhibits that explore science, nature, and space, and also sponsors a variety of special events.
Address: Castle Road, Blackrock, Cork
Official site: www.bco.ie
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. Once a medieval fishing port, historic Kinsale is one of the most scenic resorts on Ireland's southwest coast.
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.
12. Fota Wildlife Park
A few kilometers' drive east of Cork City, the 70-acre wildlife park is home to animals that are - as much as possible - free to roam in their natural environment, where visitors can observe and interact with them. You may be joined at your 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.
Address: Fota, Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork
Official site: www.fotawildlife.ie/
A 25-minute drive southeast 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 doomed Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912. These days, it's still a favorite dock for cruise liners from around the world. Millions of Irish who emigrated to North America and elsewhere during the 1800s and 1900s departed from 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.
14. Take a Boat to Spike Island
In the 6th century, Spike Island was the site of a monastery, and more than a millennium later was fortified as the 24-acre star-shaped fortress of Fort Mitchel. Its main use since then has been as a prison of one sort or another.
Visitors can tour the entire complex, seeing various prison cells used from the mid-1800s to the 1980s, and hear stories of some of the famous prisoners. Inside the fort's deep tunnels are defense guns, and in the Artillery Gun Park are weapons, from cannons to modern military equipment. On the ride over, you'll hear about the history and get views of Cork Harbor and Cobh.
Address: Kennedy Pier, Cobh
Official site: www.spikeislandcork.ie
15. Elizabeth Fort
Step back in time with a visit to the 17th-century Elizabeth Fort. Shaped like a star, this historic structure sits on the River Lee, not far from St. Finbarr Cathedral. Steeped in history, the fort first was in use in 1601 to reinforce the city walls of Cork.
It also played an important role in 1690 during the Siege of Cork, when the city was held by Jacobite forces who were being attacked by Williamite soldiers. Today it is a remarkable look back at the centuries of history in Cork.
Visitors can walk around the walls of the fort on a guided tour or with an audio guide. The best part? Admission is absolutely free, and it offers one of the best views of the city.
16. Red Abbey
One of the most historic structures in Cork is its Red Abbey, located in the city center just off Douglas Street. This Augustinian Red Abbey dates back to the 14th century. A bell looms 20 meters high from the ground and is one of the oldest reminders of the Anglo Norman settlements in Cork.
All that stands of the abbey is the tower, and it has been protected as an Irish National Monument. The original abbey that stood in this location was a monastery that ran through the 17th centuries. It was later transformed into a sugar refinery, which eventually burned down.
Where to Stay in Cork for Sightseeing
Cork is an easy city to travel around, although some of its main tourist attractions are a bit spread out. The English Market is a two-minute walk from the shops on St. Patrick's Street, and Crawford Art Gallery is the same distance away, near North Channel. St. Fin Barre's Cathedral is a few blocks south, across South Channel. There are plenty of things to do within an easy stroll of these highly rated hotels in Cork:
- Hayfield Manor Hotel is near the university and walking distance from St. Fin Barre's Cathedral and Fitzgerald Park, with an indoor pool, free Wi-Fi and parking, a spa, and superb service.
- On the river, not far from the cathedral and the English Market, The River Lee has comfortable, well-appointed rooms, as well as free Wi-Fi and parking.
- Overlooking the river where the two channels meet and a short walk from the bus station and central attractions, the modern Clayton Hotel Cork City has a pool and secure underground parking.
- On the river, not far from the cathedral, restaurants, and theaters, Lancaster Lodge is on a direct bus line to the train station.
- Ambassador Hotel & Health Club Cork has balconies overlooking the city from its hilltop setting, a 10-minute walk from the center.
- Near the bus station (where airport buses arrive) and central attractions and shops, Jurys Inn Cork is at the meeting point of the two river channels.
- A few minutes' walk from the center and especially handy to the Citylink bus from Dublin, The Metropole Hotel has a pool, gym, and steam room.
- Overlooking the city from across the river but less than 10 minutes' walk from attractions, Maldron Hotel Shandon Cork City has a leisure center with a large pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, and sauna.
- Sparkling from recent renovations and with panoramic views over Cork, The Montenotte Hotel is 10 minutes from the center.
More Must-See Places to Visit near Cork
Travelers venturing south from Dublin to Cork by train, bus, or car may want to stop in Waterford, about halfway between the two cities and well-connected to both. North of Waterford, Kilkenny is full of old-world charm, with its terraces of elegant Georgian houses. East of Waterford, in Ireland's "sunny southeast" is seaside Wexford. To see more of the beautiful east coast, travel west from Cork into the Lakes of Killarney and on to explore the fabled Ring of Kerry. North of Cork is Limerick, with its museums and 13th-century castle.