There’s an almost endless number of things to do in Cork City over the course of a couple of days away.
From historical landmarks and mighty restaurants to museums and buzzy little pubs, there’s a little bit of something to tickle every fancy.
In the guide below, you’ll discover a loooooad of different things to do in Cork City in 2020 and beyond.
Table of Contents
The best things to do in Cork City
Cork City is the second-largest city on the island of Ireland. Formed around the River Lee, the city was originally a monastic settlement and was expanded by the Vikings around 915.
Now, many of those that visit Cork tend to skip the city in favour of the coast (there’s a heap of deadly things to do in West Cork, to be fair!).
Related read: When you’re finished here, make sure to hop into our guide to the best things to do in Cork.
1. Fuel up at the English Market
If you’re looking to make your belly happy and you’ve never visited the English Market, you’re in for a treat!
A friend and I were in Cork for a gig a few summers ago. It was a late night, numerous pints were consumed and we were up well past our bedtime.
When we awoke the next morning, our heads were hopping. As we checked out of the hostel the young lad behind the counter recommended that we head across to the English Market for a feed.
They’ve been serving Cork City at the English Market since 1788 – that’s pretty damn impressive! I’m 60% sure that we got some form of fresh roll with sausages and relish. I’m 100% sure that it very tasty altogether.
2. Explore Cork City Gaol (#2 on TripAdvisor’s list of the best things to do in Cork City)
If you’ve read our other guides on things to do in Ireland, you’ll know that our little island is home to its fair share of historic Gaols.
The Cork City Gaol is excellent (4.5/5 out of 1,200+ reviews on Google). A visit here will help you discover what 19th and early 20th-century life was like in Cork, both inside and outside of the prison walls.
The exhibition here takes visitors through furnished cells and offers an insight into the day-to-day life of the prisoners and those that worked at Cork City Gaol.
3. Visit the Cork Butter Museum
Yes… a butter museum. If you’re looking for unique things to do in Cork City, make sure you get yourself here for a nosey around!
The Cork Butter Museum helps visitors dive into the culture of dairying in ancient Ireland and the growth of the Cork Butter Exchange.
If you visit, you’ll learn about the craft of traditional butter-making via video and an on-site museum. Interestingly enough, the butter exchange here was once the biggest in the world when tens of millions of pounds worth of butter was traded every year.
4. Nurse a pint in the snug at the Mutton Lane Inn
If you enjoy kicking back in a cosy pub with a finely poured pint, you’ll love Cork City’s Mutton Lane Inn.
I’ve been to the Mutton Lane Inn the last two times that I visited Cork, and I’d happily visit it 20 times more. You’ll find this pub down a pokey alley off St. Patrick’s St, where it’s illuminated by candles and fairy lights.
Although the Mutton Inn is small, it packs a serious punch. If you can, try and get in early and see if you can nab a seat in the snug.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Cork? Check out our guide to 11 of the most unique Airbnbs in Cork City!
5. Grab a 360 view of the city from the Shandon Bell Tower
You’ll catch one of the best views of Cork City from the 17th-century Church of St. Anne. The tower here is 170 feet high and its walls are an impressive 7 feet thick.
After you’ve trudged up the towers 132 steps (yes, 132…), you’ll be treated to a 360 view out over Cork City.
Keep an eye out for the fish-shaped weather vane when you visit. It’s known locally as the ‘goldie fish’ and it’s over 4 meters long and painted in fancy gold leaf.
The vane symbolises the salmon fishing industry, which was hugely important in Cork at the time.
6. Then ring the Shandon Bells
This is another of the more unique things to do in Cork City. St. Anne’s Church is one of the only churches on the planet where visitors can ring the bells unaccompanied.
The Shandon Bells are fixed, so when you grab the rope a thing known as a ‘clapper’ bounces off the bell. The bell itself doesn’t actually move!
Now, these bells can be heard right the way across Cork City, so make sure that you’re respectful and that you don’t bang away at them for hours on end!
7. Grab a coffee and head for a stroll around the grounds of University College Cork
You don’t need to be a student of UCC to enjoy their gorgeous grounds. University College Cork was founded in 1845 and opened 4 years later in 1849 with 23 professors and 181 students.
The campus is packed with a number of interesting buildings and features, from the highly recommended Lewis Glucksman Gallery in the Lower Grounds of the campus to the Stone Corridor of the Main Quadrangle.
If you’re planning to drop by when you visit Cork, nip into the Visitors’ Centre on campus. It acts as a central point of information for those visiting and it’s from here that you can join an audio tour that take visitors through the history and culture of the University.
Traveller Tip: Pick up a coffee from the nearby Coffee Station (1A Western Rd, Mardyke, Cork) and head for a stroll around the grounds.
8. Get cultured at the Crawford Art Gallery
If you’re looking for things to do in Cork City when it’s raining, lash this one on your to-visit list. Crawford Art Gallery is a National Cultural Institution and regional art museum that’s dedicated to the visual arts.
The collection here boasts over 4,000 works, ranging from 18th-century Irish paintings and sculptures to a collection of Greek and Roman sculpture casts.
The best part of all? Admission to the Gallery is free!
9. Step back in time at Elizabeth Fort
Many people that I chat with that are planning to visit Cork tend to miss out on Elizabeth Fort for some reason. Elizabeth Fort is a 17th-century star fort in Cork City that was built to act as a defensive fortification outside of the city walls.
Over time, as the city expanded, it started to grow around the fort, making it redundant. This resulted in the fort being used as a military barracks and then a prison.
Visitors to Elizabeth Fort can enjoy a fantastic view from the fort walls while also diving into the history of where and how the city was developed.
10. Take the kids to gaze at the stars at Blackrock Castle Observatory
If you’re looking for things to do in Cork City with kids, carve out some time to visit Blackrock Castle. You’ll find Blackrock Castle about 2 km from Cork City Centre, on the banks of the River Lee.
The castle was originally built to protect upper Cork Harbour and port. Since 2007, the castle has been a space for Science, and is home to an international award-winning science centre and riverside restaurant!
There are heaps of permanent and visiting exhibitions that you can check out here. This is another handy place to head to on a rainy day!
11. Nurse a pint and listen to some trad music at the Oliver Plunkett
I’ve spent many an evening in many a pub in Cork over the years. Alongside the Mutton Lane Inn, one of my favourites is the buzzy Oliver Plunkett.
This is a traditional Irish pub named after the well-known Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork City and you’ll find it hopping most nights of the week.
If you’re planning to visit Cork and are looking for live music, visit their Facebook page where you’ll find updates on who’s playing and when.
12. Have a wander around Cork Public Museum
Next up is Ireland’ s oldest Local Authority museum. You’ll find Cork Public Museum in the middle of the gorgeous Fitzgerald Park, where it has been exhibiting Cork’s rich heritage since 1945.
The museum’s exhibitions offer an insight into Cork’s extensive civic, political, military, and cultural histories that make the county what it is today.
Visitors to the museum can marvel at archaeological exhibits that trace 7,000+ years of human settlement in Cork and delve into historical exhibits that tell the stories of many prominent people from the county.
13. Spot the swinging cannonball inside St Fin Barre’s Cathedral
You don’t need to be a seasoned admirer of architecture to appreciate the beauty of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.
As you approach the cathedral, you’ll start to see the distinct features that don its exterior, such as spires, gargoyles and other elaborate sculptures.
When you enter the building, you’ll see mosaics on the floor, a bright chancel ceiling, and a bishop’s throne. When you visit the cathedral, keep an eye out for the cannonball.
It arrived at the cathedral in 1690… when it was fired from the nearby Elizabeth Fort during the siege of Cork.
14. Tantalise your tastebuds at the Rising Sons Brewery
The lads at the award-winning Rising Sons Micro-Brewery offer a very reasonable tour for just €12 per person.
Those that visit will be taken through the history of the brewery along with being offered an insight into their beer-making process.
The tour is rounded off with a guided beer tasting of two to three beers. Perfect for those of you visiting the city with friends and looking for an activity that can cater for a group.
15. Grab a feed at Market Lane
I’ve heard from several people that the food at Market Lane in Cork City is sensational, but I’ve my eye on the deserts. Look at that thing above…
It’s called a ‘Bam Berry’ and it’s a concoction of blackberry meringue, Baldwin’s vanilla ice cream, blackberry compote, and lemon cheesecake.
Get in and satisfy the sh*te out of your sweet tooth.
16. Plan your trip around the Cork Christmas market
If you’re looking for things to do in Cork City during the chillier months, plan your trip around GLOW (the Cork Christmas market).
GLOW tends to be one of the more popular Christmas markets in Ireland (along with the ones in Galway and Belfast) and it’s perfect for those of you looking for a winter break.
Read more about the Cork Christmas markets in our guide to GLOW Cork (note: 2020 dates and info are yet to be releases).
17. Catch a show at the Crane Lane Theatre
Our next spot should appeal to those of you looking for things to do in Cork City at night. Cork’s Crane Lane Theatre is located inside a swanky old Gentleman’s Club in the centre of the City.
Since opening its doors, it’s hosted the biggest names in blues, jazz and indie music. Here’s what you can expect if you visit:
- Live music 7 days a week
- Decor from the 20’s 30’s and 40’s
- 4 bars to choose from (along with a beer garden)
- Theatre performances
- Burlesque nights
- Loads more
18. Head for a ramble around Fitzgerald Park
You’ll find Fitzgerald Park a handy stroll from University College Cork. This is the perfect place for those of you looking to escape the city for a while.
Those that head for a wander here can expect gorgeous, tree-lined avenues, finely-manicured flower beds, a number of statues and a large fountain.
The park covers an impressive 18 acres and it’s also home to a playground and a cafe. Grab a coffee and head for a ramble here to clear the head.
Places to visit near the city
If you’re looking for places to visit near Cork City, you’ll find the below guides nice and handy:
- 30 of the best things to do in West Cork at any time of the year
- 10 deadly things to do in Kinsale this weekend
- 11 things to do in Cobh on a mini-staycation
What things to do in Cork City have we missed?
I’ve absolutely no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some places to visit in the City that are well worth a visit.
If there’s a place worth visiting that we’ve missed in the guide above, let me know in the comments section below!