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14 Of The Best Things To Do In East Cork (Prisons, Lighthouses, Epic Scenery + More)

14 Of The Best Things To Do In East Cork (Prisons, Lighthouses, Epic Scenery + More)

Although West Cork tends to get a lot of the attention, there are plenty of things to do in East Cork that make it well worth a visit.

East Cork stretches from Cork City all the way out to the seaside town of Youghal and it encompasses some of the most historic of the many Cork attractions).

From historic castles and lighthouses to the vibrant town of Cobh and the home of Jameson whiskey at Midleton, you could easily spend a week touring around East Cork.

In the guide below, you’ll discover lots of things to do in East Cork to keep you busy during your visit in 2024.

Our favourite things to do in East Cork

spike island prison

Photo by dleeming69 (shutterstock)

The first section of our guide tackles our favourite things to do in East Cork, from the brilliant Spike Island and Cobh to Fota and much more.

1. Take a boat out to Spike Island

spike island prison

Photos by Irish Drone Photography (shutterstock)

You can discover 1,300 years of Irish history by taking a boat trip out to Spike Island. The 104-acre island in Cork Harbour has been voted one of the leading tourist attractions in all of Europe, so you know it’s definitely worth a visit.

The island is home to a 200-year-old fortress that was later turned into the largest prison in the world in the 1850s. It’s no surprise that it’s often nicknamed the Alcatraz of Ireland. 

You can tour the fort, enter the famous prison block, walk through the tunnels to the military defense guns and explore further to the beaches and grasslands around the island. 

Related East Cork guide: 18 of the best things to do in Cobh at any time of the year (food, walks, hikes and more) 

2. And then grab lunch in the supposedly haunted Commodore Hotel

Commodore Hotel in Cobh

Photo via the Commodore Hotel

Although there are plenty of restaurants in Cobh, few are located in a building with as much history as the Commodore.

This hotel was built in 1854 overlooking Cork Harbour. Their elegant restaurant is decorated in an old-world style and their nautical-themed bar often features live music. 

However, lunch here can be quite a unique experience with ghost sightings, sudden drops in temperature and eerie cries of a baby coming from upstairs.

The old hotel has been considered haunted ever since it was used as a hospital and morgue for the wounded victims of World War I. 

Related read: Check out our guide to the best hotels in Cobh (several of which are up there with the best hotels in Cork)

3. Spend an afternoon at the Jameson Experience

Visiting the Jameson Distillery Midleton

Photo by Chris Hill

Spending an afternoon at the Midleton Distillery is one of the best things to do in East Cork when its pouring down.

Grab a group of friends and you can enjoy an in-depth tour of the Old Midleton Distillery, along with tastings of course.

While the original Jameson operation was in Dublin for 200 years, they shifted the distillery to Midleton in Cork in 1975.

The expanding whiskey distillery and museum is set on 15 acres and guided tours take you behind the scenes to understand the field-to-glass process. 

Related read: Check out our guide to the best things to do in Midleton (from walks and great food to many a nearby attraction)

4. Visit Fota Wildlife Park

fota wildlife park

Photos via Fota Wildlife Park on Facebook

The whole family will love Fota Wildlife Park. This 100-acre park area on Fota Island originally opened in 1983 and is an independently funded and not-for-profit charity and conservation effort.

The park is home to a variety of animal and plant species including Sumatran Tigers, White-tailed Sea Eagles, Asiatic Lions, Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Howler Monkeys and much more.

The wildlife park is a walking park, where you can follow the paths to different enclosures and sections on foot. There are also guided tours available and educational programs for the whole family to enjoy. 

If you’re on the lookout for things to do in East Cork with kids, you can’t go wrong with an afternoon at Fota.

5. Take a River Blackwater cruise


River Blackwater flows through three counties of Ireland to the sea at Youghal in East Cork. A unique way to explore this part of the county is on a river cruise which leaves from Youghal jetty and travels north up the river.

A 28ft former fishing boat is the ferry in action for this cruise and is captained by Tony Gallagher.

The 90-minute trip allows you to take in a number of sights including the remains of Templemichael Castle, Molana Abbey and unspoilt natural environments. 

Related East Cork guide: 11 of the best things to do in Youghal (the historic clock town, beaches, food and much more)

Popular things to do in East Cork

cobh cathedral

Photo by Peter OToole (shutterstock)

Now that we have our favourite things to do in East Cork out of the way, it’s time to tackle some other popular places to visit.

Below, you’ll find everything from the brilliant Ballycotton Cliff Walk and St. Coleman’s Cathedral to a clatter of hidden gems. 

1. The Ballycotton Cliff Walk

ballycotton cliff walk

Photo left: By Luca Rei. Photo right: By Daniela Morgenstern (Shutterstock)

The Ballycotton Cliff Walk is arguably one of the best things to do in East Cork. The walking trail stretches from Ballycotton to Ballytrasna and then onto Ballyandreen.

The 7km return walk should take around 2-3 hours depending on your pace, but the effort is incredibly rewarding. 

It offers a spectacular view over the Cork coastline with the rugged, pristine beauty of the Atlantic Ocean meeting the rolling green hills. There’s plenty of room to park your car at the start of the walk in Ballycotton.

Related read: Check out our guide to the best walks in Cork (a mix of hardy hikes and handy strolls)

2. Spend a rainy day at Youghal Clock Gate Tower

things to do in youghal

Photo by Corey Macri (Shutterstock)

A perfect place to head on a rainy day is the fascinating Youghal Clock Gate Tower. You can’t miss this 24-metre-high tower, being the most visible landmark in the middle of town. It’s linked to 700 years of history and is open for visitors to explore.

It’s been used as a time keeper, jail and trade centre over the years. You can join a guided tour through the levels which culminates in a magnificent panoramic view over Youghal bay and town, as well as, into Waterford County. 

3. Visit the Titanic Experience in Cobh

titanic experience in cobh

Photo left: Everett Collection. Photo right: lightmax84 (Shutterstock)

The story of the Titanic has captivated people for generations and this tour experience in Cobh is one of the most highly reviewed things to do in East Cork.

The Titanic arrived in Cobh on the 11th April 1912 where the last passengers boarded the iconic ship before its fatal departure.

The Titanic Experience Cobh takes place inside the original White Star Line Ticket Office and retraces the steps of the over 100 people who boarded the Titanic from Cobh.

It offers an insight into what exactly happened on the ship’s maiden voyage that has been the subject of films, documentaries and books ever since. 

4. And then mosey up to Spy Hill to see the Deck of Cards

houses in cobh

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

You’ve likely seen the famous image of colourful houses in Cobh, known as the Deck of Cards. For many visitors to the whimsical town, this is the photo you need to get during your visit.

The row of colourful houses is perfectly placed with the impressive St Colman’s Cathedral as the backdrop. 

To get the iconic photo and view, you need to get yourself up to Spy Hill which offers plenty of street parking. From there you’ll need to head towards the colourful houses along the stone wall from where you’ll find the perfect viewpoint. 

5. Step back in time at Barryscourt Castle

barryscourt castle

Photo by Patryk Kosmider (Shutterstock)

This late 15th century castle lies south of Carrigtwohill town in East Cork, just a 15-minute drive from Cork City. It’s one of the finest examples of a restored Irish Tower House and was once the seat of the Anglo-Norman Barry family. 

The castle has been carefully restored in its original form and a visit here can easily take you back in time as you imagine what life was like for the family.

The rooms of the castle and newly developed garden are open to be explored and is a popular place to visit along with a trip to nearby Fota Wildlife Park.

6. Take a spin out to the Ballycotton Lighthouse 

ballycotton lighthouse

Photo by Irish Drone Photography (Shutterstock)

A trip over to explore the Ballycotton Lighthouse is a great day out in East Cork. The lighthouse sits atop Ballycotton Island and was built in the late 1840s.

It’s one of only two black lighthouses in the country and is only accessible by boat (similar to Cork’s Fastnet Lighthouse near Cape Clear Island).

Ballycotton Sea Adventures offer passenger ferries and guided tours of the lighthouse where you can not only learn more about its history but also enjoy the stunning views of the rugged coastline.

7. Cork City

the best cork pubs

Photo left via Coughlan’s. Photo right via the Crane Lane on Facebook

So, although East Cork begins at the outskirts of Cork City, a visit here is hard to beat, especially when it comes to things to do.

And pubs, restaurants and top-class accommodation. Here are a handful of Cork City guides to dip into:

FAQs about what to do in East Cork

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what are the most unique things to do in East Cork to where are the best places to stay.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

What are the best things to do in East Cork?

Visit Titanic Experience Cobh, spend a rainy day at Youghal Clock Tower, do the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, take a River Blackwater cruise or visit Fota.

What towns are in East Cork?

Town wise, East Cork is home to Midleton, Youghal, Castlemartyr, Cobh, Cloyne, Killeagh, Whitegate and Aghada.

Is East Cork worth visiting?

Yes! Although West Cork gets a lot of the attention, East Cork is well-worth a visit, as it’s home to endless things to see and do.

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Ali Burns

Saturday 7th of May 2022

Try a visit to Youghal. Had a great time, using it as a base. Plenty of little beaches and fun places to find. If driving I advise hugging the coast and find some of the hidden gem of beaches. Goat Island is like a treasure island beach. Then lovely nights in the town. Plenty of food like Clancys and another one in the town that is seafood based but can't think of the name but delish. Then the rest of the night in a little pub called the Nook (or Treacys, It was confusing, does it have 2 names lol) that had the most amazing music. We ended every night there as it was such fun.

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