If you’re on the lookout for things to do in Cork in 2021, you’ve landed in the right shpot!
Now, Cork is the largest county in Ireland, which means there’s a bonkers (yes, bonkers!) amount of things to do dotted right the way around it.
From scenic drives and long-distance hikes to farms, prisons, festivals and Christmas markets, there’s an almost endless number of spots to visit and places to see in Cork.
In the guide below, you’ll find loads of things to do in Cork, from the mighty Beara Peninsula and the glorious West Cork to many a hidden gem.
Table of Contents
The best things to do in Cork (a quick overview)
The first section of this guide will give you a nice, speedy overview of the most popular places to visit in Cork, like West Cork, East Cork, Cork City, the various islands.
The second section of the guide goes into the specific things to do in Cork, like the incredible Beara Peninsula and the often-missed Spike Island.
1. Gorgeous towns and villages
Before you decide on what to do in Cork, it’s worth having a think about where you’d like to stay during your visit to the Rebel County.
Some of the best places to visit in Cork are the gorgeous little villages scattered around the county. Here are a handful to check out (find lots more in our guide our favourite towns in Cork):
2. Unique places to visit in Cork
There are plenty of places to go in Cork that lay slightly off-the-beaten-path and that rarely make the covers of tourist handbooks.
Which is a shame, because places like Bull Rock (pictured above) and Glengarriff Nature Reserve are all well worth visiting. Here are some of the more unique things to do in Cork:
3. The stunning West Cork
The west of the county is arguably of of the most popular places to go in Cork among tourists and locals alike, and for good reason.
This chunk of Cork is home to breath-taking beaches, endless walks and hikes and hundreds of things to see and do. Here are some West Cork guides to nip into:
- 31 of the best things to do in West Cork
- 9 of the most incredible beaches in West Cork
- A guide to our favourite hotels in West Cork
- 12 worthwhile things to do in Rosscarbery
4. The historic Cork City
Cork City is a fine spot for a weekend away. Especially if you’re the type of traveller that enjoys history, food, walks and traditional pubs.
You’ll find heaps of places to see in Cork City by day and an endless number of great places to eat and drink at night. Here are some Cork City guides to hop into:
- 18 things to do in Cork City you’ll love
- 13 of our favourite old and traditional pubs in Cork
- The best restaurants in Cork for a fine feed tonight
- 13 tasty spots for brunch in Cork todau
- 9 places to grab a solid breakfast in Cork
- 10 mighty hotels in Cork City at the heart of the action
- Our Cork Bed and Breakfast guide
- A guide to the Cork Christmas Markets
5. The often-missed East Cork
When planning a trip, many people searching for places to visit in Cork tend to immediately look at West Cork or Cork City.
And, to be fair, you can’t go wrong with either of the above, however, there’s plenty of things to do in East Cork that make it well worth exploring at any time of the year.
From historical sites and some of the finest coastline in the country to great food, lovely pubs and more, theres loads to explore in this corner of Cork. Here are some guides to nip into:
- 11 things to do in Cobh (Ireland’s Alcatraz, Titanic Experience and more)
- 13 things to do in Midleton (lighthouses, distilleries and more)
- 11 mighty things to do in Youghal this summer
6. Cork’s many islands
If you’re in search of things to do in Cork that’ll take you off-the-beaten-path and treat you to a more unique experience, Cork’s islands are well worth a shout.
And there’s plenty of them to sink your teeth into! My personal favourites are Cape Clear and Bere, but Whiddy, Sherkin and Garnish all pack a punch.
Here are some island guides that’ll give you a sense of what to expect:
7. Beaches galore
Some of the best places to visit in Cork are the sandy stretches that are dotted along its magnificent coastline, as you’ll discover in our guide to the best Cork beaches.
Below, you’ll find some guides to discover the best beaches Cork has to offer this summer:
- 9 glorious beaches in West Cork to saunter along
- 11 of the best beaches near Cork City
- 9 brilliant beaches near Kinsale
8. Walks and hikes
Arguably some of the top things to do in Cork involve popping on a pair of hiking boots and heading off into the mountains or out along the coast
Now, for some of the walks in Cork, you won’t need a huge amount of planning while for others, like the Beara Way, you’ll need to 1, be an experienced hiker or 2, have a guide.
Here are some of our favourite hikes and walks in Cork:
- A guide to the Scilly Walk in Kinsale
- A guide to the Ballycotton cliff walk
- A guide to the Old Head of Kinsale walk
Our favourite places to visit in Cork
So, the second section of this guide tackles our favourites/what we think are the best places to visit in Cork.
These are places that we’ve visited, loved and have been banging on about ever since to anyone that’ll listen!
1. The Beara Peninsula
You’ll find the magnificent Beara Peninsula finely plonked between Bantry Bay and Kenmare River. It’s here that you’ll discover a landscape that’ll never leave you.
The Peninsula, which is arguably one of the most scenic places to visit in Cork, is best explored by foot, although you can see some of the finest scenery it has to offer on the Ring of Beara drive.
Beara’s two mountain ranges (the Caha Mountains and the Slieve Miskish Mountains) make this a glorious place to hike around and the Beara Way trail is worth committing a week to.
It’s on this peninsula that you’ll discover some of the best places for wild camping in Cork and an endless number of lovely little coastal villages.
2. Mizen Head
A visit to Mizen Head reigns supreme as one of the best things to do in Cork in many tourist guides to Ireland.
The signal station at Mizen was constructed to protect those sailing near Ireland’s most south-westerly point.
Those that visit can wander around the Maritime Museum, first, before walking down towards the signal station. Strolling across the arched bridge above on a windy day is an experience and a half.
3. Gougane Barra
There are few places in the world, never mind in Ireland, like the magical Gougane Barra. Those that visit will discover a large valley and lake that are enveloped by mountains which rise up to 370 metres in height.
If you’re thinking, ‘Is that yoke a little church?’, it is indeed! The story goes that St. Finbarr (the Patron Saint of Cork) built a monastery on the little island in Gougane Barra Lake during the 6th century.
The little chapel on the island that stands today isn’t the original, but it adds to the fairytale-like surroundings at Gougane Barra.
There are a few different walks that you can head off on here. Find them along with everything you need to know about the area in our guide to Gougane Barra.
4. Glengarriff Nature Reserve
Glengarriff Nature Reserve is another one of those places to visit in Cork that tends to rock you a little. The natural beauty that this place boasts in abundance is just staggering.
The park is home to an endless number of adventure opportunities. I’ve been here a few times in the past and I can’t recommend the Lady Bantry Lookout Walk enough.
This is a reasonably handy ramble that takes around 30 minutes to complete. The trail takes you on a steep climb up through the woods to a lookout point where you’ll grab views of Garnish Island, Bantry Bay and Whiddy Island.
5. Priest’s Leap
The drive up around Priest’s Leap is another solid option for those of you looking for things to do in Cork that’ll take you waaaay off the beaten path.
Priest’s Leap is a narrow mountain pass that links Coomhola Bridge with the village of Bonane. The route here takes you along what may as well be a single lane for a good chunk of the drive.
So, it’s probably one for the nervous drivers among us to avoid! Those that spin along this route will be treated to unrivalled views of everywhere from Bantry Bay to the Caha Mountains.
6. Scenic pints
You’ll find O’ Sullivan’s Bar at the heart of the little village of Crookhaven, a stone’s throw from Mizen Head and right next to Brow Head.
This pub overlooks the gorgeous Crookhaven harbour so, when the weather is fine, you can enjoy a pint by the sea.
7. The Donkey Sanctuary
This next place makes me happy. Since opening in 1987, the incredible people at the Donkey Sanctuary have cared for over 5,600 neglected and abandoned donkeys.
For many of the donkeys that arrive at the sanctuary, it’s the first time in their lives that they have been properly cared for.
The group here have over 1,800 donkeys and mules in their care (650+ of these donkeys reside in private guardian homes while the rest live across their 4 farms in the Liscarroll area).
You can visit the Knockardbane Farm where you’ll meet the 130 donkeys and mules that live there. This is the perfect place to visit for those of you looking for things to do in Cork with kids!
8. The English Market
A visit to the English Market in Cork City is a must for anyone looking to make their belly happy before a day of exploring the city or the wider county.
The English Market has been serving Cork City since 1788 and it has survived everything from wars and famine to the murkiest of recessions.
If you’re looking for a fine aul feed to-go, point your nose in the direction of O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausages. The sausages in soft rolls that these lads dish up are the business!
The lively little fishing village of Kinsale is a great spot for a weekend away (especially if you plan your visit around the Kinsale Jazz Festival!).
The village is a stone’s throw from many of the most popular places to see in Cork and there are heaps of great pubs and restaurants where you can whittle away an evening.
Below, you’ll find some Kinsale guides to help you plan your visit:
- 13 mighty things to do in Kinsale in 2021
- 11 hotels in Kinsale that make a great base for an adventure
- 11 beaches near Kinsale worth rambling along
- The best restaurants in Kinsale for a fine feed tonight
- 12 of the finest old-school pubs in Kinsale
- Our Kinsale Airbnb guide
What to do in Cork if you fancy an active break
If you’re wondering what to do in Cork that’ll give your legs a big aul stretch, you’re in luck – the Rebel County is home to a good variety of hikes, ranging from handy to hard.
From some of the county’s most breath-taking coastline to some lesser known hills and peaks, there’s a walk to suit every level of fitness in the guide below.
1. The Sheep’s Head Way
If you’re in search of places to go in Cork that’ll take you away from the crowds and off the beaten path, Sheep’s Head will make you happy.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 6 years exploring Ireland. Out of all of the peninsulas that I’ve visited during this time, Sheep’s Head is the most unspoiled.
Get yo walk on: There are several different walks, cycles, and drives that you can take here. Follow the official guide for detailed info.
2. The Beara Way
The incredible Beara Way is a 152km long circular route that takes walkers right the way around the stunning Beara Peninsula – a place that’s home to some of the wildest scenery Ireland has to offer.
The Beara Way is one for the more experienced walkers, as it can take between 3 and 9 days to complete, depending on how much of the route you aim to conquer. If you fancy giving this a bash, here’s a guide to follow.
3. The Ballycotton Cliff Walk
There are few walks as fine as the Ballycotton Cliff Walk. This is an absolute peach of a ramble that’ll take between 2 – 2.5 hours to polish off, depending on pace.
You’re treated to brilliant views throughout and you’ll have a chance to see some lovely hidden beaches, the Ballycotton Lighthouse and plenty more.
If you’re looking for places to visit in Cork that’ll treat you to glorious views throughout your ramble, get yourself here. Round it off with a bite to eat in Ballycotton Village and you’re laughing.
4. Mount Gabriel
Mount Gabriel is another several natural Cork attractions that’s missed by many. It’s roughly 407m high and it is accessible by car via a road that serves the radar installations at the summit.
When you reach the top you’ll be treated to (on a clear day) views over Schull Harbour, Long Island Bay, Roaring Water Bay (and its many islands).
5. The Baltimore Beacon walk
A visit to the Baltimore Beacon (on the left above) tends to get listed amongst the best things to do in Cork in many tourist guides to Ireland.
You’ll find it standing proudly at the entrance to Baltimore harbour where it’s been acting as a warning system for sea-farers for many a year.
The British ordered the construction of the beacon after the 1798 Rebellion. The current structure is said to have been built at some stage during the 1840s.
There’s a little car park right next to the beacon that takes 4 to 5 cars, depending on how people have parked. Park up and make your way up the steep hill next to it. You can’t miss it.
6. Lough Hyne
This sea-water lake is nestled within a fold of rolling hills, 5km from the lively little town of Skibbereen. It’s also Ireland’s First Marine Nature Reserve with its very own ecosystem.
This Lough Hyne Walk takes you up Knockomagh Hill and treats you to stunning views out over the lake and the surrounding countryside.
It can take around an hour, with stops, and is pretty steep in places. However, the climb to the top is well worth the effort.
Unique places to go in Cork
Some of the top things to do in Cork are, in my opinion, the places that either 1, take you off-the-beaten-path or 2, treat you to a nice, unique experience.
This section of the guide is packed places to visit and things to see in Cork that tend to get missed by many visiting the county.
1. Spike Island
A visit to Spike Island is arguably one of the more unique things to do in Cork. You’ll find the island a handy ferry ride from the little village of Cobh in East Cork.
Spike Island boasts a very quirky history; over the course of 1,300 years, the island has been home to a 24-acre fortress, a 6th-century monastery and the biggest convict depot in the world.
This is where the nickname ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’ came from. Discover more about the island and how it was once home to a place known as ‘Ireland’s Hell’ in our guide to Spike Island.
2. Cork City Goal
If you’re after places to visit in Cork when it’s raining, make your way to to the mighty Cork City City Gaol. When the prison first opened back in the early 1800s, it housed both male and female prisoners.
Now, some of those locked away here weren’t exactly criminal masterminds. People that were found drunk in public or, as was the case with Mary Tucker, were found to be using ‘Obscene Language’ were often locked up.
Those that visit the Gaol will gain an insight into what life was like in Cork during the 19th and early 20th-centuries. The tours here are self-guided the reviews are pretty damn good.
3. Healy Pass
Healy Pass is one of the most unique roads that you’ll find in Ireland. The pass was created back in 1847, during the famine years, to help prevent starvation.
You’ll find it on the Beara peninsula where it takes drivers, cyclists, and walkers on a unique and bendy route through the Caha Mountains.
Places like this make me happy. They make you feel like you’re on a different planet and 90% of the time you visit (basing this on my last 3 visits) you’ll be one of the only people there.
4. Whale watching
Whale watching in Cork is one of the more unique experiences the county has to offer (note: you’re not guaranteed to see whales on any of the tours).
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see everything from Basking Sharks and Harbour Porpoise to Sea Turtles and Jellyfish on one of these tours.
There’s a 2-hour tour which, according to those that run it is, ‘a thrilling fun-packed coastal sightseeing tour of the West Cork coastline, with whale, dolphin, seal and wildlife watching.’
5. Ireland’s Teardrop
You can climb aboard the ferry to Cape Clear (takes 45 minutes) and then hop into a shuttle bus that takes you to the islands heritage centre where there’s a multimedia exhibition.
When you’ve finished up at the exhibition, the final lap of the trip takes you around Fastnet Lighthouse, aka ‘Ireland’s Teardrop’ (here’s how it got the nickname).
6. Bull Rock (one of the most unique places to visit in Cork)
There are only a handful of places to see in Cork that can go toe-to-toe with the incredible Bull Rock.
The chances are you’ll have heard of Dursey Island (yep, it’s the one with the cable car!), but have you ever heard of the nearby Bull Rock?
You’ll find three large ‘rocks’ off Dursey Island; Cow Rock, Calf Rock and the one that looks like something from a Disney Movie – Bull Rock.
Bull Rock stands at 93m high and 228m by 164m wide. If you’re after a unique experience, you can hop on a 1.5-hour tour with the lads at Dursey Boat Tours.
You’ll be taken over to the island (note: not onto the island) and through the tiny passageway that cuts through Bull Rock! Find out more here.
7. Garnish Island
Those that take the 15-minute ferry ride over to Garnish Island in Glengarriff harbour with the folks at Garnish Island Ferry are in for a treat.
The journey across includes a stop off at seal island where you’ll get to see a seal colony. The colony is believed to be comprised of a whopping 250 seals. You can just imagine the noise off of these lads!
When you land on the island, there’s plenty of things to see. After you’ve had a stroll through the gardens, head on to the Martello Tower. You’ll get the view above from towers battlements!
8. The swinging cannonball inside St Fin Barre’s Cathedral
Yes, a swinging cannonball! Interestingly enough, the cannonball at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral arrived there in 1690… when it was fired from Elizabeth Fort during the siege of Cork.
After gazing away at the cannonball, have a nosey around the magnificent cathedral. You don’t need to be a seasoned admirer of architecture to appreciate the beauty of this place.
Those that visit can see everything from spires and gargoyles to mosaics, a bright chancel ceiling and more.
9. The Cork Butter Museum (one of the more unusual Cork attractions)
The Butter Museum is definitely one of the more unusual places to visit in Cork, but it’s packed with history and it’s another handy rainy-day option.
The Cork Butter Museum helps visitors explore the culture of dairying that was present in ancient Ireland and the growth of the Cork Butter Exchange.
A grand aul fact: The butter exchange in Cork was once the largest in the world at one point. Millions of pounds worth of butter were traded every year.
10. Dursey Island
The Dursey Island Cable Car has been in operation since 1969. It runs an impressive 250m above the ocean below and it takes just 10 minutes to cross.
When you arrive over on Dursey, you’ll be able to soak up some unrivaled views of the Beara Peninsula on this lovely looped walk.
Historic Cork attractions
Annnnnd the final section of our guide to the best things to do in Cork is all about historic attractions.
If you’re visit the county and you’re wondering where to go in Cork to discover a good wallop of history, the final section of our guide is just for you.
1. The Youghal Clock Gate Tower
Standing at 24 metres in hight, this historic landmark boasts a colourful history spanning over 700 years, and you can learn all about it on the tour.
The tour offers a unique sensory experience in the Merchants Quarters where you can smell spices and see smooth silks. You can also see the gaol cell and catch panoramic views from the top of the tower.
2. Visit the Jameson Distillery
If you’re looking for things to do in Cork with a group of friends, plan a trip out to the Jameson Distillery in Midelton.
Jameson called Dublin home for 200 long years. Then, in 1975, they packed up and moved their expanding operation to Midleton in Cork.
Whiskey lovers can now take a ramble around the distillery on the highly recommended Jameson Experience Tour. This is a fully guided tour around the original Midleton Distillery that includes:
- A tour that brings Jameson’s rich heritage to life
- An insight into field-to-glass processes responsible for the production of Jameson whiskey
- A tour of the distillery’s key buildings
- And yes, of course, you’ll get to sample some of their whiskey
3. Galley Head Lighthouse
Perched on dramatic cliffs overlooking St George’s channel is the gleaming white Galley Head Lighthouse.
The lighthouse’s original light could be seen from 30km on a clear day and the light-keepers at Galley Head would have seen many German and British ships during World War I and World War II.
If you bring your kids, it’s advised to supervise them as you are on a cliff top. The lighthouse is located close to Clonakilty so you can stop by after to get a good feed.
Related read: Check out our guide to the best things to do in Clonakilty.
4. Blackrock Castle
This is another handy spot to have in your arsenal for those of you that find yourselves regularly looking for things to do in Cork with kids.
You’ll find Blackrock Castle, parts of which date back to 1582, around 2 km from Cork City, where it’s finely plonked on the banks of the River Lee.
The castle was originally built to protect upper Cork Harbour and port. Since 2007, however, the castle has been used as a space for Science.
It’s now home to an international science centre and riverside restaurant! There are loads of permanent (and visiting) exhibitions that you can immerse yourself in here.
This is one of the better places to go in Cork City when it’s raining (there’s also a great cafe on-site that knocks up a decent bit of brunch!).
5. Blarney Castle (home to one of the most popular things to see in Cork)
That isn’t the case – the grounds here are gorgeous and they’re the perfect spot for a ramble. There are also some very unusual places to see, like the witches kitchen.
If you want to kiss the Blarney Stone, you can of course. According to legend, the stone has the power to give anyone who kisses it the gift of the gab – aka the ability to speak with ease and confidence.
The castle and its gardens are one of the more popular places to visit in Cork during the peak season, so arrive early if you’re visiting during summer.
6. Charles Fort
The aul lad and I visited Charles Fort last summer. I’ll be honest, I was wary about it as forts and that kind of thing wouldn’t really tickle my fancy.
I needn’t have worried, however, as Charles Fort is class. This is a late 17th-century star-shaped fort that’s linked to several significant events in Irish history.
The most significant of which was the Williamite War (1689-91) and the Civil War (1922-23). You can do a self-guided tour here that’ll take you around the inside of the fort and through a number of different buildings.
7. University College Cork
University College Cork opened in 1849 and its campus is packed with a handful of interesting buildings and features. Those that head for a ramble here can:
- Join an audio tour from the visitor centre
- Visit the Lewis Glucksman Gallery
- Have a look around the Crawford Observatory
- Take a nosey at the collection of Ogham Stones in the Stone Corridor
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. Elizabeth Fort
We’re off to Elizabeth Fort, next! This is a 17th-century star fort located on Barrack Street in Cork City. According to Wikipedia, the fort was built as a ‘defensive fortification on high-ground outside the city walls’.
Cork City then gradually grew around Elizabeth Fort. Over time, as the city swelled, the fort became redundant. Over the years it was repurposed and used as a military barracks and a prison.
Visitors to Elizabeth Fort can enjoy a mighty view from the fort walls while also diving into the history of where and how Cork City was developed.
9. Titanic Experience Cobh
On the 11th April 1912, the Titanic arrived into the port of Queenstown (what we now know as Cobh) on its maiden voyage. What happened next has been the subject of countless films, documentaries and books.
The Titanic Experience Cobh is located in the original White Star Line Ticket Office in what was the departure point for the last passengers who boarded the now-iconic ship.
Those that visit will embark upon a tour that retraces the steps of the 123 passengers who boarded the Titanic from Cobh. The well-reviewed tour here also offers an insight into how it all went wrong for the Titanic.
10. Bantry House
Our second last stop takes us to Bantry House and Gardens – the ancestral home of the Earls of Bantry. You’ll find it finely perched on a site that overlooks Bantry Bay.
The house and it’s beautifully maintained gardens opened to the public in 1946. Those that visit can kick-back with a bite to eat in the tearoom or head for a saunter around the gardens.
11. Hit the coast with a visit to Roches Point Lighthouse
Roches Point Lighthouse is perfectly located at the entrance of Cork Harbour so you can expect some idyllic views and it takes around 20 mins to reach Midleton.
You’ll find the now-iconic lighthouse perched on a rocky headland overlooking the Atlantic, where it has stood proudly for over 200 years.
Although you can’t enter the lighthouse, you can park nearby and admire it from afar. The views from here on a clear day are worth the visit alone!
12. Doneraile House and Wildlife Park
Doneraile Court and Wildlife Park is another great spot for those of you wondering what to do in Cork with the family.
The estate straddles the Awbeg River and it’s a joy to have a ramble around. If you fancy a ramble, there are several trails you can head off on.
You can also try the Doneraile Court Tour (perfect if it’s raining) or head for a ramble around the finely manicured gardens.
Places to go in Cork: Where have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that there’s plenty of places to visit in Cork that we’ve unintentionally missed in the guide above.
If there’s something that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments section below and we’ll check it out!
FAQs about the best things to do in Cork
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what are the best things to do in Cork if you only have a day to where to go to escape the hustle and bustle.
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 most unique places to visit in Cork?
I’d argue the the most unique places to go in Cork are the county’s many islands. A lot of people get put off by having to take a ferry to an island, but many of Cork’s islands can be reached in under an hour (with some reachable in 10 minutes).
What are the best things to do in Cork for an active break?
If you’re wondering what to do in Cork that’ll get you out of the car and treat you to heaps of scenery, look no further than the Sheeps Head Way and the Beara Way. These are two long-distance walks that pack a punch.
I’m wondering where to go in Cork on a weekend break?
If you only have a couple of days, your best bet is to find a base and explore around it. Cork City is a good option here, but this’ll depend on where in Ireland you’re travelling to Cork from. Kinsale is another good option if you want a lively town.