If you’re in search of the best things to do in Cork, the guide below should come in handy.
Cork is Ireland’s largest county. And it’s arguably one of Ireland’s most scenic.
The result is that there’s endless places to visit in Cork that’ll knock you sideways, from castles and coves to cliff walks and more
In this guide, I’ll show you what to do in Cork based on the many, many holidays that I’ve spent here during my 34+ years of living in Ireland.
The best things to do in Cork
A quick disclaimer first – take every guide on the best places to visit in Cork with a big pinch of salt (including this one!).
What’s ‘best’ is subjective and will be depending on your likes/dislikes. In this guide, you’ll discover what we believe are the best things to do in Cork. Dive on in!
1. The Beara Peninsula
You’ll find the magnificent Beara Peninsula finely plonked between Bantry Bay and the 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.
Related read: 31 of the best things to do in West Cork in 2023
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.
Nearby Brow Head, part of which featured in a Star Wars movie, is also worth spinning up to.
3. Breath-taking beaches
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
4. Blarney Castle
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.
5. Bantry House
Our next 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.
One of the reasons that this is one of of the more popular Cork attractions is due to the view that you can get of the house and the bay beyond from an elevated area (see above).
6. 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):
7. 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.
Related read: See our guide to 17 of the best walks in Cork
8. 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.
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 2023
- 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
- A guide to the Scilly Walk in Kinsale
- A guide to the Old Head of Kinsale walk
10. 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.
The buzzy little town of Cobh is home to many of the most popular things to do in East Cork and it attracts tourists by the bucket-load.
You’ll be at the top of the hill at this point. When you’re ready, you can then head down and take the Titanic Experience tour where you’ll learn about the Titanic’s arrive into Queenstown (what we now know as Cobh) on its maiden voyage.
You can then take the ferry over to a place known as ‘Ireland’s Hell’ – Spike Island. 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.
Related read: 11 of the best things to do in Cobh in 2023
12. 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.
Related read: See our guide to our 9 of the best hotels in West Cork
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.’
17. Ireland’s Teardrop and Cape Clear Island
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).
18. 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.
19. 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!
20. Cork City
There’s plenty of things to do in Cork City for those of you using it as a base to explore from.
It’s here you’ll see the swinging cannonball which arrived there in 1690… when it was fired from Elizabeth Fort during the siege of Cork.
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.
It’s been serving Cork City since 1788 and it has survived everything from wars and famine to the murkiest of recessions.
Next up is the brilliant Blackrock Castle, parts of which date back to 1582. 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.
If you’re looking for unusual places to visit in Cork, head for the Cork Butter Museum which helps visitors explore the culture of dairying that was present in ancient Ireland and the growth of the Cork Butter Exchange.
Here are some other guides to the city:
- 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 today
- 9 places to grab a solid breakfast in Cork
- A guide to the Cork Christmas Markets
21. Glengarriff and its surrounds
Glengarriff is a fine base to explore to and there’s plenty to see and do a stone’s throw from the town.
Head to the Caha Pass, first, and spin through the tunnels while soaking up beautiful valley views.
Next, tip into Glengarriff Nature Reserve. This is another one of those places to visit in Cork that tends to rock you a little.
Do the Waterfall Walk. It’s short but packs a punch and the trail is nice and gentle with very little incline.
22. The Donkey Sanctuary
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!
23. 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 unrivalled views of the Beara Peninsula on this lovely looped walk.
Note: The cable car is currently undergoing repairs and it is not known when it’ll reopen
24. 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.
Related read: See our guide to 12 worthwhile things to do in Rosscarbery
25. 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 with excellent reviews online.
Related read: See our guide to 13 things to do in Midleton (lighthouses, distilleries and more)
26. Clonakilty and its surrounds
There’s plenty of things to do in Clonakilty and it’s for that reason that the town comes alive during the summer months.
Start of your day here with a ramble (or a paddle!) at the gorgeous Inchydoney Beach.
Next, work up an appetite at Clonakilty Black Pudding Visitor Centre before heading into the Michael Collins Heritage Centre.
27. Charles Fort and Elizabeth Fort
Charles Fort near Kinsale 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.
Another mighty Cork fort is Elizabeth Fort, a 17th-century star fort located on Barrack Street in Cork City. It 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. These are two of the more popular Cork tourist attractions for good reason.
28. 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 any things to do in Cork 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 ‘What are unique things to see in Cork?’.
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.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.