Howaya! In the guide below, you’ll find a heap of different things to do in Cork.
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 places to visit and things to see in Cork.
In the guide below, you’ll find a load of different things to see and do in this scenery and history soaked county so g’wan, dive on in!
Table of Contents
The best things to do in Cork
There are millions of things to do in Cork… OK, maybe not millions, but there’s an almost endless number of natural and man-made attractions.
Which makes popping it all into one guide pretty damn tricky. So, to make it handier for you to browse, we’ve created a few different guides on what to do in Cork.
- 31 things to do in West Cork
- 10 mighty things to do in Cobh (there’s a full East Cork guide en route)
- 13 worthwhile things to do in Kinsale
- 18 of the best things to do in Cork City
If you don’t fancy hopping into them now, I’ve whacked in my favourite things to see in Cork into the guide below.
1. Fuel up for an adventure at 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!
2. Visit ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’
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.
3. Explore the fairytale-like 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. Visit Cork City Goal (#3 on TripAdvisor’s list of things to do in Cork)
If you’re after things to do in Cork when it’s raining, make your way to to the mighty Cork 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.
5. Spend a night in a treehouse… with a hot tub
Fancy staying somewhere unique when you visit Cork? How does a treehouse in the Cork countryside sound?!
You’ll find this luxurious Airbnb nestled in the branches of spruce pines, away from the hustle and bustle of city life and traffic.
This spot was been constructed 100% from sustainable materials. There’s also a big ass hot tub…
Looking for somewhere to stay in Cork? Check out our guide to 11 of the most unique Airbnbs in Cork City and beyond!
6. Spin along the bendy road at 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.
7. Walk the Sheep’s Head Way
If you’re in search of places to visit 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.
8. Or the shorter (and just as rewarding) 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.
Round it off with a bite to eat in Ballycotton Village and you’re laughing.
8. Spend an afternoon whale and dolphin watching
If you’re after a very unforgettable experience, make your way to Baltimore and take a tour with Baltimore Sea Safari.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see everything from Basking Sharks and Harbour Porpoise to Sea Turtles and Jellyfish.
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.’
9. Soak up the scenery at 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.
10. Visit Cape Clear Island (and ‘Ireland’s Teardrop’)
Another brilliant tour that departs from Baltimore is one that takes you over to Cape Clear Island and then, on the return journey, around Fastnet Rock.
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).
11. See Bull Rock (one of the most unique things to do in Cork)
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.
12. Spin (slowly) along the Priest’s Leap Drive
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.
13. Spend a week walking 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.
14. Or a rainy day tackling the Ring of Beara Drive
If you’re looking for things to do in Cork when it’s lashing down, hop in the car and spin along the mighty Ring of Beara Drive.
This takes you along a 137km long route and takes the guts of 2 hours to complete. Kick your drive off in either Kenmare (Kerry) or from the opposite side of the peninsula, in Bantry. Here’s a full route to follow.
15. Conquer the Lady Bantry’s Lookout Walk in Glengarriff
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.
16. Visit the Cork Butter Museum
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.
17. Visit the folks that run 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!
18. Nurse a pint (or a mug of tea) by the sea in O’Sullivan’s
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.
19. Have the buzz in Kinsale during the Cork Jazz Festival
One of the best weekends that I’ve ever spent in Cork was during the Cork Jazz Festival. We managed to get an Airbnb in Kinsale for a couple of nights and the buzz in the town was mighty.
If you can, try and angle your trip around the festival, which takes place in October. You can spend the day exploring the area around you and the evening moving around the towns buzzy pubs and listening to live music.
Update: Unfortunately, the Jazz Festival won’t take place this year due to the absolute pain in the a*se situation that the world is currently dealing with.
20. Grab a deadly view of Cork City from the Shandon Bell Tower
You’ll catch a class view out over Cork City from the 17th-century Church of St. Anne. The tower here is an impressive 170 ft high and its walls are a very chunky 7 ft thick!
Now, it’s a fair aul walk to the top – you’ll need to climb 132 steps, but it’s worth it! When you arrive at the top you’ll be treated to a 360 view of Cork City.
21. Take a spin over to the often-missed Sherkin island
Sherkin Island is another place that you can reach from the little village of Baltimore. You just need to climb aboard a ferry and take a very speedy 10-minute ride across the water.
There are several different walking trails on Sherkin Island that vary in both length and difficulty level. There’s also a number of historical sites, like the Franciscan Friary and Dun na Long castle.
22. Grab some mighty views from Mount Gabriel
Mount Gabriel is another place in West Cork 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).
23. Catch some live music in the lovely little Teach Beag in Clonakilty
Every time I visit Clonakilty it rains… On one occasion, two Januarys ago, it was snowing… Anyway, I spent a wet Autumn evening last year in the gorgeous little Teach Beag in Clonakilty and loved every minute.
There was traditional live music playing away and the Guinness was creamy. This is a gorgeous little pub to tuck yourself away in after a long day of exploring.
24. Visit the Jameson Distillery in Midleton
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
25. Take a spin over to 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!
26. See 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.
27. Tantalise your tastebuds at the Rising Sons Brewery
This is another handy option for those of you in search of things to do in Cork with a group of friends! The lads at the Rising Sons Micro-Brewery offer a very reasonable tour for just €12 per person.
The tour takes visitors through the history of the brewery while also offering an insight into the beer-making process that takes place there.
The tour is rounded off with a guided beer tasting of two to three beers from the Rising Sons collection.
28. Take the cable car over to Dursey Island
You’ll find of the more unique things to do in Ireland at Ballaghboy, at the very tip of the Beara Peninsula. I’m talking, of course, about the cable car to 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.
29. Head for a wander around the Baltimore Beacon
A visit to the Baltimore Beach (on the left above) tends to get listed amongst the best things to do in West 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.
30. Gaze at the stars at Blackrock Castle Observatory
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.
31. Go for a ramble at Blarney Castle
Now, Blarney Castle gets its fair share of criticism. This is mainly due to people thinking that the Blarney Stone is the only thing that Blarney Castle has to offer.
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.
32. Make your belly happy at Ballymaloe House
You’ll find Ballymaloe House tucked away inside lush countryside in East Cork. Even thinking about this place makes me hungry…
Ballymaloe House was opened by Myrtle and Ivan Allen to the public as a restaurant in 1964. It now celebrates over 50 years of international recognition as the home of Irish Country cuisine and hospitality
If you get the chance, take a trip here and treat yourself to a feed.
33. Spend an evening in the gorgeous little town of Allihies
I spent a wet Tuesday night last year in the lovely little town of Allihies. As I chugged into the town in search of my B&B, the Heavens opened up and it started to bucket down rain.
After checking into my B&B, I nipped down the road (literally, as the village is tiny) to O’Neill’s pub where I spent the evening on my own, eating (the stew was class!), drinking and people watching.
This really is a gorgeous little town. There’s also plenty of walks to do in the area.
34. Step back in time at 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.
35. See the Deck of Cards in Cobh
Cobh’s ‘Deck of Cards’ tend to go viral about 10 times per week. There’s no real surprise why, to be fair, as the colourful houses set against the backdrop of St. Coleman’s Cathedral are a sight to behold.
If you want to see St. Coleman’s Cathedral and the Deck of Cards from the view above, you’ll need to head for ‘Spy Hill’. Pop it into Google maps and you’ll find it handy enough.
Now, a quick word of warning – you need to hop up on a wall to get the view above, so be careful!
36. Set off on the Old Head of Kinsale looped walk
I’ve made the mistake of visiting Kinsale several times over the years and never leaving the village. Then, last year, I visited with a friend and we did the Old Head loop walk.
A walk here is, in my opinion, one of the best things to do in Kinsale when the weathers in any way fine. This is a pretty handy 6 km loop walk that (based on our visit) shouldn’t take you more than 1.5 hours.
That walk takes you around the Old Head of Kinsale, which is a narrow promontory that sticks out into the ocean, hundreds of feet above the sea.
37. Step back in time at 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.
38. Grab a coffee and head for a stroll around the grounds of 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.
39. Step back in time at 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.
40. Have a buzz around Bantry House
Our second last stop takes us to Bantry House – 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.
41. Plan your visit around GLOW (the Cork Christmas markets)
Christmas adds an additional layer of buzz and atmosphere to Cork City. GLOW, AKA the Cork Christmas Markets, start towards the end of November each year and they’ll HOPEFULLY be on again in 2020.
There’s a load of different things that take place across the city when the Cork Christmas Markets kick-off, such as:
- Markets on the Grand Parade
- A big Ferris Wheel (and a little one)
- A (usually themed) Christmas wonderland in Bishop Lucey Park
- Plenty more
What places to visit in Cork 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!
If you’d like to discover more things to do in Cork, hop into one of our other Cork guides below:
- 31 things to do in West Cork
- 10 mighty things to do in Cobh (there’s a full East Cork guide en route)
- 13 worthwhile things to do in Kinsale