Found in the south-west of Ireland, Cork is the country’s second city, and a city that’s fast becoming a tourist destination to rival the capital, Dublin.
In fact, Cork is often seen as the cultural and culinary heart of Ireland, because this is a city that’s steeped in history and overflowing with excellent food and drink. The city can trace its origins back hundreds of years, and over the centuries it’s grown from being a small settlement founded by monks, into one of Ireland’s most happening places.
While there is much to discover in Cork itself, from the delights of the English Market to seeing the historic local churches, there’s much more to do in the surrounding area too. With Cork as your base, you can easily visit iconic Irish attractions such as Blarney Castle or Killarney National Park, making the city a great place to stay to explore more of Ireland.
This ultimate travel guide to Cork will show you all the most beautiful places in Cork, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Cork and things to do in Cork which will help you in planning a trip to Cork.
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
How to get to Cork
Cork is the largest city in County Cork, which is in turn part of the wider province of Munster in the south-west of Ireland. Being Ireland’s second largest city population wise, it’s a well connected transport hub in the region, and easy to travel to.
The city’s international airport is located just a few kilometres away from the city centre, and there are regular flights with low cost airlines to most major European cities, including the likes of London, Edinburgh and Amsterdam. There are no long haul flights however, and if you are travelling further afield then you will need to use Shannon International Airport – which is 2 hours drive away, and is where you can catch flights across the Atlantic to the United States – or you will need to travel to Dublin, or connect in other European airports.
Overland, Cork is well connected to most major Irish cities. There are trains almost every hour to Dublin, a journey of just under 3 hours, while there are bus connections as far afield as Galway, and up to Northern Ireland.
What to expect in Cork
Cork is a lively and friendly city, and it’s a destination that’s at the heart of contemporary Irish culture. It’s a city that’s proud of its independence, and you’ll find displays of Irish heritage across Cork, because this is a place that has historically been known as a rebellious city.
Locals are proud to show of their Irish traditions, and you’ll find that Cork is very welcoming to visitors, and is an incredibly safe place to explore. Everyone in Cork speaks English, although the local accent might seem fast paced if you are unaccustomed to the Irish dialect.
Like the rest of the Republic of Ireland, the local currency in use is the Euro, and you will find ATMs in the centre centre, as well as money changers – although many businesses will of course take cards too.
How to get around Cork
Cork might well be Ireland’s second largest city, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a difficult city to get around, and you’ll find the centre is particularly compact and easy to navigate on foot.
Many of the best places to visit Cork are well within walking distance of one another, so just grab a map and spend the day strolling from street to street when you first arrive in the city.
Cork Airport is connected to the city centre by local buses, and you can also find taxis waiting outside arrivals – although of course, public transport is much more cost effective. The local bus network extends across Cork from the city centre, and connects most of the suburbs and many of the communities that spread out into the nearby countryside.
You’ll also find transport to nearby towns such as Cobh, Kinsale and Blarney, is fairly regular and simple to use.
The best time to visit Cork
Cork can be visited anytime of the year, given the fact that it makes for a great city break destination, however, the weather can vary wildly depending on the season.
Ireland is well known for its cold and rainy demeanor, and for much of the year the weather can seem drab and dreary. Winters, from late October onwards, see lots of rainfall and low temperatures. Summer is brief, but bright, and from June through to August, you can experience the best weather, with temperatures rising into highs above 30 degrees Celsius on rare occasions.
Summer is always the busiest time of year in Cork – especially in July and August, when there are school holidays – but it’s also the most eventful, as there are many festivals and cultural and sporting events in the city. To beat the crowds though, simply brave the colder weather outside of the summer high season.
Things to do in Cork
St Patrick’s Street
When you first arrive in Cork, get your bearings by heading to St Patrick’s Street, which is quite possibly the most famous street in the city.
Named for Ireland’s patron saint, St Patrick’s Street is one of the main thoroughfares in the city centre, and while it dates back to the 18th century when it was a bustling mercantile road, it was heavily refurbished in 2004 to become Cork’s most modern shopping and retail street.
From St Patrick’s Street, you can easily make your way to all of the best attractions in the city.
One of the best things to do in Cork Ireland, is to explore the fantastic English Market. This iconic covered market dates back to the 19th century, and today you can still find the original Victorian-era facades and interior in wonderful condition.
It’s a busy place, and you can find market stalls, cafes, shops and some of the best food and drink in the entirety of the city.
Cork Public Museum
To learn more about the city’s fascinating history, then call into the Cork Public Museum, which is located within the beautiful grounds of Fitzgerald Park.
This local history museum is found in a heritage-listed Victorian-era building, and inside you’ll find a vast display of local archeological finds and exhibits. You can trace the origins of Cork from its days as a simple monastery, through to Viking raids, medieval-era conflicts and more recent times within the Republic of Ireland.
For another interesting look at Cork’s history, then visit the extensive fortifications of Elizabeth Fort. The city has had numerous forts and walls built to protect it over the centuries, but the most lasting legacy of the conflicts and wars that have taken place here, lies in the shadows of the towers of Elizabeth Fort.
Dating back to 1601, the fort was built to both defend and to intimidate the people of Cork, and it was named for the English Queen, Elizabeth. The fort saw numerous battles in the following centuries, being involved in the Jacobite Wars and more recently in the Irish conflicts of the 20th century.
Cork City Gaol
Another intriguing historical sight to see in the city, is Cork City Gaol. Here you can learn more about the darker side of local history, as it’s within this prison that many Irish political prisoners were held during the 19th and 20th centuries.
The fascinating museum tells the tale of many of the former prisoners, and gives visitors a unique insight into Irish history.
St Fin Barre’s Cathedral
Cork has a number of religious sites, but one of the most well visited of them is St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.
Two tall spires rise high above the city, providing an iconic addition to the skyline. This has been a place of worship since the 7th century AD, although the church you see today was built in the late 19th century.
St Anne’s Church
St Anne’s Church is an equally famous place of worship in Cork, and visitors call by the church to see the legendary Shandon Bells in the tower and ring the bells!
The tower itself is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Cork, while the historic bells inspired a popular local song.
Just outside of Cork, you can visit one of Ireland’s most famous historical attractions. Blarney Castle is an iconic destination for many tourists, and for centuries, visitors have flocked here in order to kiss the fabled Blarney Stone.
It’s this stone that is said to bestow upon the kisser the gift of the gab, and to give anyone that kisses it the ability to talk with charisma.
What to eat in Cork
Cork has a legendary culinary scene, and if you’re looking for good eating then this is the city to visit when you are travelling around Ireland. For the best local eats and freshest local produce, then head to the English Market, where you’ll find an array of traditional dishes for sale.
Start the day with a hearty Irish Breakfast, complete with sausages, bacon, beans, eggs and more, before moving onto a sizeable portion of fish and chips or smoked salmon on soda bread for lunch. For dinner, the adventurous eater can indulge in a plate of Tripe and Drisheen.
Where to stay in Cork
Budget – Cork has a growing number of hostels to add to its name, and many offer a great experience for solo travellers, providing live music, bars and a chance to meet other backpackers. One of the most popular hostels in the city is the Bru Bar and Hostel, where you’ll always find lots of travellers having a good time.
Mid-Range – For mid-range accommodation, one of the best options is to book in with a Bed and Breakfast. This gives you a more local experience in the city, and you can find many listings on AirBnB. Other options for mid-range hotels include the likes of the Jurys Inn, a popular choice within walking distance of most major sights in the city centre.
Luxury – Cork also has a large number of luxury offerings, with lots of excellent four and five star accommodations to offer visitors. Some of the best are located in historic, heritage-listed buildings and houses in secluded parts of the city, including the renowned Maryborough Hotel and Spa, which is found within an early 18th century manor house. Hayfield Manor Hotel, which is complete with spa facilities, is a popular boutique choice for tourists in search of style and comfort in Cork.
Airbnb is also a great option for short or long stays.
Tours to do in Cork
Join a walking tour of the city to learn more about the local history and culture. Led by passionate local guides, you can find all the hidden local spots and local eateries, while learning more about the city than you ever could on your own.
Spike Island is home to an old defensive fort that was built in the 18th century to defend Cork Harbour. You can take a boat trip along the River Lee to visit the fort, and to learn about how the island has been home to monasteries, prisons, castles and convict depots over the centuries.
Day trips from Cork
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions, and it’s found just one and a half hours drive away in County Kerry.
This is Ireland’s original national park, and within the extensive protected area you can find dense forest, wonderful woodland trails, and crashing waterfalls. There are three lakes in the park too, and it’s here that you can find the imposing towers of Ross Castle on the banks of Lough Leane.
Another highlight of the south-west, is a visit to the Dingle Peninsula. Here, you can find the most westerly point in Ireland and Europe at Slea Head, and you can discover secluded beaches, windswept cliffs and much, much more in this wild part of the country.
Along the south-west coast, just half an hour away from Cork, you can find the colourful town of Kinsale.
Found in a beautiful location, in Kinsale you can find ramshackle streets and local fisheries, while the surrounding cliffs offer some of the best hiking in the area.
Recommended tours in Cork
- Ring of Kerry Full-Day Guided Tour from Cork
- Jameson Experience in County Cork
- Dingle and Slea Head Tour from Cork
- Private luxury tour Cork – Wild Atlantic Way, Kinsale, Timoleague Abbey & more
- Cliffs of Moher Private Tour from Cork
- Blarney Castle Tour from Cork including Cobh
- Award-Winning Smoked Salmon Tasting and Private Smokehouse Tour with a Local
- Cork Self-Guided Audio Tour