7 fun things to do in Cork, Ireland, that you’ll love
County Cork is a spellbinding place home to rugged coastline, wildflower-studded mountains, and stones with magical properties. Known as the “Rebel County,” Cork is the largest and southernmost county in Ireland and holds the country’s second-largest city. It’s a can’t-miss destination on any of our tours of Ireland.
Cork has many gifts to offer its visitors. Here you’ll find organic produce, a glimpse into the past, and maybe even receive Ireland’s famed “gift of gab.” Discover the best things to do in Cork and experience them for yourself on one of our tours of County Cork in Ireland.
1. Shop (and snack) like a local at the English Market
One of the best things to do in Cork, Ireland, is to get a feel for how the locals live—which means shopping like a local. The English Market is one of the oldest covered markets in Europe and one of the best places to find one of the 5 can’t-miss dishes to eat in Ireland. Here, independent sellers offer up traditional foods, seasonal produce, spices, and more. Stop in on our A Week in Ireland: Dublin, Cork & Galway tour to grab lunch at one of the many cafes and restaurants, or sample snacks and pastries from the stalls while exploring the 18th-century market. The building has been updated over the years after withstanding wars, floods, and fires, but it remains in its original location.
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2. Kiss the Blarney Stone and receive Ireland’s greatest gift
Blarney Castle might be the most iconic location in Cork County, Ireland—or all of Ireland, for that matter. Located just five miles outside of Cork City, Blarney Castle is a tower fortress surrounded by lush gardens, including a water garden and gardens dedicated to carnivorous and poisonous plants. You’ll also find the Rock Close, a group of stone formations thought to be a site of ancient Druidic worship and rumored to be enchanted. “I particularly liked Blarney Castle and its beautiful grounds,” said traveler Tara.
Climb to the top of Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone, the legendary stone of eloquence said to grant the “gift of gab.” It’s a must-see stop on one of our tours of Cork. Traveler Trudy said, “Always dreamed of kissing that Blarney Stone and finally did it!”
Travel tip for visiting Ireland: Always wear comfortable shoes—some of these sites are best seen after a climb of over a hundred uneven stone steps. The Blarney Stone is located 85-feet off the ground on a battlement wall and requires a climb of 128 steps to reach it.
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3. Spend an afternoon on St. Patrick’s Street
A stroll down St. Patrick’s Street (known as Pana to the locals) is an absolute must if you’re trying to figure out what to do in Cork, Ireland, on a free afternoon. It’s a busy shopping avenue that runs through the city center. Hunt for souvenirs at one of the local shops, sing along with a street musician, or pop into a cozy pub for lunch and a pint of Murphy’s or Beamish—both non-Guinness stouts are brewed in Cork. Here are some of the best pubs in Ireland.
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4. Immerse yourself in history in Cobh
Cobh is a small town on an island in Cork Harbor. Millions of Irish people emigrated to North America through Cobh’s port, and it was the last port of call for the RMS Titanic. Discover the Cobh Heritage Centre on our Ireland: Traditions of the Emerald Isle tour or our A Week in Ireland: Dublin, Cork & Galway tour and learn about the many people who passed through Cobh on their way to new beginnings or tragic endings. “Visiting Cobh Harbor and the Cobh Heritage Center where my three-great grandfathers left Ireland for America was enlightening,” said traveler Rebeccah.
Before you leave Cobh, make your way up West View to snap a pic with the Deck of Cards, a kaleidoscope of brightly colored houses stacked in a row along the hill—it’s one of the most photogenic spots in all of County Cork.
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5. Ring the Shandon Bells
If you take some time to explore the city on one of our tours of Cork, you’ll probably catch a glimpse of St. Anne’s Church. The church tower is the third-tallest building in the city and home to the famous Shandon Bells that have been immortalized through songs and poems. You’ll get the chance to ring out a tune on the eight bells, but remember—the whole city can hear you, so make it a good one!
If you’re feeling up for a climb, you’ll be treated to spectacular 360-degree views of the city at the top of Shandon Tower.
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6. Take an audio tour of University College Cork
University College Cork’s 170-year-old campus is open to the public year-round and is one of the most impressive places in Cork. It’s a great way to spend some free time on one of our tours of Cork. Pick up an audio tour from the visitors center and explore the college’s monumental stone buildings and manicured gardens. You’ll see great trees planted when the college was founded in 1849 and UCC’s collection of Ogham Stones—evidence of early Irish writing that dates back 1500 years.
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7. Discover the beauty and bounty of the land in West Cork
If you’re looking for County Cork destinations outside the city, consider visiting West Cork—one of the 7 hidden-gem places to visit in Ireland. West Cork is the region that stretches from Kinsale, a town south of Cork City, to the tip of the Beara Peninsula on Ireland’s West Coast. It’s known for its wild plant life, rocky coastal beaches, and vast farmland punctuated by charming towns. “Everything about Ireland is beautiful! Luscious green landscapes, cliffs, rolling hills, castles, quaint towns, so much history. So picturesque. My favorite town was Cork. Quaint and so beautiful,” said traveler Alicia.
While you explore the beautiful wilderness of West Cork, be sure to sample the land and its bounty of organic produce, artisan cheeses, and locally raised meat and fish. If you’re on our Ireland: A Feast of Culinary Flavors & Local Traditions tour, you’ll have the opportunity to tour an organic farm and participate in a seasonal activity like jam making or blueberry picking.
Make sure you stop by Kinsale Mead Co. or Clonakilty Brewing Company for some local libations and don’t forget to visit one of the region’s many farmers’ markets. The restaurants in West Cork take full advantage of the region’s abundant produce. If you’re on our A Week in Ireland: Dublin, Cork & Galway tour or our Ireland for Solo Travelers tour, you’ll have the option to visit West Cork and enjoy a traditional meal on our Evening in Kinsale excursion.
If you want to explore even more of West Cork’s wild coastline and glorious cuisine, our Sheep’s Head Peninsula & Bantry House Tea excursion will take you on foot along the coastline with stunning views of Sheep’s Head Lighthouse and Dunmanus Bay. You’ll cap off the excursion with a traditional tea service at the stately Bantry House and Garden.