Dublin may be Ireland’s biggest city, and really popular with tourists, but the second biggest city in the country is also well worth a visit. Every time I come to Cork I am left completely in love with the sights, sounds and smells of the city. If you’re planning a trip to Ireland but want to go a little further than Dublin, maybe put Cork to the top of your list.
With so much going on in the city, and so many little side streets for you to appear, it’s no wonder Cork is a fantastic place to visit. Like Paris, Cork city centre is contained on an island in the River Lee. Come check out my advice on things to do in Cork, what to see and where to eat in my super handy guide. Find out more about the city the locals refer to as “the real capital”! I’m sure once you read this guide to the southern city, you might just forget all about Dublin!
Cork Airport is about 4 miles south of the city centre. To get to the city centre from the airport, you can hop on the Bus Éireann 226 or 226A bus, which will pick you up from right outside the airport’s doors. The bus journey will take about 25 minutes, depending on traffic. A single ticket will cost you roughly €2.50.
If you’ve travelled to Cork by train, that same bus will also bring you to and from the train station in the city.
You can also grab a taxi, which will take about 15 minutes and costs roughly €25.
Ireland was once ruled by Britain, and though it’s been its own country for almost a century now there are still some reminders of its former rulers. One of these is the huge English Market, which has entrances on Princes Street, Patrick Street and Grand Parade right in the centre of the city. The market is open for business six days a week (it’s closed on Sundays) from 8am to 6pm. The building where the market is set is a beautiful building dating back to 1768, with the market trading since 1788. The market was visited by Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Ireland in 2011, and I bet she really loved the huge array of fine foods available in the market stalls. If she only had this handy Cork city guide with her, I bet she could find some really fantastic places to go after her visit here.
The Blarney Stone
If you’ve run out of things to do in Cork city already, then jump into the car and see what else is around. About a 15 minute drive north west is the town of Blarney. This town is home to the infamous Blarney Stone. This famous stone, built into the walls of Blarney Castle, is renowned for giving you the “gift of the gab”, or the ability to speak with great flattery and eloquence, if you kiss it. The stone itself is believed to have been given as a gift from Scottish king Robert the Bruce to Cormac MacCarthy, the king of Munster. The powers were bestowed on the stone when Cormac McCarthy saved an old woman from drowning. In return, the old woman cast a spell on the stone, so it would give Cormac the power of eloquent speech. Now, thousands of people flock to the stone every year to get the “gift of the gab”. The only way to kiss the stone is to hang upside down, so do keep that in mind.
The Shandon Bells are one of Cork’s most iconic landmarks. They are found in the Church of St Anne, a Church of Ireland church in the north of Cork city. The church is easy to find – just look for the goldfish in the sky! The bells have been ringing in this church since the 1700s, and you can even ring them yourselves. The first floor of the church has a little gallery where you can play the famous bells for yourself, and there’s even a little booklet with some well known songs you can try. Do be aware that the tower is up a climb of 132 steps – but the views of the city from the tower are totally worth the climb.
Cork City Gaol
If you’ve visited the Shandon Bells, then straight after why not head here too? The city’s old gaol is just a 20 minute walk from the church in an area of the city called Sunday’s Well. The prison operated until 1923, and it housed both male and female prisoners who committed a crime within the boundaries of Cork city. These days, the gaol is home to a museum with lifelike figurines representing the governer, the prisoners, and the prison guards on duty. One of the cells is even open and laid out as it would have been back when the gaol was functional, so you can lock your travel buddy in. . . I guess it’s up to you whether you free them again ;) This is probably one of the most fun things to do in Cork city.
University College Cork
Looking for a uni that will remind you of Hogwarts? Look no further. The Quadrangle at University College Cork, or UCC to give it its colloquial name, is just like something you would expect to see in the Hogwarts courtyards. This beautiful university grounds is definitely worth a visit, but do be careful when you stroll through the Quadrangle of the university. It’s a long held urban myth that if you stand in one of the four corners, you could be about to fail your exams! And, if you don’t have plans for a baby yet, best stay off the UCC crest that’s embedded into the walkway too.
Because there are so many things to do in Cork, I’m sure you’ll work up a massive appetite while you explore. Don’t worry about a thing, as there are plenty of spots where you can tuck into anything from fast food to a gourmet meal. In fact, Cork is one of Ireland’s culinary jewels, so eating is truly one of the best things to do in Cork.
What’s the average price of…
A cup of coffee: roughly €2.90
A pint of beer: roughly €5
A meal in a nice restaurant: a meal in a mid range will set you back about €15. A three course meal for two in a fancy restaurant will cost about €60 – €70.
A McDonalds Meal: a Medium Value Meal will cost you about €6.
Remember that English Market I told you about earlier in this Cork city guide? Well, if you find something there that tickles your tastebuds, you don’t need to wait until you go home to try it out. The Farmgate Café is found right upstairs from the market itself. It’s a haven of delicious foods made from the delights of the market. Everything you eat can be sourced below you. It’s the perfect spot for a quick catch up and a cup of coffee while the city literally buzzes around you.
Perry Street Market Café
If you want as very quick lunch in the heart of the city, that is filling, cheap, but utterly delicious, then you need to check out the lovely market café on Perry Street. The café is found just off the main street through the city, Patrick Street, and it’s in the ideal location for a bite to eat while you let your credit card cool off. They serve a large range of hot foods, delicious sandwiches, and smooth coffee to wash it all down with. If you’ve still got space left, make sure you opt for some cake. Further Perry Street cafés can also be found in Little Island, about a ten minute drive to the east of the city, and near the Mahon Point shopping centre in the city’s suburbs. No matter where you’re heading to, there’s definitely the chance to sample some of their delicious goodies.
If you’re here with the family, or you simply love the idea of an Italian style restaurant, then look no further. Scoozis, which you can find on Winthrop Lane, around the back of the huge Brown Thomas on the main street, is a family friendly restaurant offering up a choice of delicious food to keep any diner happy. The long queues that you often find snaking out the door are just a testament to how good the food here really is.
Veggies aren’t forgotten about in this culinary city. In fact, vegetarian food options may even trump the meat eater’s choices! Café Paradiso, which can be found on the road out to UCC, is an award winning vegetarian restaurant. It’s been voted Ireland’s Best Restaurant in 2015, even ahead of the famed Chapter One in Dublin. The menu here is fit to burst with delicious flavour combinations, and there’s a delightful pre-theatre menu if you’re catching a show at the nearby Cork Opera House.
Nothing beats a takeaway on a Friday evening, right? If you still feel like heading down the chippy when you’re away on holiday, then don’t fear because Cork has you covered. I’m sure no local would disagree, no guide to Cork city is complete with out a mention of KCs, a hugely popular chippy in Douglas, on the western outskirts of the city. It might take you a bus or taxi ride to get there, but the food they offer is so worth it. This takeaway is so popular with locals in fact, that you can even check out their live webcam feed. This helps you check out how long the queue ahead of you is before you order your food. I don’t know about you, but I think every chippy needs this!
Jacobs On The Mall
You’ve got everything from a well loved takeaway to a family friendly spot. But, sometimes when you’re on your holidays, you might look for some finer dining. Luckily, this Cork city guide covers pretty much all food tastes. In that case, get to Jacob’s on the Mall. This fine restaurant is found in a former Turkish bathhouse, so you can dine here while you bathe in history. The food here is just as decadent as the surroundings. Your tastebuds will be treated to a delightful fusion of modern European and Mediterranean cooking. Jacob’s on the Mall has won some prestigious awards, such as Best Chef in Munster 2011, so I just know you will dine in style here.
Be aware, Jacobs on the Mall is closed on Sundays.
One of the best things to do in Cork city is, of course, experience the nightlife. The city and its surrounds is home to Murphy’s and Beamish stouts, as well as the new Jameson Brewery in Midleton. So, you can’t come to Cork and not sample what’s on offer!
An Bróg (pronounced on brogue, and taken from the Irish word for “shoe”) is one of Cork’s most well known bars. It’s found on Oliver Plunkett Street, one of the city’s biggest (and pedestrianised) shopping streets. An Bróg is the perfect place to start off your night with a few pints. If you’re here during a big football game, it’s also the ideal place to catch the match. The staff here are super friendly, and they are always on hand to offer advice on things to do in Cork. This is a small pub with a very big heart.
Chambers Bar is Cork’s most lively and biggest gay bar. The club recently went through an extensive makeover, so be sure to call in and check out the face lift it got. Every single night, the club is packed with people, and with DJs playing until 2am there is always a party atmosphere here. It’s definitely one of the best places to go if you don’t feel like the party should end early. If you’re feeling lucky, why not pop along to bingo night on Sundays? With a themed night of entertainment and dancing on almost every night of the week, there will definitely be something to keep everybody happy here!
Both Reardan’s and Chambers are found on Washington Street, which is right in the city centre and just off Grand Parade. Reardan’s is Cork’s biggest sport venue, and so it’s ideal if your stay here happens to coincide with one of the big games. If you’re not a huge sports fan, I still recommend coming along to Cork’s first early bird bar. Reardan’s starts the party at 5pm, and with food served until midnight 7 nights a week I can’t see you wanting to head anywhere else.
If you’re looking for things to do in Cork on a Monday evening, well then you’re in luck. Havana Browns on Hanover Street has just the thing. Their Monday Club is hugely popular, and with three bars to choose from, as well as a dancefloor that’s lit with LED illuminations, it’s one of the best things to do in Cork when it comes to the nightlife.
SUAS Rooftop Bar
Sometimes I think the best way to view a city is to look at it from the top. That’s why SUAS is one of the best places to grab a drink in the city. It’s a hidden haven on South Main Street, as the party towers over you. But this little hideaway, found in the same building as Captain Americas and Wagamama, is actually the ideal party spot. One of my favourite things to do in Cork is to sit here and watch the city pass by below me as I sip on some delicious cocktails, wine or Champagne. This is the true meaning of living the high life.
So, there you have it. My super handy guide to all the best things to do in Cork city, the best places to eat, and the ideal party spots. If you’ve got a trip to the Rebel City coming up, be sure to study this guide carefully!