Planning a romantic break or family vacation in Ireland? For sightseeing and entertainment, Dublin may be the first city that springs to mind. But for locals – and those in the know – Cork is the ‘real capital’ of the nation. For anyone in search of an authentic Irish experience, it’s simply not to be missed. Vibrant, cosmopolitan and boasting a cool artisan coffee house on just about every corner, this culture-filled destination has so much to offer.
Simply walking around the colorful streets and soaking up the atmosphere is enough to understand why Cork is so special. But for a totally unforgettable vacation, here are the things you have to add to your itinerary.
1. Visit Cork City Gaol
They don’t call it the Rebel County for nothing – so it comes as no surprise that Cork once housed the county’s finest prison. Cork City Gaol is one of the city’s top attractions, exhibiting displays to piece together centuries and centuries of rebellion and incarceration. This unique museum and heritage center is great for all ages, with both day and night tours available.
As a listed building, the gaol architecture is remarkable with Georgian and Gothic influences. But more interestingly, the gaol has been a lockup to some of Ireland’s most notorious political prisoners. Including Young Ireland activist Denny Lane, National Movement promoters Isaac and Ralph Varian, and Countess Constance Markievicz.
2. Have a Drink Down Ollie P
Oliver Plunkett Street is an award-winning street, known for its lively atmosphere in the daytime and excellent food and drink venues at night. It’s a beautiful stretch of pedestrianized path, with lovely buildings and some great shops.Enjoy the sound of buskers in the afternoon, or come back after sundown if you’re looking for a cozy spot to wine and dine.
For live music in a traditional Irish pub experience, be sure to pop into the name sake venue, The Oliver Plunkett. It’s a hit with locals and tourists alike, and they serve up some of the best home cooked comfort Irish dishes around. Inside, you’ll also find the Frisky Whiskey Bar, a specialized area dedicated to Irish whiskey varieties.
3. Get Free Entry to the Crawford Art Gallery
This spectacular art space is a National Cultural Institution, and also the regional art museum for Munster. It’s a place for both historic and contemporary art, with a permanent display of around 4,000 pieces. These range from the 18th Century to present day, and the collection includes an eclectic mix of paintings, sculptures and cutting-edge video installations.
One of the most noteworthy collections is the set of Greek and Roman sculpture casts which were delivered to Cork from the Vatican in 1818. The main collection and all exhibitions are free of charge.
4. Shop for Local Produce at The English Market
Of all the covered markets in UK and Ireland, this one has to be one of the best. It’s a favorite of TV chef Rick Stein’s, and it’s a highlight for any foodies visiting the city. The Queen has visited, as have many other famous people, and the outstanding produce speaks for itself. For families enjoying a luxury Irish vacation in a self-catering property, this is a good spot to pick up meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, local cheese, artisan sauces and oils, and much more.
For food on the go and anyone with a sweet tooth, you might be tempted by the delicious cakes and pastries. There are also stalls selling crockery, clothing and gifts.
5. Catch a Show at Triskel Arts Centre
There’s always something interesting happening at the Triskel Arts Centre. It’s a vibrant cultural hub located in the heart of the city, and it’s been a top multidisciplinary venue for more than 40 years. Housed inside a refurbished neoclassical Georgian church building, the Triskel Arts Centre is truly special.
From live music (including classical and jazz), art exhibitions and cultural cinema screenings to hosting some of Cork’s best creative festivals, the variety is never-ending. And for delicious light bites and a laidback wine bar setting, be sure to stop off at the Scrypt Café after your show.
6. Walk up Patrick’s Hill
Take the steep uphill climb to the top of Patrick’s Hill, and gorgeous views of the city will be bestowed. On the road, there are 120 steps to the top and once you’re there you’ll be able to get a good panoramic view of the city’s skyline. You should be able to see St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the Shandon Bells and views ofSt. Patrick’s Street.
If you want to capture the moment in a photograph, get there early for sunrise or time your walk for evening sunset.
7. See the Amazing Holy Trinity Church
If it’s architecture you’re interested in, make sure the Holy Trinity Church is on your bucket list. Located at Father Matthew’s Quay on the banks of the River Lee, this church is one of the most magnificent buildings you will ever behold. It was designed by the Pain Brothers in the early 19th Century in honor of Father Theobald Matthew, who was known to the people as the ‘Apostle of Temperance’. He later went onto trying to put a ban on alcohol, resulting in decreased whisky production during the 1830s and 40s.
The building is stunning both inside and out, and is one of the best free things to do in the city. It looks most impressive on a clear, sunny day with blue skies.
8. Spend the Day at Blackrock Castle
The Blackrock Castle Observatory is a must if you’re on vacation with the kids, or you’re a fan of space exploration. This one-of-a-kind museum combines history and science for an unforgettable day out. Discover exhibitions and displays of alien lifeforms and exobiology in the Cosmos in a setting surrounded by battlements, gunnery and remains of a rich maritime history.
The castle building dates back to 1582, and was once the hub of merchant trade, smuggler sand even pirates. If you want to loosen up those legs, you should also take the Blackrock Castle Loop, which lends itself to the most stunning views of the coast.
9. People Watch from a Coffee Shop
Cool cafes and artisan coffee shops are everywhere in Cork. There’s a youthful, hipster vibe here and it seems a good cup of coffee is at the heart of the Corkonian way of life. Nice tasting coffee is never hard to find if you’re visiting the city, and there’s always an opportunity to people watch with ample window seating or outdoor seating.
Some of the best neighborhoods for coffee, pastries and people watching include The Victorian Quarter, The Huguenot Quarter, and the famous Oliver Plunkett Street.
10. Sunbathe at Bishop Lucey Park in the Summer
If the weather is good, take a walk in Bishop Lucey Park, located between Grand Parade and South Main Street in the center of the city. It’s one of the few green spaces in Cork with a number of events throughout the year, and is transformed into a magical Christmas Market during the festive season.
During the summer, you can find a lovely spot to sunbathe, read a book, or enjoy a picnic with loved ones. It’s often referred to as ‘The Peace Park’ by locals due to its proximity to the National Monument and the World War I memorials.
11. Explore the Grounds Of University College Cork
The city’s university building is one of its most famous landmarks and you don’t need to be a student to enjoy the site. The grounds of the university are free and open to all, and features a number of historic buildings and a beautiful landscaped garden. There’s also a bit of superstition surrounding the quad, as it is said that anyone who crosses it before their exams will be doomed to failure.
Located just a short walk from the center of the city, it’s easy to get to and it is conveniently close to other sights and attractions too.
12. Visit the Lewis Glucksman Gallery
Located within the university grounds, there’s also a fantastic free gallery to checkout. The Lewis Glucksman Gallery houses a collection contemporary art, including paintings, print, textiles, sculpture and modern installations.
The pieces here are utterly unique and include both national and international works of art. The building itself is impressive, an award-winning structure made of steel, timber and limestone. Even if art isn’t your thing, the café is a great meeting point and a nice spot to unwind.
13. Taste the Best Takeaway at KC’s
Make your way to KC & Son & Sons in Douglas and you’ll be met with a mammoth queue. But we assure you, this is only normal as their signature King Creole flies off the shelf daily. You should arrive as early as possible if you don’t want to miss out on the menu favorites, such as their tasty pittas, their KCSpecial Burger, their Philly steak sandwiches, simple but mouthwatering Irish chip butty, or a portion of their freshly cut chips with just about any topping you desire.
This family-run business has been serving up amazing food for over three generations, and they remain just as popular to this day.
14. Go on an Irish Pub Crawl
A vacation to Ireland is not complete without a traditional pub crawl. Pub culture is a big part of life here, and Cork is one of the best places for drinking and having a good time. And whether you’re here with a big group or wanting a quiet few pints with the family, there are plenty of pubs to choose from.
The most iconic places to order a pint or a glass of Irish whiskey include The CornerHouse on Coburg Street, the beloved 1889 pub Sin É which is excellent for live music, the cozy An Spailpín Fánach on Main Street, and the well-known Charlie’sBar located at Union Quay.
15. Pack a Picnic for Fitzgerald’s Park
Fitzgerald’s Park has been recently redeveloped, and is a favorite amongst families. The park itself is actually home to the Cork Museum and the delightful Riverview Café, making it an ideal location for a full day out. There’s even a massive play area for the kids, so you can keep them busy whilst you take in the views.
If the sun is out, pack a picnic and find a space along the banks of the river. The little ones will love the vast outdoor space to run around, and the fab museum facilities.
16. Go Hiking on the Hop Island Path
If you’re looking for an easy walk around the city, take the lovely Hop Island path. This was a former railway line, and now it’s a path stretching from Rochestown to the Passage West pier area, with amazing views overlooking Lough Mahon.
This is a short and easy route, suitable for all levels including children. The length of time it will take you is anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, depending on pace and stopping points. It’s also less than a 15 minute drive back to the city center, so you’ll be able to see plenty of sights and enjoy other Cork activities in the same day.
17. Enjoy Whiskey Tasting at The Shelbourne
The Shelbourne Bar has been around since 1895, and it has the largest (and best) selection of Irish whiskey anywhere in Cork City! If you’re looking to taste authentic whiskeys in a relaxed and stylish setting, make sure you include The Shelbourne on your next night out.
There are more than 300 different whiskey varieties to taste, all of which feature their own flavor profiles. And the friendly bar staff and whiskey experts can help you choose the best ones for your palate. The venue itself has been the recipient for multiple awards over the years, and it has appeared on The Irish Whiskey Trail too. Amongst many other accolades, The Shelbourne was named ‘Whiskey Bar of the Year’ in 2018.
Whether you’re a first timer or serious connoisseur, you’ll have a great time here.This entry was posted in Bespoke Travel Itineraries Food & Drink General Hidden Gems Insider Tips Local Culture Travel Culture Travel Inspiration .