Wondering what to do in Cork? Let us give you the local’s tour.
To some, it’s ‘the rebel county’ and to us Corkonians it’s ‘the real capital of Ireland’ (no shade, Dublin). Whatever name you take for it, Cork is brilliant.
At nearly 7,500 square km, it’s the biggest county in Ireland in terms of size.
Cork City is a hive of cosy pubs, live music venues, high street shopping, student life, and creative culture. Meanwhile, the countryside is home to heather-coated hills, farmland, and some of the country’s most stunning southerly coastline.
For an outdoor lover, it’s a total dream (as long as the weather’s on your side) and a visit here is amongst our favourite things to do in Ireland.
For those of you planning on making the trip over — and those of you who are already here — let us take you through our favourite things to do in Cork City and county.
We’ll share our take on the best places to visit, things to see, popular attractions, and our favourite underrated gems — from adventurous outdoor activities to the best pubs to hole up in when the weather turns nasty.
If you like this post and you’re keen to know more, head over to our epic list of 50 outdoorsy things to do in West Cork for specific tips on towns like Bantry, Skibbereen, Kinsale, Castletownbere, Baltimore, and more!
Things to do in Cork City
Visit the Triskel Arts Centre
The converted church hosts a variety of art exhibitions and art house cinema screenings; invariably interesting and always worth the visit.
Grab a ticket for one of their daily cinema screenings and watch the show from your seat in a church pew.
Speaking of which, we once went to see that outrageous Lars von Trier ‘Nymphomaniac’ film in here — quite bizarre to watch what can only be described as soft core porn in a place of worship (while I imagine some might find this offensive, I can only guess that those people have never seen Shia Labeouf in the nip). But umm, I guess that’s a story for a different post?
Peruse the Crawford Art Gallery
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We love this beautiful moment from a group of South Korean visitors who recently spent their last day in Cork soaking up some last bits of Irish culture in our exhibitions. (We also love this ‘salon hang’ of paintings in THE GIBSON BEQUEST!) • What do you enjoy most about your gallery? • #crawfordartgallery #gibsonbequest #corkcity #cork #ireland #irelandsancienteast #purecork #mickeymouse
Cork’s creative soul runs deep, and if you want to check out the best of the city’s visual arts you can’t miss out the Crawford Gallery. The sprawling brick building sits just behind Patrick’s Street — the biggest retail street in the city. With a focus on Irish art, the gallery houses a permanent collection of contemporary and traditional works as well as rotating exhibitions.
Go to the theatre
With a capacity of 1,000 people in their main auditorium, the Opera House is the largest theatre; followed by the 650-seater Victorian Everyman Theatre, and the intimate Cork Arts Theatre which seats just 100.
Between them, they show a huge range of plays, pantos, comedy, dance performances, opera, musicals, and live music acts of all kinds.
Catch a show in City Limits Comedy Club
Cork’s iconic comedy club has been going since the 1990’s and has played host to tons of stand-up acts over the years. From Irish legends like Dara O’Briain, Tommy Tiernan, and Jason Byrne to international comedians like Eddie Brill, City Limits is one of our favourite places to visit in Cork City when we’re looking for a laugh and a few beers.
Check out upcoming acts on City Limits’ website.
Discover the English Market
There isn’t a single decent list of things to do in Cork City that doesn’t include a visit to the English Market — and for good reason.
The bustling indoor marketplace is one of the most vibrant places to visit in Cork, whether you’re there to do the week’s shopping, grab a cheeky bottle of organic wine, or simply ogle at all the wares.
Local cheeses, meats, fish, artisan bread, and fresh produce are all on the menu here; with plenty of grab-and-go food stalls to boot. For the carnivorous amongst you, don’t miss O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausage Company’s sandwiches, while veggos should look out for the incredible spread offered by The Real Olive Company.
Psst: you can visit the English Market as part of a self-guided audio tour of Cork City! It’s very affordable, and a great way of getting to know the highlights of Cork for first-time visitors.
See George Boole’s House
One of the best things to do in Cork for history lovers, visiting George Boole’s house is a brilliant way of familiarising yourself with some of the lesser-known parts of the city’s heritage (for those that might not be familiar, Boole is the founder of Boolean logic which underpinned the development of the first digital computers and is still crucial to today’s computer sciences).
During the 19th Century, the famous mathematician was a lecturer at University College Cork (Queen’s University, as it was back then) and lived in a house on the banks of the River Lee — which is where he created some of his seminal works.
Il Irish government has put an enormous amount of money into an ambitious renovation of George Boole’s house in recent years — in itself a true testament to his importance to the city.
Get a view of Cork City & ring the Bells of Shandon
Leave the hum of the city centre behind you and cross the footbridge over the River Lee to reach Shandon Street, home of St. Anne’s Church and the Bells of Shandon. Climb up the 130-something stairs for the best panoramic view of the city — and for a chance to ring the bells yourself.
It costs €5 to enter the church and give ‘em a ring, the proceeds of which go to maintaining the historic site. You can also include this activity as part of a self-guided audio tour of Cork City, which includes a visit to the English Market and Patrick’s Street.
Pizza + pints in the Franciscan Well Brewery
By far one of my favourite places in Cork City to go for a few scoops! It may be a microbrewery, but the space itself is plenty big, with a massive beer garden out the back. There’s an authentic wood fired pizza oven out there too, and trust me when I tell you there’s no better pizza + beer combo in Cork than one of these babies and a pint of Rebel Red. Yum.
Live music in Crane Lane (plus cheese + wine in Arthur Mayne’s)
Slip down the side streets by the GPO on Oliver Plunkett Street and you’ll reach Crane Lane, one of Cork’s best live music venues. They host a regular lineup of musicians — many of whom are local up-and-comers — performing anything from electro swing to acoustic guitar.
The pub has a brilliant selection of craft beers, but if it’s a really good glass of wine you’re craving just pop over the alley to their sister business, Arthur Mayne’s. Set in an old apothecary (with all the fascinating relics of bygone years still on display), the menu is all mouthwatering cheese boards and vino. All the vino.
Visit Saint Finbarre’s Cathedral
Sitting at the top of town overlooking Grand Parade, St. Finbarre’s Cathedral is a real landmark of the City of Cork — and visiting is a must when you’re in town for the first time. The towering Gothic spires and impressive architecture belies an even more opulent interior. Though there is a €6 entry fee, there are guides available inside who are happy to show you around the complex interior and share the fascinating history of St. Fin Barre, so plenty of bang for your buck.
Things to do in Cork County
Visiting Baltimore Beacon is one of our all-time favourite things to do in Cork on a sunny day (though admittedly it’s still mega impressive on a moody day as well). The giant futuristic-looking structure was originally built to act the way a lighthouse does (minus the light, that is); its white colour and stature is enough to warn oncoming ships of the approaching coastline.
The Beacon is surrounded by grass, gorse, and heather coated hills offering an insane view of the coast of Sherkin Island (more on that below!). It’s just a short scramble up a hill from a small car park below, which is free to use.
Once you’re all tuckered out, make your way back to Baltimore proper and treat yourself to a pint of Moretti from Jacob’s Bar and an authentic thin crust pizza from La Jolie Brise next door. So. Damn. Good.
Kayaking & SUPing on Loch Hyne
Set just outside the lovely little town of Baltimore, Loch Hyne is a lake where you can go fishing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. The team at Atlantic Sea Kayaking offer all kinds of awesome excursions here, including a really unique starlight kayaking experience at night.
Psst: they also do kayaking and SUP trips in Cork City! If you’re not into going this far into the countryside, definitely check out their website and see what’s on in the city.
Cork is home to a phenomenal array of islands, all of which merit a visit in one way or another, though our personal favourite (because landscape, beer, and music) is Sherkin Island. It’s just a 10 minute ferry ride over from Baltimore harbour (tickets can be bought on the ferry and cost €12 return — a bit steep but it what it is).
As soon as you step off the boat it feels as though time has slowed down. The island is home to 100-odd people, a few ruined castles, a couple of pubs, and not much else. Simply put, it’s absolutely f’ing delightful.
The Jolly Roger is our go-to for a good pint and bit of grub (the Stonewell Cider, brewed in Kinsale, is a winner; as is the draft pints of Sherkin Lass, the local Baltimore brew). Keep an eye on their Pagina Facebook for gig listings; they get absolutely amazing musicians in there — from homegrown acts like the Jukebox Gyspys to international legends like Natty Wailer.
Jameson Whiskey Experience
Visiting the Jameson Distillery is by far one of the most popular things to do in Cork for first-time visitors to Ireland. Located in Middleton, you can visit the microbrewery and learn the ins and outs of producing one of Ireland’s most famous whiskeys.
Snag yourself a spot on the Jameson Whiskey Experience and in addition to the guided tour, you’ll also be able to take part in a whiskey tasting session (and become a qualified taster while you’re at it!), visit the world’s largest pot still, and enjoy a complimentary Jameson for yourself at the end.
Cross the Sky Bridge at Mizen Head
The most southwesterly point in Ireland, Mizen Head is all dramatic cliffs and unadulterated ocean swell. Pay a modest entry fee to walk along the craggy cliffside, down a serpentine pathway, and over the spine-tingling footbridge. Visit the old lighthouse, check out the phenomenal scenery (which was actually one of the filming locations of the latest Star Wars movie!), and enjoy the salty air at what feels like the edge of the world.
Visit The Donkey Sanctuary
Set on the outskirts of Mallow in the little town of Liscarroll, visiting The Donkey Sanctuary is one of the loveliest things to do in Cork if you’re an animal lover.
They have four locations, though Knockardbane Farm is the only one that’s open to public visitors. At that farm alone, they have something like 150 donkeys in their care — though it’s a staggering 5,600 that they’ve rescued and cared for since they opened in 1987.
There’s no entry fee (though donations are appreciated) and visitors are welcome to take their time strolling through the farm, getting to know the animals, and making use of the picnic area.
Walk the Blackwater Way
The Blackwater Way is a 180km network of walking trails that run by Mallow, Fermoy, and into South Tipperary. The waymarked trail combines the two much-loved walks of the Avondhu Way and the Duhallow Way, comprised of heatherland, bogs, boreens, rivers, lakes, mountains, and a smattering of farms.
Thanks to the trailheads, it’s an easy one to take on logistically. Those looking for a challenge can test their hiking skills on some of the steeper areas, like the Paps Mountains and the Nagle Hills, where you’ll score unreal views of the sprawling countryside.
Wakeboarding at Ballyhass Wake Park
If you’ve been following along with Extreme Nomads for a while, it’ll come as no surprise that we scouted out Cork’s one and only cable park as soon as we got back (lies, Jim actually had it pegged before we even arrived in the country!). Ballyhass is located just north of Cork City, and is home to the province’s only 2 tower cable wakeboarding park.
Serving up sauciness for both beginners and advanced shredders, Ballyhass Wake Park boasts a 2 tower system with a mix of kickers and rails. They regularly host events, meet-ups, and riding sessions at the park (including an awesome ladies-only morning sesh!) — a brilliant way to get out on the water and in with the local action sports crew.
Just north of the city, Adventure Park on Watergrass Hill is one of the most fun places in cork to visit with kids (or if you’re a bit of a big kid yourself). Not only do they offer some of the best go karting experiences in Ireland, they’ve also recently expanded the roster to include laser tag, laser clay shooting, archery, and human bubble football.
Zorbing & paintball at Funmanway
The West Cork town of Dunmanway is, quite unexpectedly, home to Ireland’s largest zorbing track. Yup, you can head to Funmanway and hurl yourself and your friends down a hill in a giant transparent bubble, and if you tell me that doesn’t sound like fun you’re almost definitely lying. Funmanway also offers paintballing experiences on the country’s largest outdoor paintball terrain, kayaking, and mountain boarding.
Cork – Gougane Barra – Beara cycling route
For those of you with a burn for outdoor adventure, this is one of the most extreme outdoor experiences you can find in Cork. The road cycling route is comprised of over 300km of waymarked trails, taking you from the Mardyke in Cork City all the way down to the furthest end of the Beara Peninsula. Cyclists can also choose to stop off in Gougane Barra (details below!) which we highly recommend.
Explore Gougane Barra
We’ve dubbed Gougane Barra as Cork’s most magical forest and as soon as you step out of the car it’s pretty easy to see why. The forest park is home to towering spruce and larch trees, an emerald green mossy floor, and miles of hiking trails through the forest. It’s also the origin of Cork’s iconic River Lee, which begins here in the Shehy Mountains as little more than a stream.
Psst: Gougane Barra is one of our favourite places to hike in the country! Check out our complete guide to escursioni in Irlanda for more tips on where to find awesome mountains.
Gougane Barra is also home to a fabulous little chapel which sits out in a peaceful lake, guarded by mountains behind. Quiet, calm, and steeped in history, a visit to Gougane Barra is one of our favourite things to do in Cork’s countryside by far.
MTB at the Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails
The largest network of bike trails in Ireland, the Ballyhoura MTB trails are comprised of nearly 100km of single track, boardwalks, hills, and technical rock gardens. Some of the easier going trails are great for beginners, like the Greenwood Loop (6km); while those looking for a real challenge could take on the epic 50km Castlepook Loop.
There’s a €5 entry fee to the park (or you can pay €40 for an annual pass) and bikes can be rented locally from Ballyhoura Trail Riders.
Surf + stroll at Inchydoney Beach
Surf travellers will already know that Ireland’s shores receive some of the biggest and best swell in the world. The force of Atlantic storms combined with a coastline rife with point breaks makes it a wave seeker’s dream.
Inchydoney beach in West Cork is arguably the best spot in the county to catch some surf; or for the less adventurous, to take a seriously nice stroll on the beach and slurp down some delicious hand roasted coffee, should you luck out and have The Wandering Bean parked up there.
Kiss the Blarney Stone
Kissing the Blarney Stone is kinda, sorta a right of passage for tourists coming to Ireland, so in fairness we couldn’t really leave it off our list of top things to do in Cork. Blarney Castle sits just north of the city and is pretty easily reachable by public transport, if you don’t have your own set of wheels.
You can also visit Blarney Castle, kiss the Blarney stone, and check Cobh as part of a guided day trip from Cork, which saves you the hassle of trying to plan your way with public transport. Handy!
Though you likely don’t need much introduction (it’s one of the most documented places to visit in Cork by far) I’ll just say this: the gardens are ideal for an easy stroll, the castle itself is gorgeous, and climbing to the top with the sole purpose of lying upside down over the edge while a stranger holds your legs so that you can kiss a freaking stone is as memorable as it is ridiculous. Gotta love that sh*t.
Trawl the local markets
Cork, like much of Ireland, is bursting with creativity — and the local markets are where it all convenes. Craft makers, jewellers, artists, chefs, producers and farmers all get together to flog their wares on a regular basis in markets like Bantry (every Friday), Skibbereen (every Saturday), and Castletownroche (every other Sunday). Well worth a visit — especially for all you veggies in search of awesome plant-based food.
See wildlife on Fota Island
Those of you visiting Cork with kids, as a couple, and all ye animal lovers have ha to head to Fota during your stay. It’s far from what you’d expect at your average zoo; no nasty cages or tiny enclosures. The animals have enormous pastures while some of the tamest wildlife roams free. The monkey even have their own island! Trust me, visiting those little rapscallions alone is one of our favourite things to do in Cork.
There are loads of pathways running through the park as well as all the usual facilities — a café, restrooms, and parking. The majority of the park is out in the open, so you’ll want to pick a day when the weather is playing ball, really.
Visit Charles Fort
Kinsale is such a special town; the convergence of Ireland’s Ancient East and the Wild Atlantic Way. As such, you’ve got sweeping coastal views e really, really cool ancient structures in one place. Charles Fort is the pinnacle of ‘em all in these parts; its massive pentagonal architecture is something quite unique. Culture, architecture, and history lovers should definitely think about including Charles Fort on their list of things to do in Cork.
Walk through Glengarriff Woods
Glengarriff is a lovely, single street village with a handful of craft shops, pubs, and places to eat. Beyond it lies the woodlands. There are dozens of picturesque pathways through the forest, leading along rivers and streams, and rhododendron-lined pathways. Most are loop walks with little to no incline so they’re fairly easy going and suitable for children, if you’re travelling with a brood.
When you finish your walk, make your way back to the village and stop off for a pint of the black stuff in The Blue Loo or a spot of lunch at Casey’s Hotel.
Cobh is historically known as the Titanic’s last point of departure before it set sail on its fateful voyage (though more recently the town has earned itself some Insta-fame for its cute colourful rows of houses). Visit the gorgeous St. Colman’s Cathedral on its perch overlooking the harbour; walk along the waterside; and take a peek in the Cobh Heritage Centre and get to know more about Ireland’s Ancient East.
You can combine your visit to Cobh with a trip to the iconic Barley Castle and kiss the Blarney stone with a guided tour. Super handy for those of your travelling without a rental car, as the guides pick you up right from your hotel in Cork.
Still stumped on what to do in Cork, Ireland? Or d’ya reckon our list is missing something crucial?! Drop a comment down there and let us know, or join our Gruppo Facebook GRATUITO sui viaggi d'avventura — where we answer all questions.