It’s often said that we tend to overlook our homes when it comes to travel, sightseeing and exploration. Instead, we favour far away lands, exotic destinations and let’s face it, destinations with more inviting weather. With a few months at home getting over a back injury, we decided to check out some of the best things to do in Cork City and rediscover this wonderful city that I am lucky to call home.
Cork might be Ireland’s second biggest city but it has the all the feeling of a big town. Small and compact, it’s easy to get around on foot and despite its small size, there’s an incredible energy about the city. No matter what day of the week, or what time of year, Cork is a hive of activity. The streets are busy with locals and tourists alike, the sound of live music fills the air, there are some fantastic restaurants, cafés and pubs, and there are so many things to do in Cork city that you will have more than enough to keep you entertained.
Strolling around the city, it’s difficult to imagine that this was once a series of marshy islands. In fact, the Irish for Cork, ‘Corcaigh’, comes from ‘Corcach Mór Mumhan’, which translates to ‘great marsh of Munster’. The main streets of the city used to be waterways running between the islands, which were built over to give us the modern Cork we have today. The city centre remains an island, flanked on each side by the north channel and the south channel of the River Lee. And the remains of the river that flows under Patrick Street is still visible at the street’s northern end. It’s these rivers that arguably give Cork a lot of its charm, and is the premise for one of Cork’s most well-known song lyrics “On the Banks of My Own Lovely Lee”, which you will often hear impromptu versions of in the pubs around the city.
And it’s along the banks of the Lee and beyond that you can explore, interact and get to grips with this vibrant, bustling city. Affectionately known as ‘the real capital’, there is no shortage of things to do in Cork City; here are 33 of our favourites.
Experience Prison Life at Cork City Gaol
Life in Cork wasn’t always so great, especially for prisoners at Cork City Gaol. A visit to the old prison gives a great insight into the harsh conditions prisoners in Cork had to endure. Often sentences were handed down for petty crimes such as stealing bread, an unfortunate result of the poverty of the times. Closed in 1923, the prison is said to be home to a resident ghost lady who has been seen in a green shawl – keep your eyes peeled!
Check Out the Graffiti Car Park (White Street Car Park)
Cork has long been a place for artists and creatives to reside, and today’s generation is no different. At White Street Car Park, the walls are free reign for graffiti artists to do their thing. The result is a bright, funky, colourful car park that begs to be seen and when the sun shines, it really comes to life. The works of Cork’s street artists are scattered around the city with another cool display on Pine Street.
Admire the Cork Architecture
Walking around the streets of Cork, take the time to stop and admire some of the beautiful architecture that dominates the city. On the South Mall, buildings such as No. 74 date back to 1770, featuring gateways at street level, which once served as boathouses back when these streets were waterways. The courthouse on Washington Street was originally designed in 1836 by the Deane family, but after being destroyed in a fire, it was rebuilt in 1895 by W. H. Hill as the building we see today. Cork’s General Post Office on Oliver Plunkett Street was erected in 1879, while Custom House in Emmett Place is in existence since 1724. Cork is also home to the country’s tallest building, the Elysian, which took the title from Cork County Hall, the country’s former highest building. The history of Cork is reflected in its architecture; just look around as you move through the city.
Visit Cork City Hall
Cork City Hall is a stunning building on the banks of the River Lee. Originally operating as the Corn Exchange, it was converted to City Hall in 1883 and subsequently destroyed in a fire in 1920. The current city hall was built in 1935 and on a calm day is perfectly reflected in the River Lee. On the 17th of March, the iconic building is illuminated in green as part of the international ‘global greening’ in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
See the National Monument
Occupying the junction of the Grand Parade and the South Mall is the limestone National Monument, erected in 1906. Commemorating important Irish patriots, in particular, those involved in the 1798 and 1803 risings, the monument features lists of patriots’ names and five statues in total; Mother Erin, Wolf Tone, Peter O’Neill Crowley, Thomas Davis and Michael Dwyer. The foundation stone was laid on the 2nd of October 1898 while the Irish flag was hoisted. The Union Jack was also quickly raised, but then lowered and thrown in the river, much to the delight of the gathered crowd.
Chill Out At Cork’s Cool Cafés
Cork is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the ‘hippest’ cities in Europe and no modern, hip city is complete without a selection of quirky, cool, independent cafés. Cork’s café culture has grown massively in the last few years with some brilliant new cafés coming on the scene. Some of our favourite spots in the city to grab a coffee and a quick bite are The Rocket Man for salads and the best falafels in the city, Iyers Café for authentic South Indian goodies and Filter Café for the best caffeine hit in Cork.
Take a Walk Down Award-Winning Oliver Plunkett Street
Cork’s very own Oliver Plunkett Street outshone streets in both London and Liverpool to win the prestigious ‘Great Street Award 2016’ and with good reason. This pedestrianised street in the city centre is home to a number of great bars and some of the best restaurants in town. On a busy day, the street moves to the sounds of buskers that occupy every second corner along ‘Ollie P’. Take a walk down this beloved street, soak up the vibe and enjoy.
Learn About Cork on the City Bus Tour
If you’re short on time, the Cork City hop on/hop-off open top bus tour is a great way to see the sights of the city. Starting on the Grand Parade, outside the city library, the route takes in all of the main historic attractions in the city. The views from the top of the bus give a truly unique perspective of the city, just be sure to bring your umbrella if it’s raining!
Shop Til You Drop on Patrick’s Street
Locally known as ‘Pana’, Patrick’s Street is Cork’s main street and is the top shopping street in the city. After being redeveloped in 2004, it won the award of Ireland’s best shopping street on two different occasions. Shoppers will find all the usual high-street shops here, as well as some Irish stores. And after you’ve shopped til you’ve dropped, grab a pint at Le Chateau, the only pub on Pana.
Dine in Cork’s Amazing Restaurants
With a reputation as Ireland’s foodie capital, Cork has a huge variety of restaurants, offering both local specialties and food from all over the world. There really is something for every taste and every budget. From mouth-watering fish and chips to fine dining, Cork has you covered.
Hear the Calls of The Echo Boy
For many, the sound of Cork is the calls of the ‘Echo Boy’. The Evening Echo is a Cork newspaper, traditionally sold by homeless children in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Today, the newspaper is still sold in this traditional way. In the late afternoon the calls of “Echo, Evening Echo” start up as the local newspaper goes on sale on the streets of Cork. The newspaper holds such a special place in the hearts of the people of Cork that a sculpture was unveiled in 1991 to mark the 100 year anniversary of the publication. In 2004, the sculpture was relocated from Cook Street to its current, more prolific location on Patrick’s Street.
Get Cultured at the Crawford Art Gallery
Located right in the heart of the city, the Crawford Art Gallery houses works from a number of European and Irish artists. There is a permanent collection of Greek and roman statues by Antonio Canova which were brought from the Vatican in 1818. The museum also houses paintings by both national and international artists. Entry to the museum is free and is well worth a stop while exploring the city.
Be Entertained by Cork’s Buskers
Every day in Cork, there’s a different show. Blues guitarists, electric violinists, traditional Irish musicians, African drummers, singer-songwriters, panpipers, comedians, painters, pianists; you name it, they all perform on the amazing stage that the streets of Cork provide. Take some time to stop and enjoy the show, and as with any street-performance, show your love with a donation in the performers hat.
Taste Local Produce at the English Market
The English Market is Ireland’s most well-known covered food market. Situated in the centre of the city, the market has been in operation since 1788. Stalls in the market sell amazing local produce as well as goods from further afield. Be sure to check out the Pig’s Back for a great array of cheeses, check out the huge selection of fresh fish and stop at O’Flynn’s for the best gourmet sausages in the country.
See a Show at the Triskel Arts Centre
Set inside an old church, the Triskel Arts Centre is a unique theatre that hosts a variety of exhibitions, theatre, cinema and concerts. It now operates as Cork’s principal arts centre and has become a real focal point of the Cork arts scene. Do your best to catch a show, but even if there’s nothing on, a look inside the theatre is a must.
Pay Tribute to Rory Gallagher
Although born in County Donegal, Irish blues musician Rory Gallagher is an honorary Cork man. Growing up in the city, he formed the band ‘Taste’ in the 60’s and recorded solo albums through the 70’s and 80’s. He’s known for his hypnotic performances and his dedication to music resulting in more than 30million albums being sold across the globe. To highlight his legacy, St. Paul’s Street Square, was renamed Rory Gallagher place and a tribute to the musician was unveiled.
Have the Craic in Cork’s Lively Pubs
No trip to Cork would be complete without visiting some of the city’s most iconic pubs. Pub culture is a huge part of life in Ireland and Cork is home to some of the best pubs in the country. For a true Irish pub experience, check out Sin É, The Corner House, An Spailpín Fánach, Charlie’s or The Hi-B. All of these have live music regularly and some of the best Murphy’s and Beamish in town – two Cork stouts true and true, which can be difficult to find on draught anywhere else in the country.
Get Great Views from Patrick’s Hill
After eating and drinking your way around the city, brave the steep climb to the top of Patrick’s Hill. It can be tough climb but anyone with a reasonable level of fitness should manage fine. After climbing the 120 steps to the top of the hill, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the city with St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral and the Shandon Bells dominating the skyline. Of course, there is a great Pana-rama (get it?!) views of St. Patrick’s Street too.
Don’t Pass by One of Cork’s Strangest Sculptures
Cork sculptor Séamus Murphy is best known for bigger projects like the design of Blackpool Church. However, this little oddity on Patrick’s Street is just brilliant! At the north end of Patrick’s Street, Knolly Stokes, dog-lover and owner of the Old Bridge Restaurant commissioned a small limestone trough in 1950. Carved into the trough is the word ‘Madraí’, Irish for ‘dogs’. Stokes organised for a staff member to clean and fill the trough with water every morning for the city’s stray dogs to drink from. The bowl is still there today but unfortunately it is no longer filled.
Try and Decipher the Language
Ireland is a country of many different accents, dialects and slangs. We all speak English of course, but we all speak it quite differently, and Cork, more than anywhere else in the country, has a language of its own. Getting to grips with the slang of the Rebel County is an experience in itself, just ask Noelle! ‘Gaff’ means house, ‘gatt’ means drink, ‘ol lade’ means mother and ‘like’ is at the start, middle and end of every sentence for no good reason. Even the streets have been renamed, Olly P for Oliver Plunkett, Pana for Patrick’s Street and the Mall for South Mall (there’s North Mall too but the Mall is for the South Mall only – confusing, no?). There are even Cork/English dictionaries out there to help people get to terms with the Cork lingo!
Stand in Awe of Holy Trinity Church
Located on Father Matthew’s Quay, Holy Trinity Church is a stunning building on the banks of the Lee. The church was designed by the Pain Brothers in 1834 in honour of one of Cork’s most prolific figures, Father Theobald Matthew. Known as the ‘Apostle of Temperance’, in the 1830’s and 1840’s, he went on a short crusade against alcohol resulting in more than 250,000 people taking ‘the pledge’ and whiskey production being halved! It’s a beautiful building both inside and out and shouldn’t be missed.
Relax at Bishop Lucey Park
Known by most as ‘The Peace Park’, Bishop Lucey Park is one of the few green areas in the city. It regularly hosts events, carnivals and festivals, the most famous being GLOW, an annual Christmas market that features food stalls, entertainment on Grand Parade and Santa’s Workshop inside Bishop Lucey Park. If you find yourself in Cork during the Christmas period, this is a must-see.
Meander Thorough the Grounds of University College Cork
You don’t need to be a student to enjoy the grounds of UCC. Just a 10minute walk from the centre of the city, the campus is home to historic buildings, landscaped gardens and a relaxed atmosphere. The quad is the focal point of the college grounds and is definitely worth checking out. However, be warned that superstition surrounds the quad. Crossing the quad before completing your exams guarantees failure – so if you’re a current student anywhere, you might want to stay on the path.
Located within the grounds of UCC, the Lewis Glucksman Gallery hosts both national and international contemporary art and installation across two paint-spattered floors. The building itself was short-listed for a Stirling Prize in 2005, due to its unique construction of steel, timber and limestone. Even if you’re not an art fan, the café is a great place to grab a coffee inside the college grounds.
Interact With the Friendly Locals
Cork is notoriously laid-back, friendly and welcoming and it’s the people of the city that give the city its reputation. Corkonians will tell you that Cork is the greatest place on earth, and they might be right! Strike up a conversation, interact with the people, ask about the city, tell them how much you prefer it to Dublin and you’ll get a smile back every time.
Find Out Why it’s Called the Shakey Bridge (Daly’s Bridge)
Originally named Daly’s Bridge after James Daly, who contributed to the cost of building, it’s now known by all simply, as the Shakey Bridge. Want to know why? Just go half way out and jump up and down. Spanning the Lee from Sunday’s Well to Fitzgerald’s Park this is Cork’s only suspension Bridge.
Picnic at Fitzgerald’s Park
Fitzgerald’s Park has long been a favourite with Cork locals. Recently redeveloped, the park is now home to the Cork Museum, Riverview Café, a huge play area for children and a selection of sculptures throughout. The park is an oasis of calm on the edge of the city and is popular with young and old. When the sun shines, bring a picnic, lie out by the river and enjoy the peace and tranquility.
Stroll Along the Banks of the Lee Walkway
This stunning walk from the ‘Distillery Fields’ at Wise’s Quay, takes you along the banks of the River Lee until the Mardyke Bridge. Crossing the bridge, you are treated to gorgeous views up and down the river, after which you can continue to the Mardyke parade or stop and watch the skaters do their thing at the Mardyke Skate Park.
Tour St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
Undoubtedly one of the major highlights of Cork City is the ever impressive St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral. Inside, highlights include marble mosaics from the Pyrenees and massive stain glass windows depicting scenes from both the new and old testaments. The cathedral houses a staggering 1,260 sculptures, an intricately carved pulpit and a 24lb cannonball from the Siege of Cork in 1960. On the roof outside is the gold resurrection angel, known locally as “Goldy Angel”. Rumour has it that the angel will blow it’s horn when the apocalypse is due to start, so if you see her tooting maybe head to the pub for one more Murphy’s.
Ring the Shandon Bells (Church of St. Anne)
St. Anne’s Church in Shandon is home to the iconic symbol of Cork, the Shandon Bells. Standing 36.5metres tall, the tower features four clocks, one on each side. Look carefully at the four clocks and you’ll notice that each of the times are different, earning it the nickname ‘The Four-Faced Liar’. Inside, the tower houses eight bells, the heaviest of which is a staggering 1.5 tons. Visitors to St Anne’s can ring the 18th-century bells themselves, take in amazing 360-degree views of the city and see the internal workings of the old clocks.
Discover Times Gone by at The Cork Butter Museum
In the Shandon Quarter, the square is dominated by the huge neoclassical façade of the Old Butter Market. Back in the 1860’s this was the largest butter market in the world exporting butter from Cork harbour across the globe. The Cork Butter Museum tells the story of the butter trade in Cork and the huge impact it had on the city.
Explore the City for Free on the Cork Walks
With Cork being such a compact city, getting around on foot is one of the best ways to explore all the city has to offer. Cork City Council has put together four great walks through the city; South Parish Walk, City Island, Shandon and the University Walk. These Cork Walks are self-guided, they are well marked and have information panels along each of the trails.
Celebrate At the Many Cork Festivals
When it comes to festivals, there’s no better place to be than in Cork. There’s almost always something going on in the city throughout the year. And when the festivals kick off, the atmosphere in the city is electric! Some of best and most well-known festivals are the Cork Midsummer Festival, the Cork Jazz Festival, the Cork Christmas Celebration and the Cork International Choral Festival, but there are plenty more throughout the year.
What are you waiting for?
Now, I don’t want to sound typically ‘Cork’, but Cork City is without a doubt one of the most up and coming city-break destinations in Europe. Taking in the sights of London? A five-day break in Madrid? A long weekend in Edinburgh? Sometimes you have to take a moment to appreciate where you are from, see the things that others see when they visit your home and realise that home can be just as special as anywhere else. With so much on offer and so many things to do in Cork City, I think you’ll agree Cork is up there with even the most iconic cities in Europe. Find yourself a hotel in Cork City centre, explore some of what the city has to offer and have the craic, in the real capital of Ireland.
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