I moved to Cork in November 2021, and, now that I’ve had some time to settle in, I wanted to share my list of the top things to do when you visit the city.
About Cork, Ireland
Cork is Ireland’s second largest city after Dublin, and its history goes back to the sixth century. Sometimes referred to as “The Rebel County,” Cork has a long history of challenging claims of authority.
You can take a walking tour of Cork after you arrive if you’d like to learn a little more about Cork’s history. You also watch some interesting documentary shorts about the city here (watching a documentary about your destination is tip #4 on this list).
Things to do in Cork: See the sights
The English Market is probably the biggest single attraction in Cork. It’s a large covered market, full of stalls selling mostly food and Irish gifts.
My two favorite stalls are The Real Olive Co and The Sandwich Stall, both located inside the main portion of the market. At The Real Olive Co, I love the garlic and thyme green olives (the ones with pits) and the bagged almonds. From The Sandwich Stall, I love the toasties–grilled cheese sandwiches.
If the weather is nice, grab some olives, almonds, a sandwich, and some Lemony Lemonade and head to Fitzgerald Park or Audley Place for a picnic.
On Saint Patrick’s Day 2022, I visited the Shandon Bells Tower and Saint Anne’s Church for the first time. The entry fee is €5, and you can climb to the top of the tower for a view of the whole city. Along the way, you can stop to play the bells–there are songs and instructions mounted on the wall.
My favorite part of Saint Anne’s Church is the giant metal salmon mounted to the top like a weathervane. Apparently no one knows where it was constructed, but the fish’s symbolism is rooted in ancient Christianity, Irish history, and Cork City history. The church was built between 1722 and 1726, and you can hear people playing the bells from across the city throughout the day.
Another fun fact: there are four clock faces on the tower, but they don’t always agree on the time because the wind has a tendency to blow the minute hands around a bit. Locals call it “The Four-Faced Liar” or “The Four Liars,” depending on who you ask. If you’re hungry, the Four Liars Bistro is an excellent Syrian restaurant nearby.
Take a stroll through University College Cork. The beautiful campus is located very close to Fitzgerald Park, and the highlight is the Stone Corridor in the North Wing of the UCC quad. The Stone Corridor contains Ogham Stones, a collection of ancient gravestones from the period 300-600 AD. There’s also a bathroom to your left just past the stones, in case you’ve been wandering the city for a while and haven’t found any public restrooms.
4. Walk up to Audley Place
Located behind the Victorian Quarter, Audley Place is considered to have the best view of Cork City. There’s a stone wall and a small park, but otherwise the area is fairly residential. Be warned that you’ll have to climb a rather steep hill to get there, but the view is lovely!
Blackrock Castle is a small castle with a cafe towards the east end of town. If you won’t be going to Blarney Castle and/or you’re looking for a long walk along the river, you’ll probably enjoy a trip to Blackrock Castle. Once you get there, you can continue on to the east along the river, as there’s a nice walking and biking trail. On Sundays, there’s a farmer’s market full of local vendors.
St Fin Barre’s Cathedral is one of the most iconic features of the Cork City skyline. The cathedral was built in 1870, though the site has been dedicated to Christian worship since the seventh century. If you’re visiting the Quay Co-op or otherwise on the south side of town, it’s nice to include a small detour to wander by the cathedral. If you’d like, you can enter to take a look around for €6.
7. Walk through the Victorian Quarter
The Victorian Quarter is an area outside the city center in Cork, located just north of the River Lee. There are traditional pubs, restaurants, bars, and hotels along the Victorian Quarter, all of which have a slightly different flair than those you’ll find on the island that makes up the City Center. It’s a short walk from the English Market, and I’d recommend taking a stroll through the Mother Jones Flea Market to see some Irish antiques. Boru and Five Points are both located on the eastern end of the Victorian Quarter.
Things to do in Cork: Eat Well
8. Brunch at the Good Day Deli
You may remember that I included the Good Day Deli on my list of the best coffee shops in Cork. GDD isn’t really a deli, it’s more like a nimble cafe with impeccable food. The menu is small, but they’re able to accommodate most dietary restrictions. The menu is seasonal, but when it’s available I love to order the Smoked Beetroot Benny, an eggs benedict with smoked beet slices and sauteed kale on fresh sourdough bread. If the weather is warm enough, grab a heated table in their gorgeous garden. Otherwise, you can enjoy your breakfast from inside their glass sitting room, with greenery on either side.
I recently met a woman in Limerick who, upon hearing that I was living in Cork, emphatically asked me if I’d been to the Good Day Deli. When I told her that I had, she smiled and said that she’d literally dreamt of going. So, it’s a place with some local fame!
While you’re at brunch, you may as well spend a little time wandering around the Nano Nagle Place, the larger convent that houses the GDD.
9. Have a coffee at Boru
Also featured on my list of the best coffee shops in Cork, Boru is the spot for amazing coffee! The cafe is quite small, so it’s best to grab a coffee to go or to plan to sit outside on their patio. If you’re visiting Cork towards the end of your trip and feeling homesick, you can make a second stop at Five Points–a NYC style deli–for some bagels. They’re located just across the street from Boru.
Boru is my favorite spot in the city to buy coffee beans–they carry Red Strand, a roaster in Clonakilty, Ireland.
10. Have a coffee at Cork Coffee Roasters
Cork Coffee Roasters is located in the center of the city, and their cute cafe has a rustic feel. The space is too small to have your coffee inside, so it’s better to go when it’s warm enough to sit on the small terrace. Cork Coffee Roasters reminds me of the coffee shops I visited while in Seattle, Washington, but with a European flair.
Related Post: The 6 Best Coffee Shops in Denver
11. Breakfast at JD Wetherspoon
JD Wetherspoon’s is a chain of pubs with affordable breakfasts and cheap drinks. If you’re looking for a traditional Irish breakfast, Wetherspoon’s offers vegetarian, vegan, and meat options with unlimited coffee refills (a rarity in Ireland!) for under 10€. Most places in town charge more than 15€ for an Irish breakfast, so it’s a great deal if you’re on a budget.
12. Get a savory crepe from Laodao Jianbing
Jianbing is an Asian street food restaurant close to the English Market. They have a large menu, but by far their most interesting dish is the Jianbing, a North Chinese style crepe with various fillings. The Basic is delicious and unique, and I almost always pair it with a side of spicy chili sauce and a milk tea.
13. Have a Palestinian coffee at Izz Cafe
Izz Cafe is a Cork staple. This proudly Palestinian restaurant serves up incredible Mediterranean food, but my favorite item on the menu is their Palestinian Coffee. The traditional spiced coffee is served boiling hot in a handcrafted copper pot with a walnut-stuffed date. While you’re there, you might also want to grab some hummus or a Manaeesh, a large flatbread that tastes like a mix between pizza dough and pita bread, with toppings like falafel or labneh and zaatar.
Do As the Locals Do
14. Wander through a grocery store
I love to spend a little time wandering through grocery stores when I travel. Did you know that it’s common for Irish grocery stores to sell balls of fresh mozzarella in plastic bags for less than a euro? Have you ever tried a Jaffa Cake? A stroll through the grocery store can tell you a lot about the place while giving you a chance to try some local snacks.
15. Walk to the Marina Market
The Marina Market is part of a revitalization project for an area along the river to the east of the city center. It’s sort of like a large food court, but it also features a skating rink, dog park, barber shop, and lash bar. Locals love the Marina Market, and most weekends you’ll find it packed with Corkonians and their families.
16. Have a coffee at Cafe Myo and sit along the water
On a warm day, you’ll often see a small smattering of locals sitting at the tables along the River Lee outside of Cafe Myo. While Cafe Myo may not have the tastiest coffee in the city, it’s ambiance can’t be beat. You’ll often see people writing, drawing, reading, or just catching up with friends at the six or so tables along the sidewalk.
17. Visit the Farmer’s Market in Coal Quay
If you happen to be in Cork on a Saturday morning, swing by the farmer’s market on Coal Quay. The vendors are a mix of local farmers and artisans, many of whom are very friendly! You can find the market directly across from TK Maxx. The market runs from 8:30am to about 12:30pm on Saturday mornings.
18. River Club for drinks along the water
If you’re interested in grabbing some drinks in a cute and hip bar along the water, check out the River Club. The best part is the view, though the setting is delightfully peaceful and modern. My favorite touch is that they have live succulents on each table!
19. Have a beer at Bierhaus
With a wide variety of Irish craft beers from across the island, Bierhaus is a popular bar in Cork. If it’s a nice day, grab a beer and drink it sitting on the sidewalk with all the cool kids. They’re also dog friendly!
20. Stroll through Fitzgerald Park
After a stroll through UCC, head down to Fitzgerald Park. This park is a Cork gem, and it has a small skate park, sculptures, a beautiful pond, and a pavilion. This city park also has a small cafe, so you can grab a cup of tea or a coffee while you’re there. During the summer, you join for Yoga in the Park on Saturday mornings, weather permitting.
Things to do in Cork: Visit a Pub
21. Get pizza and beer at the Franciscan Well
Easily one of my favorite spots in Cork, the Franciscan Well is a great option for pizza and pints in their large, covered outdoor area. The Franciscan Well is a brewery, so you’ll find their beer along with some guest brews on tap. My favorite beer here is the Chieftan IPA, though they also have Hollows and Fentimans ginger beer, in case you’re gluten free or just don’t like beer.
In the back garden, you’ll find Pompeii Pizza–the best pizzas in the city, if you ask me. They’re wood-fired, Neapolitan style pizzas, and the prices are pretty reasonable at 10-13€ each.
22. Go to Sin e Pub
Pronounced “Shin-A,” Sin e was founded in 1889 and it’s a Cork institution. This tiny, traditional pub is another music hub in the city with a long history of hosting traditional Irish music. In fact, Sin e was voted the #2 place in the world to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day.
You can read more about the history of Sin e here. The pub doesn’t offer food, but you’re welcome to bring snacks in with you if you’re hungry (no hot food).
23. Crane Lane Pub
Crane Lane is a local favorite, and it’s worth a stop by just to poke your head in. The decor is modeled after the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, and you get the immediate sense that this place is steeped in local history. Crane Lane is a great spot to catch live music–you can see a list of musicians who have performed at the venue here. While they’re more known for their drinks and live music, Crane Lane does also have a decent food menu.
On a nice day, you can sit in their covered outdoor area and listen to music at a volume that won’t drown out your conversations.
24. Go to Maureen’s Pub
Maureen’s pub is located in the Shandon area and run by a Canadian woman, Maureen, and her husband. They have an intimate and cozy space, perfect for grabbing a quiet drink. The space is covered in little sweet touches, like the copper pipes fitted with removable cloth partitions designed to offer patrons a small bit of privacy in the otherwise tight sitting area.
The sign outside the door claims that Maureen’s is a distillery, but they didn’t have a cocktail menu when I asked. I’d stick to wine or beer if you swing by, as that seems to be their specialty.
25. Go to O’Sho Pub
O’Sho is a lovely pub on the south end of town. The interior is cozy, with pillows stacked around the tables for enjoying a comfy pint with friends. Interestingly, they carry a large of organic herbal teas, in addition to pints and specialty cocktails. If you don’t drink alcohol, O’Sho’s is a great option so long as you don’t mind people drinking around you.
The pub doesn’t serve food, but they’re fortuitously located near Miyazaki, a tasty local Asian restaurant. O’Sho allows patrons to bring in takeout from Miyazaki to eat in the pub, so long as you observe the two drink minimum.
A few posts you might be interested in if you’re planning to visit the Rebel City:
- While Cork is generally a safe place to live and visit, you’ll want to be sure that you follow my personal safety rules.
- Be sure to pack lots of layers for your trip to Cork, as the weather can vary a bit and even summer days can be chilly if it’s windy!
- If you’re planning a trip to Europe, check out my guide to finding budget accommodations.
- If you’re taking a remote work trip, to Cork, you can read my guide for planning a European workation.
- There are no hot springs in Ireland, but you can instead visit a sauna by the sea.
Final Thoughts: Things To Do in Cork
Whatever you decide to do with your time in Cork, be sure to spend some time just soaking it in. Cork is full of interesting street art, fascinating people from all over the world, and a rich history of rebellion. I love living here because there’s an omnipresent “punching up” energy everywhere you look–you’ll often hear complaints about the British Empire, landlords, and imperialism more broadly.
Have you been to Cork City? What were the highlights of your trip? Do you have any advice for other travelers visiting Cork?