Cork vs Galway

Cork vs Galway: Which Irish Destination Should You Visit? (2023)

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Trying to decide between Cork and Galway? This post has all of the information you’ll need!

Both Cork and Galway are wonderful places to visit, often offering a better sense of Irish culture than the capital of Dublin. Unlike the capital, these cities don’t have separate pubs and areas that are favored by locals, so you’re likely to run into, and have a chance to speak with, people who actually live in the city. 

I have visited Galway several times and currently live in Cork, so I wanted to share all of my thoughts to help you choose the best stop for your trip. I’ve shown plenty of visitors around Cork and taken some of them to Galway, so this post is a compilation of both my own preferences and the information I’ve gleaned from sharing these experiences with guests. 

A photo of Cork next to a photo of Galway, with the text Cork vs Galway

Cork vs Galway: Which City Is Better To Visit?

If you can only squeeze a daylong visit to Cork or Galway in your itinerary, I’d suggest that most travelers choose Galway. I like to think of Galway as the Nashville of Ireland; known for its fabulous nightlife, live music, and wonderful pubs. The city is approachable, easy to navigate, and offers tourists a great and approachable experience. 

Cork is a bigger city than Galway, and the city is known for its fabulous food, vibrant pubs, and proximity to other areas of interest. There are many wonderful things to do in Cork, but you’ll want to carefully plan your itinerary if you only have a few hours to explore. A stroll through the center of town can show a bit of the city’s flair, but to really get a sense of it you’ll want to dedicate some time to visiting the pubs, parks, and other areas with the most local flavor. 

Aerial view of Cork's cathedral and part of the city
Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork City, Ireland.

About Cork

Cork is Ireland’s food capital, home to the country’s best restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops. This city of approximately 125,000 people is full of prideful and creative street art, students at the nearby university, and locals who love their city with all of their hearts. Cork has an always-punching-up spirit that I find both infectious and endearing. 

The center of Cork is made up of two central streets, the Grand Parade and Oliver Plunkett Street, which is limited only to pedestrians. Visitors can stroll through the city center, visiting the English Market and stopping to admire the River Lee. Fitzgerald Park and the University College Cork campus are both worth a visit on the west end of the city, near most of the city’s B&Bs. 

A cathedral set across the river from the viewer
The Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Cork City.

About Galway

Ireland is known for its live music, and Galway is perhaps the best place in the country to catch some traditional music. There are performers playing in the streets to passersby, in pubs, and at concert halls throughout the city. In the summer, Galway hosts music festivals and large concerts that attract visitors from across the country. 

The central area of Galway is the Latin Quarter, and High Street is the most iconic street in the area. You’ll find great restaurants, pubs, shops, and coffee shops here, all catering to visitors and locals alike. My favorite coffee shop in Galway is Coffeewerk + Press, which has several floors of fabulous gifts and is worth a stop while in the city.  

Galway Woollen Market: Aran Islans Kitwear shop with sweaters in the window
Woolen Markets are great places to buy Irish wool sweaters. This shop is located in Galway.

Cork vs Galway: Places of Interest

Cork and Galway are both cities full of places worthy of a visit, full of great things to see and do. As Cork is a larger city, there are more sites to see and places of interest than could easily be captured here. Galway, by way of contrast, is smaller and a bit more compact, so visitors can stay near the center and easily explore most of the city in one day. 

Top places to visit in Cork

A word of caution when visiting Cork: a stroll through the downtown/city center isn’t necessarily the best way to get a sense of the city. Visit the English Market, but also make time to duck your head into a few pubs and see some of the sights just outside of the central area. 

Walk to Fitzgerald Park and see the funerary stones of UCC. Stop at the Marina Market on your way to Blackrock Castle. Poke your head into the Franciscan Well or grab a beer at the Friary. Between the two cities, Cork is more suitable to slow travel, so you’ll have a better experience if you carefully plan your itinerary, take your time, and ask for recommendations from helpful locals. 

✅ English Market

✅ Fitzgerald Park and the University College Cork campus

✅ Blackrock Castle

You can visit these sites and other Cork highlights by taking a walking tour of the city.

A fountain in the center of a grassy park
Fitzgerald Park is one of the top places to visit in Cork City, Ireland.

Top places to visit in Galway

Luckily for visitors to Galway, most of the city’s popular attractions are just a short walk apart. You’ll know that you’re in the right place because you’ll see Irish flags draped over the streets and plenty of shops aimed at tourists. If you decide to drive into Galway, you can often find paid street parking near the small marina, near Wa Sushi. 

If you want to see all three of the top places in Galway, I would suggest that you start in Eyre Square, walk along High Street through the Latin Quarter, and end your walk by crossing the Wolfe Tone Bridge. You could do this walk is 30-40 minutes, but for the best experience I’d suggest that you take your time and explore the little shops and pubs along the way. 

✅ Latin Quarter

✅ Eyre Square

✅ Wolfe Tone Bridge

A few people walk along the bright and colorful street in Galway
A view from High Street in the Latin Quarter in Galway.

Cork vs Galway: Food Scenes

As Cork is the food capital of Ireland, it easily outshines the dining options in Galway. Some of the city’s best restaurants are categorized as “Modern European” and offer fresh interpretations of European cuisine. You’ll also find great Italian, Chinese, and American food options in the city. Although some options are definitely catered to younger crowds, most of the restaurants will have more of an “adult date night” vibe. 

There’s great food to be found in Galway, too. Although the university feel isn’t as strong, you’ll find lots of young people flocking to Galway, and there are restaurants with tasty and budget-friendly options to accommodate them. In general, expect restaurants to cater to younger crowds that are out for a night on the town. 

Toasts with varied spreads, topped with dressed lettuce
The vegan trio of toasts from the Good Day Deli in Cork City.

Cork’s Food Scene

Cork has some of the best restaurants and food options in all of Ireland, fitting with its title as the foodie capital. If you’d like to try fabulous food in Ireland that defies the country’s reputation for lackluster cuisine, make your way to the Good Day Deli, Pompeii Pizza, or L’Atitude 51 Wine Cafe. For a sampling of some of Cork’s highlights all in one place, consider instead visiting the Marina Market, where you’ll find vendors from around the city all in one place. 

One of the best whiskey bars in Ireland is located in Cork, the Shelbourne Bar. They have Irish whiskeys from around the country and pride themselves on the depth of their whiskey knowledge. If you’re going to try an Irish coffee or a simple pour of whiskey while in Cork, be sure to visit the Shelbourne Bar. 

When I’m feeling homesick, I like to visit Tequila Jack’s – I often affectionately refer to it as Irish Chili’s. (Mexican food is one of the things I’ve missed most since moving abroad.)

Hummus and baba ganouj from Izz Cafe in Cork City
Hummus and freshly baked pita from Izz Cafe in Cork City, Ireland.

Galway’s Food Scene

This might be controversial, but I think the food scene in Galway is easily comparable with that of Dublin – it might even be better. There are plenty of great restaurants to choose from, even at the lower price points. Wa Sushi, Xi’an Street Food, and Prátí are all great spots for quick meals or snacks. Many of the pubs in Galway also offer food, so you can try an authentic fish and chips, Irish stew, or other classic pub dish. 

Eggs topped with crunchy peanuts, a side of toast, and avocado
Vegetarian brunch from Urban Grind in Galway.

Cork vs Galway: Costs

There won’t be huge differences in costs between Cork and Galway, as these cities are less than three hours apart by car. You may find some variations in costs between the two cities, but they’re both generally cheaper than Dublin. Transportation and food costs are particularly similar, so you’ll see the biggest differences when it comes time to choose an accommodation. 

Transportation Costs

Cork and Galway are both walkable cities, so there’s no need for a car while you’re in the center. Public transit is affordable in both places, usually less than 3€ for local journeys. If you drive or have a rental car, you’ll find that parking is somewhat challenging in both cities (not many spots, you’ll have to move your car when street parking, etc.) but the fees aren’t exorbitant. 

A harbor in Cobh, Ireland near Cork. There are boats anchored offshore.
Cobh, Ireland is accessible by public transit from Cork City.


The accommodations in Cork will generally be slightly higher quality and less expensive than those in Galway. There are wonderful places to stay in Galway, but the budget accommodations in the city center tend to be a bit beaten down and grungy. The places I’ve stayed in Cork, by contrast, have been better maintained and were generally cleaner. 

I’m including some details from the best places I’ve stayed in both Cork and Galway. I was traveling with family for both visits, so these were my top budget picks for groups of four in both cities. 

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    My favorite Cork accommodation: Gabriel House Guesthouse

    This was a perfectly lovely stay in the Victorian Quarter, a short walk from the center of Cork. The rooms were comfortable, there was onsite parking, and the staff were generally very friendly and helpful. I particularly loved the breakfast and the back patio, which overlooked the city. 

    Although there are photos of the patio and back area on Booking, I think they’re underplayed in the listing. The patio and back garden were rather large and very well maintained, and there were ducks, pigs, and chickens that lived on the property. I was disappointed that I didn’t notice the patio earlier on in my stay, as I’d choose this guesthouse again for that amenity alone. 

    A view of the River Lee over the hedges at sunset in Cork City.
    A view of the River Lee at sunset from the back patio at the Gabriel House Guesthouse in Cork.

    My favorite Galway accommodation: The Western Citypoint Apartments

    The rooms at the Citypoint Apartments were definitely larger than the guesthouse in Cork, but they were obviously popular with the hen/stag party crowd (bachelor/bachelorette party). The stellar, highly central location did mostly make up for the dingier interior and worn furniture in this rental. There was also a fabulous view of the city from our room, along with a patio (but no patio furniture). 

    This rental also offered onsite parking in the garage underneath the hotel, very convenient for the center of the city. 

    Freshly made bed at a hotel in Galway
    A room in a two bedroom hotel that I stayed in while in Galway City, Ireland.


    Geographically, Cork and Galway are only a few hours apart, so there isn’t much difference in terms of food costs. You’ll find relatively similar prices for drinks, entrees, and coffee in both cities. I would budget 25-50€ per person per day for food in either city, unless you plan to cook your own meals or you’re especially thrifty. Diners who prefer more upscale restaurants may find themselves spending upwards of 75€ per person per day. 

    Cork vs Galway: Cultural Activities

    Both Cork and Galway are fabulous destinations for cultural activities. By cultural activities, I mean things that you can do to get a sense of local life, history, and the social fabric of the city. In Ireland, this often involves pubs, music, performance, and museums that showcase local history. 

    You’ll find lively pubs, trad music, and friendly locals in both cities – all of which will give you a sense of Irish culture. If you decide to visit either city, here are the cultural activities to be sure you add to your itinerary to make the most of your trip. 

    Best Cultural Activities in Cork

    It’s no coincidence that I included two pubs on the list of the best cultural activities in Cork. To really get a sense of Cork’s rebellious spirit and lively attitude, you’ll want to step off of the street and into the places where the locals hang out. I’ve included several of the most famous pubs in the city in this post, but truthfully most any pub will offer a sense of the local flavor. 

    ✅ Sin é pub for trad music

    ✅ The Shelbourne Bar for Irish whiskey

    ✅  The Cork Public Museum for local history

    Irish military and historical artifacts in a museum display
    The Cork Public Museum is one of the top free attractions in Cork City.

    Best Cultural Activities in Galway

    Compared to Cork, Galway is a much more accessible city. The central attractions are all relatively closeby, and you’ll immediately get a sense for the city’s flair by walking down High Street in the Latin Quarter. There are flags of the world draped overhead, with statues commemorating Irish history throughout the center, and buskers playing throughout the day and into the night. 

    ✅  Watch street performers in the Latin Quarter

    ✅ The Dáil Bar Galway

    ✅ Galway City Museum

    Street art reading "Welcome to the Latin Quarter Galway"
    A mural dedicated to the Latin Quarter of Galway.

    Cork vs Galway: Day Trips

    Although both cities offer wonderful day trips, I think that Cork has the edge in this department. I’ve included just a few of the wonderful day trips that you can take from Cork, but there are many others that I could have included. Blarney, Kinsale, and Mizen Head are all only a short drive from the center of Cork, and you can even reach Blarney and Kinsale without a car. 

    If you’re choosing Galway or Cork as your home base for a longer trip, I would suggest that you seriously consider Cork. This southern city is located near several major points of interest, including those below, and is a reasonable drive from many of the other highlights in the region, like Waterford or Limerick

    A seaside view of the Cliffs of Moher
    The Cliffs of Moher along the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.

    Top Day Trips from Cork

    Cork’s location is ideal for exploring the nearby areas of Blarney, Kinsale, and West Cork – all fabulous destinations in their own right. You’ll find a mix of attractions here, from the ruins and history of Blarney Castle to the quirkiness of Kinsale to the eerie vibes of Mizen Head. 

    Other great day trip options include County Waterford, Gougane Barra National Forest Park, and Garretstown Beach. 

    ✅ Blarney Castle 

    ✅ Kinsale

    ✅ Mizen Head

    Colorful shop fronts in Kinsale, an Irish seaside town
    A quiet street view in Kinsale, one of the top day trip destinations from Cork, Ireland.

    Top Day Trips from Galway 

    Galway is located in the west of Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way, so the day trips are pretty fabulous. The obvious destination that can’t be missed is the Cliffs of Moher, a stretch of the Irish coastline that has inspired trips to Ireland for generations. It’s worth noting that you can car camp or choose a B&B in the town of Doolin if you’d like to spend more time near the cliffs. 

    Cong and Ashford Castle are lesser known spots in Ireland, but they’re worth a visit if you’re able to stay in the castle or book a tea ahead of time. I first visited Cong and Ashford Castle with Ayuko Moriya, a good friend and world traveler

    There’s not a tremendous amount to see in Limerick, but there are two fabulous cafes/restaurants – the Republic of Grill and Rift Coffee. Near the city is a greenway, where you can rent bikes and cycle along an area that was once a railroad track. Any of these activities will be far less touristy than Galway or the Cliffs of Moher, so they’re great options if you want to get off of the beaten path. 

    ✅ Cliffs of Moher

    ✅ Cong and Ashford Castle

    ✅ Limerick City

    A hawk sculpture in front of Ashford Castle on a rainy day
    Ashford Castle on a rainy day, one of the top places to visit on a day trip from Galway.

    Cork vs Galway: FAQs 

    Here are the answers to several frequently asked questions about visiting Cork or Galway. Whenever possible, I’ve tried to provide a definitive answer to the questions. There are instances, however, where the answer is simply a matter of opinion!

    Is Galway cheaper than Cork?

    No, Galway is not significantly cheaper than Cork. Both cities are comparably priced overall, though the quality of accommodations are generally higher in Cork. I would suggest that you choose your destination based on the activities you’d like to try and the places you’d like to see while visiting each city.

    Mural that says "Free Trad Music Nightly"
    A mural in Galway outside of a pub offering free traditional music nightly.

    Which has better live music? 

    Although Cork has some great live music venues and artists, Galway is definitely the spot to catch some live music. You’ll find live music throughout the Latin Quarter in Galway, from performers on the street to pubs to live music venues. 

    The most reliable place to catch live music in Cork is Sin é, a very small local pub that typically fills up on weekend evenings. Music lovers will want to grab some food and head to Sin é as early in the evening as possible to grab a seat. If the band hasn’t shown up yet, you can ask the bartender where to sit to best enjoy the music. 

    A group plays live music tucked into the front space of a pub
    Live trad music at Taaffes Pub in Galway.

    Which is better for families?

    Given its size and the variety of activities available, Cork is slightly better for families to visit. The Latin Quarter in Galway can get quite busy and loud with partiers, perhaps overwhelming kids and parents on a weekend night in the city. 

    Cork has plenty of quieter areas and restaurants for families to choose from. You can stroll through Fitzgerald Park, the UCC campus, and the Cork Public Museum, all of which are stroller and kid friendly. On a longer visit, families could rent city bikes and cycle out to Blackrock Castle, the final stretch of which is a wonderfully open bike path. 

    Both Cork and Galway would be great destinations for multigenerational travel

    Flags of the world draped over the streets of Galway
    A quiet morning in Galway City, Ireland.

    Which is better for nightlife?

    Although there are more options in Cork, I would argue that Galway has better nightlife because it’s more known as a party scene. You’ll see plenty of people out for a night on the town most anytime you visit Galway. In Ireland, it’s popular to host your hen/stag party (bachelorette/bachelor party) in Galway, so there are usually large groups of friends in their 20s and 30s making their way through the pubs. 

    Cork, for its part, has plenty of pubs and activities, mostly concentrated around the weekend. On a given Saturday night, you might see couples enjoying a romantic dinner, families out for an ice cream, and friends gathering in line for a Taylor Swift club night

    Jameson whiskey bottles and tasting glasses in a pub
    A flight of three Jameson whiskeys at the Shelbourne Bar in Cork.

    Which city has better pubs?

    This is purely a matter of opinion, but I’d argue that Cork has slightly better pubs. You’ll find more of a local flare in spots like the Friary, the Oval, and O’Sho. For Irish whiskey, you won’t find a better spot than the Shelbourne Bar. For local music, head to Sin é. You can visit the heavy hitters in Cork like the Crane Lane, or ask your barista for their favorite local spot. 

    For their part, the pubs in Galway are also charming and full of character. Of the Galway pubs, my favorite historical pub is the King’s Head, while the Dáil Bar Galway is the perfect spot to meet both locals and tourists. 

    You’ll find the pubs packed in both cities on a Friday or Saturday night. Most pubs don’t take reservations, so you may see lines to enter some of the more popular spots. 

    The Kings Head pub, which has been open since 1649
    The Kings Head Pub in Galway City, one of the oldest pubs in Ireland.

    Which city is more touristy?

    Between these two Irish cities, Galway is slightly more touristy. Although there are plenty of visitors to Cork, they’re also drawn to visiting the nearby center of Cobh and Blarney Castle. European cruises stopping in Ireland often do so in Cobh, so you’ll often see visitors make their way into Cork for a day before reporting back to their ship for the evening. 

    The central area of Galway is very tourist-friendly, featuring a pedestrian street lined with tourist-friendly pubs, gift shops, and cafes. There are more activities geared towards tourists, and you’ll find plenty of hotels to choose from, despite the relatively small size of the city. The statues, murals, and abundance of tourist information make Galway easier to navigate, all of which are geared towards helping tourists make the most of their visit. 

    A statue of the infamous Galway Girl seated on a bench in front of a pub in Galway
    A statue dedicated to “Galway Girl” the unofficial anthem of Galway City.

    Which city has better weather?

    As someone who has spent time in both of these cities, sometimes on the same day, I can say definitively that Cork has better weather overall. The temperatures are typically slightly warmer and there is less wind in Cork City than you’ll find in Galway. It might be surprising to hear that there is a difference in the weather, but Galway’s location facing the Atlantic seems to expose it to slightly more extreme weather than its southern neighbor. 

    Dress warmly when visiting either city, and be sure to pack plenty of layers to stay comfortable if the temperatures shift. 

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    A student crosses a bridge on the UCC campus
    Many students move to Cork to attend the University College Cork.


    Cork and Galway are both great destinations and worthy of a spot in any Irish itinerary. Visitors who are traveling along the Atlantic Way and skipping Dublin, along with Ireland’s Ancient East, entirely will probably have time to include both cities. However, if you must choose, I would say that most visitors will find Galway to be a bit more accessible. 

    The live music, abundance of pubs, and compact layout of Galway make it perfect for a shorter trip. Although you can easily spend 2-4 days wandering around Cork on foot and exploring the various areas of the city, you really don’t need more than two days in Galway. After a day or two in Galway, you’re likely to feel as though you’ve seen most of what the city has to offer.

    A spray painted box that reads "Ireland is like a bottle: It would since without a Cork"
    Street art in Cork, Ireland.

    Overall, my advice is this: if you have only a day to spend in one city, I would lean towards suggesting you visit Galway because it is more accessible. If you have several days and are looking for a city base from which to explore the area, Cork is probably a better bet. However, as someone who lives in and loves Cork, I would personally choose Cork every time because I love the city’s great food, liveliness, and warmer weather.