Being the largest county and second biggest city, Cork as you would expect by its size would have a lot to offer. When you throw in the second largest natural harbour in world, 1400Km’s of coastline, 9 mountain ranges, 3 peninsulas and 29 islands, you only start to get a sense that it will take you more than a long weekend to discover what Cork has to offer. To help you, we have compiled a list of 53 things that don’t make Cork good, they make it great!
Gardens & Park
1. Doneraile Wildlife Park: This 17th century house and gardens built in the “Capability Brown” style is comprised of approximately 166 hectares with a landscape of mature groves with many pathways along which you will a number of deer herds and other native animals. This is highly recommended for all ages.
2. Fitzgerald Park: This is a very pretty public park located just a 15 minute stroll from Cork City Centre. Situated on the picturesque banks of the River Lee, it spans approximately eighteen acres of manicured gardens and has the best public playground in the city. It is also home to Cork Public Museum.
3. Fota Wildlife Park: Home to animals and birds from all five continents and hundreds of native plants, trees and species found in Ireland – this is no ordinary park! Animals thrive in a free-range environment, which allows them to roam free (where possible), while mixing with other species and with visitors too!
4. The Sky Garden: Liss Art Resort is situated in Skibbereen in West Cork. This is possibly our favourite garden in the whole of Ireland because of the “Crater”. This is a large mound with a hollow centre, that you access through a tunnel in the walls of the mound. When you enter the Crater you lie on a stone plinth to admire the skies framed by the green mound. Incredible experience.
5. Gougane Barra: One of Ireland’s best kept secrets. The River Lee rises here in the valley in a dark glacial lake. Surrounded by mountains and heath land, this is a hill walkers paradise. On a promontory jutting in to the lake is the Oratory of St Finbarr – Cork’s Patron Saint.
6. Millstreet Country Park: The South of Ireland’s leading Cultural, Educational and Eco-Tourism destination. Here, people can browse through themed gardens, hike in the hills, visit archaeological sites, hire bikes and explore world class features such as the “Mont des Arts”.
7. The Ewe Gardens: Located in Glengarriff in West Cork, this is Ireland’s most unique sculpture garden and gallery. Take a voyage of discovery in this wonderful hillside garden that expertly blends art, nature and imagination in three interlinked gardens. Make sure you stay for coffee & cake afterwards though.
8. Lough Hyne: The largest inland salt water lake in Europe. It contains rare sea life and is Ireland’s only Marine Wildlife Reserve. Here you can practice activities such as hill walking, kayaking or simply enjoy the scenery by observing the ruins of Coghan Castle or Saint Bridget’s Church. A night time kayak here amongst the lakes bio-luminescent sea life is an absolute MUST DO for anyone.
9. Garinish Island: Located in Bantry Bay in West Cork, Garinish Island is a dream land waiting to be discovered. Built over 100 years ago by the famous gardener Harold Peto, he transformed the bare rock into something truly remarkable. Italian Garden, Grecian Temple, Martello Tower (this is an original historical tower), mystical walks and much more.
10. St Mary’s Collegiate Church & Gardens: For history buffs, this garden is a treat. Located in the town of Youghal (pronounced Yawl), it first appeared on maps in 1590. Located beneath the towns medieval walls which are almost a thousand years old and next to St Mary’s, which was originally founded in the year 450. A day of discovery in Youghal is well worth doing.
History & Culture
11. Queenstown Story: An exhibition within Cobh Heritage Centre which tells the stories about Irish emigration, The Great Famine, and the strong connection between Cobh and some of the world’s most famous ships. The Sirius – first steamship to cross the Atlantic, The Lusitania and of course The Titanic.
12. Titanic Museum: The Titanic Experience Cobh is a visitor centre situated in the centre of Cobh town. Here visitors can learn through interactive displays and audio visual tours what happened to the 123 passengers who boarded the Titanic in Cobh and the rest of story about the famous White Star Line liner.
13. Spike Island: Situated in the heart of Cork Harbour, “Spike” as it is locally known has had a long and colourful 1,400 years of history. It has been a monastery, prison, barracks and much more. This is rapidly becoming one of the regions must see attractions. Explore the famous barracks, stroll the island for the dramatic views or take on the Assault Course with Spike Island Adventure.
14. Jameson Distillery: Home of the world famous Jameson Whiskey, it is a fascinating tour situated in Midleton just 20 minutes from Cork City. On the tour you can see how inventors of this famous Irish drink went through the process of crafting the glorious whiskey.
15. Blarney Castle: Situated 8 km from Cork City, Blarney Castle is without doubt Ireland’s most famous castle and those who kiss the famous Blarney Stone will be bestowed with the gift of eloquence. Dating from the 15th Century, the castle sits amongst 60 acres of gardens which are filled with legends of witches, druids and more.
16. Cork Gaol: Cork City Gaol is a castle-like building, built in 1824 where visitors get a fascinating insight into day-to-day prison life in 19th century Ireland. At the same location situated in the former Governor’s House is the Radio Museum Experience, incorporating a restored broadcasting studio and audio visual displays.
17. Fort Camden: Internationally recognised as one of the finest remaining Coastal Artillery forts in the world. Here you can explore its labyrinth of tunnels and chambers as well as watch Cork Harbour from a privileged place.
18. Charles Fort: A classic example of a late 17th century star-shaped fort. As one of the largest military installations in the country, Charles Fort has been associated with some of the most momentous events in Irish history. The castle is located in Kinsale, just 30 minutes from Cork City.
19. Medieval Walls of Youghal: Designated as an Irish Heritage Town, Youghal is situated where the River Blackwater meets the sea, it is one of the few towns in Ireland where the medieval town walls still survive, in this case from the 13th century.
20. Crawford Art Gallery: Located in the heart of the city, the Gallery’s permanent collection comprises over 2000 works, ranging from 18th century Irish and European paintings and sculptures, through to contemporary video installations. Admission is free and it welcomes over 200,000 visitors a year.
21. Elizabeth Fort: Situated on the south side of the city, it was originally built in 1601 during the reign of Elizabeth I and over the years has been used for so many different purposes. The fort is partially open to public, but is well worth a visit for the views over the city.
22. The Butter Museum: Various exhibits detailing the history of butter in the region and its importance to Cork over the centuries will help you discover why Cork was the biggest butter market in the world in the 18th century.
23. Shandon: The Shandon Bells are Cork’s most iconic landmark. You can climb to the top of the steeple for an unparalleled view of the city and even ring the bells to let everyone you know you have arrived.
24. St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral: The neo-gothic architecture has created one of the most striking buildings in the region. Built in the location where St Finn Barre (Cork’s Patron Saint) founded his original monastery and thereby creating the first settlement in what is now Cork.
25. Barryscourt Castle: Just 10 minutes from the City Centre is to be found the 16th century seat of the Barry family. The castle is built over three levels housing exhibitions about the Middle Ages in Ireland, and where visitors can see what life was like for the family, as well as see the newly developed replica of the garden.
26. Drombeg Stone Circle: Located on the edge of a rocky terrace overlooking the sea near Clonakilty in West Cork. The circle consists of 17 standing stones which has been used as a burial ground from 153 BC and 127 AD.
27. Bantry House: The dramatic house and gardens is the ancestral home of the Earls of Bantry and is situated overlooking the exceptionally picturesque Bantry Bay in West Cork. The house and garden are open to the public and you also have the option to stay in the house.
28. Cork Public Museum: The museum’s most expansive exhibit is the archaeological collection, which features some of the most important archaeological finds from this region highlighting the importance of Cork as a thriving medieval town.
Activities in Cork
29. Foot Golf: Game that blends football and golf and combines them into a one great activity. Very simply, you play by kicking a football into specially designed holes trying to take the least amount of shots possible – similar to golf.
30. Karting: Cork has a number of karting tracks. Two of the most popular include, Kartmania a large indoor track just 15 minutes from the City Centre. Recently added to the local scene is the new National Kart Centre which is another indoor option split over three levels and located close to the city centre.
31. Paintball: Paintball Cork is an excellent indoor centre near the city centre for paintballing enthusiasts and novices alike. It features a 20,000 square feet urban warfare environment and comes with a number of different packages available for groups.
32. Kayaking: With 1400KM’s of coastline and dozens of navigable rivers & lakes there is no shortage of world class kayaking opportunities. Popular options include kayaking in Cork City Centre, Cork Harbour, Lough Hyne and Roaring Water Bay.
33. Prince August Toy Soldier Factory: A visit to Europe’s only toy soldier factory near Macroom West Cork is a must! The Toy Soldier Factory provides great fun for all the family – you can even make your own models whether a Roman Soldier or a creature from ‘Middle Earth’.
34. War Games: This is a fantastic & unique day out for groups of 20+ people. Join Spike island Adventure for a series of army drills and teambuilding activities, all delivered by retired army personnel. Do you have what it takes? Well DO YOU?? (smiley face to go here)
35. Whale watching in West Cork: The Irish government declared the coastal waters of Ireland a whale and dolphin sanctuary during early 1990’s. Since then Cork has become well known as one of the top destinations in Europe for whale watching. Popular species regularly seen include, fin, minke and humpback whales.
36. Horse Riding: Ireland is known around the world for the quality of its equestrian facilities. Being a compact destination, there are lots of options to explore the hills, valleys and beaches on horseback. The best beach riding operator is Hop Island Equestrian School, located just 10 minutes from Cork city centre.
37. Cork Racecourse: With organised racing in the region dating back as far as 1777, racing at Cork is a mix of quality jump and flat racing which always has a great atmosphere of laid back enjoyment.
38. Greyhound Racing: Nearly all Irish people love the occasional flutter (a bet) and if you are looking for a great night out in Cork, then a night at the dogs is hard to beat. There is always a great atmosphere, food, craic and of course top class greyhound racing. When the racing is done there is live music played by a different band each night in the upstairs Master McGrath Bar.
39. Mountain Biking: Ballyhoura Country is an area an hour’s drive north of the city of woodlands, hills and mountains. It is also home to Ireland’s biggest and best mountain biking area with 90Km’s of off road trails. The quality of the trails is widely acknowledged having previously hosted rounds of European & World Championship Events.
40. Golf: Cork is Ireland’s premier golfing destination with many world class courses such as Fota and the Old Head combined with many great value parkland and public courses. Within 3 hours drive of Cork Airport, you can play in any of 500 golf courses!
41. Sailing: Sailing & the sea has always been close to Irish hearts. Being home to the oldest yacht club in the world and having a coastline full of pretty bays, harbours and inlets, there are no shortage of opportunities to get on the water. Popular locations for sailing courses include Crosshaven, Schull, Baltimore, Cobh, Youghal and more.
42. Wakeboarding: Carrigwaterski and Ballyhass Lakes offer world class wakeboarding for all you water babies. Carrigwaterski use boats, while Ballyhass use fixed lines offering two very different but hugely enjoyable experiences.
43. Shoeniversity: Every thought about making your own shoes? Well now you can at the ‘Showniversity‘ – this new concept allows visitors to take a course in making hand-crafted dynamic footwear.
44. High Speed Harbour Powerboat Tours: Jump on board and feel the wind in your hair as you explore the second biggest natural harbour in the world. As an alternative, do this tour at night (in a covered boat) for an adrenaline filled experience as your highly skilled skipper navigates the harbour at speed using his night time radar.
45. City Jogging Tours: This tour is designed to allow people to discover some of Corks most favoured sites while running in groups. The running is easy and relaxed and suitable for everyone. While Jim, your guide shares stories and humorous insights along the way .
46. Ballycotton Lighthouse: The lighthouse dating from 1850 is situated on an island in Ballycotton Bay and is connected by daily tours from Ballycotton Village from March onwards. Your trip across to the lighthouse in your open top boat is part of the experience as you get a sense of what it was like for lifeboat men in the past.
47. Cork Ghost Tour: Ireland has many great stories to be told. One of the best places to learn some of these is on the Cork Ghost Tour which is an hour long tour through some of the oldest parts of the city. Other popular Ghost Tours also happen in Kinsale and Cobh with stories of battles, pirates, sunken ships and all things that go bump in the night.
48. Country Pub Tours: As everybody knows, Ireland is famous for its great pubs. This is suitable for groups of 10+ where your guide will teach you about Ireland’s traditional pub culture and of course you get to taste some of the local produce along the way.
49. Blackwater River Cruise: This is a fantastic river cruise along one of Ireland’s longest rivers. Tony, your skipper is a natural story teller and he will regale with you yarns of Kings & Queens, druids, The Black Knights, castles, ancient battles and much more.
50. Fab Food Trails: Relaxed and scrumptious walk led by experienced, friendly and well informed guides. The tour offers plenty of tastings on and off the usual food route, visiting markets, artisanal cheese makers, fishmongers, bakers with the highlight being The Cork English Market.
51. Clonakilty Train: Take a trip to the Model Railway Village for a fun and memorable day out on your visit to Clonakilty, step back to rural Ireland in the 1940’s by watching the handmade old West Cork railway line and figurines.
52. Cork Harbour Boat Hire: Be the skipper of your own boat – no experience necessary. This is great fun as you head out with your flotilla of other ‘would be’ skippers. Tours happen in Cobh and in Cork City centre. Boats can take up to 4 adults or 2 adults and 3 children.
53. Hop on, hop off bus tour: Discover the history & stories of Cork on the best bus tour of Cork City & suburbs. Approximately 1 hour in duration.