If you’ve already discovered the delights of Dublin and chased some leprechauns on our epic Irish road trip route, why not check out Cork on your next jaunt to the Emerald Isle?
Widely known as Ireland’s second city, it’s just as lively as the capital and jam-packed with a fascinating mix of historical, educational and entertaining attractions to suit every single member of the family.
First things first, where is Cork?
Fancy a trip to the Rebel County? While Dublin might be the most well-known city in this fair isle, the residents of Cork have always been ones to challenge authority.
They famously fought off the Vikings in the 10th century and have led from the front in rebel struggles down the years. Now the locals are more likely to buy you a Guinness and spin you some tales about why theirs is a far superior city than Dublin. And who could blame them?
Just three hours by road from the capital, a trip to Cork starts with the drive, and some dramatic coastal scenery to fill up your Instagram feed. In the city, make some time for that Guinness and a flavour of the local hospitality (it wouldn’t be a trip to Ireland without it!), before checking out the amazing arts venues, super-tasty and super-cool restaurants, and some interesting heritage sites too. Dublin, who?
What’s the craic about Cork?
Locals are incredibly proud of their city – and why wouldn’t they be considering the fact its dripping in awesome sights?! If you’re not sure exactly how to fill your days on a driving holiday to Cork, here’s just a handful of inspiring ideas to get you started:
If you’re a sucker for delicious treats, treat yourself with a trip to the English Market
Named for the English company who opened it in 1788, this attractive indoor market has a marble fountain at its heart and remains a bustling shopping hub today. If you’re self-catering and after fresh produce, don’t miss wandering around its stalls to pick up seasonal fruit and veg, freshly baked bread and seafood caught by local fisherman just off Cork’s coast.
Hungry on the go? There are a few takeaway outlets, plus the Farmgate Café where you can try regional delicacies like Irish lamb stew and fresh oysters. Delicious!
If you can’t resist mooching around eerie churches, make your way to St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
Named for Cork’s founder, this Gothic cathedral sits at the very centre of the city and was constructed out of local limestone in the mid-1800s. You can admire the intricately carved exterior of the church at any time of the day or venture inside to view its huge pipe organ outside of church service hours. Fun fact: St Finbar’s namesake cathedral was actually built on the same site where locals have been worshipping ever since he founded the city during the 6th century!
If you think you were a noble knight or lady in a past life, pucker up at Blarney Castle
Located a short drive from Cork, Blarney Castle is an iconic piece of Irish history thanks to the legendary Blarney Stone that’s housed there. The relic – nicknamed the Stone of Eloquence – is kept at the top of the castle’s main tower and supposedly gives whoever kisses it the Irish ‘gift of the gab’.
So, pucker up!
The majestic fort is also littered with other interesting exhibits and artefacts, some of which date back to the 13th century when the current building was constructed by Chieftain Cormack MacCarthy. For some fresh air, why not take a turn around Blarney Castle’s gorgeous grounds?
If the kids desperately need to let off some steam, hit Fitzgerald Park
If you’ve arrived in Cork on a sunny day and the kids are getting restless, it’d be a shame to spend it all indoors. Instead, why not make a beeline for Fitzgerald Park just west of Cork City Centre?
The pretty park was originally the site of the 1902 Cork International Exhibition before being turned into public pleasure gardens featuring ponds, a kid’s park and a huge fountain. At its heart is also where you’ll spot the free to enter Cork Public Museum, a great place to learn a little bit more about the city’s heritage.
If soft, buttery toast is your favourite breakfast treat, Cork Butter Museum is the spot for you
Did you know that Cork has been producing butter for over a century and was once the biggest exporter of it on the planet? If you fancy a lesson in everything to do with this staple dairy product, there’s no better place to visit than the Cork Butter Museum. It’s lodged inside the Cork Butter Market (once the largest of its kind) and showcases exactly how butter is produced from start to finish, as well as highlighting Ireland’s historic role in the global butter trade.
If you want to swot up on your science or gaze up at the stars, Blackrock Castle ticks your box
This imposing structure sits at the mouth of the River Lee and was purpose-built as a fort to protect the harbour in the 1500s. Nowadays, Blackrock Castle houses a fantastic science centre and observatory where you explore the universe on a huge interactive screen, discover the stars using a powerful telescope or even send an email into outer space!
It’s the perfect pick for a family day out, plus you’ll get to soak up spectacular views of the river from the castle battlements.
If you’ve always wanted to see the inside of a jail cell, make your way behind bars at Cork City Gaol
Keen to know what life would be like as an inmate? Satisfy your curiosity (without having to commit a crime first!) at the atmospheric Cork City Gaol. Built in the early 1800s to replace an older jailhouse, it was used to imprison criminals from Cork and the surrounding county right up until 1923!
Today, the gaol is one of Cork’s top museums where you can discover lots of fun facts about the city’s history and set foot inside real cells which once housed its most notorious felons…
Getting to Cork
Having a car to get to and around Cork is a must to fully experience the city’s amazingly diverse range of attractions. If you’re flying into Cork Airport, you’ll be able to pick up a rental car at Arrivals and be in the city centre in less than 20 minutes. Planning a road trip around the entire Emerald Isle? You’ll also find Europcar pick up/drop off points in Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Waterford and Limerick.