Cork is the second-largest city in Ireland which is reflected in its populace of over 200,000 people. This is a far cry from its earliest days as a monastic settlement before being expanded by Viking raiders. Prince John granted the city a Royal Charter in 1185 during his first expedition to Ireland. Sometimes referred to as the “real capital of Ireland,” Cork has everything you’d expect from a large city with a vibrant culture. From important places in Ireland’s history to legendary aspects of its culture, we’ve identified ten places you should visit in Cork that best help you get a feel for the city and the rest of Ireland. Let us know your own top spots in the comments.
10. St. Patrick’s Street
St. Patrick’s is the main shopping street for Cork and has been since it was founded in the 18th Century. Many of the buildings were lost to the 1920 Burning of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, and since the 2000s, it has been largely closed to vehicle traffic, making it very walkable. In addition to the many shops that line the street, there are monuments worth seeing, such as the one dedicated to Father Mathew, who led a temperance movement in Cork and supported the abolitionist movement in the States.
9. Jameson Distillery Experience
If you didn’t get the chance to visit the Jameson Distillery Experience in Dublin, Cork has its own distillery that you can tour as well. The tour is available seven days a week and provides a 75-minute insight into the history of the company, its Cork distillery, and how Irish whiskey is made. Visitors also get a chance to sample some of Jameson’s offerings as part of the experience.
8. The English Market
Not really all that English, but named more for its English origins, the English Market was founded in 1788 and is a top destination for food items. The Market features fifty-five different stalls selling meat, fruit, veg, and more, and there’s even the Farmgate Café where the menu’s ingredients come from the market’s vendors.
7. Spike Island
Spike Island was once a monastery in the 6th Century, but over 1,000 years later, this island was converted from peace to war as a fortress was constructed in the harbor to protect the city. It was later converted into a prison and now exists as a museum. You can take a ferry out to visit the island and get some wonderful views of Cork Harbor and the city.
6. Blackrock Castle Observatory
Blackrock Castle was built in 1828 to evoke the mystery of medieval castles from long ago, though its purpose today is to gaze far beyond Earth. Today, the castle is home to an observatory, planetarium, cinema, and several interactive exhibits where visitors can learn about the stars. It’s a truly fascinating place that should be on your must-visit list.
5. Fota Wildlife Park
Just a bit east of Cork, Fota Wildlife Park is a 70-acre animal preserve that attempts to recreate a free-roaming environment for the animals as much as possible. Home to lemurs, monkeys, and giraffes, as well as a well-renowned cheetah breeding program. The park offers tours and opportunities to go behind the scenes to see how Fota Wildlife Park runs.
4. Cork City Goal
Nearly as famous as Dublin’s own Kilmainham Goal, Cork City Goal opened in 1824 and closed 99 years later after the Irish War of Independence. From 1878 until the war, it was strictly a women’s prison until the government formed by the Anglo-Irish Treaty imprisoned men opposed to the treaty there. It opened as a tourist attraction and museum in 1993, dedicated to the goal’s history and the role it played in Cork and Ireland.
3. Fitzgerald’s Park
Fitzgerald’s Park was named for a former Lord Mayor of the City, Edward Fitzgerald, and is certainly an absolutely gorgeous spot of natural beauty. The park is roughly 12 acres in size and features a pond, bandstand, café, fountain, a sculpture trail, and the Cork Public Museum which features exhibits dedicated o the city’s history. It was originally the site of the 1902 Cork International Exhibition and now serves as a public park for everyone to enjoy.
2. St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
Anglican St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral is one of the most beautiful churches in Cork, and it is dedicated to the city’s patron saint. The current cathedral was constructed between 1865 and 1879 in a French Neo-Gothic style while the original site of the monastery on which the city was founded. The interior is just as spectacular as the exterior, but keep in mind when visiting that it is a working church.
1. Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle is Cork’s most sought-after tourist attraction. The original castle was constructed in 1210 and served as a defensive position for the city, while the current castle dates from 1446. While a partial ruin, several of the battlements and rooms are open to the public, though what really brings people to Blarney Castle is the Stone of Eloquence, aka “The Blarney Stone”, said to bestow the “gift of gab” on whoever kisses it.