Ireland travel guide: 7 fantastic things to see and do in county cork

Even if you think you know what to expect from a certain place, being there in person will give it so much more context and excitement. After four hours of non-stop travelling, we finally arrived in Ireland’s second-largest city, Cork. Squinting in the bright afternoon sunshine we cheerfully ambled through its narrow alleyway to get the sense of the atmosphere.

Having visited Cork almost a decade ago where we used it as a short stopping point on the route to Killarney, it felt as if this was our first time. We gawked at historic buildings, imposing cathedrals and markets overflowing with fresh produce.

Even after three days of exploring County Cork, literally from dusk till dawn we left with the slightest hesitation. Completely infatuated we desired to stay for more. We wanted to see more, taste more and to photograph more.

If there is one thing to do in this part of Ireland, its to be in a present moment and to allow yourself plenty of time to see the sights. Take time to absorb every little architectural detail, smell the freshly baked bread before you take a bite, let the wild wind tangle your hair and calmly drink all the Guinness you can.

From Garnish island and its historic gardens to Dursey Island and its ocean-crossing cable car, you’ll love exploring County Cork.

Ireland Travel Guide: 7 Fantastic things to see and do in County Cork

Coming up with a 10 best things to do and see in County Cork also known as the Rebel County isn’t as easy as you might think. See out of all the 32 counties on the island, in terms of area, Cork is the largest one, covering 7,457 km². Within those square kilometres lies an abundance of things to see.

In short, you calk the 100 steps in Bantry House and Gardens, take the cable car to Dursey Island, admire the charm and colours of Kinsale, visit Cobh, explore the Garnish Island Gardens, go on a whale-watching trip and more.

We came up with a small list of things for anyone that’s planning on visiting County Cork.

#1. Explore its stunning beaches

When you are thinking of a beach holiday and looking to soak up the sun, sea and sand in a beautiful location, Ireland might not be the first place to make the list. And you are right: even in the peak of the summer, we need to wear a wetsuit to go surfing. and you won’t see many swimmers out in the sea.

But when the conditions are right and when the sunny spell reaches Ireland, the beaches are stunning in appearance and are beautiful enough to make you stop in your tracks and take a deep breath.

With the Wild Atlantic way starting at the Mizen Head peninsula, Cork is home to many beautiful beaches to choose from. Here are, in our humble opinion, some of the best beaches located in County Cork:

  • The Warren Beach, Rosscarbery
  • Garrylucas Beach, Kinsale
  • Inchydoney Beach, Clonakilty
  • Shelly Beach, Mizen Head
  • Barleycove Beach, West Cork
Barleycove, Schull, Ireland.

#2. Visit the charming town of Cobh

Cobh is a very pretty port town located 30-minute drive away from Cork city famous for its colourful row of terraced houses. Over the centuries, the town was the departure point of millions of Irish emigrants who fled Ireland either to Canada or the United States. Cobh was also the last port of call for Titanic before it set sail on its fateful voyage.

While in town, you can visit Titanic Experience museum which provides valuable information on the ill-fated Titanic and the Lusitania, get to know more about Ireland’s Ancient East at the Cobh Heritage Centre and catch a boat to Spike Island.

If you are staying in Cork, you can either drive to Cobh or can take a train from Kent Station. Cork station (Kent) is a brisk 10-minute walk from Cork City Centre and Cobh station is only a 3-minute walk to Cobh town.

St. Colman’s Cathedral erupting over the colorful Deck of Cards houses in Cobh, Ireland.

#3. Take in the views at Mizen Head

If you wish to cross the iconic Mizen bridge and experience the solitude of the Keeper’s lives that a day trip to Mizen Head makes for an adventure to remember. Combining history and stunning coastal scenery, Mizen Head is one of the most southwesterly points on the Emerald Isle located about twp hours drive from Cork.

The tickets grants access to the Station Keeper’s Quarters and the Marconi Radio Room. You can also see the visitors centre has exhibits on sea life, geology, local lighthouses and the history of Mizen Head.

Parking: There is a large free parking lot in front of the visitor’s center when you arrive.

Getting there: From Corktake the N71 and then take the Ballydehob exit.

Entrance fee: Adult: EUR 7.59, Senior/Student: EUR 6, Child under 14: EUR 4.50

Mizen Head is a popular destination for its relatively wild and remote landscape.

#4. Discover the West Cork Islands

If you want to witness Gulf Stream working its magic on Garnish Island that’s located in the sheltered harbour of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay. then take a trip out on a small boat from Glengarriff Pier and walk among sub-tropical plants. Garinish is a small island of 15 hectares and it takes around 15 minutes to reach them with the ferry.

The main sights on the island, beside the blooming gardens, are Bryce House and the Martello Tower. Unfortunately, due to social distancing restrictions, they were closed during our visit,

The day we visited the weather on the mainland was cold but as soon as we hit the island we could feel the increase in temperature. We only stayed about 90 minutes but would recommend staying longer to see everything

The island is spectacular throughout the year, but if you wish to see the vivid colours of rhododendrons and azaleas then make sure you plan your visit May to June.

Getting there: Get the Grarnish Island ferry from the Main Pier in Glengarriff Co.Cork

As you can see, Garinish Island is home to a garden of rare beauty,

#5. Explore Cork City and take a trip to Blarney Castle

Known throughout the country for its exceptional food, Cork is the second largest city in Republic, but the locals call it the real capital of Ireland. Top attractions in the city include Cork City Gaol, Cork Public Museum known as The Shrubberies, the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, the English Market and the Shandon Tower just to name a few.

If you’re staying in self-catered accommodation in Cork, then visiting the English Market, that’s been in its present location since 1788, is a must. You can pick up traditional specialities like drisheen and pigs’ trotters or stock up on fresh bread, fish, cheese and fruit and veg to make your own dinner.

Situated five miles north-west of Cork city, Blarney Castle is a solid fixture on almost any tour itinerary and makes for a great day trip if you are staying in Cork City. The partly ruined fortress at Blarney is one of the most visited castles in Ireland.

Originally built by the MacCarthy dynasty, The Blarney Castle is nearly 600 years old and its main attraction is the Blarney Stone. Legend has it that anyone that kisses a limestone block will instantly receive the Irish “gift of the gab”.


#6. Go Whale and Dolphin Watching

Pay tribute to the cities seafaring heart and catch a boat for a morning of whale watching. Dolphins, humbpack whales and basking sharks –  the second biggest fish in the sea, behind whale sharks – are amongst the most common sights around Cork.

You could even combine whale and dolphin sighting with a Fastnet Rock Tour as it crosses through some of the best areas for sighting these impressive creatures. The boat tour will bring you to Ireland’s most southerly Gaeltacht Island Cape Clear Island where you’ll have a chance to see the Fastnet Exhibition and multimedia display in the Cape Clear & Fastnet Rock Heritage Centre. 

Fastnet Rock direct Tour departs from Shull and Baltimore, is around 2.5 – 3hrs long and provides once in a lifetime photo opportunities.


#7. Hit the trails at Gougagne Barra

Located in West Cork, the area around Gougagne Barra is a wonderful place if you are looking to engage with Ireland’s fascinating history and scenic locations. The peaceful valley is home to Gougane Barra Lake with the well known St Finbarr’s Oratory located on the lakes island. Surrounding Caha mountains and stunning woodlands are filled with a great quantity hiking trails offering nature lovers panoramic views over the magnificent Forest Park and steeply sloping hills.

Within its 137 hectares, you’ll find six walking trails to suit all levels of fitness. The most majestic of all the trails in the park, the one that we chose to tackle despite the rain is  Slí na Sléibhe. The trail is 2.5 km in length and brings you 130 metres above your starting point.

Getting there: Gougane Barra is located just 1 hr 30 minutes drive from Cork City driving via Ballingeary

Facilities on site: Car park and restroom facilities both inside and outside of the park. Cronin’s Bar & Café for food and a warm cup of tea. There is also  Gougane Barra Hotel if you wish to spend a night.

Entrance: If you wish to drive the scenic loop through the Gougane Barra Forest Park, it costs €5 fee in coins on entry. Otherwise, you can leave your car beside the church which is around 700 m from the park entrance and continue on foot for free.

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Now, over to you!

Have you been to County Cork? Let us know in the comments!

Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Cork and have travel-related questions!

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

50 thoughts on “Ireland travel guide: 7 fantastic things to see and do in county cork

    1. We loved exploring Cork. Cork and the adjacent coastline have a strong seafaring and trading tradition and once you leave the beautiful city behind, you’ll find many amazing things to do. Like the Dursey Island Cable Car which is the only in Europe that goes over the sea. How cool is that? Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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    1. We had such a great time visiting Cobh! The town is dominated by St. Colman’s Cathedral and some of the best attraction includes a 60-minute minute Titanic Trail walking tour, the Cobh Museum, and the Queenstown Story Heritage Centre. Thanks for stopping y and have a lovely day. Aiva

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    1. Thanks so much. We love where we live and we love exploring Ireland but I hope we can start travelling again one day. I would love to go home to see my family and friends, but who knows when that’s going to happen. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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    1. We were surprised by how there was to see and do in County Cork. We started with visiting Cork and Cobh and then headed towards West Cork that begins at Kinsale and runs in a westerly direction to Dursey Island at the tip of the Beara Peninsula. The further west we drove, the more rugged and “wild west” the landscape became. We loved Gougane Barra and its forested hills sweeping up from the lake of the same name. Thanks for reading and I hope you get to revisit Cork one day. Aiva

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    1. West Cork is magical and one of the unique things you can sign up for is midnight kayaking in the bioluminescent waters of Lough Hyne which is the only saltwater lake in Europe. It’s definitely an experience not to be missed and never to be forgotten. Thanks for reading and I hope you get to explore Cork one day. Take care. Aiva

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    1. I can’t believe we waited for so long to finally visit Cork. We enjoyed hiking through the beautiful Gougane Barra forest and visiting blooming Garnish Island. I would love to return one day to challenge myself to undertake Sheep’s Head Trail Main Loop trail which is 93km long walk that starts and finishes in Bantry town. The trail is rated as difficult, divided into 11 sections and features wild scenery, picturesque loughs and fantastic coastal views. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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    1. Thank you, Pam. We did enjoy the trip very much; it was so nice to finally hit the road and set foot in another city. The garden was quite a surprise. Located in the sheltered harbour it felt like we were far away from everything. Thanks for stopping by. I hope all is well. Aiva

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    1. Thank you very much. I’m so excited for the changing seasons; I was born in November and the fall is my favourite time of the year. The leaves are still green, but it’s exciting to wake up to mist-covered mountains and low hanging clouds. Ireland is a spectacular place to explore and photograph. Thanks for stopping by and take care. I hope all is well. Hugs and kisses. Aiva

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  1. Fabulous post Aiva. We have enjoyed a couple of visits to Cork, once in 1977, when we visited Blarney Castle with 10,000 other tourists and more recently when Cork won the Irish football championship. We visited Cobh then too, as that is where Patty’s father caught his boat to Canada. Great memories. Thanks. Allan

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    1. Thanks so much, Allan. Visiting Cobh and seeing from where her father sailed to Canada must have been an emotional moment for Patty. We are both emigrants and that’s why it was very interesting and quite emotional for us to see the historic pier, dubbed the Heartbreak Pier by locals in Cobh and learn about many Irish emigrants who left the country never to return again. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. I hope you re enjoying your time in the Canadian wilderness. Aiva

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  2. It looks absolutely stunning. I love the steep cliffs, the cute villages, the beach! I kissed the Blarney stone when I was 12, I think it’s time to visit again. My 12 year old eyes didn’t appreciate the beauty of the landscapes.

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    1. We loved by the steep cliffs to and were amazed by how rugged the coastline around cork is. Because of COVID, many attractions were closed and that’s why we didn’t get to see the famous Blarney Castle. Instead, we enjoyed visiting lesser-known parts of southwest Ireland and loved everything we saw along the way. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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  3. The coasts of Co. Cork, how many wonderful places to discover. I loved Cobh, but strangely I never felt very comfortable in Cork City, maybe those slopes that surround and reduce the city centre to a few streets, the university is worth seeing. Blarney Castle, I have a more mixed feeling, I climbed up there, but I feel that the story of the kiss looks like a tourist circus.

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    1. Having lived in the small town of Sligo for nearly three years, it was nice to finally visit a bigger city. The weather was cold and rainy and we escaped to the famous English Market. Blarney Castle was closed due to the coronavirus, but I am not sure about kissing the Blarney Stone! I wouldn’t be that keen on laying my lips on Ireland’s most germ-ridden tourist attraction! Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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  4. You really can transport us with your narrative Aiva. Wonderful, so well written and so much valuable information. I love it completely and now will begin planning a visit (hopefully soon). Your photographs are brilliant, they alone can tell a clear story. Take good care Aiva and all the best to you and your family,
    Francisco

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    1. Thank you very much, Francisco. Exploring Ireland and learning more about its history has made us fall in love with it even more. Because of the coronavirus, we didn’t get to visit many places, but it was still nice to be back on the road. Who knows what’s going to happen next year, the pandemic is far from over and that’s why it’s so important to make the most of every moment. Have a good day. Aiva

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  5. I’ve only been to Cork and Blarney Castle, but Mizen Head’s cliffs look absolutely stunning! I’d love to go back to Ireland and explore more of it, especially in Cork County. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us!

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    1. Exploring Mizen Head was a highlight of the trip, that’s for sure. The views from the Bridge have to be seen to be believed; every time we visit, we capture different colours in the rock and different blues in the ocean. We loved the history behind the Lighthouse and exploring the coast at a slow pace making every moment count. You need a clear day to get the most from the visit and if you want solitude then you can go to Sheeps Head that’s located a few miles to the north. Thanks for stopping by, Rebecca and have a good day. Aiva

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    1. Thank you very much. Exploring Cork and seeing most of its famous and lesser-known attractions made for a fun family adventure. The cultural region of West Cork is one of the most popular tourist areas in all of Ireland thanks in large part to its rural beauty, but the towns and little villages are beautiful too. Couldn’t recommend this part of Ireland enough! Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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    1. Cork is a fresh-faced city and home of the University College Cork often touted as the best place to study in Ireland. I hope you get to visit once we are allowed to travel. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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  6. I couldn’t agree with you more about staying in the present moment and giving yourself time. This region certainly looks like one that shouldn’t be rushed. Your photos are stunning Aiva. I’m particularly charmed by the town of Cobh and its interesting history.

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    1. Thanks so much, Caroline, I am so glad to hear from you again. Our initial plan was to spend two weeks driving around the whole of Ireland, but we didn’t want to rush through its villages and towns. In the end, we settled to visit Ireland’s southwest and take each day as it comes. It was nice to sit behind the wheel and hit the road without going through the usual madness in Airports. Thanks for stopping by. I hope all is well. Aiva

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    1. Thank you very much. Gougane Barra is a little slice of heaven and because of its lush green landscapes, it is a very popular place for wedding ceremonies. I’ve seen many stunning images from the little church and was delighted to finally feast my eyes on it in person. Have a good day. Aiva

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  7. This place looks like it’s right out of a fairytale, oh my god! These are such beautiful pictures, and it almost seems like they’re stuck in time and surrounded by magic! What a lovely place to visit, I hope I get to see it someday! Hope you’re having a lovely week! 🙂

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    1. Thank you very much, Arshia. Exploring our backyard has been an experience o remember in years to come. I’m so glad we had an opportunity to do it despite the current madness and now we can peacefully look towards changing seasons and fast approaching winter months. I hope all is well with you and your family. Thanks for stopping by and take care. Aiva

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    1. Exploring Cork and Ireland’s southwest was just what was needed for our family after living in lockdown for a month on end. Instead of rushing through the region and barely seeing places, we decided to travel slowly and savour the changing landscape.

      Yes, you are right. Given the size of the county and endless amounts of places to see, you could easily devote your entire vacation to exploring it and still not see it all. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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  8. What lovely weather you got!!! Lucky you. We were on the Beara peninsula this summer and got to Garnish Island for the first time ever. The Gougane Barra area is new to me so I’m definitely going to follow up on that. The whole of West Cork is stunning isn’t it.
    Spike Island is probably closed at the moment but is worth a visit when in Cobh.
    Hope you all keeping well in Sligo. XXXMarie

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    1. Hi, Marie. I’ve been to Cork many times, but it was our first time visiting the Beara Peninsula, the Gougane Barra and Garnish Island and I was blown away by everything we had a chance to see and do. Our road trip took place two months ago, but we still talk about it.

      I’ve heard about the Gouganne Barra many times but being there in person, seeing the charismatic church and hiking through the park was a memorable experience. There is plenty of parking options, accessible bathrooms and various trails for hill or forest walking.

      We spend the night in Cobh and wanted to take a trip to the Spike Island, but given the large amount of crowd that gathered to get on the boat, decided to leave it for some other time when social distancing isn’t necessary. Thanks for stopping by. I hope all is well. Aiva

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      1. I’m surprised the Spike island boat was running at all … although the Garnish one was operating when we were in Glengariff. I’m delighted with your suggestions re Gougane Barra – starting to put a list together of future trips here at home… just in case…

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    1. Thanks so much, Michael. County Cork was wild, rugged and full of lovely places to explore. I particularly loved Gougane Barra with its various hiking trails and the trip to Garnish Island. I’m so delighted we jumped at a chance to explore Ireland; case numbers are rising across the country and many counties are back again in lockdown. Can’t wait to see the end of it. Thanks for reading and I hope you get to visit Cork one day. Aiva

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  9. Another excellent post Aiva. Well, our “Irish bucket list” is getting longer and longer with every post you publish! I guess, we will need to stay at least a month in Ireland now 🙈. Thank you! Hope you are keeping well, Martina x x.

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    1. Hi, Martina, how are you? As we haven’t been anywhere except Ireland for well over a year, my travel wish list has grown immensely. I would love to take a few months off work and explore the world, but who knows when that’s going to happen. A girl can still dram, thou! Thanks for reading and have a good day. I am super excited autumn has finally arrived; this particular season keeps me a few feet of the ground! Take care. Aiva xxx

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  10. Nice short guide to Cork 😅. Love it and the featured photography!! I’ve been to the University of Cork with my class at the start of this year for a debating event but other than that, i’ve never really much of anything else of Cork, bar the Mizen Head Cliffs, though they are outside of the city really. What do you love most about the City 😅

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