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.
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
#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.
#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
#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
#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!