Cork is the Republic of Ireland’s second largest city, and locals would have you believe it’s the ‘real capital. The city is small but crammed with exciting places to visit such as the English Market, St. Finn Barr’s Cathedral, the Shandon Bells, the Crawford Art Gallery, and Cork’s historic gaol.
One of the city’s greatest qualities however, is its proximity to the south west of Ireland’s beautiful countryside and famous towns such as Cobh, Blarney, and Kinsale. You don’t have to go far in any direction to reach rolling green hills or picturesque coastline and it’s possible over the course of just a few days to see medieval castles and ruined monasteries, scenic beaches and pretty woodlands, ancient forts and a state-of-the-art research centre, all while staying in the heart of Cork City.
Below is an action-packed suggested itinerary which will introduce you to the best of Cork and beyond.
Day One: Exploring the Rebel County’s Capital
There are many narrow hilly streets in Cork so consider boarding a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city to save yourself the trouble of navigating the steep inclines. A tour will also help orientate you as you discover notable sights throughout the city including St. Anne’s Church, home to the famous Shandon Bells which visitors are invited to ring, and the Crawford Art Gallery, which boasts an impressive collection of Irish and European art and sculpture, as well as travelling exhibits.
Stop for lunch at the renowned English Market, where the stalls sell produce sourced locally and from around the world. There’s an upstairs café, but you may prefer to browse the stands looking for the ingredients for a fine picnic. Either way, hop back on the next tour bus and continue to Cork City Gaol. This neo-Gothic castle-like prison housed many prisoners who had been sentenced to exile in Australia, as well as key political prisoners such as Countess Markievicz, the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position. Cork Gaol was a women’s prison for some years, before being used to incarcerate rebels during the Irish Civil War.
After the war, the prison was closed and became a broadcasting centre for radio. There’s a museum looking at the history of broadcasting in the former warden’s house, while a visit to the main prison building itself will give you some idea of what it was like to be a prisoner here.
Conclude your day with a show at the Cork Opera House and a good meal at one of the city’s top restaurants or enjoy a pint of Guinness in a traditional Irish pub.
Day Two: From Cork to Kerry
Cork borders the ‘Kingdom’ of Kerry and a day tour of the neighbouring county is an idea way to see sights such as the legendary Lakes of Killarney and the spectacular Ring of Kerry, one of the most famous tourist trails in the world. Travel to the pleasant town of Killarney and its adjacent National Park, and see Ireland’s highest mountain range, the MacGillycuddy Reeks, the glistening lakes, and ancient forests. The National Park is home to Ross Castle and elegant Muckross House, which boats beautiful gardens and a working traditional farm.
Stop at Torc Waterfall and continue to Ladies View, an ideal viewing area for those looking to see the lakes from above. From Killarney continue to the town of Killorglin and the Ring of Kerry itself. As you travel along this famous road, you’ll see ancient Stone Age tombs and forts, spectacular coastal scenery, and quaint villages such as Sneem. You’ll also see the Skellig Islands offshore. The larger, Skellig Michael, is a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to the presence of the 6th-to-8th century monastery which was built there. The beehive huts of the monks are still surprisingly well intact despite being abandoned in the 12th century and the island was also used as a filming location for Star Wars The Force Awakens in 2014.
Alternatively, visit Dingle Peninsula rather than the Iveragh (the peninsula which the Ring of Kerry loops around). Dingle offers stunning coastal scenery and the headland’s main town, which shares the same name, is widely noted for its traditional Irish pub scenes. If you choose to visit here, don’t be surprised if can’t understand the locals as they talk to each other, as Irish is still commonly spoken here.
Day Three: Exploring Cork’s Environs
Within easy reach of Cork City centre are several notable towns, and all of them can easily be explored in a day. Kinsale is Ireland’s culinary capital, and while it’s wise to stop at one of the many exceptional sea food restaurants here, the town is most widely known in Ireland as the site of one of the most important battles in the Emerald Isle’s history. After the Battle of Kinsale, work began on Charles Fort which is located just outside town. This citadel is one of the Europe’s largest and best preserved star forts and visitors can enjoy fine views of Kinsale Harbour from the battlements.
Another nearby town is famed Blarney, home of the Blarney Stone. The stone sits atop one of Ireland’s most romantic castles and can only be kissed by leaning backwards over the edge (it’s quite safe!). Even if that isn’t for you, there’s still plenty to see in the grounds, including one of the only poison gardens in the country and a rock close where ancient druids once performed their archaic rituals. Blarney Castle is right beside the Blarney Woollen Mills, the largest craft store in Ireland which offers tax-free shopping for non-EU citizens, perfect if you’re still looking for that special souvenir!
Cobh is yet another town for you to explore, not only does this coastal settlement boast one of Ireland’s most dramatic cathedrals, it was also the last port of call for the Titanic on its doomed maiden voyage and you can discover more at the Titanic Experience which is housed in the former ticket office building of the company which owned the ship. Should you have time, you might also consider a visit to the Fota Island Wildlife Park, where rare and exotic animals from around the world are cared for, the Jameson Experience Midleton, in which you can learn about the ancient process of whiskey distilling and perhaps even have a sample or two, or see one of the world’s most advanced research facilities at Blackrock Observatory, which is housed in ancient castle.