Cork is a historic and vibrant city and if you’re in Ireland with some extra time, it is definitely a place to visit!
Bantry House – This is one of the finest country estates in Ireland and houses artefacts from across Europe.
Blarney Castle – With unusual gardens and history, it’s no wonder visitors flock to this 15th century castle to kiss the Blarney Stone and receive the Gift of the Gab. The gardens are at their best in early March.
Coast Drive – Driving from Kinsale to Skibbereen or beyond reveals picturesque seascapes and villages.
Cobh – Over two million people left Ireland never to return from Cobh Harbour which was also the last port of call for the Titanic on its doomed maiden voyage.
Kinsale – This classy town is noted for its fine dining, especially seafood, and is the place to be seen in Cork. There’s also an impressive British-built fort overlooking the town.
Cork City is Ireland’s second largest city but its population is only one tenth of Dublin’s. A university city, Cork is home to great pubs and some of the country’s biggest music festivals.
East of Cork City you’ll find Cobh and the Fota Island Wildlife Park as well as glorious sandy beaches and Middleton, where you can tour the Jameson distillery.
West of Cork City lies Kinsale, the snazzy town which is the gateway to towns like Clonakilty and Skibbereen to the west. There are many traditional pubs and good quality restaurants in the area.
Bantry Bay is home to the impressive Bantry House, a grand Georgian home, and the road from here to Glengarriff, a village with stunning scenery and a subtropical climate, offers fantastic views of the bay and the Atlantic beyond.
Cork is the largest county in Ireland and Cork City is the country’s second largest but most things are on a small scale and it’s no surprise that the rugged west coast and stunning southern beaches as well as the county’s quaint towns and villages has made it an ever-popular place to visit. The roads, those outside the city at least, tend to be narrow and twisting and it can take longer than you might expect to travel between towns.
The county was hard hit by the famine and still bears the scars over 150 years later at places like the Famine Cemetery in Skibbereen while thousands left Cork from Cobh on so-called coffin ships to America, never to see Ireland again. Cork was again struck by strife in the 20th century when the city was burnt to the ground by the British and the mayor died on hunger strike while the county was home to some of the fiercest fighting of the War of Independence and the Civil War, earning Cork the nickname ‘the Rebel County.’
More recently, the county’s economy has boomed thanks to the likes of Apple who have their European headquarters here while tourism has flourished. Much of Cork City has been renovated in recent years but the original buildings, such as the English Market or the nearby Blackrock Castle still stand.
Cork is home to many of Ireland’s major festivals in fields such as film, jazz, choral music, and the arts.
The Best Time to Go
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to plan your visit from the middle of March to the end of June or in September and October. July and August is the busiest time of the year which means traffic, exaggerated prices, and many of the best places to stay being booked out. May and June are the best months for sun but May and September are the driest months while the weather between November and May tends to be damp and grey.
Festivals in Cork
Cork Film Festival – The city’s oldest festival, it’s held in November.
Guinness Cork Jazz Festival – This is the city’s largest event each year and attracts some of the world’s top blues musicians each October.
Kinsale Gourmet Festival – Held in early October, this festival is a great way to test out the food for which the town is renowned, especially the seafood.
West Cork Chamber Music Festival – Top performers from around the world come to Bantry House’s library for a week and a half in late June.
How to Spend Your Time in Cork
A visit to Cork should include a visit to Cobh, just a few kilometres east of the city. The town was the principal port of embarkation for Irish emigrants in 19th and 20th century, most of them bound for Ellis Island in New York and Cobh also has an exhibit on the Titanic as well as a 19th century cathedral.
Kinsale is small and is today home to some of Ireland’s best seafood restaurants and several yacht marinas, if the weather’s good, you could almost believe you’re in the south of France rather than the south of Ireland. The imposing Charles Fort is open to the public and overlooks the town.
Castletownshend is widely regarded as Cork’s prettiest village while Timoleague is a quiet place with beautiful ruins nearby. Glangarriff is home to gardens and natures reserves the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else in Ireland.
If you’re Here for Three Days
You should ideally base yourself in Cork City if you’re only going to be in the county for a few days. The city can be easily navigated on foot and places such as the English Market and Crawford Art Gallery are located within the city centre.
Your second day will allow you to take in Blarney Castle and Cobh Harbour, only a 30 minute drive from there, where you can explore Fota Island and the town of Cobh itself.
On the final day of your visit, head to either Kinsale or the west, eventually reaching Bantry with its grand Georgian house overlooking the town and pleasant Glengarriff not far away on a protected bay. Kinsale and Cork City are both good places to return to for the night as they’re near the airport.
How to Get Here
Cork Airport is just five kilometres from the city and offers daily flights direct to Dublin, Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick, Manchester, East Midlands, Paris, Malaga, and other destinations on continental Europe. Shannon Airport near Limerick is the region’s main transatlantic airport, with direct services to Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark and JFK airports in New York and destinations across the UK and continental Europe. Most visitors to Ireland arrive in Dublin Airport however, so you’ll likely come to Cork by bus, train, or rented car.
There are Bus Eireann services to Cork City every 30 minutes and to Kinsale every hour from the airport, you can buy your tickets on-board.
Both Bus Eireann and Air Coach offer services to Cork from Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Shannon Airport, Tralee, and Killarney. Buses tend to make at least two off-motorway pit stops on the Dublin to Cork route meaning the journey can take four to five hours depending on traffic. Local Cork buses usually stop in the evening and the more remote the town you plan to visit, the less frequent the bus service. Bus company websites, tourist offices, and your hotel concierge can all help with bus times.
Cars are the best way to explore Cork as they’ll enable you to stop off at the quaint gift shop you pass or allow you to pull over for a photo of the region’s stunning scenery. Many roads are small and twisting, particularly in West Cork, and this will slow things down a bit. On average, you should try to aim for around 100 kilometres per day, making plenty of stops along the way.
The M7 and then the M8 is the most direct route from Dublin, with journey times lasting about two hours forty five minutes. Generally speaking, parking in the region isn’t a problem but you’re better off in a parking garage or multi-storey in Cork City which is easier to explore on foot.
Cork’s National roads are generally of good quality but its Regional roads may be narrow and clogged with walkers, cyclists, tractors, or school buses depending on the time of year you visit. Most R roads have speed limited of 50 to 80 kilometres per hour while N roads are usually 80 to 100, motorways are 100 to 120. If you’re driving on a narrow country road and find traffic building up behind you, it’s customary to pull over at the side of the road where possible to allow faster cars pass by.
Taxis at Cork and Shannon airport are available to take you to nearby cities with fares typically beginning at over €10 and rising the further you travel. The Transport for Ireland website has a fare calculator.
There are trains from Dublin Heuston to Cork’s Kent Station every hour (trains to Cork leave on the hour while returning trains leave at the half-hour). There are also commuter trains to Cobh, Middleton, and Fota Island which all last less than 30 minutes.
Where to Eat
There are some of the country’s best restaurants in Cork and some of its most famous cooking academies too. Even small village restaurants might surprise you. Most of the food, such as lamb, beef, and seafood is locally sourced.
Good places to stay include the Ballymaloe Guest House in East Cork or the guest wing of Bantry House to the west. Exceptional B&Bs such as the Glen Country House are very worthwhile options, as are traditional, family run hotels like Ballylickey’sSeaview Hotel or the Blarney Castle Hotel.
Paddywaggon offers tours 364 days a year to Blarney from Dublin which includes stops at Cork City and Cobh. We also have tours from the city to numerous destinations Blarney and Cobh, the Ring of Kerry, and the Cliffs of Moher.
The tourist offices in Bantry, Clonakilty, Cobh, Cork Airport, Cork City, and Skibbereen are open throughout the year. There are seasonal tourist offices in Glengariff, Kinsale, and Middleton – usually opened from March until the end of September.
Cork has something for everyone, why not check it out for yourself.