Cork City – cultural attractions and urban sights *typically Irish

Ireland is like a Bottle – it would sink without a Cork!

This graffiti greets visitors to the Irish city of Cork near the bus station. It speaks to the pride of the residents in their long history associated with the Green Isle and the Republic of Ireland. And Cork offers a lot of attractions for its residents, for the many students, but also sights for the visitors. Reason enough to make a detour to Cork City on the Sunny Paths, to introduce the city and especially to present some of the sights of Cork.

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Cork as a „gateway from mainland Europe“?

Ireland would sink without a Cork

Maybe you are stepping on Irish soil near Cork? Because Cork is also a port city on the southern Atlantic coast of Ireland, and at least from Roscoff in Brittany ferries run from France to Cork. So maybe Cork City is the first stop in Ireland for you?

It’s a good place to arrive and get used to the Irish way of life. The language spoken here is English or one of the Gaelic dialects, a Celtic language that still exists in many Irish regions.

The city of Cork is located on the River Lee, which runs through the south of Ireland from the west, passes Cork at the end and then flows into the Atlantic Ocean in a wide estuary. Cork City is used here to distinguish it from the surrounding County of Cork.

Cork is a large city with over 350,000 inhabitants. But there is not too much to notice. The city makes a rather tranquil impression with two to four-story houses, small streets and green slopes on this side and on the other side of the river valley. Large parts of the city center of Cork City are located on an elongated river island. This is because the River Lee, in whose valley Cork lies, splits into two arms here, which only come together again east of the center.

Most of the sights can be reached on foot and because of the location in the Lee river valley as well as the pretty alleys, the walk is also highly recommended.

In the center of Cork City

English Market and Streetmarket

The main shopping street of Cork is St. Patrick Street, which winds in a wide arc from Merchants Qay through the city center. Here are large department stores and the business life pulsates. But from this boulevard small alleys turn off everywhere, and you are already in smaller tranquil streets with restaurants, pubs, barbers and various small stores of local entrepreneurs. It is quite charming – the big top dogs with their department stores are really surrounded by many small Davids and dominate the picture actually only in St.Patrick-Street. The English Market in Cork, one of the oldest market halls in Europe, opened its doors in 1788. Today the English Market contains a mix of traditional offers with local delicacies like Spiced Beef, Skirts and Kidneys, Tripe and Drisheen, stalls of small traders with individual service as well as a few stores of bigger chains.

A weekly market with many stalls not only from the food industry can be found in Kyle Street / Cornmarket Street. There you can also get some delicious bites in „fingerfood“.

Cork English Market entrance
Entrance to the English Market

Culture and art in the City of Cork

St. Peter’s Cork

Exhibition church St.Peter's Cork
St.Peter’s Cork

At the western end of Kyle Street you will find the oldest church – St.Peter’s Cork. Parts of the church building date back to the 12th century. Today, St. Peter’s Cork is no longer a consecrated church, but a cultural center and exhibition space. Local artists can exhibit here, and community projects are also thematized, thus establishing a forum for urban development for Cork.

When I visited in 2020, the focus was on an exhibition, „The burning of a City,“ commemorating the centenary of the Troubles, which later led to a peace agreement with the British occupation and the founding of the Republic of Ireland. Cork was a center of the Irish nationalist movement at this time. In March 1920, the Irish Lord Mayor of Cork was assassinated in his home by plainclothes occupation militia. His successor was arrested in August of the same year and died in a London prison as a result of his hunger strike. On December 11, 1920, British militia burned large parts of the city center, especially around the then already important commercial St.Patrick Street. However, all these events rather led to the strengthening of the Irish nationalist independence movement. In 1922, the Irish Free State, the forerunner of today’s Republic of Ireland, came into being.

Culture lovers will find the Cork Opera in the center of Cork and the Crawford Art Gallery a few steps away on Emmet Place. The latter is open 7 days a week with free admission. The Crawford Art Gallery is housed in an old customs house, a brick building from 1724, and today presents Irish works of art of national importance from the 18th century to the present. Just a few steps from the Crawford Art Gallery is Rory Gallagher Place with a small sculpture to the songwriter and guitarist who grew up in Cork City.

Cork Opera House
Cork Opera
Craford Art Gallery Cork City
Craford Art Gallery

Nano Nagle Place, Red Abbey, Elizabeth Fort, St.Fin Barre’s Cathedral

South of the center is the building of Nano Nagle Place from the 18th century. This ensemble houses exhibition spaces, garden café, event stages and design – warehouse. It is a vibrant community center that grew out of a convent. In the 18th century, when Cork considered itself the „Venice of the Atlantic“, there were serious contradictions between wealthy merchants and extreme poverty in the city’s slums. Nano Nagle, with her order, tried to counter this poverty through education and to improve living conditions for all. Her order of the „Presentation Sisters“ later became active worldwide in this sense. Today Nano Nagle Place tries to keep the history of this order alive and to establish a socio-cultural center in Cork, where culture, community, spirituality, closeness to nature and open-mindedness towards all guests are tangibly lived. Open every week from Tuesday to Sunday.

Cork Elizabeth Fort and St.Fin Barre's Cathedral
Elizabeth fort and St.Fin Barre’s Cathedral
Cork City Nano Nagle Place
Nano Nagle Place
Red Abbey Cork _church tower
Church tower Red Abbey

Just opposite is the tower of the Red Abbey. Only overgrown ruins and the tower are left of this abbey. However, it is precisely this that makes the charm, so that a short trip there is like a leap across the centuries. For me, this quiet corner away from the hustle and bustle of city life always inspires the imagination.

West of Nano Nagle Place, on Barrack street/ corner of Fort street, Elizabeth Fort from the early 17th century rises above the Lee plain. This long served to secure English supremacy and military strength, later as a food store, transit – jail, garrison, latterly as a garda – post (police station). Guided tours are offered. From the fort there are good photo hotspots with views over parts of Cork city. The way is only worthwhile if the Elizabeth Fort is open. Otherwise you will stand in front of bare walls. So inform yourself in time about the offers of the day at

Not so far away in Bishop street you will find one of the biggest and most worth seeing churches of Cork – St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This building was consecrated only in 1870, but the place has a tradition as a place of Christian gathering since the 7th century. Surrounding the cathedral is a hillside graveyard with old mossy gravestones among flowering meadows. Admission to the cathedral for adults is 6€, there are sightseeing tours for an additional 2€.

Walking tour to the sights of Cork – guided or with audio-guide

You can do the tour on your own, but it’s better in a small group and with a local guide. He can tell you a few stories about all the sights of Cork! You can find an offer for a city tour on foot via the link*, the city tour takes about 1.5 to two hours. An alternative to the city guide is the rented audio guide*, which provides you individually to the sights still a lot of background information.

Another possibility to discover the sights of Cork is the Cork -Hopper bus*. The advantage of this is that the harbor town of Cobh and the outlying Blarney Castle are also served by the sightseeing buses.

Watchful along the Lee River – Blackrock Castle

Heading east along the River Lee, it’s worth visiting the Blackrock district. If you have time, you can of course walk (at least in one direction) the way. A better way for the 5km is to take a bike or the city bus. At Blackrock the Lee widens a bit and on the opposite bank are the first quay facilities of the industrial port. Blackrock itself has its own center with a small harbor bay. On the streets in front of it there are even a few rails of a former tramway of Cork.

But the real attraction of Blackrock is the Blackrock Castle Observatory. This is a harbor fort from the 16th century. From here the access to the city of Cork over the River Lee was guarded. In the meantime, Blackrock Castle houses an observatory. This includes of course a planetarium, an artificial sky dome, where the starry sky can be shown and explained.

The exhibitions at Blackrock Castle have been expanded and provide a broad picture of scientific research in modern times. Admission for adults 7€, for families 20€.

Cork Blackrock Castle Observatory
Blackrock Castle Observatory

Cork City Gaol and Old Cork Waterworks Experience

Also in western direction an excursion away from the city center is definitely recommended. Especially since the River Lee splits again here and there is another small island in the river, which more or less is only accessible via footbridges. Maybe for the way there north of the Lee, back then more on the south side.

Ever been to jail? In the Cork City Gaol you can enter voluntarily! About 2km west of St. Patrick’s street on a „terrace“ above the Lee River is the old Cork City Gaol. The tour of the Cork City Gaol offers a glimpse into 19th century life, especially from the perspective of residents who did not take the laws so seriously. The visit to the administration building and cell wing is garnished with life-size wax figures in prisoners‘ clothing or prison service uniforms and spiced with some background noise. This castle-like ensemble of buildings is also part of Ireland’s architectural heritage. Since so much space is wasted only for a prison museum, a radio museum belongs to the exhibition. Even marriage is possible in Cork City Gaol. That it says life imprisonment, the couples will surely always claim at the ceremony.

The Cork City Gaol is meanwhile open all year round, entrance 10€ for adults (family 30€), exit free(!), a multilingual audio guide is available for 2€.

Cork City Gaol - Prison museum
Cork City Gaol

A little further west on the banks of the River Lee are the facilities of the old Cork Waterworks Experience. The red-orange brick buildings of the old Cork Waterworks, dating from Victorian times, now house an interactive exhibition on water collection and treatment. Here you can see the steam-powered pumps and reservoirs that were used to supply water to the growing city of Cork in the 19th century. The tall brick boiler of the steam engine is visible from afar. Where Hydropolis in Wroclaw comes across as more futuristic and with a global view of the water cycle, the Cork Waterworks Experience remains more locally historical. Admission adults 5€, family 15€..

Old Cork Waterworks experience - machine hall
Old Cork waterworks experience

Fitzgerald’s Park, Mardyke Walk and Cork Public Museum

For the way back it is worth to change the river side. There you walk more on the green side of Cork City. Besides sports facilities you will find the largest public park of Cork – Fitzgerald’s Park with sculpture path and various botanical and dendrological features. Embedded in the park is the Cork Public Museum, a local history oriented exhibition house. The free exhibition shows traces of over 7000 years of human settlement in the region. Particularly extensive is the tribute to individuals from Cork’s recent urban history who have made a national and international splash in recent decades in a variety of contexts – political, cultural, or social. Closed Mondays, admission is free.

Cork Public Museum
Cork Public Museum

With a little detour you will now find the University College of Cork. For those interested with enough time, it is even worth an extra tour in one day. The UCC is embedded in a beautiful park-like campus on the southern arm of the River Lee with paths in the green and small bridges. From February 1 to November 30 of the year, the UCC visitor center offers rewarding visitor tours Mon-Fri at 3:00 pm/Saturdays at 12:00 pm (except holidays). Visits include the historic Aula Maxima, the most important publicly accessible collection of Ogam stones in Ireland, the University Gardens and the Crawford Observatory, which houses a collection of the oldest telescopes in Ireland. In addition, the Honan Chapel will be opened as part of the visitor tour, with an extensive mosaic floor and stained glass windows by Harry Clarke. There is a €4 adult fee for the tour.

University College Cork
University College Cork

In the parks of University College Cork you will also find the Lewis Glucksman Gallery. In the modern concrete building, partly built on stilts above the meadows, changing exhibitions of Irish and international artists are shown. The Glucksman Gallery also offers a varied supporting program with workshops, artist talks, lectures and musical concerts. Mondays are closed. Admission to the Glucksman Gallery is free (mostly also to the concerts), a voluntary donation is requested with orientation to 5€.

The Glucksman Gallery - one of Corks famous culturell attractions
The Lewis Glucksman Gallery

Day trip to Kinsale

As you can see, there is a lot to see in Cork. What has been described so far are only the most important sights of Cork. If you want to get out of the city in between, a day trip to Kinsale a bit southwest is worthwhile.

Kinsale is located a bit inland on an estuary that cuts into the land like a fjord from the Atlantic coast. The sea is not visible from the town, but the maritime impression can be felt everywhere. Kinsale is an expensive place – in the meantime many „well-to-do“ have settled in the town. Although the Atlantic Ocean is not to be seen, this city gives itself a little like a seaside resort. A large marina offers space for many yachts, and the streets are lined with small exquisite stores, a gallery, and many small cafes and restaurants. The entrance to the harbor bay is protected by two fortifications. Meanwhile only ruins, to which one can undertake a hike. In any case, Kinsale offers a number of friendly views, at least in summer.

By bus, which shuttles hourly between Cork and Kinsale, you are on the road for about 45 minutes. If you are really only going to Kinsale for one day, a „daily return – ticket“ for 14,90€ is worth it. This is a ticket for the return trip on the same day. The bus leaves from Cork City bus station.

Kinsale Hafenbucht

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Travel tips for Cork

Time zone and time difference Ireland and Cork

Ireland and Cork are on Western European Time. This corresponds, apart from politically dictated deviations such as so called daylight saving time, to the time at the Greenwich meridian (GMT). Compared to Central European Time (CET) there is a time difference of -1 hour. The clock opposite shows the current time in Cork.

Weather and best time to visit Cork

The weather in Ireland is strongly influenced by the „European weather kitchen“ in the North Atlantic. The „kitchen haze“ moves quasi constantly through the country. This often means rapid changes between sun, cloud and rain showers. You should always be prepared for sudden downpours in Ireland.

In addition, the summers are much cooler than in Central Europe – with some exceptions. Even in July and August, average temperatures hardly climb above 20°C. Strong air currents can also make the weather feel fresher, so you should bring warmer clothes. On the south coast of Ireland, including the Cork region, the Gulf Stream provides somewhat milder weather. This makes the winters less cold, but wetter. Many Irish people in the south even plant palm trees in their front gardens, although they usually look rather disheveled.

The best time to visit Cork and Ireland are therefore the months of June, July and August. There are the most hours of sunshine and less precipitation. Sometimes even dry weeks. September is also possible, but you have to be prepared for cold spells and fast changes between sunshine and showers. In addition, it gets dark quite early in the evening. It is interesting that on the west coast of Ireland it stays relatively bright for a long time in the evening. This is probably due to the fact that the setting sun shines from the west onto the Atlantic Ocean and the light, reflected back and forth between the surface of the sea and the clouds, hits the Irish west coast like a light guide.

Entering Ireland

Ireland has been a member of the European Union (EU) for a long time, but it is not one of the Schengen states with a common external border. I.e. at the border will be controlled when entering Ireland. As an EU – citizen you need an identity card / ID-card or a passport. Non-EU citizens may need a visa for Ireland. This depends on the bilateral travel conditions that your country has agreed with Ireland.

Travel to Cork City

Surely it would be exaggerated to leave the farthest corner of Europe just for a visit to Cork. So you are more likely to visit this city as part of a longer trip to Ireland. The advantage – Cork is also one of the „gates to the Emerald Isle“. So you can easily stop in Cork on your way there or even before you leave. There are several possibilities:

By ferry to Cork

Cork or the offshore port Cobh is one of Ireland’s ferry ports to the „rest“ of the European Union. At least from Roscoff in France ferries leave several times a week, but only „motorized“ to use (no pedestrians, no cyclists).

Ferry to Ireland in Roscoff / France
Ferry to Cork

Although the most important ferry port of Ireland to the EU is Rosslare, the Brexit may also increase the importance of the ferry connection to Cork and the traffic will be condensed. Since the ferry on this line can only be used with motor vehicles, you will have to make your way with your own motorcycle, car or rental car*.

Cork Irlands Fährhafen und airport Wegweiser
By long distance bus

Unfortunately, the journey by long-distance bus is only possible via domestic Irish lines. There is no international long-distance bus connection. From Dublin, buses of the Irish company Buseireann regularly travel to Cork several times a day. Cork is also well connected with other cities via long-distance buses. From the European mainland it is possible to go to London, Victoria coach station. There take a bus of the British company National express to Holyhead (ferry to Dublin) or Fishguard (ferry to Rosslare) and then travel by bus eireann. …a bit adventurous, but possible. From Europort Rosslare, buses run regularly at least to Wexford, where it is possible to change to Cork via Waterford. The bus station of Cork is directly in the center.

By train in Ireland

Ireland has a rail network, although it is somewhat sparse. But Dublin as well as the Europort Rosslare are connected to the railroad network. From the latter starting point, however, it becomes difficult – to get to Cork, at least one change is necessary. There are direct connections between Dublin and Cork Kent Station. You don’t need to expect high speed traffic. The railroad lines are mostly single track and are operated by railcars. Cork Kent Station is located about 1km northeast of the city center. Also from there the bus journey is more comfortable.

Eirean Railway
Irish railway at Lee river
Getting to Cork by plane

Unfortunately, the most comfortable way to get there is by plane. Islands bring that with them in such a way that all other variants involve greater inconvenience and disadvantages.

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On the outskirts of Cork is the second largest international airport in Ireland – Cork airport. The flight schedule is by far not as dense as in Dublin and it requires a more thorough search for a flight connection there, but eventually with a change of planes Cork is also easy to reach. From/to the airport there are buses, among others also the line to Kinsale stops at the airport.

Cork airport Ireland
Cork Airport

Day trip Cork from Dublin

A saying in Ireland goes, „When God made time, he made enough of it.“ Unfortunately, yes, there are still contemporaries who still want to do everything as quickly as possible. So if you’re in Dublin right now and just want to make a quick day trip to Cork*, you can do so with guidance. The arrival to Cork is early but comfortable with an Irish InterCity – train. There you will have the opportunity to stroll through the city, visit Blarney Castle and the port of Cobh, the last stop of the Titanic before her Atlantic voyage. Travel costs, guided tours (English) and entrance fees are included in the offer, but no meals.

Accommodation in Cork – hotels and apartments

Hotels in Cork

The ****Imperial Hotel Cork* is located in the heart of the city, where life pulsates, stores and culture delight visitors. So close to the sights of Cork. The Imperial Hotel offers a range of rooms from single rooms to expandable triple rooms. There is an in-house restaurant serving breakfast at the hotel, as well as a fitness room and some spa services. Both Kent Station and the bus station are within easy reach.

Hotel Imperial  - short way by foot to the main Cork attractions
Hotel Imperial

The ****Maryborogh Hotel & Spa* places special emphasis on a pleasant stay with spa ambience. The historic building is surrounded by a spacious garden and park. Two indoor pools, sauna, steam bath and ice fountain provide refreshment and relaxation. Various treatments, massages and yoga offers complete the wellness – landscape. Families are welcome at the hotel. An elevator also provides access to upper floors for mobility-impaired guests.

Close to the action in the city of Cork is also the ****Maldron South Mall Hotel* directly opposite the City Hall. From the hotel to the English Market and the Craford Art Gallery it is only 400m through the lively center of Cork. Maldron Hotel South Mall is a modern hotel with different room categories up to family rooms. Individual areas are especially prepared for guests with limited mobility. Coffee/tea facilities are available in all rooms. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available for breakfast.

Cork City Maldron Hotel South Mall near Craford Art Gallery and English Market
Maldron Hotel South Mall

Vacation Rooms and B&B in Cork

Close to Cork University Collage, you’ll find Collage View Apartments*. The vacation – apartments and studios have well-equipped kitchens for self-catering. Some of the apartments are also suitable for families with children. Parking is free of charge at the house.

Another vacation apartment is 39 Camden Wharf* directly on the River Lee, close to the central attractions and about 6 minutes walk from the Cork bus station. This vacation apartment has two bedrooms each with a double bed. There is a fully equipped kitchen and also a washing machine for those who want to do the laundry between long hikes or bike rides. Relaxation is also possible on a sun terrace.

Belvedere Lodge* is a cozy Victorian house with various room sizes up to family rooms. It includes a stylish garden with ponds and gazebo. This bed-and-breakfast accommodation isn’t quite in the center of Cork, but there’s a bus stop right outside. It’s about 3.2km to the Crawford Art Gallery right in the center and other downtown attractions.

Cork budget accommodations

The Bru Bar & Hostel* in Cork offers accommodation in 4 bed dorm – rooms, some mixed and some gender segregated. There are also 2-3 guest private rooms in this hostel. A breakfast is included, which is not standard in all hostels in Ireland.

Sheilas Hostel Cork - close to all attractions in the City
Sheilas Hostel

Sheilas Hostel* is the cheapest hostel in Cork. North of the city centre Sheilas Hostel is very close to the Cork attractions. Very neat and tidy and quite big. But here is no breakfast included. There are dorm – beds in 4 to 14 – bed dormitories and private rooms. A communal kitchen can be used, the food places are also a popular meeting place to chat. As Sheila’s Hostel is situated on a hillside above the city center, you can see from the front rooms far across Cork to the opposite slopes of the Lee River valley.

Money in Ireland

Ireland was one of the first countries in the EU to introduce the Euro as a common currency. You can replenish your euro cash everywhere at ATMs, which are numerous throughout the country. With a suitable credit card free of charge, extra – ATM fees are not charged (so far). The possibilities for payment by credit card are also widespread.

Local transport within Cork

There are city buses in Cork City. However, I have no experience with it, since I practically always walked all the way. (Even the relatively long way to Blackrock Castle). The bus station is located in the center of the city. There are also information desks and public toilets in the building.

Bicycles are a good alternative on many routes, especially along the Lee River. There are beginnings for bicycle lanes in the city center. However, this is still nowhere near as sophisticated as in some continental cities. But a city bike – rental network is in place with parking spaces distributed throughout the city center. A new „greenway“ as a combined bicycle/walking path leads from the eastern center on an abandoned railroad track in a southeasterly direction and can also be used in part to travel to Blackrock.

City Bikes Station in Cork
City Bikes in Cork
Old tram  railways  in Cork-Blackrock
old tram- railways in Blackrock

Fancy a visit to Cork?

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