Ireland

14 unique things to do in and around Cork

by Paul Joseph  |  Published October 17, 2019

It may not be as famous as its Dublin counterpart, but the city of Cork has plenty of its own appeal. Situated in the south-west of Ireland, the country’s so-called “second city” has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, with widespread investment revitalising its waterfront and adding much needed life to a once ailing city centre. Today, artisan coffee bars, cosy pubs hosting live music, and restaurants serving up locally sourced cuisine dominate the retail landscape.

A view over the River Lee in Cork by night (Photo: LWYang via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Cork’s recent revival has also given the city a much-needed tourism boost, with large numbers of visitors now coming here every year. If you’re planning a trip to Cork in the near future and would like to get a taste of the city’s lesser known attractions, as well as it’s more popular ones, we’ve picked out 14 of the most unique things to see and do.

Discover Cork’s rich butter heritage

It may not be as indelibly linked with Ireland as Guinness, but butter has also played a prominent role in the nation’s export industry down the years. Standing as testimony to this heritage is The Cork Butter Museum, which tells the story of how Irish butter came to prominence in the international butter market in the second half of the 20th century, and still makes its way around the globe today. As well as a range of exhibits, there are also regular butter-making demonstrations. The museum is located in Cork’s historic market centre, which was has been at the heart of the city’s trade for centuries.

LOCATION O’Connell Square, Shandon HOURS Mon-Sat 10am-5pm Sun 11am-4pm

An exterior shot of The Butter Museum (Photo: William Murphy via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Catch a premium coach service to a whisky tasting adventure

Jameson whiskey is one of Ireland’s most popular exports, and the blended Irish spirit just so happens to be distilled in County Cork. Fans of the beverage can discover the secrets behind its unique flavours and taste by joining The Jameson Experience, a fully guided tour around the original Midleton Distillery which brings the stories of the brand’s rich heritage to life. Cronin’s Coaches run daily premium round-trip coach services direct from Cork City to the Jameson Experience, departing from St Patricks Quay. During the experience, you’ll also get the chance to learn about the complexities of the field-to-glass processes and, the grand finale, a tasting session featuring three famous whiskeys.

Outside the entrance to The Jameson Experience (Photo: Cronin’s Coaches)

Attend a festival promoting the culture of science

Science enthusiasts in Cork each November are in for a treat thanks to the city hosting the acclaimed Cork Science Festival. Held over 10 action-packed days, the annual event puts on a diverse programme of events and activities, including tours, talks, exhibitions, shows, workshops, and more, with plenty of interactive engagement designed to spark the imagination of young budding scientists in classrooms and other venues throughout the city.

LOCATION Venues across Cork DATES November each year

Marvel at an intriguing archeological landmark

Perched on the slopes of Mushera Mountain, about 11km from Millstreet, County Cork, Knocknakilla Stone Circle is one of the area’s most intriguing landmarks – and one that is suitably steeped in folklore. The prehistoric site consists of a stone circle, two standing stones, and a cairn, which are thought to have been erected in the Middle or Late Bronze Age to be used during rituals or ceremonies. The stones were discovered in 1931 when the interior of the circle was excavated and they have been visited by a steady stream of curious minded folk ever since.

LOCATION Knocknakilla

Sink some beers at a microbrewery

Housed in the historic Musgrave buildings on Cornmarket Street in Cork city centre, Rising Sons Brewery is an award-winning microbrewery and brew pub. Independent and family-owned, the company brews small batch beers with creativity, passion and a dash of rock ‘n’ roll, with a particular focus on seasonal specials. The venue also hosts regular live music sessions and the kitchen is open daily from early till late. Whether you’re looking for a cosy snug to enjoy the finest local beer, a simple chat at the bar, or visiting with a group, a trip to Rising Sons is a ‘must’ for beer lovers visiting Cork. Brewery tours can be pre-booked at risingsonscork@gmail.com or by calling 021 2414764.

LOCATION Cornmarket Street HOURS Mon-Thurs 12pm-11.30pm Fri 12pm-12.30am Sat 11.30am-12.30am Sun 11.30am-11pm

Rising Sons Brewery

Inside the Rising Sons craft beer pub (Photo: Rising Sons Brewery)

Immerse yourself in Cork’s maritime heritage

Set in the second largest natural harbour in the world, Cork’s rich maritime history has given rise to the annual summer Cork Harbour Festival that celebrates this heritage with 9 days of fun-filled entertainment. Over 70 diverse events take place in Cork harbour and other harbour towns and villages, including open sails, urban kayaking, seaweed foraging, and – the festival’s flagship event – Ocean to City, a stunning regatta featuring a 200-strong fleet of vessels from traditional wooden boats, currachs, gigs, Chinese dragon boats, and even stand-up paddleboards. There’s also plenty to enjoy quayside, such as seafood markets, mobile saunas, free guided walking tours, and more.

LOCATION Cork Harbour DATES 15-24 May 2020

Walk in the shadows of revolutionary heroes

Now a museum, Cork City Gaol once played a key role in Cork’s revolutionary past. The vast Georgian-Gothic building housed female Republican political prisoners during the Irish War of Independence as well as several prominent male inmates during the Irish Civil War. Today the former prison welcomes visitors keen to discover one of Cork’s most resonant landmarks, with eerie evening tours costing €10.

LOCATION Convent Avenue, Sunday’s Well HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-4pm

Cork City Gaol

Inside Cork City Gaol (Photo: NeticolaFollow via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Take a tour of a whiskey distillery

Cork has been known for distilling top quality Irish Whiskey and other spirits for centuries, but one of its more recently founded distilleries is West Cork Distillers. Since launching in 2003, the company has rapidly gained a reputation for its innovative approach to maturing, distilling and bottling some of the finest craft Irish Whiskey on the market today. Based in the town of Skibbereen in County Cork, several other quality beverages are also produced here, with its team of over 80 people leveraging an entrepreneurial mindset and a passion for both the science and art of spirit to supply discerning drinkers with their favourite tipples. Tours of the distillery take place every Saturday.

LOCATION Marsh Road, Skibbereen, County Cork HOURS Saturdays 10am-2pm

West Cork Distillers

Machinery inside West Cork Distillers (Photo: West Cork Distillers)

Traverse the River Lee in a kayak

For a fun-filled water-based experience in Cork, visitors can embark on a leisurely “Under the Bridges” kayaking tour in the heart of the city. This tour, hosted by Atlantic Sea Kayaking, highlights why Cork is affectionately known as the “Venice of the North” and gives people an insight into the history and unique culture of Cork city. Starting at Lapps Quay, groups of up to 12 can sign up to paddle on the River Lee in sit on top double kayaks, navigating the waterways and passing under several bridges along the route. Tours are suitable for ages 12 and up, with absolute beginners welcome. All equipment is provided.

LOCATION Lapps Quay HOURS For availability, check www.atlanticseakayaking.com or call 028 21058

Atlantic Sea Kayaking

A group of kayakers passes under St Patrick’s Bridge in Cork (Photo: Atlantic Sea Kayaking)

Catch some flicks at a prestigious movie festival

Ireland’s largest film festival, the Cork Film Festival is a major event on the nation’s cultural calendar. Designed to highlight and promote Cork’s close links to Europe and beyond through movies, the 11-day festival showcases over 300 films and events. The 2019 programme includes a diverse mix of screenings across genres, such as international and Irish features, documentaries and shorts. Screenings tailored for schools and families will also take place, including several highlighting mental health issues. Audience members will get the chance to take part in Q&As and panel discussions with film industry professionals, and the Festival will close with a prestigious awards event. Highlights for the 64th Cork Film Festival include the Irish premiere of Feras Fayyad’s gripping film on war-torn Syria The Cave as this year’s Documentary Gala, the Irish Gala will be Aoife Crehan’s comedy-drama debut The Last Right, while the Family Gala is Disney’s long-awaited Frozen 2, ahead of its general release. For more information, please visit corkfilmfest.org.

LOCATION Venues across Cork Place DATES November each year

Sample Cork’s finest sausages in a famous market

Four generations of sausage making have made the O’Flynn family one of the most recognised and popular food makers in Cork. As well as providing top notch sausages – made using a blend of old family recipes along with new international influences – for retailers around the city, O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausage Company also has its own dedicated stall in Cork’s famous English Market. Here, hungry workers, locals and tourists can get their piggy kick from Monday to Saturday every week, savouring their delectable sausages while taking in the unique ambiance of this bustling, friendly roofed food market, which has been a mainstay in the city since 1788.

LOCATION Princes Street HOURS Mon 8am-6pm Closed Sun

O'Flynns Gourmet Sausage Company

A mouth-watering line-up of sausages at The English Market in Cork (Photo: O’Flynns Gourmet Sausage Company)

Tap your toes to ‘trad’

For a raucous night out in Cork listening to traditional (or ‘trad’) Irish music, Sin É is one of the city’s most unique entertainment spots. The venue hosts live music every night of the week, with some of Cork’s finest talents regularly performing here. The pub also boasts some eye-catching décor, including an old barber’s chair in the upstairs area, helping make it one of Cork’s true hidden gems.

LOCATION 8 Coburg Street, Shandon HOURS Mon-Thurs 12.30pm-11.30pm Fri-Sat 12.30pm-12.30am Sun 12.30pm-11pm

Sin É

A view outside the Sin É pub (Photo: William Murphy via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Visit the seals near Garnish Island

Nestled in a protected part of Bantry Bay, Garnish Island is a popular excursion for visitors to Cork thanks to its scenic views and array of exotic plant life. During the ferry ride out to the island, guests will get to stop and admire the residents of Seal Island, home to hundreds of noisy (but friendly) seals. Eagle-eyed visitors may also spot white-tailed sea eagles, as well as the occasional dolphin.

Garnish Island

Two seals recline on a rock near Garnish Island (Photo: Bobby McKay via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Admire a sculptural tribute

The Irish famine of the mid-19th century was one of the darkest periods in the country’s history, and the eye-catching Kindred Spirits sculpture stands as a tribute to a remarkable act of generosity shown to the nation during this catastrophic time. In 1847, The Choctaw Native Americans raised a significant amount of money to provide food supplies for the starving Irish and this monument, featuring nine giant stainless steel feathers shaped into an empty bowl, honours that incredible display of charity.

LOCATION Bailick Park, Midleton