Things to do in Cork, Ireland

Things to do in Cork, Ireland

A great place to stay, Cork city is a fun town to stay in as well as a good place to start day trips to some popular destinations. Here are the things to do in Cork, Ireland and beyond, including where to eat and my pick for the best coffee in Cork!

On our recent trip to Ireland, we knew we had to see Dublin (see the best place to stay in Dublin) and then we wanted to see some of the countryside. With just four days left in our itinerary, we debated between Cork and Galway. We ultimately landed on the former, choosing it as a great place to stay and as a good jumping off point for southwest Ireland.

Things to do in Cork, Ireland - statue

Things to do in Cork, Ireland

Our time in Cork was divided between staying in Cork City and taking our rental car to nearby destinations, including Blarney Castle and Kinsale.

The downtown area of Cork is actually a tiny island in the River Lee. Walking along the river is a nice way to see the city a bit more. When you’re driving around, the city can seem a bit confusing with one way streets that crisscross the tiny island, but walking around is so easy.

If you like shopping, the downtown area has small, local shops and large department stores of Marks & Spencer and Brown Thomas. After losing our luggage last year on our trip to Scotland, we found kiddo basics at Marks & Spencer, so I was excited to return for this year’s basics for boys.

Since the rain and cold come and go in Cork (the British Isles in general!), popping in and out of the stores was a welcome respite.

And on that note, be sure to see my Ireland packing list with outfit photos!

My favorite thing to do in Cork, besides all the delicious restaurants, was to visit the English Market. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I love to visit food halls and farmers markets when traveling, so the English Market was a must for me.

Just see the market food in London; our visit to Daylesford Farm in the Cotswolds; Granville Market in Vancouver, B.C.; and the sublime St. Rémy de Provence Farmers Market. I told you it was a thing!

The market offers everything from vegetables, butcher stalls, fishmongers, and freshly baked bread to dessert tarts, chocolates, tea leaves, and sandwiches to grab for a meal.

We got some baked goodies to try then as well as a few items to bring home, including a new reusable bag!

If you stay somewhere with a kitchen, this would be a great place to shop for food to cook yourselves!!

Things to do in Cork, Ireland

Visiting Blarney Castle from Cork

If you have a rental car, the drive to Blarney Castle is 15-20 minutes if there’s no traffic. You can also take a bus, which should take about 30 minutes.

You can, and should, buy your tickets online ahead of time. You aren’t committed to a time, just a date to visit.

We arrived with about 1 hour left to see the castle before closing, which was enough because there were so few people at the end of the day. It wasn’t enough time, however, to walk around the GORGEOUS grounds around the castle. The gardens and plants are tailored for the seasons and are simply astounding.

In the above photo, you can see the tulips just starting to bloom as well as the picnic tables, greenery, and the flowing river.

And then there are various gardens and arboretums, including gardens of poisonous plants, carnivorous plants, ferns, and a Vietnamese woodland. While the castle didn’t take us long (because of few people), you might have a wait to climb up…but leave time to see the gardens – a great place for a picnic. Yes, you can buy food there.

Day Trip to Kinsale

The one place that multiple friends recommended we visit was Kinsale – a small town on the southern coast.

With only a morning to visit (we still have a nap time), we started at Charles Fort – an old military base. With places to wander inside and out, it was a fun stop – great to see the views. Not recommended on a very rainy day, however.

Then we drove down the small streets to the downtown area of Kinsale – along the water. The area is just a few square blocks full of restaurants, small shops, groceries, etc. Kinsale is known for delicious food and lots of live music!

Open Farms for the Kids

Ok. So, because we had a four year old with us and we try to be mindful of him in the activities we choose, we did take one off-the-beaten- track drive to a kids farm called Leahy’s.

If you don’t have a car, i don’t think it would be easy to get to, but with a car, we were fine. The farm offered feeding animals, some outdoor games, a barrel train ride pulled by a tractor, and an indoor climbing gym.

Our visit was during a windy and rainy afternoon, which wasn’t much fun, I will admit. Our little guy enjoyed the kid-focused activity, however, so I mention it if you’ll be traveling with young kids too.

Where to eat in Cork

Ok, besides things to do in Cork, we need to talk about where to eat in Cork because the food was probably my favorite part of our time in the city – and I don’t mean that lightly. The region is known for being a foodie haven, and for good reason. We didn’t have a bad meal – even a bad dish? – during our stay.

While our visit wasn’t during a busy season, we still made reservations and, at times, needed them. All our reservations were made day of or the day before. So if you’re going during more popular times, get on the reservations!


Market Lane was deemed my mom’s favorite meal for our whole time in Ireland, so there’s your selling point. My husband had a cocktail called the “Not So Manhattan” that he won’t stop talking about! And I”m just here to say it was great.

Market Lane restaurant is one of a group of restaurants all touted as worth visiting. Elbow Lane, a barbecue restaurant, is just next door and that would’ve been our next dinner if we had another night.


So close to the sea, you’ll find a lot of seafood. Quinlan’s offers a range of freshly caught fish in a delicious assortment of dishes. We had the seared salmon and shrimp pasta – both of which were delicious. The menu varies based on what was caught that morning!

Things to do in Cork, Ireland - Bocelli Italian Restaurant


My mom actually spotted Bocelli on one of our walks around Cork during the day, so I found it and made a reservation. When we were searching for restaurants in Dublin, I discovered how strong the Italian influence is in Ireland!

After a hefty day of walking and traveling, two of us opted for the steak (it absolutely hit the spot) and lamb shank. Our kiddo, ever the pasta fanatic, obviously picked pasta dish.

It was a delicious big meal at the end of a day in a cozy setting!


Just south of the downtown area, I stumbled (online before our arrival) onto Salt. They have a small but DELICIOUS lunch menu and I would’ve happily gone back for dinner.

An unassuming spot in an otherwise residential and somewhat industrial area, Salt was a welcome find. I had a falafel wrap with pickled onions; my husband had a fried chicken sandwich; and my mom and son shared lox and cream cheese on a bagel. And the french fries were SCRUMPTIOUS!

The dinner offering is certainly bigger. We didn’t really need reservations for our late lunch mid-week, but it isn’t a big restaurant, so I’d make reservations just to be sure.

A NOTE ON PARKING: When we arrived, there was only parking with paid signs. After a few directions (and a lot of touristy misunderstanding on my part), I finally figured it out…

At the nearby gas station, you can buy a parking ticket. It looks like a lottery ticket. You scratch off the year, month, date, and time you parked and then place it in your windshield. Each parking sign will tell you how long you can park there – and that’s your ticket. Every parking ticket is €2.50. I bought two just so we didn’t have to go searching for another ticket in a time of need.


We wandered past Greenwich Café one night and its cuteness caught my eye. When it popped up on my map for a lunch option a few days later, we wandered right over.

Open for breakfast and lunch only, it’s a great spot that should absolutely be on your list. We ordered a few salads – yummy – served with possibly the best bread I had on the entirety of our trip – and I had a lot of tasty bread!

The Best Coffee in Cork, Ireland

My husband and I take coffee seriously, so I always have an embarrassing number of coffee shops starred before we arrive in any new city. We tried a fair few in Cork, but only found two that we thought were worth mentioning.

The first is The Bookshelf and the second is Three Fools Coffee. Both have a bit of seating, the latter more than the former.

One of our eco travel tips is to buy coffee beans from local roasters. Fascinatingly, Three Fools roasted beans grown in India and China – two regions from which we’ve never seen coffee beans. They were delicious in the cafe and back here at home!

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