The top attractions to visit in Cork include the English Market, Blarney Castle, St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, St. Anne Church, Blackrock Castle Observatory, Fitzgerald Park, Spike Island, and Cork City Gaol.
Cork, in southwest Ireland, has some of the best tourist attractions in the country.
From beautiful landscapes to soft beaches, cathedrals, tour-worthy penitentiary and fortresses, museums, and tour-worthy markets, Cork has something to wow every tourist.
In fact, Cork visitors can easily be spoiled for choice.
And that’s why we’ve prepared this guide.
We’ll give you eight of the top attractions to visit in Cork, explaining why they are the best, who they are best for, as well as their admission fees.
Let’s get started!
1. English Market
The English Market is one of the most tour-worthy food markets globally.
Established in 1788, the English Market is one of the oldest markets in Cork. It has survived a fire incident, the civil war, and several recessions.
One thing that makes the English Market a tourist hotspot is its architecture, from the amazing fountain at the center to the quirky roof, and more.
The overflowing stalls are another sight to behold. Walk through the stalls to see the bread, fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, cheese and more.
The market also has spots where you can sit down and try some fresh bread, sausages, and local delicacies. You can also grab hot coffee while the kids enjoy hot chocolate.
What’s more, you don’t have to pay anything to access the place.
If you’re wondering why Cork is the “food capital of Ireland”, you’ll understand if you visit the English Market.
Even Queen Elizabeth II visited the English Market on her first-ever visit to Ireland in 2011.
Official website: www.englishmarket.ie.
2. Blarney Castle (and the Blarney Stone)
Blarney Castle is rich in history. It was built in 1446 by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy.
It is one of Ireland’s most talked-about attractions because of the legendary Blarney Stone.
For thousands of years, it’s been believed that kissing the Blarney stone (the stone of eloquence) gives one the “gift of the gab” – the ability to speak eloquently.
Join the thousands who visit the Blarney Castle every year and climb the battlement to kiss the Blarney stone.
Who knows, you may never again be lost for words.
Interestingly, Blarney Castle is not just about the Blarney Stone.
Underneath the tower that houses the stone, you’ll find a labyrinth of underground passages and chambers dating from different periods in the Castle’s history.
The castle’s east wall holds “The Court” – the ruins of a late eighteenth-century Gothic mansion. Exploring further, you’ll find the Witch Stone, where the witch that revealed the power of the Blarney stone was imprisoned.
There’s also the Witch Kitchen, which was where the first Irish cave dwellers called home.
The Blarney Castle also boasts green picnic areas. Your family, especially the kids, will enjoy walking around the gardens and settling down for a picnic.
Official website: www.blarneycastle.ie.
3. St. Fin Barre Cathedral
St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, which is Cork’s Anglican cathedral, is an architectural wonder.
The cathedral was completed in 1878. The magnificent building is a Gothic Revival-style cathedral featuring three spires and over 1,200 sculptures.
You’ll find intricate sculptures of the twelve apostles bearing instruments of their martyrdom.
And you’ll also find representations of different biblical scenes, like “the wise and the foolish virgins”, “the last judgment” scene from the book of revelation, and more.
Watch out for the “goldie angel” – a lovely gold-plated copper sculpture of an angel facing eastward on the main spire.
The interior of the cathedral is as awesome as its exterior.
The nave is unusually high and supported by large columns. The cylindrical pulpit comes with five stone relief figures, and the baptismal font has a ledge decorated with a John the Baptist. Impressive stained glass in the 74 windows of the massive cathedral fills its interior with colour.
Another thing that makes St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral special is the swinging cannonball.
An ancient weapon of destruction is not something you’ll expect to see in a place of worship. But inside the cathedral, you’ll see a cannonball suspended from a chain just beyond the Dean’s chapel. It was fired from nearby Elizabeth port, during the siege of Cork in 1690.
For the tour’s climax, enter the Cathedral Gift Shop, which is open during visitors’ opening times. It stocks a wide range of items, many unique to the Cathedral.
A small admission fee is collected from touring the Cathedral:
- Adults – €6
- Seniors and Students – €5
- Children under 16 yrs – €3
Official site: https://corkcathedral.webs.com/
4. St. Anne Church (and the Shandon Bells)
St Anne Church was built between 1722 and 1726, making it one of the oldest churches in Ireland.
However, unlike most cathedrals, it is not its architecture that makes St Anne Church tour worthy. Rather, it is the church’s bells and clock.
The bells (Shandon bells) in the church tower provide one of the most immersive tour experiences.
There are 135 steps to get to the viewing balcony at the top of the tower. As you climb, you get to see the bells first-hand and how they work. Interestingly, you can ring the bells yourself on the first floor and enjoy the resounding music.
After the third floor, you will climb through the belfry and onto the viewing balcony, where a 360 degree of Cork city awaits you.
The Church tower is great for the whole family. Kids hardly forget the unique experience of not just seeing but also ringing the Shandon bells.
However, children under 2 years are not allowed past the first floor.
The tower’s clock, dubbed the “four face liar”, is another interesting feature of the St. Anne Church. You’ll be excited by how the time doesn’t seem to correspond on each face of the clock, depending on the angle of view.
The admission fee is also very small:
- Adults – €4.00
- Seniors and Students – €3.00
- Children – €2.00 (5 – 15 years) and free if under 5 years
- Family – €12.00 (two adults and up to four children under 16 yrs)
Official site: www.shandonbells.ie.
5. Blackrock Castle Observatory
Blackrock Castle is the oldest structure still in use in Cork. It was built in 1582 as a defence fortification but now houses an observatory, a visitor centre, and a restaurant.
A visit to the Blackrock Castle Observatory includes entry to “Journeys of Exploration”. The guided tour will take you to the gunnery, the riverside terrace, and the tower.
Perhaps the best part of a visit to Blackrock Castle Observatory is the “Cosmos at the Castle” – a science exhibition about extreme life and the universe.
There’s a planetarium where one can explore the skies. You’ll be able to use cinema-sized video screens to explore the formation of the universe. And there’s a galactic email station where you can send an email to space and track its navigation.
Blackrock Castle Observatory is excellent for all ages. Your kids will love Cosmo, a virtual astronaut with whom they can share their alien theories.
In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more fun and exciting location to learn about the universe.
Also, you won’t have to dip deep into your pockets to take your family to Blackrock Castle Observatory.
The admission fee is just €20 for up to six people from the same household.
Official site: www.bco.ie.
6. Fitzgerald Park
Fitzgerald Park, which is just a short distance from the city centre, offers a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
This beautiful park features tree-lined avenues, rose gardens, a large pond, and a central fountain. There are also statues and sculptures that’ll get you excited.
The Fitzgerald Park is home to the “Sky Garden,” an award-winning garden that thrills with its flowery display.
The 18-acre park has a large playground for the kids, which is one of the best in Ireland.
There’s a cafe where you can grab some food and drinks for refreshment. Better still, you can pack some food and enjoy a riverside picnic on the banks of the River Lee.
Fitzgerald Park is also home to the Cork Public Museum. This has a fine representation of the archaeological and medieval history of Cork and surrounding cities.
The museum also has interesting collections that cover the socio-economic history of the city. You’ll find regalia and crafts of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Cork Glass, Cork ceramic, Cork silver, and Youghal needlepoint Lace.
Admission to the museum is free.
7. Spike Island
Spike Island hosts the star-shaped structure on the Celtic sea, Fort Mitchel. The building has a rich 1,300 years history behind it.
The island has been home to a 7th-century monastery, a 24-acre fortress, the largest prison in the world, and an island home. So, the rich stories go from captains to convicts, from saints to sinners, and from redcoats to rioters.
Fort Mitchel is a very popular tourist attraction because of its dark history, especially as a prison.
A ferry from Kennedy Pier in Cobh will take you to Spike Island in 12 – 15 minutes. You’ll get a stunning view of Cobh from the waters. And you’ll also catch sights of seals, dolphins, and sea birds.
The regular guided tour of Fort Mitchel starts right at the arrival point. Parts of the building to explore include:
- The Punishment Block. Learn how inmates were treated in the block that earned it the name “hell on earth.”
- The Artillery Gun Park. See the biggest artillery gun park with cannons and modern military machines.
- Long tunnels. Walk in the narrow tunnels to the fort’s 6’’ harbour defence guns.
- Former Children Prison. Which held the little ones
- Former Church Mitchel hall. Now converted to house temporary art exhibitions.
You can also take in the air in the two amazing walk trails that the island features.
The first is the 20-minute ‘Glasis walk’, which takes you around the fortress with stunning harbour views.
The second is the 45 minutes ‘Ring of Spike’ walking trail, which takes you around the coastline surrounded by nature and wildlife.
There’s a cafe where you can get food and drinks to keep your energy levels up.
Apart from the regular tour, there’s the after-dark tour where you’ll hear more chilling stories about the fort too horrific for the light of day. These include the detail of the horrific treatment in the punishment block, stories of murders and suicides, and more.
While the regular tour is suitable for all ages, the after-dark tour would not suit minors.
Ticket to Spine Island cost:
- Adult – €23
- Children (under 12 years) – €11 but free if under 2 years
- Family (2 adults and up to 2 children) – €53
- Seniors and students (13 – 17 years) – €18
Official site: www.spikeislandcork.ie
8. Cork City Gaol
Cork City Gaol is a former prison that’s now one of the best tourist attractions in Ireland. When it opened in 1824, men and women who committed crimes within the city boundary were sent here. Then it became an all-female prison in 1874 before closing as a prison in 1923.
Cork City Gaol makes an excellent tourist attraction because of its architecture and history.
It is a wonderful piece of Gothic architecture. In fact, the exterior looks more like a castle than a prison.
The building has an impressive H design, with the Governor’s block forming the central block. Each end of the block feature 3-storeys high circular drum galleries linking into the cell wings.
The history that the Gaol unlocks is another thing that makes it tour-worthy. It vividly reveals how harsh the penal system was in those days. The stories of inmates sentenced to hard labour for stealing bread are particularly touching.
Hear the exciting tale of how Cork City high-value prisoners escaped from the supposedly “safest prison” in 1923. See the site of the first official radio station in Cork, from when the top floor of the Governor’s house was used as a radio broadcasting station in 1927.
Cork City Gaol is open to all ages.
The cost of tickets are
- Adults: €10.00
- Student: €8.50
- OAP: €8.50
- Child: €6.00
- Family ticket: €30.00 (2 adults and up to 4 children)
Official site: www.corkcitygaol.com.
Cork has many great attractions. But the eight mentioned above have given tourists the most delight.
- The combination of grand architecture and overflowing stalls make the unique English Market.
- The experience of kissing the stone of eloquence at Blarney Castle to receive the “gift of the gab” is more than touring.
- The architectural wonder that is St Fin Barre Cathedral will have you drooling.
- The immersive experience of ringing the Shandon bells at St Anne Church is second to none.
- Learning about the universe cannot be more fun and exciting than in the Blackrock Castle Observatory.
- Have a two-in-one experience enjoying the plush gardens and the museum in the Fitzgerald Park
- The rich history of Fort Mitchel in moving from a monastery to a fortress to a prison create a uniquely diversified experience.
- The castle exterior of the City Gaol and the past it unlocks makes it one of the most tour worth prisons.
When visiting Cork for its amazing experience, you’ll need amazing accommodation to boot.
Relax Ireland is the holiday home expert. We source the best self-catering holiday houses in Cork to ensure that your family have the best holiday experience in the city.
To have the best of the above eight top attractions in Cork, you’ll not find a better accommodation than the Vienna Woods Holiday Villas in Glanmire. This four-star apartment offers all the comforts of your own home.
Importantly, it is the best place to easily access all eight of our top tourist attractions in Cork. For example, It’s just:
- 14 minutes drive (8 km) to St Fin Barre’s Cathedral
- 14 mins drive (7.4 km) to St Anne Church and the Shandon bells
- 13 mins drive (7.2 km) to the English Market
- 14 mins drive (8.6 km) to Blackrock Castle Observatory
- 18 mins drive (8.9 km) to Cork City Gaol
- 14 mins drive (8.6 km) to Blackrock Castle Observatory
- 19 mins drive (13.7 km) to Blarney Castle
- 18 – 22 mins drive (17.3 – 17.9 km) to Cobh, to board the ferry to Spike Island
You may also like the 4-bedroom apartment at the Shanagarry Holiday Village, Shanagarry.
Lay the foundations for an unforgettable family holiday in Cork by booking these self-catering homes today.