60 Things To Do in Cork City: An Insider’s Guide
Known as the ‘real’ capital of Ireland, Cork did its residents proud when it was featured in Lonely Planet’s 2010 Top 10 ‘Best in Travel’. It meant the whole world knew at last what we’d been saying for years; there’s no place quite like The People’s Republic of Cork.
As well earning the title European Capital of Culture in 2005, Cork’s other accolades include being the home of Game of Thrones’ Prince Joffrey, witnessing the first plantation of potatoes in Ireland, and counting itself as the only place in the world where the statement ‘I will, yeah!’ means a full, resounding ‘No’.
If you ever find yourself in the rebel county – so called not because of Michael Collins and the Irish War of Independence, but because of its fidelity to the dispossessed House of York in the English War of the Roses – then drink a pint of Murphy’s (far superior to its counterpart Guinness), dig into some Clonakilty black pudding (just don’t ask what’s in it) and soak in the one-of-a-kind Corkonian atmosphere.
What should I do in Cork?
“Where Finbarr Taught, let Munster Learn.”
Founded in 1845, University College Cork was named Irish University of the Year by the Sunday Times on four occasions, most recently in 2015/2016, as well as a top performing university by the European Commission. The college campus is located just 1km from the city centre, along Western Road and College Road, and it’s not uncommon to hear international students exclaiming ‘It’s like Hogwarts!’ as they meander around the impressive grounds. Here, you can find the extraordinary Ogam (Ogham) Stones Collection; part of an exhibition called ‘Stories in Stone’ in the cloister walk of historic Main Quadrangle Building, it is the largest collection on open display in Ireland. Visitors should also relax in the beautiful President’s Garden under a Giant Redwood, mature oak or beech tree, admire the 19th century stained glass of the Honan Chapel and bask in the formal wonder of the Aula Maxima. Student superstition holds that by crossing the Quad before graduation – or even walking on the grass – you risk failure in exams, and by stepping on the crest you will become pregnant, so do so at your own peril! Visit UCC website here.
Crawford Art Gallery
A National Cultural Institution public art gallery and museum in the heart of Cork city, Crawford Art Gallery – founded in 1818 – is dedicated to both historic and contemporary art, welcoming over 200,000 visitors a year. Since 1979, the gallery has been based in the old Cork Customs House at Emmet Place, built in 1724. In 2000, the building was extended significantly, and is now a balance of Georgian grace and contemporary style. Both admission to Crawford and its exhibitions is free, so you can enjoy the permanent collection of European and Irish art, classical Greek and Roman statues, bookshop and popular café.
Live at the Marquee
Undoubtedly the highlight of the summer for any Corkonian, Live at the Marquee is an annual music festival which is held over multiple days in June and July in Centre Park Road, the Docklands. The first Live at the Marquee was organised in 2005, when the city was the official European Capital of Culture. The event boasts some of the best-known names in the music industry, including Kanye West, Elton John, 50 Cent, Diana Ross, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, Jay-Z, Morrissey, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Lady Gaga, Jessie J, Meat Loaf, Ke$ha and Sting. I saw my absolute favourite artist Damien Rice perform his first concert in Ireland in over 10 years under the canopy of the multicoloured circus tent, I’ve also seen Paolo Nutini play, and I’ve sat by the river with a few friends, and a few cans of cheap cider listening to Bruce Springsteen sing the River in the arena (he was THAT loud). No matter who’s on stage, the atmosphere in the tent is always electric.
Sunny afternoon in the city? You’ll find most of Cork’s workforce enjoying their lunch break sunbathing in Bishop Lucey Park, or Peace Park, as it’s known to locals. Located between Grand Parade and South Main Street in the historic medieval core of the city, you’ll first notice the park’s distinctive archway, which was originally the entrance to the former corn market in Anglesea Street. Just inside the entrance of the park, a section of the old wall of Cork remains visible; you’ll also find two notable sculptures in the area, the ‘Onion Seller’ – which is a bronze sculpture commemorating the street traders on Cornmarket Street – and a bronze fountain with eight swans, symbolising Cork’s 800 years as a chartered city. During World Book Fest, the Cork City Libraries and Triskel Arts Centre hosts events for children in the park; at Christmastime, they can enjoy the winter wonderland Glow, with the North Pole Express toy trains, a giant Jack-in-the-Box and giant candy canes. Children can even post their letters to Santa in a special North Pole post-box!Fitzgerald’s Park
Just a gentle walk from town is Fitzgerald’s Park, one of the few playgrounds in the city centre. I spent most of my childhood here, whizzing down a bright yellow slide that gave you electric shocks for the entire journey and begging whatever adult was there at the time to give me a spin on the ‘big swing’ – a huge tyre suspended by chains that was always hogged by the bigger kids. The park has recently undergone substantial renovations to make the site more wheelchair accessible, and the yellow slide and tyre swing are no longer there. My nostalgia doesn’t last for very long, though – I’m now just jealous that I’m apparently ‘too old’ to explore the giant castle and ship structures… Thankfully, what I’m not too old to do is jump up and down on the Shakey Bridge. Officially called Daly’s Bridge, it’s a pedestrian suspension bridge spanning the River Lee. Built in 1926, it joins Sunday’s Well road on the northside to Fitzgerald’s Park on the south. The park is more than just a playground and a wobbly bridge, however. Situated on the banks of the Lee, the manicured Mardyke Gardens, waterlily pond, public museum, café, Sky Garden pod and Pavilion of Light all offer a magical, enchanting, relaxing experience to adults and kids alike. You’ll even notice people enjoying a spot of yoga on Saturday mornings in the summer!
“When us you ring we’ll sweetly sing.”
Want to see the unique Cork skyline from one of the city’s most historic areas? All you have to do is climb the 132 steps at St Anne’s Church – built in 1722 – and you can immerse yourself in the spectacular 360 degree views of the city at 120 feet. Visible from all over the city, the Tower’s iconic red sandstone (North & East) and white ashlar limestone (South & West) is believed to have inspired the sporting colours of Cork. The tower’s recognisable clock was erected by Cork Corporation in 1847, and consequently given the name ‘The Four Faced Liar’ as the four clocks are not always in agreement of the exact time. The fish weather vane, which is painted in gold leaf overlooks the River Lee, symbolises the important salmon fishing industry, and is an early Christian symbol for the name of the Lord. The eight bells (which are rung via an Ellacombe, and weigh over 6 tonnes together) are famous due to the song ‘The Bells of Shandon’ by Francis Sylvester Mahony. Why not ring them yourself and be part of Cork’s history? Check out the website here.
Take some time to visit Cork City Gaol at Sunday’s Well and enjoy a spooky audio tour of the 19th century prison (it was even home to Cork’s first radio station!). The Everyman Theatre on MacCurtain Street is a must-see; a 650-seat Victorian theatre and listed building, it originally opened in 1897/98 and is the oldest purpose-built theatre building in Cork. Similarly, The Triskel Arts Centre – which you can find on Tobin Street – is a former 18th century church and now a cinema, hosting live music, festivals and events amongst its traditional pews. Travellers to the city should also see St Finn Barre’s Cathedral on Bishop Street; a famous Anglican cathedral that was consecrated in 1870, it’s a splendid mix of French Gothic and medieval architecture, and an iconic landmark in the city. Jazz fans (and even those who can’t tell their ragtime from their swing) should schedule a trip to the city in late October for The Cork Jazz Festival; an annual music festival held every year since 1978, it’s Ireland’s biggest jazz event, attracting hundreds of musicians and thousands of music enthusiasts to the city each year. Fota Wildlife Park – the second largest visitor attraction in Ireland outside of Leinster – is regularly described as the best family day out, for big and little kids alike.
Where should I shop in Cork?
In October 2009, Cork welcomed the city’s first new street in 200 years. A prime shopping district situated just off Patrick Street, Opera Lane is a fashionista’s dream and home to big names like H&M, Gap, Topshop and Topman, Next, River Island, New Look, Tommy Hilfiger, Office Shoes and Skechers.
The city’s main shopping street, Patrick Street – known as ‘Pana’ to locals – owes its curved shape to the River Lee. Dating back to the late 18th century when the city expanded beyond the walls of the ancient city, parts of Patrick Street were extensively damaged during the Irish War of Independence in an event known as the ‘Burning of Cork’. A quick stroll will introduce you to Cork’s most well-known buildings hosting shops like Brown Thomas, Penneys, Schuh, Marks and Spencer’s, Dunnes Stores, Easons, HMV, Superdry, and French Connection. Keep an eye out for old names still displayed on some buildings’ facades, like the Old Queen’s Castle on Dealz and Argos, Roches Stores on Debenhams and The Moderne on Superdry. And don’t be surprised if you hear people referring to the big McDonald’s (which is clearly green) as ‘the Blue McDonald’s’ – it was painted in 2012 and we’re still not over it.
Oliver Plunkett Street
Oliver Plunkett Street is Cork’s second most important shopping street after St. Patrick’s Street, and one of the city’s main nightlife hubs. The pedestrianised street is mostly made up of standalone independent retailers and small chain stores such as Leonidas (who do truly gorgeous chocolates) and Newbridge Silverware (every Irish person ever has received a Newbridge gift on a special occasion). In 2015, it was the only street in Ireland to make it on the shortlist for the Great Street Award 2016 by London’s Academy of Urbanism, and it then beat 70 other streets for the title of best street in Ireland and the UK.
Vibes & Scribes on Bridge Street and Lavitts Quay is Cork’s largest independent bookshop with a monthly book club, craft supplies, new and old bargain books, art, stationery and haberdashery. Pinocchio’s Toys and Gifts on Paul Street sells the most beautiful wooden and traditional toys, like vintage dolls houses and rocking horses – I think I’ve bought nearly all of my godson’s presents here, and not just because it makes me feel like a big kid. Amity on French Church Street in Cork’s fashionable and quirky Huguenot district is a ladies boutique selling everything from retro style t-shirts, handmade vintage inspired jewellery and even bridesmaid dresses. Oliver Plunkett Street’s Pro Musica is the city’s best musical instrument store with everything from electric guitars to clarinets, recording equipment and sheet music.
Where should I eat in Cork?
“In my opinion this is the best covered market in the UK and Ireland.” – Rick Stein.
I remember going into the market as a child with my grandmother on her quests to find the best cuts of meat possible. Located in Cork city centre, with its main entrances on Grand Parade and Princes Street, and smaller entrances off Oliver Plunkett Street and Patrick Street, it was created in 1788 by the Protestant (or ‘English’) corporation as a new flagship market located in the heart of the new commercial city centre. Open Monday to Saturday from 8.00 am to 6 pm, the busiest trading hours are 11.00 am to 4.30 pm. Fridays and Saturdays are particularly hectic, so if you’re visiting as part of a group, your gang should be small. While some traders do accept card, you’re better off making a quick pit stop at one of the close ATMs on Patrick Street or South Mall. The market is multicultural, trading a variety of fresh produce from around the world; however, it is a source of local specialities such as drisheen, spiced beef (my favourite thing to eat at Christmastime), and buttered eggs.
With a motto of ‘quick food, not fast food’, Jack Crotty’s The Rocket Man Food Co. began in March of 2012 with the intention of bringing healthy, convenient food to the farmers markets of Cork. As well as trading at farmers markets and events, you can find the gang Monday to Friday at their Salad and Juice Bar on Princes Street. The salads change depending on the seasons, and everything just works; whether you’re looking for salad, stew or sandwich, they all pack plenty of fresh flavours, high quality ingredients, and they’re super filling, organically sourced, and best of all, tasty. The second instalment by the team is EAST, situated in the landmark Winthrop Arcade – Ireland’s oldest arcade – serving falafels and coffee to go. Serious food envy.
Dennis Cotter’s vegetarian restaurant on Lancaster Quay will convince even the most meatmad of carnivores to eat their greens. With a creative, thoughtful menu, extraordinarily high calibre of food, complex, rich recipes and superb wine list, it’s a real treat to enjoy a meal in the relaxed dining room setting. Their food is carefully curated, with perfectly executed flavours and combinations, the staff are knowledgeable and it’s an easy walk into the city centre. Cafe Paradiso’s imaginative reputation proceeds itself. Believe the hype.
Leading you into the city centre is Liberty Grill, a light, airy, bistro-style dining setting with New England influences and white washed brick walls. Situated on Washington Street, it’ll fuel you before you make your way into the commercial hub. With plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, it’s famous for its all-day brunch and bubbly. Seriously – there’s ALWAYS a queue early Saturday afternoon, but it’s worth it. Really. Check out their menu here.
Once, when discussing the differences between French and Irish cuisine, Yann – one of our developers – observed that the Irish are particularly good at frying things. This is true, and there’s no better Cork institution to show it off than Jackie Lennox’s Chip Shop on Bandon Road (NOT the one on MacCurtain Street). This chipper will introduce you to the gloriously indulgent world of batter and carbs. Our online strategy manager Hugo (who is also French) feels like the Irish like carbs that bit too much. Maybe we do. In Lennox’s, it’s perfectly acceptable to pair fish and chips a with cheese and onion pie, curry sauce and a carton of mushy peas. It will be loud, and the ordering process will seem hectic – there’s a lot of shouting – but you’ll emerge with parcels full of hot, salty, comforting food, and you’ll be converted.
Isaac’s on MacCurtain Street is my family’s go-to for a special occasion. The less formal sister restaurant to Greene’s (see honourable mentions), it’s an elegant, 18th century former warehouse that’s been tastefully restored. Located on one of Cork’s most atmospheric streets, directly across from another landmark – the Everyman Palace Theatre – they do a seriously reasonable early bird menu. If you go, take my word and order the crispy deep fried brie and pan fried king prawns with chilli & garlic butter. You can even have a virtual tour of the venue here!
A queue so famous it got its own webcam. A former cottage in Douglas, KC & Son & Sons serves bags of humour and the freshest produce. Taking the idea of ‘fast food’ to a whole other playing field, ordering in KCs is an experience in itself. Everyone orders the King Creole – and it is seriously good, I know why it’s a classic – but you really want a Bombshell; one of their famous Chicken Bombays (battered chicken pattie infused with Indian spices and garlic) in a pitta with mayo, chutney, lettuce and a few chips. HEAVEN.
Hillbilly’s or Fast Als
Many a night I’ve found myself joining the hungry in a 3 o’clock queue for fried chicken on Grand Parade. While there’s one up on MacCurtain Street, the real Hillbilly’s is on Grand Parade – and if you order anything other than a breast in a bun, you’re making a mistake. Fast Al’s confidently call themselves the best pizza in Cork, and they’re right. An independently run pizza joint, the late night queue has been a feature of Cork life for almost 20 years. Whether you go to Oliver Plunkett Street, Pembroke Street by the GPO or Paradise Place off Washington Street, just make sure you get there before all the pepperoni slices are gone and you’re left with a Hawaiian.
Feel like a slightly liquid Sunday brunch? Try a bottomless brunch at Brick Lane on South Main Street – the only thing that makes brunch better is unlimited mimosas. (Fact). If you’re up a little earlier, have some breakfast at Tony’s Bistro on North Main Street; if you manage to complete their ultimate breakfast challenge ‘The Godfather’ (eight sausages, six rashers, a 6oz sirloin steak, four hash browns, four slices of black & white pudding, two fried eggs, two scrambled eggs, two bowls of chips, three pieces of fried tomato, one bowl of baked beans, one bowl of fried mushrooms, one bowl of onion rings, six pieces of toast, three slices of soda bread and a ‘bucket’ of tea or coffee) they’ll even foot the bill for you! Pizza and pint fans will find solace in Sober Lane on Sullivan’s Quay for just €15, while Amicus’ 19th century listed warehouse on Paul Street is where my friends and I can reunite over cocktails and everyone finds something they like on the menu. Coqbull does the meanest chicken in all of Cork; morning people (if they do exist) can enjoy super fresh food at an eye-wateringly early 7:30 am in Nash 19, Princes Street; Market Lane uses the best of ingredients from The English Market in a buzzy restaurant and bar, while Jacobs at the Mall is possibly one of Cork’s most unusual, contemporary eateries (there are a LOT of plants).
Where should I go out in Cork?
My parent’s favourite pub – and a real hidden gem. Almost difficult to find if you don’t already know about it, you’ll find Mutton Lane down one of the many narrow alleyways into the English Market (where live sheep were run into the market once upon a time). Before you enter, admire the mural lane; then when you’re inside, bag the snug or the stools at the bar, linger over a newspaper and a pack of crisps in the intimate candlelight, and enjoy the funky, cool atmosphere. Full of nook and crannies, friendly staff, candlesticks in old bottles and plenty of charm, tucked away from the busy outside world, it’s a popular haunt, but make sure you get in there early.
A former 1920s gentlemen’s club, the Crane Lane is part country pub, part ballroom and part burlesque cabaret with décor ranging from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. With three bars – one of which is the only late night venue with a dedicated craft beer bar – it hosts live music and a DJ seven nights a week, as well as serving food until late. The atmosphere is buzzy yet relaxed, and I’ve never had a bad night there.
Perched on the banks of the River Lee is Cork’s best fish bar, offering visitors panoramic views of this city – the perfect backdrop to a fresh, locally sourced meal and a chilled glass of wine. When the sun decides to shine, you’ll find people relaxing on the grass outside the venue, and if you fancy yourself a secret mixologist, you can even take part in some cocktail classes. See their menu for more inspiration.
Craft beer heads should visit the Fran Well on the North Mall. A microbrewery and brewpub with a covered, heated beer garden, it’s got an international mix of clientele and you can even order pizza from their wood burning oven. (P.S. The GoCambio office love to unwind on a Friday evening with a Rebel Red).
On Pembroke Street, you have to wander into the 120-year-old chemist turned wine bar. Part of the Heritage Pub Trail, it’s one of the most distinctive bars in Cork city. Get in early to secure a seat for a drink in the evening, and their brunch is rumoured to be one of the best in the city.
Preachers wins the award for the tiniest (but coolest) bathroom in the world – the comic book cubicle doors means you’re guaranteed to have the most entertaining toilet break of your trip here. With a heavy rock and roll vibe (there are old-school posters all over the walls), it’s a go-to for watching the biggest sport matches, as people spill out onto the streets from the little window and keg seats. You’ll notice the distinctive red and black shop front, and and it’s a real stop off point as people make their way up Washington Street on a night out.
A real hidden gem in the city, I found myself sitting in their amazing beer garden with the best gin of my life for the first time just a few months ago. A bit off the beaten track, you’ll find the unassuming front facade on Douglas Street – you’d almost walk straight past it – which will then lead into the quirky, funky bar and outside into a cool, cosy outdoors area with mismatched furniture, vintage armchairs, sofas and jewel-coloured statues. Plus their pizzas are great, and they’re dog-friendly too!
Down by the docks, Goldbergs is a great place to fuel up before a gig at the Marquee (and keep the party going afterwards). Inspired by and located in the historic Jewish quarter of Cork city, it’s a local ‘New York Meatpacking’ city style bar with a country twist. It’s even open on Sundays, making it an ideal Sunday brunch destination. You have to go on a little adventure to find it (I once got fantastically lost) but it’s worth it for the laidback yet buzzy ambiance. Once you see the bright lights on the front and the comforting smell of bread from the bap stand outside hits your nose, you know you’ve made it.
Sitting on Barrack Street, a short walk down into the city centre, is one of Cork’s most historic family pubs. It’s quite deceptive looking from the outside – a simple blue building – but the beer garden is whimsical and roomy with plenty of character. Enjoy a barbecue in the summer on one of their picnic benches under some fairy lights, or some pizza from their wood fire oven – they’re both good. Traditional with quirky, modern twists, and an open fire both indoors and outdoors, I once spent a great Arthur’s Day in this pub slowly sipping a pint of Guinness (for the day that was in it).
Long, narrow, dimly lit and with dark corners, trippy fish tanks and a serious dive bar vibe, The Vicarstown on North Main Street is juxtaposed with its suntrap beer garden full of paper lanterns, stone walls, vintage arcade games and squashy couches with colourful throws. Perfect for a casual beer after work, it’s also a great late night venue with a DJ.
Deep South on Grand Parade has one of the best, most spacious beer gardens in the city, and serves up amazing food thanks to their ‘partners in crime’, O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausage Company. Le Chateau – one of Cork’s oldest family run bars, established in 1793 – is the only pub on Patrick Street, and boasts an outdoor patio and seating area; if you get the chance, there’s really nothing better than grabbing a cider in the sun and watching the world go by. In case Le Chateau is full, you should also keep The Roundy on Castle Steer in mind; one of the oldest buildings in Cork and once part of a busy medieval market place (which at one point was surrounded by artificial canals), it’s ideal for a casual beer during the day and live music at night. Fancy dancing the night away? Make your way to The Voodoo Rooms on Oliver Plunkett Street (but just call it Voodoo) or Rearden’s and The Secret Garden on Washington Street and enjoy the serious tunes, bright fairy lights and lively atmosphere. And many a time I’ve legged it up to The Brog for the infamous ‘last dance’ on a Saturday night, but they’ve also got a quiz on a Monday and beat the keeper on a Wednesday.
Where should I grab a coffee in Cork?
Idaho Cafe, which wraps around the corner of Maylor Street and Caroline Street (just behind Brown Thomas) is something of a Cork institution. Voted the best cafe in Ireland not once, but twice, Idaho is ran by outspoken owners Richard and Mairead Jacob, who are proudly ‘vocal about local’. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 8:30am to 5:00pm, first you’ll want to drop in to see what all the fuss is about, and then you’ll want to stay for the chat, the cosy atmosphere and the delectable desserts. (You were warned).
Cork Coffee Roasters
Quintessentially Cork, Cork Coffee Roasters is a Cork city based, owner operated, gourmet coffee company. Situated in Bridge Street, John Gowan’s cafe specialises in small-batch coffee roasting, espresso preparation, and espresso equipment. The Americana style coffee is the perfect haunt to sip a strong, hot cup of joe and enjoy a spot of people-watching. Plus, they’ve even opened a new coffee house on French Church Street!
A hybrid vintage tea room and antique shop on Carey’s Lane, going into Fellini’s is like stepping into an elderly, eclectic aunt’s sitting room. With impossibly high ceilings, kitsch furniture, quirky art and Victorian facades, the atmosphere is tranquil and dreamlike. The white hot chocolate is served in a big jug with marshmallows, and the mushroom soup with Cashel blue cheese is to die for. It’s a one of a kind cafe experience – even if stepping back into the real world is a little disorientating.
O’Conaill’s Hot Chocolate
Mr Wonka himself could learn something from these guys. A real cult spot in the city, O’Conaill’s Hot Chocolate on French Church Street has been a family run business for two generations now. The place has a real loft feel to it, with mosaic walls, high tables and stools, exposed brick and dark wood. The atmosphere is chilled, and there’s nothing better than sitting on a squashy leather sofa upstairs, watching the world the go by. Every hot chocolate is made with a whole bar of chocolate. My personal favourite is the praline hot chocolate – which tastes like comforting liquid Ferrero Rocher – but I’ve heard great things about their chili hot chocolate too. All drinks come with a little selection of their mini white, milk and dark chocolates, so it’s a real treat. You can even buy chocolate gifts and mementos to take home with you! Swooooon.
Butler’s Chocolate Cafe
While my experience of Butler’s actually stems from the stand in Dublin’s Heuston Station (I used to treat myself to a praline hot chocolate on Fridays, when I’d get the train back home to Cork after college) you can’t miss the Oliver Plunkett Street branch. Any place that gives me a free luxury chocolate with my hot beverage is instantly a winner in my eyes. Try the almond and peppermint hot chocolate, and then choose the butter praline chocolate. Pure indulgence.
Perry Street Market Cafe
This cafe saved me more than once when I worked in retail. While their sandwiches are amazing (and really, they are – try the chicken stuffing one) and the dessert portions huge (I’m still recovering from a slice of coffee cake I ate 2 months ago), the hot chocolate is on another level. Served on wooden boards in a mason jar with a little bowl of cream, in amazing flavours like After Eight and honeycomb, it’s every chocoholic’s cocoa dream. Drool over their Facebook page here.
Itching to experience all Cork has to offer? We’ll even prepare you for your trip with a guide to speaking English like the Irish. And one last big incentive for visiting Cork? (Not that you need it). The incredible GoCambio team is based here in Youghal, Co. Cork!
Emma is a 23-year-old copywriter at GoCambio. With a BA in English and History, plus an MSc in Creative Advertising, she’s your go-to girl for words, ideas and the occasional pun (not even sorry). Some of her favourite things include fashion, travel, writing, film and social media. And tea. Black, no sugar. Want to connect with Emma? Try her LinkedIn, Twitter or e-mail.