Cork is a bustling city nestled on Ireland’s southern coast. Originally a maritime hub, Cork is a cosmopolitan university city filled with cheap eats and a lively nightlife.
Breathtaking all year round, Cork is one of the more popular cities in the country (it’s the second-largest city in the country). Many travelers come here to kiss the Blarney Stone for good luck, hike around Gougane Barra, and bask in the postcard-perfect coastal landscapes around Mizen Head.
The city boasts historic castles, art galleries, museums, water activities, vibrant festivals, and day trips galore to charming towns and scenic landscapes.
In short, Cork has something for everyone!
This travel guide to Cork can help you make the most of your visit — and save you money in the process!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Cork
1. Kiss the Blarney Stone
2. Tour Bantry House
3. See Mizen Head
4. Wander the English Market
5. Hike around Gougane Barra
Other Things to See and Do in Cork
1. Take a walking tour
One of the first things I do in a new city is take a walking tour. They’re the best way to get the lay of the land and ask a local guide all of my questions. Cork City Walks offers daily tours for 12 EUR that last two hours and include all the main sights. It’s the best way to get a feel for the city and learn more about its history and culture. (Note: tours are currently on pause due to COVID).
2. Visit Baltimore fishing village
This charming fishing town is located 90 minutes from Cork. It started as an English colony in 1600 but was eventually sacked, devolving into a haven for pirates for almost two centuries. Today, Baltimore is a lovely place to relax with its colorful houses, quiet streets, and coastal views. You can explore local pubs, go fishing, whale watching, or scuba diving around shipwrecks in the bay. If you have time, take the ferry to one of the nearby islands. Cape Clear has prehistoric and Neolithic archaeological sites and Sherkin is known for its Franciscan friary, arts, and handicrafts. It’s just 90 minutes from Cork by car.
3. See the Cork Butter Museum
At this unique museum, you can learn about all things butter. You’ll learn how butter was first made in Ireland, how they used to preserve butter in bogs, and how the commercial butter trade blossomed here into a huge industry. While it’s a quirky museum it’s also super informative and unlike any other museum you’ll visit! Admission is 4 EUR.
4. Visit the Church of Saint Anne Shandon
Shandon, meaning “Old Fort” in Gaelic, was one of the original settlements in medieval Ireland. Located just across the River Lee, this church was completed in 1726 on the site on an even older church that dated back to the 12th century. You can climb the 132 steps to the top of the church’s bell tower to take in the view (it’s one of the best of Cork). You can also ring the church bells when you get to the top (though this is currently on pause due to COVID). Admission is 4 EUR. Be sure to dress respectfully as this is a place of worship.
5. Learn about (and sample some) whiskey
If you’re a whiskey fan, take a tour of the Jameson Distillery and see how Irish whiskey is made. Jameson is one of the oldest whiskey companies in Ireland and is the best-selling Irish whiskey in the world. On a tour, you’ll visit the main buildings and learn how their whiskey is made and how the company got started. There are several different tours, but the Jameson Distillery Experience tour is the best value at 23 EUR. It’s 75-minutes and includes a whiskey sample.
6. Escape to Doneraile Wildlife Park
This park has over 400 acres of deciduous trees, herds of deer, and numerous walking paths. There are canals and ponds too. Located within the park is Doneraile Estate, an early 18th-century manor built by Arthur St Leger, the 1st Viscount of Doneraile. The grounds are well maintained and resemble historic landscaped parks from the 18th and 19th centuries. From April-October, guided tours of Doneraile Court are available for 8 EUR. It’s just 45 minutes north of Cork by car.
7. Visit the Lewis Glucksman Gallery
Located on the University College Cork campus, The Glucksman is an exquisite gallery housed in an award-winning building made of limestone, timber, and steel (it won Ireland’s ‘Best Public Building’ design award in 2005). The gallery has three display areas, all with rotating exhibits as well as a basement café with surprisingly delicious food. Admission is free (suggested donation is 5 EUR). Check the website to see what exhibitions are on during your visit.
8. Explore the Cork City Gaol
This was a jail until the early 20th-century when prisoners were moved and the gaol was left empty. The jail was considered the finest in the country when it was built and looks like a small castle. It remained empty until 1927 when Cork’s first radio station, 6CK, began broadcasting in the main building. The radio station remained at the gaol until the 1950s. In 1993, the jail was reopened as a tourist attraction. Admission is 10 EUR.
9. Attend a festival
Cork comes alive in the summer with all kinds of festivals and events. Midsummer Festival, an arts festival with music, theatrical performances, and artwork, is held every June/July. In September, the Cork Oyster Festival is a succulent treat, and the Cork Folk Festival and Cork Jazz Festival both take place in October. In November, the Cork Film Festival showcases both national and international films. In short, there are always tons of events and festivals happening so be sure to check with the Cork Tourist Information Centre on arrival to see what’s happening during your visit.
10. Go standup paddle boarding
One of the most unique ways to explore the city of Cork is by stand-up paddleboarding on the River Lee. Tours are organized by Cork City SUP and include 90 minutes of SUP on the river. You’ll cover around 3km and see several historic bridges and landmarks. Tours are scheduled during high tide when the current is smoother and gentler so no experience is required. Tours cost 40 EUR.
For more information on specific cities in Ireland, check out these guides:
Cork Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in a dorm with 4-6 beds costs around 18-21 EUR. There’s no real difference in prices between summer and off-season. Private rooms start at 60 EUR. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels here have self-catering facilities.
For those traveling with a tent, camping is possible outside of the city. A basic tent plot for two people without electricity starts at 14 EUR.
Budget Hotel prices – Budget hotels start at 99 EUR in the peak season and 75 EUR in the off-season. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, TV, and a coffee/tea maker.
Airbnb is available around the city with private rooms averaging around 40 EUR per night. You can find entire homes starting around 80 EUR. Expect prices to double if you don’t book in advance.
Average cost of food – Ireland, like the neighboring UK, is very much a “meat and potatoes” country. Potatoes have been a common staple since the 18th century and seafood has been a staple for as long as people have lived here (it’s an island after all!). Cod, salmon, and oysters are some of the most popular seafood options, with other staple dishes being shepherd’s pie, black pudding, bacon and cabbage, fish and chips, and meat stews.
A traditional meal costs around 15 EUR. For a multi-course meal with a drink, expect to pay at least 35 EUR. Fast food (think McDonald’s) starts at 8 EUR for a combo meal.
Pizza costs 11 EUR for a medium while Chinese food costs around 12 EUR for a main dish. Fish and chips can be found for as little as 9 EUR. Beer is 5 EUR while a latte/cappuccino is 3.25 EUR. Bottled water is 1.50 EUR.
If you want to cook your meals, expect to pay 45-50 EUR per week for groceries that include basic staples like pasta, rice, produce, and some meat.
Backpacking Cork Suggested Budgets
On a backpacking budget of 50 EUR per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook all your meals, limit your drinking, take public transportation to get around, and do free and cheap activities like kissing the Blarney Stone and wandering the parks and markets.
On a mid-range budget of 130 EUR per day, you can stay in a private hostel room or Airbnb, eat out for most meals at cheap fast food places, have a couple drinks, take the occasional taxi, and do more paid activities like stand-up paddleboarding or visiting the gaol.
On a “luxury” budget of 235 EUR or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, rent a car for day trips, and do as many tours and excursions as you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Cork Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
While there’s nothing here that really costs a ton of money, you do need to watch your spending if you’re hitting the pubs. Here are some tips to help you save money in Cork:
- Eat the pub food – Eat at the pubs for hearty Irish food that won’t destroy your wallet. It won’t be healthy, but it will be affordable!
- Skip the pub drinks – Ireland’s strong pub culture can hit your wallet hard. Temper the cost by visiting happy hours, drinking at home, or skipping drinks altogether.
- Use student discounts – If you have a student ID, ask for discounts. Most attractions offer them and you can save a ton of money on activities.
- Get the Leap Card – With a Leap Card, you can travel on Bus Éireann for 30% less than the cash fare. Cards can be purchased at shops throughout Cork, as well as online. Tickets cost 1.68-1.98 EUR with the card.
- Get an OPW Heritage Card – If you love to tour heritage sites, pick up one of these cards. It guarantees free access to many attractions around the country, including tons of castles. The card costs 40 EUR for adults. This is a must for people visiting multiple cities in the country.
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing connects you with locals who can give you a free place to stay and teach you about their city. I love this service a lot and highly recommend you try to use it to meet people!
- Eat early – Many restaurants have budget dinner options if you eat early (usually before 6pm). You won’t have as much variety since it’s a set menu, but it will be cheaper!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Cork
Here are my suggested places to stay in Cork if you’re on a budget:
How to Get Around Cork
Bus – Cork’s bus network is run by Bus Éireann, which has good coverage throughout the city. A single fare costs 2.80 while a day pass costs 10 EUR.
Taxi – Most taxis charge an initial fare of 4 EUR, then 2 EUR per kilometer. There are no ridesharing apps like Uber here. Overall, skip the cabs if you can as they aren’t cheap!
Bike rentals – The city has a bike-share program with 32 stations and 330 bikes. A security deposit of 150 EUR is required and a 3-day subscription is 3 EUR. The first 30 minutes of each ride are free. After that, it’s 0.50 EUR for the first hour, 1.50 EUR for two hours, 3.50 EUR for three hours, and 4.50 for four hours. Every hour after that is a 0.50 EUR increase. However, if you return the bike every 30 minutes you won’t have to pay the hourly fee.
Car rental – Car rentals here can be found for as little as 20 EUR per day for a multi-day rental. You won’t need a vehicle to get around the city, however, they can be handy for exploring the region and doing day trips. Renters need to be at least 21 years old.
When to Go to Cork
Cork’s temperate climate makes for a good destination to visit year-round, keeping in mind that you’re likely to encounter lots of rain throughout your visit (especially in fall and winter).
In winter, temperatures rarely fall below freezing and the average is 49°F (5°C) per day. Expect brisk, windy weather with lots of rain. Unless you’re planning to just visit museums and stay indoors, I’d avoid visiting during the winter. The weather is tolerable, but it’s far from ideal.
The summer (June-August) is the warmest and busiest time to visit. Average temperatures hover between 59-68°F (15-20°C) and can climb up to 77°F (25°C). The city is lively and fun during this time, though you’ll want to book in advance since the hostels are few and far between and can fill up.
Shoulder seasons (March-May and September-October) are excellent times to visit as the temperatures are still mild and the city isn’t busy. While rain is common, the weather is still nice enough for hiking and exploring on foot. Just be sure to book in advance if you’re coming for St. Patrick’s Day as the city fills up fast. Bring a rain jacket too!
How to Stay Safe in Cork
Cork is very safe and the risk of violent crime here is low. That said, scams and pickpocketing can occur on crowded public transportation and at busy bars so always keep your valuables out of reach.
If you’re going out to the pub at night, only bring the cash you need. Leave the rest locked up in your accommodation.
If you rent a car, don’t leave valuables inside the vehicle overnight. While break-ins are rare, they can still occur.
Solo travelers — including solo female travelers — should feel safe here. That said, avoid walking around at night if intoxicated and always keep an eye on your drink at the bar.
If you do experience an emergency, dial 112 or 999 for assistance.
If you’re worried about scams, you can read about 14 travel scams to avoid here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Cork!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Cork Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Cork. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Ireland, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Cork Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Cork Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt
Angela’s Ashes is a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times bestseller — and you’ll understand why within the first few pages of this book. Angela’s Ashes illuminates McCourt’s life in the Limerick slums, where his mother can’t afford to feed her kids and his father drinks away their money. It’s both eye-opening and funny — McCourt’s Irish humor shines through, even in the toughest of times.
Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks
Tony Hawks lost a drunken bet. His punishment? He has to tramp around Ireland…with a fridge in tow. As it turns out, it was one of the best experiences of his life. With his trusty appliance, Hawks makes his way from Dublin to Donegal, then Sligo to Mayo, Galway, Clare, and Wicklow…all before heading back to Dublin again. He finds himself surfing, entering a bachelor festival, and even meeting a king thanks to his trusty fridge. If you need a good laugh, this is it.
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, by Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle is a beloved Irish author, and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is one of his most famous works. Set in 1968, Paddy Clarke is just 10 years old. He’s like any other 10-year-old: he loves the Three Stooges and hates his little brother. He and his best friend Kevin roam all over Barrytown writing their names in wet cement. But Paddy has so many questions about his world. Like why didn’t anyone step in when Charles Leavy tried to kill him? And why do his parents fight all the time but insist nothing is wrong? It’s a delightful coming-of-age story.
The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, by W. B. Yeats
Poetry isn’t something I would normally recommend, but W.B. Yeats is such an important literary figurehead that he deserves your attention. He’s a Nobel prizewinner and his poetry is accessible. It strongly focuses on Irish life and the country’s complicated history. This collection includes all his published poetry, so you can browse through and find a few favorites. You’ll be happy you did so (start with The Isle of Innisfree).
Dubliners, by James Joyce
This book is a brutally honest and vivid account of “dear dirty Dublin” in the early 20th century. There are 15 stories in total, and if you’re only going to read a handful make it “Araby” or “The Dead.” Joyce was raised in Dublin, and his ability to capture the lives of Dubliners and their unique cadence of speech is impressive and immersive. It’s a heavy read, but a memorable one.
Cork Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Cork and continue planning your trip: