48 hours in Cork without a car
County Cork is too well-known to call it a “hidden gem”, but it has many hidden sights, stories and tastes that need to be discovered
From the hustle and bustle of Cork city to the chilled, atmospheric harbour town of Cobh, you’ll be able to squeeze in a huge range of memorable experiences into two days on the south coast.
Spend your first day diving into all that Cork city has to offer – from tasty Irish food, to fascinating museums and fun live music.Explore Day 1
Take to the streets
On the first day, you’ll want to keep it simple and stay within the city. So, the first thing you should do is take a walk and take in the sights and sounds of Cork city.
You’ll have plenty of options: you can check the routes yourself, and make your own way around, or you can sample one of the many guided tours on offer.
For a general idea of the city’s geography and history, give the Cork City Ramble a go, or if you prefer something specialised, unearth the city’s past on the historical tour, or sample its nibbles with a culinary tour. Whatever you choose, taking on Cork city by foot is the perfect way to familiarise yourself with this lively, cosmopolitan spot.
A foodie’s paradise
As you’re out and about, make sure to visit the English Market. It has stalls that deal in funky vintage clothes but its main attraction is the food. You’ll find all sorts of produce from traditional Cork food, and delicacies from around the world. Once you’ve finished shopping, take a break at one of the market’s cafés and relax with a coffee.
If you want a spot of lunch, you’ll have plenty of options. The Spitjack specialises in rotisserie chicken and gorgeous gourmet sandwiches – their Reuben is something special – but if you want something to fill you up for a long day of walking, get the nourishing huevos rancheros, and you’ll be good to go!
If you prefer something a little lighter, give Quinlan's Seafood Bar a try. You can have some of the best fish and chips in the city, or some fresh mussels and crab claws – a must-try if you are a fan of seafood.
Art, history and butter
The Crawford Art Gallery has a wonderful range of historic and contemporary visual art pieces – ranging from 18th century paintings to video installations. It’s free to enter and runs late tours on Thursdays if you fancy an evening of culture.
Another highlight is Cork City Gaol. This castle-like building is an archaeological marvel – wandering the wings of the gaol is a surreal and memorable experience. The story of the prison is presented in such an informative and interesting way that the whole family will take something from it.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Butter Museum. While a museum dedicated to butter might not sound like a highlight, it proves a fascinating lens through which you can understand Ireland’s commercial, social and domestic history. And yes, there are butter-making demonstrations every Wednesday and Saturday.
Your evening entertainment
It’s been a long day, so you’ll want to relax. If you have an hour or two free, pop over to Oliver Plunkett Street and take in a bit of shopping, or even a quiet pint at The Oliver Plunkett, An Bodhrán or The Hi-B Bar.
Make sure to pop into the nearby Crane Lane Theatre – this retro spot has live music seven nights a week, as well as theatre performances and multiple bars and beer gardens – a proper one-stop shop for your evening’s revels.
For dinner, try out Electric. This cool spot has a bit of everything: sushi, katsu curry and beautiful wagyu fillet steak. But its main attraction is its cocktails – their expansive menu has everything across the flavour spectrum – from mangos to melons, and apples to coffee. If you aren’t sure what you'd like, the friendly staff will be happy to guide you.
Somewhere to lay your head
For your accommodation, you can always rely on the Clayton Hotel for a stylish, relaxing 4-star experience. It’s in a perfect location near Oliver Plunkett street, with spacious rooms and views of the River Lee. Fancy a spot of luxury? Try Hayfield Manor. This 5-star hotel offers inviting rooms that overlook a gorgeous private garden, as well as relaxing spa treatments.
If you want a more personal touch, try the Shandon Bells Bed & Breakfast. With guest rooms nestled on the banks of the River Lee, you'll experience rural relaxation in the heart of the vibrant city. Enjoy the cosy rooms and look forward to the delicious continental breakfast that will set you up for the next day.
Take a trip to Cobh on your second day and uncover emotionally resonant stories from Irish history, as well as some fun sights and great food!Explore Day 2
Visit an island fortress
You’ve taken in the Cork city’s sights, now it’s time to venture further afield. Head to Kent Station and hop on the train to the harbour town of Cobh. Trains come regularly, and only take about 25 minutes, so you’ll be there in no time.
Since you have the day ahead of you, take the time to visit over to Spike Island. Located within Cork Harbour, this legendary island is home to over 1,300 years of Irish history.
The Spike Island tour takes in a ferry ride, followed by a guided walking tour of the island’s sites with a storyteller. Spike Island has had an incredibly rich history, beginning as a monastery in the 7th century and going on to become a military fortress and finally a prison that was operational up until the 1980s. It’s no understatement to say this is one of the most historically rich places on the island of Ireland. A good way to start the day, eh?
A spot of lunch?
You’ve stretched your sea legs on the ferry, and unearthed the mysteries of Spike Island, so you will have worked up an appetite!
Jacob’s Ladder at the WatersEdge Hotel is a good option if you want a nice relaxed lunch. Being so close to the sea, you’d be inclined to try the seafood chowder or fish and chips – but the café boasts a wide range of other treats as well. One highlight of the location is its view of Cork Harbour and Spike Island – so you can kick back with some lunch and watch as the ships come in.
If you’re visiting between Wednesday and Sunday, pop into Ellen’s Kitchen for a range of gorgeous lunch fare – like a hearty steak sandwich, or Ellen’s homemade fish cakes. If you fancy something sweeter, there’s a range of freshly baked cakes to try – which you can pair with a locally roasted Maher’s Coffee.
History, heritage and giraffes
Fill out the rest of the afternoon with a visit to some of Cobh’s other great attractions. Cobh Heritage Centre is a perfect place to start. The centre tells the story of Irish emigration and hosts multiple emotive exhibitions. You'll learn what life was like aboard the “coffin ships” that brought emigrants to their new life, and hear the story of Annie Moore, the first person to be processed at Ellis Island in the United States.
The RMS Titanic is strongly connected to Belfast, but Cobh served as the last port of call before it embarked on its fateful maiden voyage. This is commemorated at the Titanic Experience tourist attraction, which tells the stories of the passengers through their authentic eyewitness accounts. When you arrive, you are given a postcard with the name of one of the Titanic's real-life passengers. You are then walked through their first-hand experience on the journey, which proves a touching experience for visitors.
If the heritage and history are a bit too heavy for your tastes, try Fota Wildlife Park for a bit of fun. Located on Fota Island, it's a quick 10-minute train journey away, and you’ll get the chance to meet a range of animals from across the world. You can walk the park at your leisure and take in the various animals, or go with a guide and take the chance to feed the giraffes, rhinos, penguins and – if you’re feeling brave – the tigers!
A farewell feast
Return to Cobh and wind down with a bit of dinner. The Quay’s Bar and Restaurant overlooks gorgeous views of the harbour and has a diverse, reasonably priced menu. Like Jacob’s Ladder, you’d be inclined to go for its seafood offering – their slow-roasted scallops are amazing – but it has something to cater for all tastes.
Another option is the Titanic Bar and Grill. Try this one if you want some quick and satisfying fare like tasty hot wings, loaded fries, or a nice burger to wrap up your day. This spot is filled with atmosphere, so if the mood takes you grab a pint of Guinness with your dinner and take in the harbour as the sun sets.
If you have time before the late train back to Cork city, go to Kelly’s Bar, or head to Mutton Lane in the city to have a final drink and reflect on a trip full of great food and beautiful sights.