Are Cork’s Top Tourist Attractions Worth the Hype?

by | Feb 27, 2023

Cathedral of Saint Fin Barre in Cork, it is situated in the centre of Cork City, Ireland
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Last updated on February 28th, 2023

Featured image: Cathedral of Saint Fin Barre in Cork, Ireland | Photo by JJFarquitectos on Envato

Evaluating Popular Sites in the Emerald Isle

By Kaelie Piscitello, Guest Writer

In Cork, Ireland, a curious man dressed in green robes and a pointed hat wanders around, whistling his traditional tunes and bringing joy to those around them. I certainly did not expect to find a pipe-playing wizard in the land of leprechauns and fairies. Similar to the warlock, Cork is a city full of surprises that offer different experiences at every turn. 

Founded in the sixth century, Cork has the perfect mixture of interesting tourist venues and pieces of authentic Irish culture. While visitors can engage in popular activities like climbing through the famed Blarney Castle or ringing the Shandon Bells, they also can find spots that provide glances into local Cork life. 

Places such as Oliver Plunkett Pub and the Marina Market share pieces of authentic Irish culture with their food, drinks, and decorations. In popular local pubs, people can sample the traditional Irish stew or sip on Irish-brewed beer. Cork’s brightly colored buildings, many small businesses, and surrounding Celtic Sea make the city feel more like a large town than a bustling metropolis. However, the concrete business district and longstanding port near the city center bring a traditional industrial quality to the table that mixes well with the old-fashioned feel.

While it may feel cleverer to traipse off the beaten path, the popular spots in Cork are still worth the trip. Most are within walking distance from the city center and those further away are easily accessible by bus for €1.35.

Traditional Irish Stew in Oliver Plunkett's Pub

Traditional Irish Stew in Oliver Plunkett’s Pub / Photo by Kaelie Piscitello

In a small city like Cork, I recommend trying everything because one will enjoy both the popular and unique. People never know what friendly wizard they will stumble across.

Where to go in Cork, Ireland

1. The Shandon Bells and Tower of St. Anne’s Church

The Shandon Bells and Tower of St. Anne’s Church serve as a perfect venue to explore. Though the tower was built more recently than other churches in Europe, in 1722, the setting brings visitors back to the past with its winding, narrow staircase and impeccable views from the top. 

Before my visit, I expected to experience exhaustion from scaling so many steps and some claustrophobia. Though the tower entrance has signs warning people about a treacherous climb of 132 steps, there are breaks on each tower floor where visitors can catch their breath, learn more about St. Anne’s history, and play songs on the bells. The wall behind the bells provides easy melody-playing instructions that appeal to everyone, including selections like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the theme from Top Gun.

Though the climb through the sandstone and limestone tower walls is a perfect adventure for a young woman like me, the ascent can be difficult for senior citizens and people with physical disabilities. The tower does not offer elevators to accommodate wheelchairs; however, the church is open to all with services and other events throughout the week.

Cork City in Ireland with View of the Tower of St. Anne's Church

Cork City with View of the Tower of St. Anne’s Church / Photo by Kaelie Piscitello

The Shandon Bells Cork, Ireland

The Shandon Bells Cork, Ireland / Photo by Kaelie Piscitello

Though the climb through the sandstone and limestone tower walls is a perfect adventure for a young woman like me, the ascent can be difficult for senior citizens and people with physical disabilities. The tower does not offer elevators to accommodate wheelchairs; however, the church is open to all with services and other events throughout the week.

2. Blarney Castle and Gardens

Before traveling to Ireland, I was told Blarney Castle is not worth the visit and was advised against kissing the Blarney Stone because locals urinate on it. Taking this interesting information into consideration, I visited anyway because I enjoy looking through historic buildings. 

Though I did not kiss the Blarney Stone, I still ventured the long trek through the castle to the top viewing area. The sights on top are unmatched and give viewers a true understanding of why people refer to Ireland as the Emerald Isle. 

The climb is as exhausting as the one through St. Anne’s Tower, but it also provides opportunities to pause and explore different parts of the castle. I did not experience a long line waiting to see the Blarney Stone; however, I visited during the off-peak season. People visiting Blarney Castle during peak tourist season should expect to wait in long lines for up to one hour. For that reason, January is the perfect time to roam the castle because visitors can take their time with the slippery stairs and explore the various rooms throughout the structure.

Though the general admission price for Blarney Castle may seem high (the cost for women over 65 is €16), the attraction is cost-effective. In addition to castle-access, travelers can stop by the Blarney House, a large mansion on the grounds, and explore the vast gardens surrounding it. The premises host many trails, each containing hidden gems such as waterfalls, rare plant species, and locations showing where the mythical Blarney Witch spends her time. 

Though Blarney Castle is inaccessible to those with physical disabilities, the grounds feature several mild, wheelchair accessible trails. The venue also offers free admission to those unable to access the castle who hope to explore the gardens. Though it may feel disappointing to miss the castle, the grounds possess stunning nature scenes and are worth the (free) visit.

View from Blarney Castle, Cork Ireland

View of the grounds from Blarney Castle / Photo by Kaelie Piscitello

Blarney Castle Cork Ireland

The grounds at Blarney Castle / Photo by Kaelie Piscitello

Cork Blarney Castle Grounds

Blarney Castle / Photo by Kaelie Piscitello

St. Fin Barre's Cathedral in Cork, Ireland

St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral / Photo by Kaelie Piscitello

3. St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral

Though Cork is home to many churches, St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral is the best to visit. Built in the gothic revival architectural style with three spires during the late 19th century, the cathedral stands as an impressive structure in comparison to the surrounding townhouses. It has a quiet but peaceful atmosphere and serves as an interesting building to roam through. 

Because it was built later than other cathedrals in Europe, St. Fin Barre’s inside retains a more colorful decor than one expects. The exterior features particular statues of Jesus and his disciples along with a curious contrast of “foolish virgins” and “wise virgins” carved into the Cathedral’s front. Visitors can walk through a curious labyrinth in the church’s graveyard. Travelers may also enjoy spending their time finding the amusing grotesques scattered throughout inside of the cathedral.

St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral is disability-friendly, with a wheelchair ramp leading inside and a special tour option featuring a deaf-loop system for people with hearing impairments. These accessibility features allow everyone to admire its beauty. The cost for women over 65: €5

4. The Crawford Art Gallery

The Crawford Art Gallery seamlessly fuses together Ireland’s past and present through art. Many of the museum’s pieces were created by Irish folks paying homage to their personal experiences. 

Though some art galleries can feel pompous to folks unfamiliar with art, the Crawford Art Gallery welcomes all kinds of people. The museum is full of friendly visitors and artists peacefully taking notes or making sketches of different works. The art pieces, meanwhile, invite people from all backgrounds to feel welcome in the space through a mix of styles such as modern art, Harry Clarke’s stained glass, and contemporary videos. Each piece represents the perspectives of different people including women and people from the LGBTQ+ community.

The Crawford Art Gallery is disability-friendly because it features a multitude of wheelchair ramps and elevators throughout the establishment. Entry is free for all guests.

5. The English Market

I was excited to visit Cork’s English Market as most traveler sites give it high ratings; however, I found this market is a better shopping venue for Cork locals. The market’s atmosphere is bustling and friendly, and shoppers can explore a wide variety of goods. 

Many of the products sold at the English Market revolve around fresh, organic produce, perfect for people living nearby wanting healthy options. While some visitors might buy commodities sold at the market, like the chocolates and cheese, other enticing items, such as the fresh fish and meat, are inaccessible to shoppers staying in hotels without access to a kitchen. The English Market is definitely worth the visit for people interested in taking a look at the hustle of an Irish market; however, I advise tourists to prepare to find lunch elsewhere.

The English Market is wheelchair accessible, but the venue has narrow spaces between the stalls and is crowded during peak shopping times. Additionally, there are few places for visitors to take a seat. There is free entry with expensive products, making the experience authentic but detached as many visitors cannot fully participate in the hustle and bustle. 

Travel Tips for Cork, Ireland

Tourist Attractions Worth Visiting in Cork:

  1. The Shandon Bells and Tower of St. Anne’s Church
  2. Blarney Castle 
  3. St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
  4. The Crawford Art Gallery
  5. The English Market

Recommended Places to Eat and Drink:

  1. The Oliver Plunket
  2. The Marina Market
  3. The Thomond Bar
  4. Quinlan’s Seafood Bar
View of Cork, Ireland from Shandon Bells Tower

Overlooking Cork City from from Shandon Bells Tower / Photo by Kaelie Piscitello

Tracy Smyth on a hiking trail

Kaelie is a college student pursuing bachelor’s degrees in elementary and special education at Salve Regina University. She spent her spring 2022 semester studying abroad in Oxford, England and caught the travel bug as she journeyed through several European countries. Now, Kaelie wants to go everywhere else. She has a passion for writing about her travels and also enjoys coming up with fictional stories. In her spare time, Kaelie enjoys reading books, playing piano, and watching Gilmore Girls with her mom.

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