The city of Cork, Corcaigh or 'marsh' in Irish, but often pronounced like "Caaark" by locals, is situated along the banks of the River Lee in the south of Ireland. The second largest city in the Republic of Ireland with over 100,000 residents, Cork was originally constructed over a millennium ago on marshland and was composed of several islands, which inhabitants traveled between on boats via various canals. The modern city was constructed over said islands, with many of the city's modern avenues and streets actually being constructed on top of the former channels, such as Cork's commercial hub, St. Patrick's Street. Due to Cork's history as an ancient settlement in Ireland and it's modern history rooted in the Irish national revival, acquiring a rental car in Cork is an excellent way to start your trip through Ireland!
This comprehensive guide to Cork will cover various topics, including driving tips for Cork, popular attractions in Cork, and things to do in Cork. If you're looking for more general information regarding driving, vacationing, or the best time to visit Ireland, check out more of our in-depth Ireland travel guide!
Although Cork is a large city by Irish standards, it is quite small and easily navigable by car. Visitors with a rental car in Cork should ensure they've reviewed our driving laws in Ireland page where you can access general information about driving in Ireland; this is a great resource for travelers planning to drive in Ireland for the first time.
Like the rest of Ireland and the United Kingdom, vehicles in Cork drive on the left side of the road, which is opposite of the United States, Canada, and much of the rest of the world. Cork is an excellent destination to acquire a rental car as it allows you to practice driving in a more laid-back atmosphere compared to the likes of Dublin or windy, narrow rural roads. Travelers will likely find driving on the left side of the road to be easy once they've gotten the hang of it, that means paying extra special attention when you get in the car for the first time of the day, and especially when entering gas stations.
The historic city center of Cork forms an arrow-shaped island directly between the north and south channels of the River Lee. At time of writing, there are thirty-two bridges that cross over the channels and various intervals, when combined with the strictly one-way traffic system found in Cork, can make driving in the city center a bit confusing for first-time visitors to the city. Visitors can use the River Lee as a reference point, as it flows from west to east. A GPS rental in Cork will likely ease many of the stresses of navigating the city for the first time and allow visitors to travel with convenience and comfort knowing exactly where they're headed.
Immediately outside the city of Cork, travelers will find themselves driving through picturesque meadows, along narrow, windy roads with a surprising amount of wildlife traffic. While on these roads, ensure you're following the speed limit and paying special attention to upcoming turns and animal crossings. The most common accident while driving in rural Ireland is caused by sheep crossings, so keep your eyes peeled for big pillows of fluff meandering across the road, and their shepherds, who are likely not far behind.
First time drivers in Ireland or first time visitors to Cork will surely find driving in the city to be a new experience, owing to its unique road systems and extensive rural roads found outside the city center. A panicked driver is a dangerous driver, so our biggest suggestion is if you ever find yourself overwhelmed or lost while driving, pull over and take a breather, and consider asking for directions, the Irish are incredibly hospitable!
The Cork City Gaol was a prison constructed by British authorities in the 19th century to replace the city's former prison, which was severely overcrowded. Dubbed the "finest [jail] in three kingdoms", it is impressive from an archaeological as well as historical standpoint. In the late 19th century, it was converted into an all-female institution, which housed mostly repeat offender for petty crimes, there is a plague commemorating a particular prisoner who was imprisoned multiple times for crimes such as "obscene language", "debagging officials of the law" (AKA pantsing the police) and "drunkenness". The Cork City Gaol is of particular relevance to the Irish Civil War, when dozens of female anti-treaty soldiers -- many set to be hanged -- escaped in a manner befitting a Hollywood movie. Located about a 30-minute walk from the city center or about a 10-minute drive, the Cork City Gaol is conveniently located just outside the bustling city center.
The Lough is a suburb of Cork, located a short drive from the city center, the suburb is named for the lake adjacent to which the suburb lies. The Lough is an incredibly shallow, freshwater limestone lake that hosts an impressive amount of native wildlife and migrating birds. The lake is fed by underwater springs and has a small island in the middle where various species of birds nest year round. The Lough is an excellent attraction for any type of traveler, be it individuals or families hoping to take a peaceful stroll along the lake, fish for eel or perch, or just relax and take in the nature. A restaurant and bar can also be found at the southwestern end of the park, which has decent food, drink, and views of the Lough.
The Elizabeth Fort was constructed in the 17th century right off of Barrack Street in Cork's city center. Originally a defensive fortification constructed by the English to fend off rebellious Irishmen, the fort was named after Queen Elizabeth I. By the 1720's, the structure ceased to act as a defensive structure, and was remodeled into a prison and barracks. During the Irish War of Independence, the prison was reactivated by the "Black and Tans", and later burned by anti-treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. As recently as 2013, the structure was utilized as a garda (police) station, before being handed over to the city of Cork. At time of writing, the property may be toured seasonally or during special events, including concerts and festivals. As the site has over four-hundred years of history as a military/police structure, the city is eager to redevelop the property. If you'll be in Cork during a festival or other event hosted at Elizabeth Fort, make it a point to stop in for a visit.
Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral was constructed in 1870 and was designed by the Victorian architect William Burges after an open competition was held in 1862. Not to be completed until well into the 20th century, Burges oversaw every aspect of the design, including the structure of the building, the international decoration, and the design of the stained glass windows, the result being declared "Burges's greatest work in ecclesiastical architecture." The cathedral is also notable for its impressive organ, which was also constructed in 1870. Having been modified and repaired on multiple occasions, at 88 speaking stops, it's now the largest organ in Ireland.
Blackrock Castle, originally constructed in the 16th century about a mile from Cork's historic city center, was built to defend the port of Cork from pirates and other enemies. In 2001, the Cork Corporation purchased the castle and begun redevelopment of the castle into an observatory and astronomy center. Blackrock Castle is now home to Ireland's first interactive astronomy center open to the public. The exhibition include a tour of the universe using interactive ceiling screens, a radio telescope that beams messages to distant stars, and an optical telescope constantly searching for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Every Friday night at 8 PM, tourists, au-pairs, international exchange students, backpackers, and visitors from around Ireland and the world gather in front of the post office to begin Cork's most famous pub crawl. The pub crawl takes you to four of Cork's finest pubs, with free shots at each venue. The crawl ends at Cork's most popular club, the Bodega Nightclub, with arguably Cork's best nightlife and dancing. As a member of the crawl, you receive free entry to the Bodega Nightclub and a free shot at each venue, making the €10 fee totally worth it. Considering the crawl is very popular with tourists as well as the locals, we consider it definitely worth checking out if you're trying to experience great nightlife while in Cork.
Fitzgerald's Park is an oasis in Cork city, situated along the River Lee, Fitzgerald's park sports beautiful rose gardens, playgrounds, and activities for people of all ages. The park is named after Edward Fitzgerald, Cork's exhibition committee chairman who was instrumental in organizing Cork?s International Exhibition as part of the 1902 World's Fair. Evidence of the fair can still be found, as the original pavilion and fountain of the fair remain. Visitors can enjoy the scenic pond while sitting at the café, the steady flow of the River Lee, the variety of art works and sculptures found throughout the park, and even the skate park.