Recently named the most culturally vibrant city in Europe by the EU, Cork is Ireland’s fastest-growing city, a destination for culture lovers with a thriving arts scene. At its heart is Cork International Film Festival; 65 years young, Ireland’s first and largest film festival continues to entertain the people of Cork, Ireland and our many international visitors with programmes that reflect the character of this booming port city: friendly, diverse and outward-looking.
It’s a spirited, independent place, cosmopolitan and creative too and that’s hardly surprising. For Cork is an ancient maritime port, in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East, that has spent centuries trading with – and being influenced by – the wider world. It’s a place of learning, with one of Ireland’s oldest universities at its heart.
Cork has the depth you would expect from a European Capital of Culture – the galleries, museums and live performances, plus a packed events calendar, with more than 20 major festivals each year. There’s a lively city buzz, but there’s also a no-nonsense warmth and an unpressured pace that makes you feel time is on your side here.
Nature has a hand in that. Cork was founded 14 centuries ago, on islands in an estuary, where the River Lee joins the world’s second-largest natural harbour. Waterways circle the city-centre, crossed by 22 bridges. Hilly neighbourhoods climb the river banks, stacked with colourful houses and the University’s historic campus seamlessly connects with the city centre.
Just across the River Lee, the Shandon area of the city is a maze of winding streets just inviting you to explore them. Climb the bell tower at St Anne’s Church for a birdseye view of the city while listening to the famous Shandon Bells. The nearby Butter Museum, where you can learn the story of Ireland’s most important food export and the world’s largest butter market, is also well worth a visit. Afterwards, take in a modern dance performance at the nearby Firkin Crane Dance Centre and view its striking rotunda.
The Huguenot quarter is only a stone’s throw away, including The Cork Opera House, Crawford Gallery and between the grand Georgian parades and medieval alleyways of the central island is the centrepiece 18th century English Market. It’s loud, lively, and packed with flavour – Cork in a nutshell. The star of this indoor casbah – and of Cork’s great eating-out scene – is the local produce from this fertile region’s fields and seas, giving you plenty of scope to plan a tasty lunch or busy afternoon.
To the south the deep bowl of Cork Harbour, with its sailing races and regattas, is circled by some of Ireland’s most iconic places. At the harbour’s edge the port of Cobh, departure point for millions of emigrants, and the last calling point of the Titanic, is a place with a poignant history beneath its cheerful seaside feel.
East of the Harbour is the Jameson Distillery at Midleton, a pure taste of Ireland for millions around the world. To the North West lies Blarney Castle, legendary home of Irish eloquence. Just south again, on the Atlantic coast, is picture-perfect, smart Kinsale with its yachts, its pretty quayside, its narrow 18th century streets, its festivals and its gourmet cuisine.
Grounded, witty and irreverent, “The People’s Republic of Cork” likes to set itself apart from the rest of the country. Yet for all that, it’s an intensely Irish place to visit. See the Travel section for links to useful travel websites that will guide you through the city of Cork.
Here are 14 Unique Things to Do In Cork