Past the deep, blue waters of the Celtic Sea—Muir Chilteach in traditional Irish—and up through the famed River Lee lies one of Ireland’s most well-known ports: Cork. This historical city has long drawn a wide array of tourists to its emerald shores and continues to offer a breadth of attractions that appeal to all.
From its initial founding in the 6th century to the present day, Cork offers many opportunities to share its culture and history. As with any town in Ireland, its citizens are nothing short of welcoming and friendly, creating the perfect atmosphere for any globetrotter to stop and grab a pint with the locals. Here are a few interesting things about this beautiful city and some things to do in Cork that hopefully compel you to visit.
Origins of Cork
Like many towns in Ireland, Cork was first established to be a settlement for a monastery in the 6th century. It grew as an important trading port, which functions primarily as a port for leisure ships today. This port allows many visitors the chance to approach the city as their forefathers may have generations ago, on an albeit more comfortable cruise on the water.
The Rebel County
Throughout Ireland and most of Europe, Cork is known as The Rebel Country, a title which it earned during Ireland’s War of Independence. It had long earned a reputation for being rebellious, dating back to their victorious battles against invading Norse Vikings a few generations after the city’s founding. In fact, the city changed hands from clan to clan. Visitors who want to learn about the history in great detail can opt for an informative walking tour or a stop at the informative Cork Public Museum.
Blarney Castle and The Blarney Stone
Have you ever found yourself struggling to find the right words in a conversation? Maybe you’ve always wished to be more eloquent. No matter the reason, Cork might have an answer to that: The Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone. First set into the tower of Blarney Castle in 1446, this stone helps to attract more than 400,000 visitors each year. The legendary Blarney Stone is said to have the ability to grant those who kiss it with the “Gift of the Gab.” That’s right—one brush of your lips upon the stone can help you tap into your internal Oscar Wilde or Edna O’Brien. Of course, that might be the Guinness doing the talking for you.
Just outside of Cork outside of the town of Cobh lies Spike Island. Its origins run through the same vein as Cork: The island was initially established as a monastic settlement in the 7th century and by 1178, was granted to St. Thomas’s Abbey in the Irish capital. From there, records get a bit hazy until the end of the Middle Ages, when the island changed hands multiple times. Finally, in 1779, the island’s first artillery was built, beginning a period of fortification construction for which it’s known today. Spike Island’s Fort Mitchel was later converted into the Victorian Era’s largest prison, holding more than 2,300 prisoners. Needless to say, this island has plenty of history behind it, as well as aging fortresses just waiting to be explored.
Today, Spike Island is a relatively new tourist destination after opening in 2016. It is one of Europe’s largest tourist attractions and was voted Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction in 2017. Visitors can choose between a daytime tour or, for the brave of heart, an after-dark tour to explore the abandoned prison and more in what was once dubbed, “Ireland’s hell.”
The English Market
Located in the city’s center, the English Market is a multicultural food market known for its 1800s architecture and a wide variety of locally made products. The market is more than 230 years old and has been visited by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. Throughout its crowded aisles are stalls operated by long-established family businesses and traders new to their industries, whether they’re fishmongers, bakers or crafters. If you need an ingredient for a traditional Irish recipe or a souvenir for a beloved family member, this is certainly the place to do your shopping.
Ready to pay Cork, Ireland, a visit? Several cruises stop in the city—take a look to discover which itinerary is best for you.