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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Cork

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Cork is that it’s not another Dublin. As the second largest city in Ireland, Cork and its residents have a sense of independence and identity all of their own, and if there’s one way to upset a local it’s with comparisons to the Irish capital. When visiting what locals call “the real Irish capital,” ring the famous Shandon Bells in the church looking over the city, or go deep into an Irish prison in the dungeon-like Cork City Gaol.

Downtown Cork is a maze of bridges that span the River Lee and connect the marshlands and small island where the city center was built. It’s a city that’s best explored by foot, where sights like the towering St. Finnbarr’s Cathedral literally spring from the streets. It’s also a city that’s often used as a base for visiting the Blarney Stone—the famous stone that’s believed to bring eloquence to anyone who gives it a kiss. By night, Cork is a hotbed of trendy cuisine and hip, artsy pubs, and since it’s also a university a town, a place where youthful enthusiasm and energy carries deep into the night.
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Cork St. Anne's Church
2 Tours and Activities

Built in 1722, Cork's St. Anne's Church is known for its large golden fish weathervane, which stands atop its bell tower and can be seen from much of the city. Visitors can climb the tower and try to play a tune on the church's eight bells, which were immortalized in the 19th-century poem, “The Bells of Shandon.”

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Kinsale

Seemingly everything in Kinsale—from the fishing, whale watching, and scuba diving to the gourmet fish and seafood—revolves around the Atlantic Ocean that laps at Kinsale’s shores. In summer months when the sun comes out, locals make the drive from Cork to Kinsale’s sandy beaches, and there are places where you can rent a kayak to explore the rocky coast. Back on shore at Charles Fort, walk across a drawbridge into this star-shaped fort that was built in the 17th century. Aside from the views looking over coast, visitors can learn how this strategic town has been sacked, fought over, looted, and rebuilt for the last 1,000 years. For even more history of the town and its headlands, historical walking tours weave through the village and the trails running out towards the coast, or pay a visit to St. Multose Church—which was constructed back in 1190 and is still in use today. By night, sample some of the gourmet food that Kinsale is fast becoming known for, and settle into a traditional pub for some cheery coastal craic.

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Mizen Head
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At the tip of a peninsula where Atlantic waves crash ceaselessly into sea cliffs, Mizen Head is one of Ireland’s most spectacular headlands. Mizen Head offers a visitor center and walking trails to explore, and it is home to the 1909-built Mizen Head Signal Station, which sits atop a rock connected to the mainland by a narrow footbridge.

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Drombeg Stone Circle (Druid's Altar)

Also known as the Druid's Altar, Drombeg Stone Circle is one of the most impressive prehistoric monuments in Ireland. Dating back to 1,100 BC, the megalithic site consists of 17 standing stones, which tower 6 feet (2 meters) above ground, and is thought to have been used as a burial or sacrifice site.

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Jameson Distillery Midleton
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At the Jameson Distillery Midleton, travelers can enjoy the Jameson Experience Tour, which includes a look into the distillery in East Cork, where the well-known whiskey was produced until the 1970s. In the company of a guide, visitors explore the preserved distillery interior, and view old kilns, mills, and distilling equipment, as well as a restored 19th-century warehouse.

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Charles Fort
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Built in the 17th century, the vast star-shaped Charles Fort was designed to guard Kinsale Harbour. The site of fierce fighting during the 1690 Williamite War, Charles Fort was ceded by the British during the War of Independence in 1921, only to be extensively damaged during the Irish Civil War. The fort is now a designated National Monument.

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Cork English Market
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Dating from 1788, Cork English Market is among Ireland’s finest foodie destinations. Set inside a Victorian heritage building with a vaulted ceiling, the market is filled with vendors selling the finest and freshest of local produce, from grass-fed beef and smoked salmon to homemade jam, duck eggs, and fresh fruit and vegetables.

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Elizabeth Fort
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Built by the British in 1601 and expanded to its present star-shaped form in the 1620s, Elizabeth Fort has stood witness to many turbulent periods of Cork history. Originally serving as a military barracks, this fort later functioned as a police station before 2014 when the city embarked on a plan to turn it into a tourist attraction.

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Blarney Stone (Stone of Eloquence)
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Visitors flock to the ruined 15th-century Blarney Castle to bend over backwards from the battlements and lay their lips on the famous Blarney Stone (Stone of Eloquence). According to local legend, the stone, which is embedded high in the castle walls, imparts those who kiss it with the “gift of the gab,” making them more eloquent, articulate, and convincing.

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St. Fin Barre's Cathedral
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With intricate tracery, pointed spires, stone gargoyles, and a trumpet-playing golden angel on top, St. Fin Barre's Cathedral boasts an extravagant neo-Gothic design. The interior features marble mosaics, stained glass, ornate sculptures, and a cannonball from the 17th-century Siege of Cork.

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