20 July 2023
By Roger Kennedy
Sprawling around the banks of the River Lee, Cork is Ireland’s second-largest city and one of its must-visit destinations. It has a youthful, cosmopolitan atmosphere thanks to its historic university, with fascinating museums, great restaurants and a lively nightlife scene. Add to that, Cork lies on the doorstep of Blarney Castle and its legendary stone.
Whether you want to discover the city’s Victorian architecture or be blessed with the “gift of the gab”, we have you covered, with the top neighbourhoods to stay in during your Cork visit. Once you’ve decided on your preferred area, you can search for accommodation online via a holiday rental site such as renthero.ie. Here you’ll find contemporary apartments in Cork City Centre and family-friendly houses in Tivoli, as well as historic abodes in the beautiful Victorian Quarter.
Cork City Centre
If you want to stay in the heart of all the action, then you can’t go past Cork City Centre, which occupies an island in the middle of the River Lee. It’s here that you’ll find some of Cork’s top attractions, including the 19th-century English Market where you can pick up fresh produce and artisan goods, as well as the contemporary-focused Crawford Art Gallery. Don’t miss the Gothic Revival-style Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church or a visit to the National Monument, which commemorates the Irish Patriots who died during the rebellions.
Cork City Centre is home to fantastic restaurants, engaging museums and global retail stores, with the area ideal for exploring on foot. If you do want to venture further afield, the area is well-connected by public buses, with most routes passing through the district or having their terminus here.
History buffs should base themselves in the Victorian Quarter, which is clustered with beautiful 19th-century buildings. It lies directly north of the River Lee, with the soaring spire of the Trinity Presbyterian Church dominating the neighbourhood. If you’re arriving by train from Dublin, the Victorian Quarter is just a stone’s throw from the Kent railway station, with a beautiful old steam locomotive on display at the terminal.
While staying in the Victorian Quarter, you can brush up on your knowledge of the Irish Civil War at the 1801-built Collins Barracks or watch Ireland’s most famous food export being made at the Butter Museum. Amongst its monuments and museums, the neighbourhood is home to a wide choice of trendy bars and global restaurants where you can dine at the end of the day. It’s also here that you’ll find The Everyman, a legendary Victorian theatre where Irish plays and international dance performances are showcased.
Cascading down a hill to the east of Cork, Tivoli is a waterfront neighbourhood overlooking the meeting point between Lough Mahon and the River Lee. It’s ideal if you want to be immersed in “suburbia”, with all the peace and quiet that goes along with it. Among Tivoli’s most famous residents was the Elizabethan explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh, who is attributed with planting the cedar trees that grow in the area.
If you’re looking for local action, head down to the Tivoli Docks to watch as container ships come and go from the Port of Cork or grab a bite to eat at one of the neighbourhood’s gastropubs. Directly across the River Lee is the Blackrock Castle Observatory whose 16th-century turreted towers house an interactive astronomy centre.
University College Cork
For a lively student vibe, you can’t go past the area around University College Cork, which is one of Ireland’s most beautiful tertiary institutions. Centred around a Tudor Gothic-style quadrangle, it lies to the west of the city centre and boasts affordable restaurants and vibrant nightlife. In addition to exploring its beautiful campus on the banks of the River Lee, you can check out the changing art exhibitions at The Glucksman.
Directly north of the University College Cork is Fitzgerald Park where you’ll find leafy walking trails, a children’s playground and a cricket ground. Created to host the 1902 World’s Fair, it’s also home to the engaging Cork Public Museum. Here, you can get up close to archaeological findings excavated from around the city walls and learn about the Irish experience of living through World War I.
While technically a separate village, Blarney lies just 10 minutes’ drive northwest of Cork and is an ideal place to stay if your main purpose is visiting Blarney Castle and Gardens. This 15th-century stronghold is famed for the Blarney Stone, said to endow anyone who kisses it with the ability to speak with eloquence and flattery.
The picturesque parkland surrounding the castle is a destination in itself, with landscaped gardens and endless trails to explore. In the village, you’ll find a good choice of restaurants and traditional pubs, as well as the Blarney Woollen Mills where you can pick up local crafts and Irish-themed souvenirs.