Cork has had many visitors throughout its long history including the Celts, the Normans and the Vikings. This is very much evident in its spectacular castles and ancient monasterys.
However, Cork is very much a modern city known for its edgy art scene, exotic food markets and a bustling nightlife. Outside the city, Cork is known for its beautiful wild landscapes and stunning national parks.
The Top 10
With all these factors in mind, Hospitality Ireland decided to examine the top ten visitor attractions in Cork, based on Fáilte Ireland's Visitor Attractions Survey 2019, which was carried out by SRI in the third quarter of 2020.
The year 2019 was chosen as a good indicator because it was pre-covid and so the sample was more in line with tourists behaviour in normal circumstances, rather than during an exceptional event like the coronavirous pandemic.
1. Doneraile Park
Doneraile Park takes first place on the list with 490,000 visitors as of 2019. The 160-hectare landscaped parkland and wildlife estate is sometimes referred to as North Cork’s ‘real-life Downton Abbey.’
The house was built by the St Leger family around 1645 on the site of a ruined castle. It was refurbished in the mid-eighteenth century and offers a perfect example of Georgian architecture.
The parklands are designed in the naturalistic style of the famous Capability Brown. They include many water features, plus a parterre walled garden and gardeners’ cottages. There are numerous pathways and graded walks.
Nature lovers can spot red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and Kerry cattle on the estate.
2. Fota Wildlife Park
(462, 047 visitors)
Fota Wildlife Park takes second place with 462, 047 visitors in 2019.
Unlike an ordinary zoo, Fota Wildlife Park chooses animals that thrive in a free-range environment wherever possible, which allows them to roam free, while mixing with other species and human visitors. These species are also able to adjust to the Irish climate.
Located in close proximity to the five star Fota Island Resort, the park caters to visitors of all ages.
3. Blarney Castle & Gardens
Blarney Castle & Gardens is in third position with 460,000 visitors recorded in 2019.
The Castle is situated in Blarney Village which is 8km northwest from Cork city in the South of Ireland. It was built nearly six hundred years ago by one of Ireland’s most legendary chieftans, Cormac MacCarthy.
Blarney Castle is set in over 60 acres of stunning parkland, filled with rare and unusual plants and trees.
4. Crawford Art Gallery
(265, 438 visitors)
Crawford Art Gallery follows in fourth place with 265,438 visitors as of 2019.
The gallery's collection comprises of over 3,000 works, ranging from eighteenth-century Irish and European painting and sculpture, through to contemporary video installations.
The cultural institution is located in a heritage building in the heart of Cork city and includes an award-winning Café serving fresh local food.
5. Jameson Distillery Middleton
Jameson Distillery Middleton is in the top five with 135,000 visitors as of 2019.
The facility is currently embarking on a new upgrade which will see the buildings at Jameson Distillery Midleton transformed between now and 2025, just in time to celebrate its 200 year anniversary.
The Jameson Experience Tour is a fully guided tour around the original Midleton Distillery which brings the stories of Jameson’s to life. Visitors learn about the field-to-glass processes responsible for the whiskey that bears John Jameson’s name.
Jameson Ambassadors guide visitors around some of its key buildings, including the warehouses and the microdistillery. The tour finishes with a chance to do a guided comparative tasting of three famous whiskeys, one being Jameson.
6. Fota Arboretum & Gardens
Fota Arboretum & Gardens takes sixth place with 113, 695 visitors as of 2019.
An arboretum is a botanical collection that focuses mostly on trees. In an arboretum, specimens of trees, shrubs, and sometimes herbaceous plants are specifically planted for scientific and educational purposes.
Thanks to the gentle climate offered by Cork harbour, rare plants flourish here and Fota’s gardens attract garden lovers and specialists who travel from across the world to see its arboretum, gardens, and plant collections up close.
Visitors can explore gardens laid out by James Hugh Smith-Barry in the first half of the 19th century.
(97, 990 visitors)
Charlesfort is one of the Ireland’s largest military installations and has been part of some of the most important events of Irish history.
The star-shaped structure of the late seventeenth century was designed by William Robinson, architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin.
Some of the outer defences are 16 metres high and the view from the ramparts looking out over Kinsale Harbour alonemake it worth a visit.
8. Cork Vision Centre @St Peter's
The Cork Vision Centre is managed by Cork Civic Trust and situated within walking distance of the city's artistic, commercial and tourist areas.
The centre incorporates a multi-purpose gallery, and other art spaces, to host numerous visual arts exhibitions throughout the year, featuring contemporary art.
St. Peter's Church (built in 1783) was rescued from near dereliction and redeveloped as an arts and cultural venue on two levels. The gallery and other art areas are used for visual arts exhibitions, lectures, seminars, workshops, recitals and receptions.
9. The Titanic Experience
In the self-guided Titanic Experience, visitors uncover the sights, sounds, smells and stories of the ship, as well as the people and city that made her.
The themed one-way route journeys through boomtown Belfast and the shipyard where the liners were built, to the launch, fit out and maiden voyage, before discovering more about the sinking, aftermath, the quest to find Titanic and her final resting place.
The tour looks at the ordinary lives that were impacted by the Titanic and offers a collection of unique Titanic artefacts.
10. The Glucksman, UCC
The Glucksman is a leading museum nationally and internationally for creative learning and access to the visual arts.
The museum aims to make contemporary art and creative practice accessible to all. Its exhibition and events programme aims to appeal to a first-time gallery-goer, an art expert or somewhere in between.