Updated January 2024–To spend 36 hours in Cork City might not seem like enough to those who know the city well, but for first-timers to Ireland's second-largest city, it's just enough to whet one's appetite for this fun-loving metropolis.
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Spending 36 hours in Cork City on a budget is also doable. Read on to find out how.
If beginning in Ireland's capital, Dublin to Cork is a pretty direct route, and thanks to Ireland’s improved road system, you should be able to get there by car in about 2.5 hours.
Once you get off the M50, which encircles the city of Dublin, you’ll find yourself on the M7 and later the M8, which leads directly into Cork City.
If you are traveling by public transportation, the journey to Cork from Heuston Station in Dublin is about 2.5 hours.
A bus from Dublin Airport to Cork City is also available on Citylink.
Cork City is on an island with 16 bridges.
Its main commercial area is situated along St. Patrick’s Street, where you’ll find many of Cork’s most fashionable stores and restaurants.
Other areas of the commercial downtown include Grand Parade, Washington Street, Oliver Plunkett Street, and Main Street.
Cork is a lively city, with lots of pubs, theaters, and restaurants. Enjoying them all on a budget might seem difficult, but the ones you'll find in this post are all reasonably priced for the budget traveler.
Perhaps the most famous event of the year in Cork is the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, which takes place each year at the end of October.
It has been attracting musicians and jazz enthusiasts from across the world since 1978.
The 2024 festival is expected to take place from Oct. 24-28.
Getting Around Cork
Cork City Tours will give you an excellent sense of the city and its main attractions and is an ideal choice if you want to spend 36 hours in Cork City.
Hop on and off at your leisure and learn about Cork’s colorful history.
While Cork is a very walkable city, there may be times when you might have to use a bus. If so, the TFI Leap Card Cork will come in handy.
The card costs €8 for 1 day, €16 or 3 days, and €32 for 7 days.
It can be used on Bus Éireann buses and on the Cork commuter rail services from Cork to Cobh (useful if you want to see the Cobh Heritage Centre) and on the Cork to Midleton train line (useful if you want to take a tour of the Jameson Distillery in Midleton).
This is important if you decide not to rent a car in Ireland.
Friday – Day One
6 p.m. Dinner – Market Lane, 5-6 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork City
If you arrive late into Cork, you'll want something to eat.
Cork city is brimming with great restaurants, craft-beer pubs, and the oldest closed food market in the country.
If you only come to Cork for the food, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Market Lane, located on Oliver Plunkett Street, the city center’s longest street, is an award-winning restaurant and bar that takes over two floors.
Ingredients come largely from the nearby English Market and local artisan producers.
The regular menu includes a wide range of fish, meat, game, salads, and sandwiches, as well as vegetarian dishes and meals suitable for Coeliacs.
If you're in a party of 10 or more, why not avail of the restaurant’s special lunch and dinner menus?
Choose from a 2-course lunch for €31 each or a 3-course lunch for €40 per person. The restaurant's special dinner menu costs €46.
If it’s a traditional Irish pub you’re looking for during your 36 hours in Cork City, then a visit to The Mutton Lane Inn is in order.
Situated in an alleyway near the English Market, this popular watering hole, one of Cork’s oldest drinking establishments, is illuminated by candlelight. It is also one of the pubs on the Cork Heritage Pub Trail.
Expect to get a great stout while you’re there, but if that’s not your thing, there’s plenty more to quench your thirst.
In years gone by, butchers and farmers from the surrounding countryside visiting the English Market next door would often stop into Mutton Lane for a whiskey and leave a tip for the junior staff.
Many say that is why the pub has had the highest whiskey sales in all of Ireland.
You won’t find a TV at Mutton Lane, which means that like many an Irish pub, the conversation with others is encouraged, plus it's the perfect place to while away an hour or so during your 36 hours in Cork City.
Lots of famous people adorn its walls, including President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, as well as the country singer Johnny Cash.
Saturday – Day Two
9:30 a.m. The English Market
If you’re planning to take the Hop On Hop Off tour, one of the first stops on the tour is the English Market.
The best time to explore Ireland’s only indoor market is in the morning.
In fact, Cork County Council, the local authority that operates the market, suggests that tourists visit outside of the peak trading hours (between 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.) so that they can leisurely walk around the stalls and explore.
The Victorian-style market was founded way back in 1788.
The English Corporation, which governed the city at the time, built the market, which was hugely important to Cork’s local economy. Goods were brought in from the surrounding rich farmland and then exported abroad.
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One commodity that served Cork very well was the export of its butter.
You’ll find everything from local seafood to international sauces and spices. Butchers, bakers, fishmongers, and other merchants are all located within this popular Cork attraction.
11:30 a.m. Elizabeth Fort
An 8-minute walk from the English Market will take you to Elizabeth Fort, where you’ll get a fantastic view of the city.
The fort, an early 17th-century star-shaped structure, played a pivotal role in the history of Cork for over 400 years.
A guided tour will provide you with some interesting information, like the fact that in 1603, the death of Elizabeth I sparked a revolt in Cork City and a subsequent attack on the fort.
The people of Cork were forced to pay for the damages after English reinforcements took control.
Or that between 1817 and 1837, the fort served as a prison for convicts as they awaited shipment to Australia and other far-off lands.
While general admission is free, I suggest that you take a guided tour. They are available at 1 p.m. each day and cost €5 per person.
1 p.m. Lunch – Liberty Grill, 32 Washington Street, Cork City
This popular Cork eatery, which has received TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence for three years in a row, serves up brunch or lunch Monday through Saturday from midday until 5 p.m.
This is the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat, and it's only a mere 6-minute walk from the fort.
You can indulge in the restaurant’s excellent fish and seafood dishes, its inventive burgers, or perhaps a salad is all you need.
2:30 p.m. Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral
A 7-minute walk will take you to Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the Gothic Revival-style Anglican church that towers over the city.
Constructed in the 1860s, the three-spire cathedral is dedicated to Finbarr, the patron saint of Cork.
The ground where the cathedral stands has been a place of worship since the 7th century, where a monastery once stood.
The original building, which included a round tower, was destroyed over time and whatever was left of it in the 19th century was finally demolished, making way for the cathedral you see today.
To assert its dominance over the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland decided it wanted a grand cathedral in Cork and created a competition among local architects for the bid.
It was the first Protestant cathedral to be built in either Ireland or England after the construction of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The cathedral is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and from Sunday, 1 p.m. through 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. through 5 p.m. from April to October only. Guided tours of this Cork City landmark are provided during those times.
It is free to enter the church, but if you want to take a guided tour, which is highly recommended, you must pay.
Admission for adults is €6, seniors and students with an ID, €5, and children under 16 are free.
4 p.m. Saint Anne’s Church, the Shandon Bells
You may want to hop on the double-decker bus again to get to this location, which is about a 17-minute walk from the cathedral.
The Shandon Bells and Tower at Saint Anne’s Church is one of the most important early 18th-century churches in Ireland and one of a small number that still retains its original bells.
The church was built in 1722, but the site has been a place of worship since medieval times.
It features a barreled, vaulted ceiling, colorful stained-glass windows, and a baptismal stone that dates to 1629.
Don’t leave this iconic Cork attraction without climbing the narrow stone steps to the top of the tower and ringing the famous bells., which weigh 6 tons.
A selection of sheet music is available to help you turn the bell-ringing into a fun activity.
Admission is €6 for adults, €5 for seniors and students and €3 for children ages 5-15. The family admission fee (for 2 adults and up to 4 children under 16) is €15.
7 p.m. Dinner – Amicus, 23 Paul Street, Cork City
Amicus, located in the city’s Huguenot Quarter, is housed in a late 19th-century warehouse.
You’ll get a real feel for historic Cork here, but you’ll also experience some of the best food the city has to offer, all sourced from local producers.
The restaurant owners grow their own fruit, vegetables, and herbs in their gardens outside of the city.
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The pickings are used in pretty much all of their dishes, including entrees, house cocktails, homemade ice cream, jam, and preserves.
Sweet treats are baked daily in its in-house bakery.
The menu includes starters like the Crispy Panko Crumbed Squid, Pulled Pork Lollipops, and Tiger Prawn Pil Pil.
Also worth a try are entrees like the Amicus Curry, Lemon & Thyme Chicken, Roast Darne of Cod, and lots more.
The most expensive main dish is around €23. There are also the usual burgers, pizza, and pasta dishes, as well as sharing boards.
Sunday – Day Three
9 a.m. Breakfast – Restaurant 14A, 14A French Church Street, Cork City
Expect everything from Eggs Benedict to omelettes and of course a full Irish at this popular Cork restaurant.
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Much of the restaurant's produce comes from the English Market, so you know it's going to be high quality. The restaurant also works with local producers like Keohane's Seafood of Bantry, CL Family Butcher, and more.
10:30 a.m. Cork City Gaol (Jail)
Cork City Gaol is located in the heart of Cork City.
It was opened in 1824 and at the time, was described as the “finest in 3 kingdoms.”
No mention anywhere of who claimed that, but it was seen as a step up from other prisons at the time.
Maybe it was because at least one of its cell wings was brighter and more spacious than most, that there was a separate confinement area for women, or that its beautiful Georgian/Gothic architecture, coupled with turreted battlements and such, makes it look more like a castle than a prison.
During your visit, you’ll learn about the first execution that took place at the prison as well as some of the famous prisoners who spent time there, including the revolutionary hero Countess Markievicz (Constance Gore-Booth) from Sligo, who was arrested in 1919 and spent four months in Cork Jail.
Guided tours are available at the museum, which is open 360 days a year, from April through September, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from October through March, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is €11 for adults, €9 for students and seniors, €7 for children and €34 for a family ticket. All rates include a guide book.
12 noon. The Butter Museum
The Butter Museum is a fascinating place that delves into the production of butter.
Since it's a 23-minute walk from the jail, it might be best to hop on the double-decker bus again (tickets are valid for 24 hours) and make your way to Butter Museum or take a Bus Eireann bus.
At the museum, you’ll learn about Ireland’s most important food export and its importance to the Cork region.
Lots of great visuals here on the history of butter-making and the Butter Exchange in 19th-century Cork.
You’ll also learn about the traditional craft of butter making, which was at one time a common practice in many rural Irish homes.
In addition, you’ll read about the success of the Kerrygold brand, which has gained a huge following in the U.S. in recent years. You can purchase Irish butter and other Irish goods at Food Ireland.
The museum is open from March through October, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is €5 for adults, €4 for students and seniors, and €2 for children.
Have you been to Cork? If so, what did you like about the city? Let me know in the comments below.