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15 Best Free Things to do in Cork City

There are a ton of awesome free things to do in Cork City – so many, in fact, that I struggled to narrow this list down to just 15. I’ve included some of the best parks in the county, as well as art galleries, museums, and awesome foodie markets, and they’re all free!

Cork is the second-largest city in Ireland and attracts a large number of tourists every year; it also has an International Airport, so many visitors either start or end their Ireland trip here.

I’m from Cork, so I’ve tried and tested pretty much everything there is to do in Cork. And in this blog, I’ll share with you 15 of the best free things to do in Cork City, so you can narrow down what to do during your time here!

1. Fitzgerald’s Park

fitzgeralds park cork city
The Sky Garden Sculpture at Fitzgerald’s Park!

Opening Hours: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm in Winter and 8:30 am – 9 pm in Summer

Website: Fitzgerald’s Park

Google Maps Location: see location here

An easy 20-minute walk from the city center is the 18-acre Fitzgerald’s Park – home to tree-lined pathways, a colorful rose garden and the famous ‘shakey bridge’. 

This park is a firm favorite with local Corkonians who come here to picnic, go for a walk or let their kids let off some steam in the large playground here. The main entrance is via the Mardyke but you can also access the park from Sunday’s Well, where you will cross over the ‘shakey bridge’ also known as Daly’s Bridge, although this has recently been refurbished so you will feel less wobbly walking across it. 

You can walk a nice flat pathway through the park which follows along the River Lee and has some lovely views of the large homes along Sunday’s Well.

There are also several sculptures in Fitzgerald’s Park, including one of Irish war hero Michael Collins and the very unique Sky Garden which won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show. A large central fountain is at the center of the park and this is a great spot to sit and relax as there are several benches here. 

There’s an excellent Cafe here – The Natural Foods Bakery which serves artisan bread sandwiches, fresh soup, cakes and pastries. It’s open every day from 9 am – 6 pm. 

2. English Market

english market cork
The view of The English Market from Farmgate Cafe!

Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday 8 am – 6 pm

Website: The English Market

Google Maps Location: see location here

Opened since 1788 this is easily one of the most famous markets in all of Ireland. It’s in fact the oldest indoor market in the country and is a must-visit for any visitor to Cork!

Come here on any given day for a true taste of the ‘rebel city’, from the moment you enter the English Market on the Grand Parade it’s an assault on all your senses. Smell fresh-off-the-boat fish, coffee brewing, freshly baked bread and listen to the unique Cork twang of the stall holders. This is certainly one of the top free things to do in Cork City!

What’s cool about the English Market is that small, new stalls sit next to larger stalls that have been around for generations. You could easily do your weekly shop here – with fresh fruit & vegetables, bread, meat, fish, and more all available for purchase. Be sure to stop by the world-famous O’Connell’s fish stall – even Queen Elizabeth has visited! 

My favorite stalls in the English Market include The Alternative Bread Company, and The Real Olive Company.

The English Market is also a great spot for a bite to eat with some of the best ready-made food in Cork on offer here like The Sandwich Stall (from the founders of The Real Olive Company) and Maki Sushi Rolls. For great coffee, you can’t go wrong with Cafe Marius or Coffee Central

Or head upstairs to the famous Farmgate Cafe for a doorstop sandwich (really thick bread, for those that don’t know) and a delicious coffee. There’s a fantastic view of the market from up here too. 

This guided culinary tour is a great option to see The English Market with a knowledgable guide and it also includes lunch.

Cork’s English Market is open Monday to Saturday from 8 am – 6 pm. 

3. Shandon Bells

shandon bells cork
The giant Shandon Bells!

Opening Hours: varies by season but typically from 10 am – 5 pm Monday – Saturday and 11.30 am – 4:30 pm on Sundays.  

Website: Shandon Bells

Google Maps Location: see location here

The Shandon Bells are an institution ‘Leeside’ (what locals call Cork City), the third tallest building in the city offers you the opportunity to climb to the top for a fantastic 360-degree view of Cork as well as the chance to try your hand at ringing the church bells on your way to the top.

There are 8 ropes for the 8 bells and you can choose to play the bells to the tune of a song. Don’t worry you will be given instructions. The bells can be heard across the city though so no pressure!

You must climb 135 steps to reach the viewing balcony, so, this Cork activity is not recommended for those with mobility or heart issues! 

Although I should note, this isn’t technically a free activity in Cork – there’s a 5 euro entrance fee for adults and children aged from 5-15 will be charged 2 euro.  

This hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Cork City visits the Shandon Bells as well as Cork City Gaol, The English Market and more! Another highly-recommended tour is this full-day guided tour that takes you around Cork City’s best attractions including The English Market and Shandon Bells before hopping on a private mini-bus to explore the seaside town of Kinsale

4. St Fin Barre’s Cathedral

st fin barres cathedral cork
St Fin Barre’s Cathedral can be seen in the distance!

Opening Hours: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm Monday to Saturday and 1 pm – 5:30 pm on Sundays. 

Website: Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral

Google Maps Location: see location here

On the South Side of the River Lee, and just a few minute’s walk from the city center – St Fin Barre’s Cathedral is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in County Cork. This three-spire cathedral is hard to miss on the city’s skyline and is French Gothic in style. It was built back in the late 1700s and features a nave made of Bath stone and internal walls made from red marble found locally in Cork. 

The massive stained glass windows show scenes from the bible and are one of the main showpoints of the cathedral. As well as that there’s a cannonball from the Siege of Cork which dates to 1690 hanging from the roof inside! There are 1,200 more sculptures adorning the walls and ceilings of the cathedral from gargoyles to huge marble spires, and a brass winged dragon which sits underneath the pulpit. 

You may also enjoy – this guide to Blarney Castle and Gardens

St Fin Barre’s Cathedral is open from 9:30 am – 5:30 pm Monday to Saturday and 1 pm – 5:30 pm on Sundays. 

5. Marina Market

MARINA MARKET CORK
It can get pretty busy at the Marina Market!

Opening Hours: Everyday 8 am – 8 pm

Website: Marina Market

Google Maps Location: see location here

A relatively new addition to the best free things to do in Cork City, the Marina Market only opened its doors in September 2020. Since then it’s popularity has soared and it now attracts thousands of visitors weekly and is home to over 40 stalls.

It’s the largest indoor market in Cork and attracts a young crowd (families especially love it here!) 

You can try food from all over the world here – from Argentinian steaks to Italian woodfired pizza and Mexican fare, the Marina Market offers one of the most diverse food offerings in Ireland. I can’t mention Marina Market and not mention Guji Coffee Bar the colorful shipping container out the front of the market which has notoriously excellent coffee – expect to queue for it though! 

The Marina Market is located on Centre Park Road, a 20-minute walk from the city center. My top tip is after fuelling up on good food and coffee at the market keep walking along the designated walkway to Blackrock Castle (which I’ve detailed further down). 

6. Ardu Street Art

ardu street art cork
One of the new additions to Ardu in 2022!

Opening Hours: n/a

Website: Ardu Street Art

A free self-guided audio tour of some colorful street murals dotted across the city is one of the coolest free things to do in Cork. And I can’t believe I didn’t know about this contemporary street art project until recently! 

Ardu opened in October 2020 as a way to cheer the people of Cork up during the Covid-19 lockdowns. There are 7 murals in total and all are based on the 1920 burning of Cork. 

Find work by Deirdre Breen at Wandesford Quay, Maser at The Kino, James Earley at Henry Street, Peter Martin at Kyle Street, Shane O’Driscoll at Harley Street, Aches at Anglesea Street, and Garreth Joyce at Liberty Street.

Listen to the audio tour here and take your time strolling among the different murals in the city! 

If you like the sound of this – then, you will love this private guided walking tour of Cork City which lasts two hours and takes you to all the top attractions. The price listed is per group, not per person!

7. Nano Nagle Centre

nano nagle place cork
The exterior of the Nano Nagle Centre!

Opening Hours:  10am – 5pm, Tuesday – Sunday

Website: Nano Nagle Centre

Google Maps Location: see location here

A hidden urban oasis that not many people know about (not even the locals). The Nano Nagle Centre is tucked away off of Douglas Street and boasts a museum, beautiful gardens, a book store focused on Cork and of course the amazing Good Day Deli (for some of the best food in all of Cork). 

The center is named in honor of Nano Nagle, a nun who played an active role in helping the poor and disadvantaged of Cork City. In fact, the order she founded The Presentation Sisters continues to travel across the world to this day to continue her work. 

Learn all about life in Cork in the 18th Century at the museum, relax in the beautiful gardens and explore the historic buildings including the 18th-century convent that Nano Nagle built for her nuns.

You can access the convent on a guided tour, which happens every day at 3 pm. On the tour, you can see Nano’s personal objects and see inside her room known as ‘Miss Nagle’s Parlour’. 

8. Blackrock Castle and Observatory

blackrock castle cork
Blackrock Castle is such a stunning castle!

Get your steps in and walk the 5.6 km along Blackrock Road to the gorgeous Blackrock Castle and Observatory. It will take most people an hour each-way. 

Blackrock Castle is the oldest surviving building in the entire county of Cork, having been built back in 1582. Throughout the years the castle has served many different purposes including as an Admiralty Court, a lighthouse and a gun battery! It’s now home to an observatory which showcases fun scientific exhibitions and star viewings. 

Journeys of Exploration is a new interactive experience offered here in association with Failte Ireland, it tells the story of how the castle helped to defend the city of Cork from attacks throughout the 16th Century. 

There’s a great Cafe on-site, within the walls of the castle so it’s very photogenic. You can visit the Cafe for free and take some photos of the exterior of the castle but there is a fee to visit the exhibitions inside the castle. If you visit the Cafe first you can get 10% off the castle entrance fee!

The Cafe here is open 10 am – 9 pm Wednesday – Sunday, opening hours for the exhibitions in the castle vary

If you like the sound of this – then, you’ll also love this guided tour to the iconic Blarney Castle and the colorful coastal town of Cobh. Prices start from only 79 euro pp.

9. University College Cork

university college cork
The gorgeous grounds of UCC!

Opening Hours: Mon. – Fri. 9am-5pm; Sat. 12pm-5pm

Website: UCC Visitor Centre

Google Maps Location: See location on Google Maps

I know it’s unusual to see a University on a list of the best free things to do in Cork, but believe me, University College Cork is one of the most photogenic buildings in Ireland. It was founded in 1845 and today over 21,000 students are enrolled here.

It is sometimes possible to join a free guided tour of the University which starts from the Visitor Centre in the main quadrangle. The tours last between 30 – 60 minutes.

Alternatively, you can purchase an audio tour from the Visitor Center for a small fee. Learn all about the history of one of the best universities in Ireland, visit the Aula Maxima (a huge hall that gives off Harry Potter vibes), the Ogham Stone Collection, the University gardens and the recently updated Crawford Observatory. As well as the beautiful Honan Chapel – the site of many a Cork wedding.

10. Crawford Art Gallery

crawford art gallery cork city
The Crawford Art Gallery all lit up at night!

Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday 10 am – 5 pm, with late opening until 8 pm on Thursday. On Sundays, it’s open from 11 am – 4 pm. 

Website: Crawford Art Gallery

Google Maps Location: See location here 

There are over 3,000 artworks on display in this lovely art gallery on Emmet Place (next to Cork Opera House). In 2006, it was designated a National Cultural Institution, and it’s a very popular place for tourists to Cork to visit. On display are historical and contemporary art, including paintings and sculptures – some date back to the early 18th Century! There are also some very cool visual installations. 

On-site too is the very popular Crawford Garden Cafe, which has won many awards for its food and specializes in fresh local produce. 

11. Cork Public Museum

Opening Hours:  Monday: Closed; Tuesday – Friday: 10am -4pm; Saturday: 11am – 4pm Sunday: 2 – 4 pm

Website: Cork Public Museum

Google Maps Location: See location here 

A 15-minute walk from Cork City center is the Cork Public Museum, Ireland’s oldest Local Authority Museum, which has been open since 1945. It is, in fact, located in Fitzgerald’s Park, which I mentioned earlier. 

Here you can view archaeological exhibits that trace over 7,000 years of human settlement in Cork. There are also several exhibitions on display that tell the stories of some important Cork men and women of the past 400 years. It’s a great insight into the events that made Cork what it is today. 

12. Elizabeth Fort

elizabeth fort cork
The view of the city from Elizabeth Fort!

Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm; Sunday: 12pm – 5pm

Website: Elizabeth Fort

Google Maps Location: See location here 

This Elizabethan Fortress just off Barrack Street boasts some of the best views in Cork City; from the turrets at the top, you have a 360-degree view of the city. You can visit this 17th Century star-shaped fortress on your own or join a guided tour which costs just 5 euros. 

It was originally built to defend the city and was then located outside the city walls, but as the city expanded, it developed around the Fort. Over time it was used for many other purposes, including as a prison and police station. Today though, it is simply for tourism purposes and attracts upwards of 40,000 visitors every year. 

To keep the little ones busy, there are giant Jenga and Snakes and Ladders, and a few other games at the Fort. 

13. The Lough

the lough sunrise
Sunrise at The Lough!

Opening Hours: n/a

Website: see The Lough on AllTrails 

Google Maps Location: see location here 

An easy one-kilometer loop walk on the outskirts of the city center, the Lough is very popular with local families that’s because there are loads of swans in the small lake here. It’s also a very popular fishing spot with Carp caught here in abundance as well as eel, tench, perch, and rudd.

It’s just a 15-minute walk from the city center to the Lough, and there’s also a cozy little Cafe here called The Lough Cafe, which serves excellent, strong coffee and sweet treats. 

14. Bell’s Field

bells field
Bell’s Field on a winter morning, photo via DreamsTime

Opening Hours: n/a

Website: n/a

Google Maps Location: see location here 

Bell’s Field is a large grassy area at the top of Patrick’s hill overlooking Cork City that is known as having the best view in all of the city! It’s quite a climb to reach it because you will be walking up the steepest hill in the city; Patrick’s Hill has a 25% gradient. The view from the top is worth the climb, though, and you will see all of the Northside of the city, the Shandon Bells, and even St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in the distance. My top tip is to try and get here for sunset!

This is just a short stop, and I recommend spending about 30 minutes here with a takeaway coffee and taking some lovely photos. Alternatively, pack a picnic and enjoy it up here on a nice day. 

15. The Black Market

Opening Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: 9 am – 8 pm

Website: Black Market Cork

Location on Google Maps: see location here

Awarded Cork’s best new business for 2022, this indoor food market (a little similar to The Marina Market I mentioned earlier) has some of the best food stalls in the county.

Located on Monahan Road on the outskirts of the city, it only opened its doors in 2021! Try out some unique dishes at the many stalls here like Burnt Pizza, Dip Fine Asian Bar, The Burger Bar, and more! For coffee, you can’t go wrong with a Cork favorite – Soma Coffee. There’s plenty of indoor seating too which is handy!

If you like the sound of this – then, you’ll love this Historical Histories Dinner Tour which is a dinner show performed by local actors, enjoy a 2-course dinner while being treated to a fun performance. It’s such a unique thing to do in Cork City!

Where to stay in Cork City

colorful buildings north main street cork
Colorful buildings on North Main Street, Cork City!

Cork City Center Self Catering Apartment – Located near Cork City Hall and Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral this modern apartment is very centrally located. The one-bedroom apartment is 26m2 and has a kitchen (including fridge, microwave and oven), dining room and separate bedroom. Free WiFi is also included in the rate.

River View Apartment – A luxurious apartment with river views and a terrace just a few minutes’ walk from the city center. It comes with a fully equipped kitchen and laundry facilities. This is a quiet part of town.

Hayfield Manor – this super-luxurious hotel is one of the best in Cork City and is definitely one for the bucket-list. It is located a few minute’s drive from the CBD.

Montenotte Hotel – this super-cool and quirky hotel has been recently renovated. It has lovely gardens and a cinema!

River Lee Hotel – with prime views over the River Lee, large bedrooms and a fantastic on-site restaurant this is one of the most popular hotels in Cork!

Thanks for reading!

I hope my blog covering the best free things to do in Cork has helped you decide what you’re going to do in the “Rebel City”! I may be biased but Cork is an amazing city and I hope you will love it as much as I do!

If you liked this blog, you may enjoy my other blog posts including –

The Best Beaches in West Cork

Moving to Ireland – Everything You Need to Know

Unique Things to do in West Cork

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These are the BEST free things to do in Cork including food, parks, history, and more. You will love these unique Cork tours!

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