As the second largest city in Ireland, Cork is vibrant and full of fun things to do both in the city and the surrounding area. Visitors to Cork will find no shortage of activities and attractions to keep them busy. Plus, many of the best things to do Cork can be enjoyed without spending a lot of money, so you can still experience the city on a budget.
From free museums and parks to delicious foodie finds, Cork is one of the best cities to visit without breaking the bank.
Wander through the English Market to take in the sights and smells of unique foods, visit some of the beautiful churches and cathedrals, or even just stroll around the city to view the unique street art. You will have no shortage of great things to do in Cork.
Here are the top 7 things to do in Cork on a budget.
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7 best things to do in Cork on a budget
Visit St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral
St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral is Cork’s iconic cathedral. It’s a Gothic Revival three-spire cathedral built in 1879. The cathedral is located on the south bank of the River Lee and is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Finbarr of Cork.
The cathedral is marvelous to view from both the exterior and interior. Its structure is built with Cork limestone and the interior walls are made with Cork marble. There are detailed mosaics and bright stained-glass windows inside that are beautiful.
To stick to a tight budget, you can view St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral from the outside or participate in a church service to view the inside. Otherwise, you can pay a small admission fee to visit the cathedral.
St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral tickets range from €3 for children to €6 for adults.
Listen to Live Irish Music at a Pub Over Dinner
Ireland is known for its pub culture, and you don’t have to drink to enjoy the lively atmosphere. Cork has plenty of great pubs to choose from that serve delicious, traditional Irish food.
The pubs often have planned Irish music and dance shows (more often in the touristy areas of the city center), but you can also often stumble across a pub where musicians bring their instruments for a casual night of music and singing.
Plus, many of the pubs are in older buildings and have interesting decorations and atmosphere. Stopping at a pub for a hearty meal and entertainment by the boisterous locals is one of the best things to do in Cork at night.
Here are two top pubs to find Irish music in Cork:
- Sin E – Built in 1889, this traditional pub is decorated with impressive stained-glass windows. They run a traditional Irish music set every night at 6:30pm that is well-known with both tourists and locals.
- An Spailpín Fánach – More popular with the local regulars, this Cork pub has a warm and welcoming feeling to it. The pub has live music from Wednesday to Sunday. Traditional Irish music typically plays on Thursday while the remaining nights feature folk music.
Walk Down Oliver Plunkett Street
Oliver Plunkett is a busy shopping street in Cork. As a free thing to do in Cork, it can be great to stroll down the street and do some window shopping, admire the jewelry stores, and enjoy the street performers.
If you want to stop for a coffee or bite to eat, the street is lined with fantastic cafes, donut and sweet shops, and restaurants. The street is full of character and always has a lively atmosphere.
Another way to explore Oliver Plunkett Street and the city is to take a free walking tour of Cork. Many hotels and hostels offer their own free walking tours, or this 90-minute free tour will help you to familiarize yourself with the city and understand more of the history and culture.
Spend Time at the Crawford Art Gallery
One of the best free things to do in Cork, the Crawford Art Gallery is a national cultural institution located in a heritage building. It’s dedicated to the historical and contemporary visual arts. The gallery has over 3,000 pieces that range from 18th century Irish and European paintings and sculptures, all the way to contemporary video installations.
Crawford Art Gallery is open every day and is free to enter, no prior booking is required. The gallery often holds special events or has rotating exhibitions. Check the website to find out more information about what’s on at the gallery to enjoy one of the best things to do in Cork on a budget!
Explore Cork’s Surrounding Nature
Cork is a great place to stay and use as a home base for exploring the wonderful nature of southern Ireland. You don’t have to spend much money to enjoy hiking in the Ring of Kerry or picnicking in one of the many green spaces.
Consider taking a day trip from Cork to explore the nature. The Ring of Kerry is one of the most popular attractions in Ireland, it’s a 179km-long, circular scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula with incredible coastal landscapes and natural features including the Killarney National Park which is just over an hour from Cork.
Explore the 26,000 acres of lush greenery, lakes, spectacular waterfalls (such as the Torc Waterfall), mountains (including the tallest peak in Ireland), as well as the renowned Lady’s View. And stop for breaks and to experience some of the quaint Irish towns along the way, such as the hidden-gem town, Kenmare.
If you prefer beaches, Cork has some of the best beaches nearby including Myrtleville Beach, one of the closest beaches to Cork with beautiful landscapes and colored rocks. Or Fountainstown Beach is great for swimming and fossil-hunting!
Within the city center of Cork, you can take a stroll through Fitzgerald’s Park to experience some beautiful greenery. Or walk along the River Lee at sunset for gorgeous views.
Admire the University College Cork Campus
The University College Cork is a popular tourist destination with audio tours available to take in the history and culture, or you can walk around on your own for free. Founded in 1845, it’s known for the stunning campus and vibrant student life.
The campus has many interesting buildings and unique features to view. While the tour provides more historical relevance, to explore on your own you can walk through the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, President’s Garden, Stone Corridor, and Crawford Observatory.
Marvel at the Stars at Blackrock Castle Observatory
Blackrock Castle is a 16th century fort and the oldest surviving structure still in use in the city of Cork. It’s a sight to see on its own (which you could view from the outside for free), but it now also houses an observatory.
Tickets for the Blackrock Castle Observatory are not very expensive, and you will learn about some of Cork’s history with award-winning exhibitions and interactive experiences. Discover the night sky in the Planetarium and get a tour through the heart of the Castle as well.
Blackrock Castle Observatory tickets range from €5 for children to €7 for adults.
BONUS: Kiss the Blarney Stone
Visiting the Blarney Castle may not be one of the cheapest things to do to stay within your budget, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s one of the top reasons many people visit Cork.
Located just 14 minutes from Cork, people have traveled for over 200 years to kiss the famous Blarney Stone and receive the “gift of eloquence and persuasiveness.” While visiting the castle, you will see the main garrison, ruins of a late 18th century Gothic mansion, the remains of the castle prison, and more!
Plan to bring a picnic with you to save some money on buying food. Plus, the Estate grounds have many walking trails and gorgeous areas to picnic. There is a beautiful lake to walk around and enjoy, as well as the beautiful Castle Gardens.
Blarney Castle tickets range from €8 for children to €18 for adults.
Cork is a fantastic city to explore on a budget. There are plenty of things to do and see without spending a lot of money, and you will be in the perfect location to enjoy some of the most incredible scenery Ireland has to offer.
Written by Janelle from Make the Trip Matter
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