The seafaring city of Cork lies on the southern coast of Ireland and is second in size only to Dublin.
Though smaller than its larger counterpart, Cork boasts an infectiously lively atmosphere, characterised by its passionate affection for traditional Irish culture that is more noticeable here than in the capital.
From Catholic cathedrals to bustling markets and charmingly picturesque harbours, Cork is rich in cultural attractions that recall its long history and give visitors a glimpse of the “real” Ireland.
However, thanks to its position on the coast, the city is also within reaching distance of some truly spectacular day trip destinations.
Huge, impossibly majestic cliffs dominate the coastline, whilst to the north, east and west you can find charming towns, each with their own unique history.
Here are some of the best rural, cultural and historical day trips you can take from the Irish city of Cork.
1. Blarney Castle
Positively bursting with fascinating and mysterious attractions, Blarney Castle is one of Ireland’s most beloved attractions, boasted about by locals and tourists alike.
Built over 600 years ago by an Irish chieftain, it’s home to the famous Blarney Stone.
The mythical stone is said to imbue the Irish “gift of the gab” to anyone who kisses it, so the stone understandably sees floods of visitors arriving to try their luck.
Besides this, the castle is surrounded by gardens, gorgeous meadows and other attractions such as the Witch Stone or the Wishing Steps.
As for the interior of the castle, you’ll have the chance to climb the battlements and explore the ominous dungeons.
Suggested tour: Blarney and Cobh Tour from Cork
Widely recognized as one of Ireland’s most scenic resorts, the port town of Kinsale is an obligatory day trip for anyone who finds themselves on the southern coast.
The harbours are always populated with a multitude of dazzling white, bobbing yachts, while the coastline itself contains a mixture of ancient ruins, nature walks and of course the town itself.
Fresh seafood and homely fare can be found in the numerous restaurants around town, whilst people wanting to explore can pay a visit to the wine museum, the 17th century Charles Fort, or hire a yacht to admire the views.
3. Copper Coast Geopark
Known to few people, the Copper Coast is a dazzlingly beautiful hidden gem located around an hour to the northeast of Cork.
Whilst it is overshadowed by some of the household name family trips in other parts of Ireland, the coast is actually an area of stunning geological diversity thanks to the effects of the Ice Age.
Sprawling cliff faces loom over the sea and behind them, the network of rolling hills offer some of the best hiking routes in the country.
The area’s natural value has actually gained it UNESCO Global Geopark status, and those who come here will be rewarded with gorgeous views of both land and sea.
4. Garnish Island
Located in Bantry Bay, less than an hour’s drive and a short ferry ride away from Cork, lies the intriguing and above all, beautiful Garnish Island.
Thanks to its sheltered location in the harbour of Glengarriff and the resulting microclimate, a wildly diverse and rare assortment of flowers and plants grow here.
These are gorgeously exhibited in the form of Garnish Island’s beloved and famous gardens, which are laid out in various walks that are all accessible to the public.
Be sure to climb the Martello Tower on the south of the island to be rewarded with incredible views of the bay.
5. Blasket Islands
One of the nearest and most fascinating pit stops on the famous Wild Atlantic Way route to the west of Cork can be found just off the Dingle Peninsula and is a must for adventurous nature lovers.
The Blasket Islands teeter on the very edge of Europe and are made up of 6 uninhabited islands that epitomise the rugged beauty of the Atlantic coast.
The fascinating history of the Blasket Islands is well documented at the Blasket Center which can be found on the mainland and tells of the famous evacuation of 1953, when the last islanders had to leave due to worsening weather conditions on the islands.
Another cultural hub that proudly and accurately depicts this pocket of Atlantic Irish character is the small yet punchy city of Galway.
Less than three hours from Cork, the city is bursting with live music venues, incredible restaurants and the kind of relaxed atmosphere found in small towns instead of a bustling city.
Take in the sights of the Galway Cathedral or head down to the beaches and take a stroll along the Salthill Promenade.
This beautiful, blustery beach has sweeping views of the picturesque Galway Bay and is one of the best sunset spots on the Atlantic Coast.
7. Killary Harbour
On the topic of sunset spots however, it’s probable that none compare with the spectacular display put on at sundown in the majestic Killary Harbour.
Claiming the title of Ireland’s only true fjord, the inlet runs in more than 15km from the Atlantic Ocean and results in truly stunning scenery reminiscent of the Scandinavian wilds.
Grass and wildflower-covered hills descend into the water while in the distance the Mweelrea Mountain sits in Mayo county.
Whether you embark on one of the many hiking trails in the area, or take a picturesque fjord cruise, you’re guaranteed to be blown away by the natural beauty of the area.
The city of Limerick provides a tempting abundance of historical sites as well as becoming a fast-rising foodie center in Ireland – and all less than two hours from Cork.
The 13th Century King Johns Castle provides over 800 years of history, whilst Lough Gur is an ancient folkloric village filled with standing stones and crumbling buildings.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Milk Market in the city center, where you’ll find an open-air gastronomic haven filled with fresh produce.
9. Lough Ouler
Surrounded by hiking options galore, Lough Ouler is a nature lover’s paradise, isolated from urban areas and ringed by rolling hills as far as the eye can see.
Set in the shadow of the Wicklow Mountains, the Lough (or lake) has been attracting curious passers-by for centuries on account of its startling resemblance to the shape of a heart.
The pretty heart-shaped lake can be reached after a steep climb up the base of Tonelagee Mountain and the sight of it, and the surrounding countryside below is a superb reward for a brisk walk.
10. Ballycotton Cliff
A mere stone’s throw away from Cork, you’ll find one of the best cliff walks on this stretch of the coast, which traverses the famous Ballycotton Cliff.
The trail makes its was around the gorgeous scrubland on top of the cliffs and the views, it goes without saying, are spectacular.
Lasting around two hours, it’s more than enough time for visitors to get their fill of nature with enough time to head back to town for lunch or on to another destination.
11. Cliffs of Moher
It’s places like the Cliffs of Moher than gain Ireland its status as a world-class destination for beautiful rugged coastlines and jaw-dropping untouched natural escapes.
Around 3 hours away from Cork, just before reaching Galway, you’ll find the impossibly majestic sandstone formations that make up the cliffs which stand over 200 meters tall.
With an abundance of viewpoints and hiking trails, it’s impossible not to be sucked into the grandeur of the area, and if you’re lucky to be there when the sun sets, it’s unlikely you’ll forget it in a hurry.
Recommended tour: Cliffs of Moher and More: Full-Day Tour from Cork
12. Ring of Kerry
This mystical area of Ireland is home to majestic landscapes left behind by the Ice Age, as well as a plethora of ancient heritage sites, giving visitors a glimpse of Ireland’s past.
Though you can spend days exploring, there are tours that show you the very best sights in the space of a day from Cork.
Marvel at gorgeous coastlines at Dingle Bay and Inch Beach, or head over to Killorglin, a village with deep-rooted Celtic heritage and mystery.
Recommended tour: Ring of Kerry Full-Day Guided Tour from Cork
Famously known for being the Titanic’s last stop on her doomed maiden voyage, the town of Cobh is situated near Cork’s harbour and is home to a fascinating history revolving around the exodus of immigrants to the United States in the 1800’s.
The huge natural harbour can be explored by kayak, where you’ll have excellent views of the lines of brightly painted houses, or if you’d rather stay dry, you can visit some of the renowned attractions in town, such as the magnificent St. Coleman’s Cathedral.
14. Killarney National Park
Situated within the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park offers adventurous travellers the chance to explore the unspoiled wilds of Ireland in one of its most popular national parks.
Here, you’ll find stunning natural attractions such as the serene Muckross Lake or the beautiful Torc Waterfall.
Those looking for a challenge can make their way to the questionably named Cardiac Hill in search of the rewarding view at the summit, or the more forgiving Torc Mountain.
A short drive away over in West Cork and past Kinsale, you’ll find yourself in the charmingly quaint town of Timoleague.
More reminiscent of a village than a town, it’s characterised by lines of colourfully painted houses that make it a joy to wander around and unwind.
You’ll also find the 13th-century Timoleague Abbey here, where you can learn about the earliest Christians who settled here.