With many great parks, attractions and restaurants, there are plenty of reasons to visit Cork with kids. There are tons of family-friendly things to do in Cork, Ireland’s second largest city.
Disclosure: This post contains compensated links.
Cork is conveniently located near many of Ireland’s top tourist destinations, such as the Blarney Castle, Killarney National Park and the Dingle Peninsula, making it a convenient place to begin your south-western Ireland adventures.
Things to do in Cork with Kids
Blarney Castle & The Blarney Stone
The Blarney Castle is our kind of castle – partially ruined. It’s not a restored castle with fancy paintings and antique furniture (we almost always skip those). The castle is big, imposing and medieval looking. We’ve enjoyed exploring partially ruined castles before and felt it would be fun to visit Blarney.
We arrived right at the 9am opening time. There was a short lineup to get tickets, but we were inside in no time. Knowing there can be long line-ups to kiss the Blarney Stone, we hoofed it straight to the Blarney Castle.
As you near the castle, you can see evidence of the potential long waits with signs that say “The wait to kiss the Blarney Stone from this point is 90 minutes”. Ugh – no thanks. Thankfully our early arrival meant there was hardly any wait at all.
The Blarney Castle Tour
You enter the castle and follow a predetermined pathway. You almost immediately enter a very tight spiral staircase and stop at several castle rooms along the way, such as bedrooms, the kitchen, etc. You emerge from the stairs at the top of the main part of the castle. There is a walkway all along the outside of the top of the castle allowing you to look over the edge and enjoy views of the beautiful castle grounds.
Kissing the Blarney Stone
The Blarney Stone is along this walkway at the far end of the castle. Why kiss the Blarney Stone? Well, legend has it that kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of eloquence. We only had to wait for a few kissers to go before it was our turn. Celine didn’t want to, and the kids were too small, so I gave it a go. As you can tell, I could always use more eloquence! haha
To kiss the Blarney Stone, you lie on your back and reach your arms above your head. You grab onto two handrails for support as you drop your head down a foot-or-two to get your lips to the Blarney Stone.
The drop from the Blarney Stone to the ground below is 37′, but thankfully they have installed a safely grill and have a paid attendant sitting there grabbing hold of each kisser for extra support. I’m a romantic, so I closed my eyes to kiss the stone and… poof, before I knew it, it was over. It didn’t change my life. I’m no more eloquent than before, but it was fun and I’m happy to say I did it. Plus, the kids thought it was hilarious, which makes it all the more worthwhile.
Blarney Castle Gardens
There’s a lot more to do at the Blarney Castle than just the castle and kissing the Blarney Stone. We spent several hours exploring the beautifully landscaped grounds. One highlight was the beautiful Poison Garden, where all the plants are poisonous – you may be surprised at what’s in there!
We really enjoyed the Rock Close area which had several waterfalls, some beautiful animal sculptures and a few really fun attractions. Legend has it that if you can walk up The Wishing Steps up and down backwards with your eyes closed, thinking of nothing but your wish, it will come true in less than a year. Also in the Rock Close is a Witches Kitchen, a Druid’s Cave and a Fairy Glen (where the kids search for forest for a cute little fairy garden).
We let the kids play at the small playground, which is pretty lame to be honest, but kids always find a way to have fun no matter what. We then spent 90 minutes walking through the forest to a beautiful lake along the some of the walking paths.
This is a great way to escape the hordes of people who don’t stray far from the castle. The kids were pretty excited to stop at the beehive exhibit and see several working beehives (safely behind mesh fencing the bees can’t get through).
Blarney Castle is well set-up for family visits. It has several cafes, picnic tables, several toilets, a small playground and many fun things for kids to do.
To be honest, we had a hard time deciding whether-or-not to go to the Blarney Castle as many sites describe the Blarney Castle as overrated and not worth going. We like to be informed, but we also like to make our own decisions based on what we like to do.
There was enough interesting things to do at the Blarney Castle, that we ended up spending 5 hours here and felt it was worth the time and money. We all had a good time, even if it may be an “over-hyped” tourist attraction.
Browse Blarney Castle Tours on GetYourGuide
Chances are that your visit to the Blarney Castle will take up most of your day. If you have any time left over and want to just let your kids play, there is a decent sized playground near the Blarney Castle. There’s a good variety of play equipment for kids of all ages. Note, the parking lot is a short walk from the playground.
Cork City Gaol
The Cork City Gaol (jail) is one of the most fun things to do in Cork. It first opened for business in 1824, long before today’s standards for prison conditions came into being. It’s a fun & unique experience to get to tour a 19th century prison and get to imagine what it was like nearly two hundred years ago.
Your self-guided tour of the prison follows a set path through the facility. You are given a map, which also has short descriptions of the people and places within the prison. Simply find the numbered exhibit and then read the short story assigned to that number.
The Cork City Gaol has several interactive exhibits. You can enter a cell, close the door and lie down on a replica bed to get a real sense for what it would be like to held there. There are also a few interactive educational games the kids will enjoy. The prison museum is filled with mannequins which help tell the stories of the inmates and staff.
You may be wondering if the Cork City Gaol is suitable for kids. We think it is a fun place for kids, unless they are particularly sensitive. In fact, we found it was a good opportunity to have a simple discussion about why we have laws and the consequences of breaking them.
Our 6-year-old daughter thought one of the mannequins was a bit scary, but she got over it pretty quickly. In addition, the lady who sold us our tickets mentioned there are two prison cells on the second floor which tell the story of the child prisoners. There is an alternate path around these cells if you wish to steer your kids around them (which we did, just in case).
I don’t know why, but our kids love visiting jails and prisons; I think it has something to do with the dungeons in all the fairy tale stories they love. All told, the Cork City Gaol is pretty benign and your kids will have a lot of fun exploring this historical building.
Daly Bridge (The Shakey Bridge)
We love walking across shaky bridges! The kids think they are a riot as they run across trying to make them as wobbly as we’ll allow them.
We wanted to walk from the Cork City Gaol to central Cork and were happy to see there was a shaky bridge (also known as Daly Bridge) near the Gaol which leads to a riverfront pathway to central Cork. Sadly, we arrived at the bridge only to find a sign stating that it closed for repairs two days prior. It looks like the €1.7 million repair and restoration job will be complete by Easter 2020.
Our kids also love wandering through the vibrant city markets of the world and we were excited to hear Cork has a particularly good one. Cork’s English Market sits on a site which has been home to a market since 1788. The current building was largely rebuilt in 1986 after a large fire, but the new construction was largely faithful to the original Victorian design.
The English Market today is almost all food stands. Fruits and veggies are piled high in fun shapes to attract buyers, while the fishmongers seem to compete for the most interesting display. Kids always seem to enjoy the fish displays, with many types of fun and unusual fish, shrimp, squid, etc on display. In addition to all the food stalls, there are several places to buy food including sandwiches and sushi.
Note, that there are no tourist souvenir stands to be found in the English Market; it is food only.
Want to try a walking food tour of Central Cork? Visit six venues, including the English Market, with a local guide on the Cork: Fab Food Tasting Trail walking tour.
Fitzgerald Park Playground
Fitzgerald Park is one of Cork’s most visited attractions and given it was on the walk back to our rental car at the Cork City Gaol, we decided to swing by.
The live music was audible several blocks from the park and as we entered the park we saw a band playing on a stage in front of a large grass field. We joined the other parents sitting on benches around the exterior of the field, while our little monkeys ran to join all the other kids dancing and running around on the field to the music. The kids laughed, danced and played for several songs while we enjoyed the peace that comes with your kids being well entertained.
Next we walked to the western edge of the park where we found one of the nicest playgrounds we’ve found anywhere in the world. It’s very big and new with tons of super-fun structures for kids, such as a large castle and a half-sunken ship, in addition to the usual suspects – swings, slides, teeter-totters, climbing walls, etc. The ground is soft with a mixture of sand, recycled tires and wood chips.
The Fitzgerald Park playground is around a 20 minute walk from Central Cork or a 10-20 minute walk from the Cork City Gaol (depends on whether the Daly Bridge is repaired). Fitzgerald Park is a great place to take your kids after a day of Cork sightseeing.
2 Day Cork Itinerary with Kids
Day 1: We began our first full day in Cork by driving our rental car to the Cork City Gaol, where we spent a few hours exploring this very fun historic building.
There was some all-day street parking west of the Gaol (on Strawberry Hill), so we set out on foot and tried (unsuccessfully) to cross the shaky Daly Bridge.
We continued our walk into Central Cork and window shopped on our way to the visually pleasing English Market. To finish the day, we took the kids to the Fitzgerald Park Playground, one of the best playgrounds we’ve seen anywhere in the world.
Day 2: We left Cork behind on our second day and drove the short distance to the famous Blarney Castle.
We enjoyed the walk through the castle on our way to kiss the Blarney Stone, but we were really surprised at how much we enjoyed exploring the vast Blarney Castle gardens. After 5 hours at the Blarney Castle, we rewarded our kids with a visit to the nearby playground.
Getting into Cork with Kids
If you plan to have your own child seats on your trip (as we did), it’s super-easy to just hop into an Uber at the Cork Airport, bus station or ferry station and get to your accommodation.
Normally we don’t travel with our own child seats, but knowing how much we were going to be driving in the UK on this trip, we bought some cheap ones at Argos at the beginning of our trip and lugged them around with us.
If you are flying into Cork without car seats and would like to avoid buying your own, we can recommend the Taxi2Airport service, who we used in Glasgow at the beginning of our trip.
Booking through Taxi2Airport provided us both safety (free child seats for both kids) and convenience (our driver met us at the gate). These services come at a small premium to just taking a normal taxi or Uber, but when it comes to child safety, we don’t mind paying a little extra.
For more thoughts on bringing car seats, read our Traveling with Car Seats post.
Hotels in Cork City
The historic town centre is home to most of Cork’s attractions, shopping and restaurants and is our recommended area to stay. The only downside of this area is that it can be quite expensive to stay during the high season. You can browse a wide-variety of family-friendly hotels in Cork on Booking.com.
We had a rental car, but to be honest at the time we booked our Cork hotel we had never driven on the left-hand side of the road before, so we were a bit hesitant to book a hotel in Central Cork. After seeing the prices, that gave us extra incentive to book a place on the outskirts of Cork.
We ended up booking a Family Room at the Great National Commons Inn Hotel on the northern outskirts of Cork. It wasn’t the Four Seasons by any stretch, but it was nice, clean and affordable. It was also right in the middle of the places we wanted to visit, being a 10 minute drive to the Cork City Gaol and 10 minutes from the Blarney Castle.
This time we rented a Cork hotel room, but we typically stay at Airbnb’s when we travel with our family. There is a good selection of Cork Airbnb rentals and should be part of your search process.
If you are new to Airbnb, you can sign up with our link and get a $35USD credit towards your first stay.
Where to Eat in Cork
We ate dinner at the Soba Asian Street Food restaurant two of our three nights in Cork. The first time we went was due to the close proximity to our hotel, but the second time was because we enjoyed our first visit so much.
Our kids enjoy Asian food and gobbled up their Goya dumplings and Udon noodles both nights. We ordered green and red Thai curries each time and thought they were very good.
We ate dinner in Blarney the day we visited the Blarney Castle. The Muskerry Arms Bar had a great kids menu with real menu items like roast chicken and mash with vegetables. Celine had a yummy seafood chowder while I enjoyed a toasted ham, cheese, tomato and onion sandwich.
Getting Around Cork with Kids
As mentioned, we had our own rental car in Cork with our own car seats, which made it very easy to get around. If you don’t have car seats, a Taxi2Airport private transfer will enable you to get to your Cork accommodation safely.
Once you get to central Cork, you can very easily get around without needing your car.
Walking: Central Cork is quite small and it’s convenient to walk virtually everywhere you want to go. Walking from end-to-end should only take approximately 15 minutes.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus: Easily get to the Blarney Castle, the historic city of Cobh (where the Titanic set sail) and much more with a Hop-on Hop-Off sightseeing bus. If you don’t wish to drag car seats around with you for taxis or Uber, a hop-on hop-off Cork sightseeing bus is a fun and effective alternative.