The Republic of Ireland's second largest city, Cork is a surprisingly small but decidedly ambitious place, founded by Saint Fin Barre in the 7th century. It’s known for its compact but cosmopolitan nature, fine architecture and lively character.
Its proximity to one of the world's largest natural ports brought great wealth in the 18th century when narrow, medieval lanes became surrounded by grand Georgian terraces. When walking its historic streets with a local guide you'll find out about the influence of international trade, the foundation of a prestigious university and the financial scandals involved with the building of its glorious cathedral.
The half-day tour begins when you meet your private guide in central Cork, where you'll have a chance to learn about the city's origins, the changes brought by prosperity and the influence of international merchants. The exact route of your walking tour may vary, as your guide will take note of how busy certain places are on the day and alter the order accordingly.
Initially though, you'll walk along the maze of medieval streets still at the heart of the city learning about the influence the French Huguenots had on its development, the important role Cork once had in Ireland’s trade, and the city’s origins as a settlement built on swampy marshland. You’ll also visit the English Market, an ornate Victorian covered market which has been a trading and social hub of the city since 1788.
Cork’s medieval walls are still partially evident in Bishop Lucey Park, which you can see as you walk to Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This is an impressive neo-Gothic building with lavish details both inside and out. Although the current cathedral only dates back to the 1860s, there's thought to have been an ecclesiastical building in one form or another on the site since the 7th century, all dedicated to Saint Fin Barre. The current church was designed by William Burges, who won a competition for its design and then famously went on to elaborate on the original plans in almost every possible way.
The final stop on the tour is University College Cork, one of Ireland's most prestigious universities. Based on the classical college buildings of the University of Oxford, it has a central quadrangle surrounded by Victorian Gothic buildings which originally contained the professors' rooms, lecture halls and the library.
Next to the quad is the Honan Chapel, which has an intricate mosaic floor showing the signs of the zodiac. The chapel is built in Arts and Crafts style and is also known for its stained glass windows by Harry Clarke, a leading figure of the movement. Inside the Great Hall, just at the north of the quad’s lawn, is a stone corridor containing a series of ogham stones, which are inscribed with the earliest form of writing in Ireland from the 5th or 6th century.
The tour ends at a place of your choosing, depending on the order in which your guide leads you around Cork.