Stephanie Buckley is an award-winning Irish travel & lifestyle blogger and creator of Eat Sleep Chic.
Staycation, famcation, weekend family escapes whatever you want to call them, there’s nothing like making holiday memories with the ones you love most. Memories that I know now, as an adult, last a lifetime. I still reminisce over family weekends away with my parents, siblings and extended family spent here in Ireland. Some of the most memorable trips from my childhood and now I get to create them with my own child.
Cork city is a must for famcations, it’s the third largest city in Ireland, after Dublin and Belfast. It has so much to offer families, so much so that I’m already planning a trip back ASAP! During our stay in Cork we managed to pack a lot into our 2 night/3 day trip. A walking tour, exploring the 100-acre wildlife grounds of Fota Wildlife, swimming in our hotel’s leisure centre, a ferry trip to Spike Island and we even had time for some people watching and ice-creams in Cobh. Scroll down for my top picks of family things to do in Cork…
We booked a family room with B&B in the Clayton Hotel Cork City, located right in the heart of Cork. With on-site parking, guests have the option to park the car up for the duration of their stay and explore the city by foot. There are shops, restaurants and city attractions at your doorstep – you’re literally within walking distance to the city centre.
Due to Covid 19 the buffet style breakfast is not available – there’s a plated, sit-down service. However, all the buffet style food, such as fruit pots, yogurts, pastries and cereal are served by waiters. A la carte breakfast is also on offer. If you fancy a full Irish fry, eggs benedict, fresh pancakes and more, you can choose from the menu. Service was a little slow due to the new restrictions in place. But the options and food were good, so that’s all that matters!
For children, the hotel’s main attraction is always a heated swimming pool. They live for a good paddle and splash, it tiers them out too. Club Vitae Health & Fitness at Clayton Hotel has an 18-metre heated-floor swimming pool – a big hit with Phoenix and co. Book your time slot prior to arrival to avoid disappointment.
City Walking Tour
During our trip to Cork City we enjoyed a city walking tour with Insta Tours, tours with a difference. Different because the tour guide was a local photographer with a passion for photography and a love for his city. Enya knew all the best photo spots and the historic info about each stop. Also the stories and gossip that only a local would know. The walking/photo tour was exclusive to our family of seven.
On a typical insta tour guests will visit 5-7 spots. Half established tourist landmarks and the other half hidden photographic gems. Visitors will go to the most instagrammable spots in the city. Your guide will give you tips on capturing a great insta photo/video. I left with a new found love for slow-mo videos.
It’s a good idea to do the tour when your first arrive in the city. That way you can get your bearings and you ask for some good foodie recommendations. The locals always know the best spots for good grub!
There are three tour options available standard (1hr30), premium (3hr) and private tour (your preference).
Fota Wildlife Park
Walk among wildlife in Ireland’s answer to an African safari, Fota Wildlife Park. Situated just 25 minutes from Cork City centre with ample parking on site. Come rain or come shine a day of exploration through the 100-acre wildlife grounds is fun for all the family. The rain lashed down the day we visited but it didn’t stop us from having an unforgettable and amazing experience. Plus the resident ducks were loving the wet weather so they were out in force to celebrate. Visitors can buy duck food and feed the vast array of birds in the waters of the lake at Fota Wildlife Park.
It takes about 3.5/4 hours (that’s with a toddler in tow) to explore all the park has to offer. The park is home to many free-ranging animals who make themselves known to the visitors. The kangaroos and wallaby’s ain’t shy – just sayin’! During our expedition we got up close and personal with the giraffes as they made their way through the crossing in their wide open fenced field. Wherever possible the park have chosen animals that thrive in a free-range environment, which allows them to roam free, while mixed with other species and with human visitors!
Cobh is a charming seaside town just south of Cork City. We were staying in Cork City centre which is about 30 minutes from this picture perfect town. With a fantastic location on Cork Harbour, you can spend your day strolling along the harbour watching the boats, fishermen and people bob by. Take a guided tour of the Titanic Experience then go for lunch on their deck, while watching the cruise liners come and go in the harbour.
There’s a splendid little old fashioned sweet shop selling all your old favourites, milk teeth, chew bars, bon bons, hard boiled sweets and so much more. Ice-cream parlours are dotted along the harbour front with lots of tasty gluten-free combinations to choose from (see GF carrot above). The rainbow coloured houses on the hills are Cobh’s unique selling point – very instagrammable! If you’re prepared and organised you could even catch a ferry to Spike Island.
A tour of Spike Island is an absolute must if you’re visiting Cork City or Cobh. There’s so much to learn about the island’s rich history, the people, the monks, the prisoners, the rioters, and the views from the island are absolutely stunning too. Today the island is dominated by the 200 year old Fort Mitchel, the star shaped Fortress which became a prison holding over 2300 prisoners. It was the largest prison in the world at the time and there has never been a larger prison in Ireland or Britain before or since. When you arrive at the visitor centre, be sure to pick up a map for the fairy trail, the kids will love tracking down all the hidden fairies.
Word to the wise! If you’re planning a trip to Spike Island, 1. Book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment and 2. Give yourself plenty of time to get to Cobh, park and make your way to Kennedy Pier to board the boat.
Don’t make our mistake and end up running for the boat in a sweat, literally just getting on board in the nick of time! A follower on instagram, DM’d me to say she saw me running down the hill and her husband thought I’d lost my child, “Lola” because I was screaming her name so loud (FYI Lola ran ahead and I lost sight of her). My poor mom was miles behind trying to keep up with us – we were a mess!
In the end it was worth all the panic and commotion because the tour and island walk was a fantastic family experience, I’d definitely recommend it!!