Cobh (pronounced Cove) is one of the most charming, colorful and pretty towns in Ireland with a picturesque waterfront location in Cork Harbour. In fact, in 2019, the travel bible Condé Nast Traveler voted Cobh one of the 25 most beautiful small towns in Europe saying that “Cobh redefines charming with its rows of candy-colored homes”. For those of you who want a little more than just scenic views, Cobh, which is located in Ireland’s Ancient East, can also deliver in this regard. Given the historic importance of this town (it was known as Queenstown between 1845 and 1922), it is no wonder that there are so many interesting and unique things to see and do in Cobh. So regardless of whether you are planning to do a day trip to Cobh or want to spend a few days exploring the town and its surroundings, make sure that you have enough time to see the highlights of Cobh, at least.
In this ultimate guide of what to do in Cobh, you will find my personal favorite sights (including Cobh Cathedral, Spike Island and the Titanic Experience Cobh), as well as the other top attractions in Cobh.
1. The Titanic Experience Cobh
The last 123 passengers to board the RMS Titanic were picked up in Cobh, or what was then called Queenstown, before embarking on their ill-fated journey. As part of the Titanic Experience Cobh you will follow in the footsteps of some of these real passengers and learn about the harsh conditions on board in third-class and the luxury experienced by first-class passengers. In addition to the unusual concept behind the tour, one of the highlights for many is that the tour takes place in the actual White Star Line Ticket Office Building where the tickets for the RMS Titanic were sold.
It generally takes about an hour to see this attraction. Tours run every 15 minutes, but it can get busy in peak season, so book ahead of time or keep your schedule flexible.
2. Titanic Trail Walking Tour
The Titanic Trail Walking Tour is the essential tour if you want a real insight into the fascinating facts and stories directly connected with the RMS Titanic, as well as other interesting information about the RMS Lusitania, Cobh in general, and its surroundings. It is a unique way to explore this town and without the knowledge of the great tour guide, we would certainly have overlooked some very intriguing facts along the route. There are a variety of other walking tours, including a Titanic Ghost Tour also offered by Michael Martin. You can find out more on the website.
3. Cobh Titanic Memorial Garden
Situated on the far side of the town, the Cobh Titanic Memorial Garden offers stunning views of the mouth of Cork Harbour, where the RMS Titanic was moored before its final departure. This peaceful remembrance garden by the waterfront is a nice little addition for everyone interested in the RMS Titanic and who would like to explore this hilly town. It also offers a great view of Cork Harbour, which, by the way, is the second largest natural harbor in the world!
4. St. Colman’s Cathedral
Situated on the hillside, St. Colman’s Cathedral is, without a doubt, the most eye catching and recognizable landmark of Cobh. Not only do you see it, you also hear it. The 49-bell carillon in the Cathedral is one of the largest in Ireland and the UK, and interesting, also contains Ireland’s largest bell (St. Colman weighing in at 3.6 tons). Construction work began on the neo-Gothic style cathedral in 1868 and took 47 years to complete. The highly detailed carvings deserve a special mention, as well as the gruesome gargoyles on the exterior of the cathedral. From the car park of the church you have a great vantage point over Cobh and the harbor.
5. Port of Cobh and Cork Harbour Boat Tours
Why not take to the water to enjoy a completely different view of Cork Harbour and perhaps even encounter some wildlife? There are a few different boat hire options including Cork Harbour Boat Hire and Ocean Escapes that provide a variety of tours to suit your interests and requirements. Don’t forget to bring your camera along to get some great panoramic shots of Cobh, nearby Crosshaven, Monkstown, Spike Island and even Blackrock Castle and Cork City.
6. Best Instagram Places in Cobh
Cobh is a very photogenic town and there are many great photo opportunities. One of the most popular is a snap of the brightly colored row of terraced houses on West View, which are stacked on top of each other at a seemingly precarious angle, like a deck of cards. Behind them is the all imposing cathedral. Be prepared for a climb as the hill is very steep!
Some other good photo locations are Kennedy Pier, John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, the grounds of the St. Colman’s Cathedral and, of course, by boat from the harbor.
7. The Sirius Arts Centre
Why not sample the best culture and arts that Cobh has to offer in the Sirius Arts Centre (next to the Tourist Information Office). Located in the beautiful Old Yacht Club that once belonged to the oldest yacht club in the world (the Royal Cork Yacht Club founded in 1720), the impressive building alone is worth a visit. Diverse talks, music concerts and art exhibitions are held in this multidisciplinary center and there is also a residency program for artists. Check out the website for the latest news and information about upcoming events.
8. Lusitania Memorial
Cobh, unfortunately, has seen many other maritime tragedies over the years. In 1915, nearly 1200 people died off the Old Head of Kinsale when a German U-Boat torpedoed the Lusitania. As a mark of respect to all those who lost their lives in the disaster and to the locals who helped in the rescue operation, the Lusitania Memorial was erected in the center of the town. Many of the victims are buried in the Old Church Graveyard a short distance outside Cobh.
9. Cobh Museum
Cobh Museum is located in the old Presbyterian Church perched above Cobh Train Station. Unique artifacts, stories and personal communications related to the Lusitania, among other things, on display here. The exhibitions, some of which are permanent, are small, but so is the modest entrance fee. This museum is often overlooked by tourists but can be a nice addition to the places to visit in Cobh. This is a good stop to be added to your itinerary if you have a bit of time to spare.
10. Walk the Promenade in Cobh
A walk along the promenade is a great way to experience Cobh and is a lovely activity, if the weather is good. Take some time to enjoy John. F. Kennedy Memorial Park with its many sculptures, perhaps listen to some bands playing in the bandstand and simply watch the boats and cruise liners pass by in the harbor. There is also a playground to keep little ones entertained. Don’t forget to check out the good views of St. Colman’s Cathedral from here as well. You can continue the walk past the Sirius Arts Centre and behind the Cobh Heritage Centre along the quayside. From here you can clearly see the island of Haulbowline, where there is an Irish Naval Base. This waterside walk is very popular with both tourists and locals alike.
11. Cobh Heritage Centre
The Cobh Heritage Centre is an interesting stop for any tourist, but especially those of you who are of Irish ancestry. Delve into the history of Irish emigration and learn more about the factors that drove people to emigrate including the Irish Famine in the mid 19th century. You will also see what life was like on the so-called coffin ships to America, as well as the ships with convicts bound for Australia. There is also a detailed exhibit on the sinking of the Lusitania. Visitors can also take a break for some refreshments in the café.
12. Spike Island
Spike Island in the middle of Cork Harbour may not seem like a remarkable island at first glance, until you learn more about its history over the last 1500 years. In the 6th century, it was home to a monastic settlement, while in the 19th century, the star-shaped fortress functioned as a depot for up to 2300 prisoners, most of whom were shipped to Australia. Today Spike Island is known as one of Ireland’s best tourist attractions and in 2017 actually won the award of Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction in the World Travel Awards. The guided tour of Spike (including ferry boat) is highly recommended and should be booked in a few days in advance to avoid disappointment. Boats depart from Kennedy Pier in Cobh several times a day for the 20-minute trip during peak season to Spike Island. You should plan at least 3.5 hours for your visit.
13. Annie Moore Statue
Many immigrants, including thousands of Irish passed through the inspection halls at Ellis Island Station in New York. Annie Moore is remembered because she was the first immigrant to be processed at the station on the 1st of January 1892, along with her two younger brothers after completing a 12-day journey from (what was then known as) Queenstown. To commemorate this journey two statues of Annie and her younger brothers exist, one in Ellis Island, New York, and one outside the Cobh Heritage Centre.
14. Escapade Cobh
Have had enough of regular sightseeing and would like to experience one of Cobh’s newest and most popular attractions? Then Escapade Cobh is for you! Why not put your mind to work solving clues to break out of the Spike Island prison cell? Or alternatively, think outside the box in Sherlock Holmes and Bank Heist themed escape room games. This attraction is also a good option if the weather is not suitable for lots of sightseeing. Check out the website for details about bookings, some of which can even be taken at short notice.
15. Fota Wildlife Park
If you are traveling to Cobh by train or by car, it is easy to add a stop in Fota Wildlife Park to your day out in Cobh. (It is located about 15 minutes away by car.) This spacious wildlife park is known for its conservation and breeding programs (especially the very successful cheetah breeding program) and is great to wander around and explore on a sunny day. Watch out for the cheeky lemurs!
16. Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens
A relaxing place to go from a stroll is in Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens. While it is not a secret spot, it is often overlooked by tourists. In addition to the many rare species of shrubs and trees from the southern Hemisphere, visitors can also enjoy sauntering around the Victorian working gardens, orangery and palm walk.
Cobh Road Train is no longer operating
The Cobh Road Train was a popular tour through the streets of Cobh in a “Thomas the Tank Engine” styled train, but unfortunately is no longer operating at this time.