There are places you can visit once and be happy with that. Then there are other places, you find yourself returning to over and over. Cobh is one of those places for me. There’s just something about this town on Ireland’s south coast that keeps me coming back for more!
Not only does Cobh (pronounced Cove) overlook a stunning natural harbour, it has a wealth of history and heritage. Whenever we have overseas visitors, it is inevitable that Cobh will end up on our list of recommendations. After all, it gives me a great excuse to tag along too! As you’ll see from the photos, Cobh really is one of the most picturesque towns in Ireland and one that’s full of character and charm.
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Take a walk along the Prom and enjoy the waterfront views from John F. Kennedy Park with its beautiful bandstand. It’s easy to imagine Victorian ladies and gentlemen doing the same back in the day. In fact you might even be lucky enough to see some appear from the past, like we did!
Things to do in Cobh
In terms of attractions and things to do, Cobh easily rivals and often surpasses, much bigger towns in Ireland. I love the fact that most attractions are within short walking distance of each other too. In short, Cobh is the perfect place for a weekend getaway. If you’re not convinced yet, just keep on reading!
Cobh Heritage Centre
A great place to start your visit is at Cobh Heritage Centre where you can get an insight into the history of the town. Allow 1-2 hours as there is a lot to take in. The centre is located in the restored Victorian railway station. So if you do come by train (it’s a short 25 minute train journey from Cork) you’ll find yourself right next to it on arrival.
Outside the heritage centre there’s a statue of Annie Moore and her younger brothers at the waterfront. Annie, a cork native, arrived at Ellis Island in New York on 1st January 1892 and was the first person to be processed. It was her 15th birthday.
Inside, you’ll find so much more about the story of Irish Emigration. Did you know that over 1.5 million people emigrated from Ireland between 1845 and 1851? And in just over 100 years from 1848 – 1950, an unbelievable 6 million adults and children emigrated from Ireland. How crazy is that! Learn about their reasons for leaving, the conditions on the ships and where they ended up.
The Heritage Centre also has exhibitions on the Titanic and the Lusitania maritime disasters. Cobh is probably most well known for its association with the ill-fated Titanic, being the ship’s last port of call. Though it has been over a hundred years since the disaster, time has done nothing to dull our fascination with the story.
Most people are not as familiar with the story of the Lusitania. A German torpedo sank the ocean liner off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915. There were 1,959 people on board and Cobh was the base of much of the rescue efforts. Though the majority of passengers lost their lives, 761 people were saved. 150 of the victims are buried in mass graves in the Old Church cemetery about 2 kms from the centre of town. Some were never identified. A memorial in Casement Square commemorates those involved in the tragedy.
Cobh Walking Tours
I love taking walking tours when I visit somewhere new. You learn so much, without having to do all the research yourself! There are several different tours on offer in Cobh, so you can choose according to your interests. On one of my first visits to Cobh, I opted for the Titanic Trail walking tour.
Our tour started from outside the historic Commodore Hotel on the waterfront. Tours leave daily from here at 11am and 2pm. The tour lasted for just under an hour, stopping off at the buildings, street and piers associated with the Titanic. Many remain unchanged to this day. There’s so much history in Cobh and it really comes to life as you walk the streets with a guide.
St Colman’s Cathedral
We finished the walking tour just outside St Colman’s Cathedral. Perched high up on a hill, St. Colman’s, or Cobh Cathedral, towers above the town and is also one of the tallest structures in Ireland. You can get some great views of the harbour from here and can appreciate just how big the Cathedral is!
Construction of the Cathedral began in 1868, though it took almost half a century to complete it. The carillon in the tower has 49 bells and is the largest in Ireland or Britain. One of the bells weighs in at a whopping 3.6 tonnes. Take a peek inside at the beautiful interior, particularly the magnificent stained glass window and organ just above the entrance. Afterwards, walk back to town via nearby West View road. Here you’ll see the now iconic view of St Colman’s Cathedral rising high above a row of colourful terraced houses.
The Deck of Cards Houses
As you walk down West View Road, it’s easy to see why these terraced houses have been nicknamed the Deck of Cards. With their brightly painted exteriors they’ve also been likened to the famous Painted Ladies of San Francisco.
There’s a small park across from the houses from where you can get your perfect pics. On that note, I’ve noticed the houses are just a little less colourful now, since one of them was painted dark grey in recent years. Perhaps the owners are trying to send a message to the growing number of photographers outside their doors! Then again, maybe they just like dark grey.
If you visit Cobh, don’t miss out on a trip to Spike Island. This needs to be on your list of things to do and if you don’t have time then I suggest you stay longer. It really is that good!
Known as Ireland’s Alcatraz, Spike Island is a fairly recent tourist attraction but was already recognised as Europe’s leading tourist attraction at the World Travel Awards in 2017. Naturally, I had to go and see what all the fuss was about and last time we visited Cobh it was specifically to check out Spike Island.
As you can probably tell, we really enjoyed every minute of the trip! This small island has been home to a 6th century monastery, a fortress and a convict prison. In more recent time, it was also a prison for young offenders. Now you can visit, explore the island and learn all about it’s fascinating past. The island may be small but there is a lot to see and if you read my Spike Island blog post, you’ll see our only complaint about the trip was that we didn’t have enough time there!
Boats leave from Kennedy Pier in the centre of Cobh and it’s just a quick ferry trip over to Spike Island. Be sure to book your tickets in advance, particularly in peak season. An added bonus is seeing Cobh from the water. It’s a beautiful sight with its rows of pretty coloured houses and St Colman’s in the background.
Titanic Experience Cobh
The Titanic Experience Cobh is a must if you are fascinated by all things Titanic. It’s located in the original White Star Line ticket offices, where 123 passengers gathered on the 11th April 1912 to join the Titanic. From here they were taken by tenders to the ship, which was anchored off Roches Point.
At the beginning of the experience, you’ll receive a boarding card with the name of one of those 123 passengers. Tours last about 30 minutes and take you through a virtual experience including boarding the ship, life on board and up to the Titanic’s tragic end. Allow at least another half hour after the tour to browse the exhibition area and to discover your fate as passenger.
As part of the Titanic Experience Cobh tour you will go to balcony at the back of the building overlooking the actual pier where the passengers departed from. Locals call it Heartbreak Pier. This was the departure point not only for the Titanic passengers but for generations of Irish emigrants.
You can also view Heartbreak Pier from Kennedy park or Kennedy pier. The structure is in pretty poor shape now though some work has been done in recent years to help conserve it. It is hard not to feel moved when you consider all the people who stepped off this historic pier and never made it back to Irish shores or their families again.
Looking for more things to do in Cobh?
If you’re lucky enough to have more time up your sleeve, here are a few more things to do in Cobh that you might be interested in. Fancy a trip back in time and the photos to prove it? Head to Cobh Pastimes in the square to dress up and create some fun memories. Or maybe you’re keen to soak up more of Cobh’s history. If so, pay a visit to Cobh Museum. It’s located on a hill just above Cobh Heritage Centre in the former Presbyterian Church. A set of steps across the road from the heritage centre will lead you there. Or you might like to visit the Titanic Memorial Garden, which is located just off the Mall to the east of town. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the town centre.
Where to stay
Commodore Hotel – this historic hotel on the waterfront first opened in 1854 as the Queens Hotel, after Queen Victoria. Though the rooms are a bit dated now, that’s really part of its charm! Originally built for prestigious guests, they are also very spacious by today’s standards. I had a lovely room with a separate dressing area and bathroom and the best views out over the prom and harbour. Check pricing and availability.
AirBnB – on another trip we travelled with my parents and opted for this 2 bedroom apartment, which was also right on the waterfront and overlooked the pier. It was basic but clean and comfortable and is great value if travelling with a few people, particularly if you want to self cater. The host John and his father were lovely and are close by should you have any problems.
There is also the Lux Bus, which is such a unique place to stay! I might just have to check it out next time. It’s a vintage London bus that has been converted and looks just amazing. This option is about a 5 min drive from town.
Where to Eat & Drink
You’ll find plenty of places to eat and drink in Cobh. Our favourite meal was at Gilbert’s Bistro in Pearse Square. O’Shea’s at the Commodore Hotel do good bar food and delicious Irish coffees! The Titanic Bar & Grill offers a good selection of food and have a lovely outdoor drinking area by the water. Try the Rob Roy Bar for a few scoops and perhaps a music session too, if you’re lucky!