The pretty east Cork town of Cobh is a great place for a family break, with a host of activities both in town and nearby. Stephen Meyler explores Cork's historic seaside gem.

Cobh is just a 25-minute train ride from Kent Station in Cork city and with the N8 just minutes from the town, it’s easy to reach this seaside gem of a place, making it an ideal location for a family day out or as a base to see what east Cork has to offer.  

In town
A walk along the lively promenade on a sunny day, ’99 in hand, is a great way to take in the Victorian charm of the town, with brightly coloured houses climbing the hill to the great tower of St Colman’s Cathedral. It houses a famous set of 49 finely tuned bells: my visit coincided with Bastille Day and visitors were treated to a stirring rendition of La Marseillaise.

Cobh Heritage Centre is a brilliantly child-friendly museum experience that is housed in the beautiful old Victorian railway station; down the centuries, the last place many people leaving for America saw. Inside, there are fascinating tales of Irish emigration – get the young ones a Junior Explorers card, to find clues to the stories around the museum. They’ll find out about the ill-fated Titanic and the Lusitania, and the town’s history as an important global port. 

Right outside the heritage centre is the harbour wall, where enormous modern cruise ships regularly stop off on their ocean voyages, dwarfing the entire town.

If the family is feeling peckish, there are a number of places to eat right on the water near the heritage centre. Jacob’s Ladder restaurant at the Water’s Edge Hotel has a great terrace overlooking the Harbour, the perfect place to enjoy some seafood and other delights on the family-friendly menu.

A stroll along the Prom is Escapade Cobh, a fun weatherproof activity, where you test your skills as you try to escape from the game by finding hidden items, solving riddles and puzzles and entering codes. Among the games are 'Escape from Spike Island’, ‘Late Night Bank Heist’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ 

Take a trip
Located in the busy waters of Cork Harbour, Spike Island is an exciting adventure that will suit children of all ages. After a short ferry ride from Cobh (the sea was calm as a pond on the day I went), you reach the island, where many of the old houses and buildings are being taken back by nature in a very picturesque way.

Not so the fortress, one of the last star forts built in Europe and enclosing a 24-acre stockade, from which convicts were dispatched around the world during Victorian times. The island’s more recent history as a prison for car thieves is also covered in its interactive exhibits and the café is a lovely place to stock up for a picnic on the pleasant park inside the fort’s walls. 

Spike Island
Spike Island

Cork is the second-largest natural harbour in the world and Cobh lies at the heart of all that maritime activity and if there’s a sailor among the group, it’s possible to take a boat out on the water yourself or take a watery treasure hunt with Cork Harbour Boat Tours. Or how about a guided tour of Cork Harbour on the Ocean Escapes tour boat which can travel right into Cork city centre by water?  

Lions and tigers, Oh my!
Cobh is just 10 minutes from Fota Wildlife Park (and there is a handy stop on the Cork-Cobh train too). Forget cages, most of the animals here – including giraffes, monkeys, lions, tigers, lemurs, snakes, wallabies and rhino – live in extensive habitats designed to encourage natural behaviour. Don’t miss the Cheetah Run at 4.00pm! 

For more ideas on family adventures in Cobh, check out

Fota Wildlife Park
Fota Wildlife Park. Photo Credit: Dave Higgins.

If you go down to the Woods today...
We stayed at the four-star Vienna Woods Hotel in Glanmire. Its location above the wooded banks of the Glashaboy river is not only very pretty, but it’s just minutes from the N8 and a 10-minute taxi ride from Cork city centre. You can stay in a detached self-catering villa on the hotel’s 22-acre forested grounds or in a more traditional room in the main hotel. This summer, the hotel is offering a free bucket and spade for children under 12 with any of their family breaks.