Heading to Ireland and trying to choose between Galway or Cork? You’re in the right place.
Both, Cork and Galway are touristy cities, and two of the four main cities in Ireland (which also include Dublin and Limerick.) They’re both very walkable, and you don’t need a car for either – at least not in the downtown core. You will love just strolling around, taking in the scenery of the historic buildings and the setting of these Irish cities.
They both have a strong feel of Irish cultural heritage, have medieval buildings, and things to do both in outside of the city – full day or half day trips.
I am an Ireland fanatic, have travelled all through the whole country and can offer you insight on both, Cork and Galway.
If you’re wondering which one to spend your time in – Cork or Galway- then we’re going to break it down for you here. Let’s go through the highlights of Cork and Galway, and the pros and cons of each, so you can determine which one is best for your trip.
Cork vs Galway: What are they Known For?
Here is what you need to know about the ‘essence’ of each city- what makes them unique from other cities in Ireland?
What is special about Cork?
Cork has one of the oldest food markets in the world, and also, interestingly, one of the oldest yacht clubs in the world. It was founded by the Vikings circa 922, and also has rich medieval history
What is special about Galway?
Galway is the festival capital of Ireland and there are hundreds of festivals held there every year. Galway as a city was founded in the 13th century, but it has the remains of the building from the 1100s
Cork vs Galway: Population and Size
Cork is the second largest city in Ireland, after Dublin and before Limerick. Galway is the 4th largest city.
Cork’s population in 2023 was 223,657. Galway’s population is 84,572. So, if you’re looking to visit a smaller city, then Galway would be the one for you.
However, you’re the kind of person who likes a big city with more to do – then I think you’d be happier in Cork.
Cork vs Galway: Things to Do
There are a few really cool things to do in both cities, check out the most popular tourist attractions below
Things to Do in Cork
-The English Market, a food market which has been running since 1788. This is one of the oldest markets in Europe, and is perfect for foodies
–Fitzgerald Park, an 18-acre Victorian park established in 1902 in the city centre of Cork. Perfect for a leisurely afternoon stroll
–Blackrock Castle, a 15th century castle just 2 km (1.2 miles) from the Cork city centre
–Cork Butter Museum, which shows you about Ireland’s history of butter production, and how it became the biggest exporter of butter in the world
-Beautiful medieval churches Cork City Gaol, St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral, and St. Anne’s Church
Things to do in Galway
-Visit the Spanish Arch, a 16th century arch that is the extention of a Normal wall built in the 1200s
-Take a stroll through Quay Street and hang out in the Latin Quarter
-There are plenty of day trips with an hour or two of Galway; such as Oranmore Castle, The Burren, the village of Cong, taking a ferry to the Aran Islands, or Connemarra National Park.
Cork or Galway: Conclusion
Since Cork is a larger city, there’s more to do directly in the city centre. You could easily spend three days in Cork, and it has some excellent day trips as well. I did not list the day trips in Cork above because the list of things to do would have been too long for Cork. But here are some ideas:
- a full day trip along Ireland’s southern coast
- a day trip to The Ring of Kerry (the most beautiful place in Ireland, in my opinion)
Between the two cities, I found centre of Galway to be the ‘prettier’ one to look at, and take pictures of. I could not stop taking pictures. However, everything you want to see in Galway is within walking distance and you could probably see it within a day. If you are looking for somewhere to spend 3 nights in, then I think you would need to consider day trips outside of Galway as well during that time, because there isn’t enough right in the city of Galway to spend three days seeing.
However, the day trips possibilities outside Galway are excellent. The village of Cong is very quaint, with its 1000s year old ruins, Connemarra National Park, Aran Islands and The Burren are all incredible. For more info, read about if Galway is worth a visit. Also, in Galway, you’re a bit closer to the Cliffs of Moher which makes it easier to see them with less crowds, such as at sunset.
If it were up to me? Having been to both, (but spent more time in Galway) I would probably choose Cork, because of all the interesting things there are to see and do right in the city. I didn’t have enough time for all of them last time and wish I’d had more time in Cork.
So if you’re short on time, I’d probably stick to Cork, but I think that you cannot go wrong with either option.
Places to Stay in Cork city centre
Cork vs Galway: Safety and Places to Avoid
Both Cork and Galway are safe cities for tourists. As a tourist, you would be spending most of your time in the downtown area of these cities, where any crime would be very rare.
Neither Cork or Galway are the most ‘dangerous’ cities in Ireland. ( Limerick is known for being statistically the most dangerous city in Ireland. )
Cork vs Galway: Which is more family-friendly?
Ireland is generally a family-friendly place to travel through. I travelled to both Cork and Galway with my 3 (almost 4) year old, and she enjoyed both cities. She enjoyed listening to the music of the buskers, which are common in both cities in the summertime.
Since both cities are walkable and car-free in some areas, I found them both to be great places to walk around as a family. We didn’t use a stroller, but you could use a stroller in the downtown core of either city.
Cork has Fitzgerald Park, the English Market, and the Butter Museum which I think would all be fun with kids of all ages. I think Cork has a bit more in the way of things to do with kids.
But in terms of safety, and welcoming for families? Both Cork and Galway are family-friendly cities.
Location of Cork vs Galway
Part of making the decision between Cork and Galway is looking at their location, and where else you’re planning to visit on your Irish itinerary.
Galway is much closer to the Wild Atlantic Way, Cliffs of Moher, Northern Ireland and so if you’re planning to visit these then it makes sense to add Galway to your trip.
If you’re planning to spend some time on the Ring of Kerry (in my opinion, the most beautiful place in Ireland!) then Cork makes an easy stop from there, if you’re driving back to Dublin from Kerry.
It might be worth noting that both cities – Cork and Galway – are similar in distance from Dublin. Galway is a 2 hour and 15 minute drive, and Cork is just half an hour longer – 2 hours and 45 minutes.
They’re also both similarly close to Limerick. Galway is an hour and 15 minutes away from Galway, whereas Cork is an hour and 29 minutes.
Ultimately Cork is further than the two other desirable Irish cities (Limerick and Dublin) than Galway is, but not by much.
Cork vs Galway: FAQ
Here are some commonly asked questions about visiting Cork or Galway.
Is Cork near Galway?
It would take about 2 hours and 30 minutes to drive from Cork to Galway, and that doesn’t include stopping at any toll stations. Both of them are near the famous scenic coastal road, the Wild Atlantic Way.
Is Cork Ireland worth visiting?
Yes, Cork is well worth a visit. It is one of the Irish cities founded by the Vikings (along with Limerick, Dublin among others.) It has a walkable downtown, a food market open daily that has been running since the 1700s, a famous park, and a castle and some great day trips.
Is it better to go to Galway or Cork?
Both cities, Cork and Galway, are great for tourists. They both have a lot of history, buskers (live street music) in the summertime, great food, and things to do. Cork is a larger city, so there are more things to do to keep you busy for a few days. Galway is smaller and quainter.
Cork or Galway: Final Thoughts
You can’t go wrong with Cork or Galway. They’re both amazing cities with rich history.
Galway is small and compact, and almost everything you’d want to see in the city centre is within walking distance. However, if you want to spend a few days in Galway, then you would need to be willing to take day trips, because many of the nearby attractions aren’t right in the city itself – they’re up to 1-2 hours away. You don’t necessarily need a car, there are many tours you can book right out of Galway.
Cork, on the other hand, is a larger city. It doesn’t have the same ‘small, quaint feel’ in the downtown core as Galway, but there are a lot of exciting and unique things to do in the city and nearby. Ultimately, whichever city you choose, I don’t think you’ll regret your decision.