Studying in Ireland: Dublin vs. Cork

by Rebecca Murphy

Ireland may be a small country, but there are several lively cities and vast differences from coast to coast, not just Dublin and Dublin look-alikes. For students aiming to study in Ireland, it can be daunting to try to select a location when they are all so...well...amazing. Don’t assume that Dublin is the best place to study abroad just because it is the capital and most populated area. There are tons of benefits for students who are in such a hopping region, but there are also some pretty major setbacks that come with this territory. This is why many students have started setting their sights on Cork, Dublin’s usual alternative.

Blarney Castle, Cork

Blarney Castle, Cork

The benefits of studying in Ireland are numerous, no matter which city you choose. The generally accepted breakdown is that Dublin is Ireland’s Manhattan while Cork is the Brooklyn - each are amazing in their own ways, but made for very different people. Dublin and Cork are both visually stunning, have vibrant cultural centers, and are filled with unique people from all walks of life. So, how do you make a decision when both cities seriously know how to keep it reel?

To start, let’s break down the basics of both of cities:

Dublin Highlights:

The capital of Ireland, Dublin, is home to about 1.3 million people. It was founded as a Viking settlement around the year 988 AD, so the city has a lot of history. Dublin is located on the mouth of the River Liffey and spans across many neighborhoods, with the most well-known being the Medieval Quarter and Georgian Quarter. Locals view Dublin as a city with a strong personality, with its bold and biting appearance fading to warmth and comfort once you get to know it. Despite its large size, Dublin gives off more of a capital-village feel; it’s not uncommon for its residents to constantly run into people they know.

Cork Highlights:

Affectionately known as “the real capital” by locals, Cork is the second largest city in Ireland and has about 120,000 people. Located in southern Ireland, Cork was built on the River Lee and is divided by several channels that run through the city, giving the whole region a very aquatic feel. Also referred to as the “Rebel City,” Cork is an extremely youthful, liberal, and upbeat area that somehow seamlessly meshes with its traditional and old-fashioned architecture. It is not rare to stumble upon blocks of rowdy pubs and lively cafes just around the corner from 16th century churches and palaces.

So, which one should you pick?

In need of some studying abroad in Ireland tips? Let’s delve into some factors that students needs to know to make a decision:

Weather

Being only three hours away from each other, there is not a huge difference in weather. It is generally accepted that Cork is rainier and colder than Dublin, but the amount of sunshine per day in each city is about the same (Dublin receives an average of 3.9 hours, Cork gets 3.8). This might not seem like a lot of time to soak up the sun, but Ireland is known for its rainbows. If you are concerned that the temperatures or forecasts will be a deciding factor, don’t be.

The River Lee, Cork

The River Lee, Cork

Academics

Most people view Dublin in high academic regards purely because of Trinity College, but there are many other educational perks to the area. With 20 different universities, Dublin is the primary educational center of Ireland, and foreign students will lack nothing. Whether you are planning to study literature or technology while abroad, Dublin definitely has plenty of options for studying in Ireland for international students.

Cork is home to a substantial educational center as well. The city offers 10 different universities, including a music conservatory, technology institute, college of art and design, and maritime college, so there are a lot of choices for students. There are over 30,000 higher education students in the area and University College Cork alone houses over 3,000 international students from about 100 different countries each year. Because of Cork’s relatively small size but large student population, it feels way more like a college town than Dublin.

Access to Fun and Festivities

Dublin is known as a city that wears everything on its sleeve, so needless to say, there are always activities happening in Dublin. Night or day, weekend or school day, no one is ever bored here. As a very popular city for vacationers, be weary of tourist traps, particularly in the popular Quarters. Use guides for the best pubs to really get a taste of the local culture. Dublin is famous for having a killer music scene (it is the home of U2 after all), so be sure to soak up all of the area’s talent at pubs, concerts, festivals, and even on street corners. If you’re wanting something a bit more old-school, try to find a pub with live trad music and step-dancing. This shouldn’t be hard to do, as most locals will find any excuse to break out a jig.

Despite Dublin’s punch, Cork has a lot to offer in terms of festivities and events, too. As a college town, the weekends start on Thursday night, so be sure to hit up any number of pubs or clubs to meet some locals. In the mood for something more laid back? Catch a movie at the Triskel Christchurch, which is a movie theater and arts center in a converted church. In the summer, Cork is basically one big festival, with its most famous being the Cork Jazz Festival. Don’t care for jazz? Don’t worry, it’ll be your favorite type of music soon. The English Market is one of the most popular activities, where locals can buy basically any type of food imaginable, not just the typical Irish meat and potatoes. Open every day except Sundays, this market has become one of the biggest ones in Europe and is now viewed as a tourist attraction. Queen Elizabeth II even visited in 2011 and probably decided not to take over Ireland because of it. After all, even she knows you can’t change what is already perfect!

Ease of Travel

For regional travel, both cities offer public bus options, so students will not have to worry about public transportation in either city. Cork is small enough, though, that most people just walk everywhere. Long distance bus travel is very popular in Ireland, with both Dublin and Cork being crucial stopping points. On most days, there are about six buses running from Cork to Dublin and one to two running to London from each.

For international travel, both Cork and Dublin have good airports. Dublin Airport is the largest in the country, serving over 25 million passengers per year. Cork Airport is also one of Ireland’s main airports and offers 16 airlines flying to about 70 destinations. As the headquarters of Aerlingus and Ryanair, students will have their pick of budget flights to many locations. International travel is certainly easier from Dublin, but still plenty possible from Cork.

Whether you are traveling around Ireland or other countries in the UK, the most popular form of transportation is definitely by train. Both Dublin and Cork offer multiple stations throughout each city with tons of lines going all over the UK, so students will have plenty of access from both regions.

Temple Bar, Dublin

Temple Bar, Dublin

Opportunities for Adventure

Ireland is not called the “Emerald Isle” for nothing, and most cities here are awesome in that they are really dynamic regions surrounded by overwhelming natural beauty. This means that both Dublin and Cork have a lot of surrounding area to explore that requires very little effort on your part.

For Dublin, there are a ton of day or half-day trips you can take, but the top places to explore include Wicklow, Glendalough, and Kilkenny. These areas feature rolling green hills, monastic ruins, castles, mansions, and lots of quaint towns. The countryside outside of Dublin is so beautiful that many famous movies were filmed here, including Braveheart, P.S. I Love You, and Leap Year. The Scots don’t like to admit that Braveheart was filmed in Ireland, but ask any local and they will tell you with much pride that it was indeed made here. There is also a substantial amount of coast near Dublin, so don’t be afraid to slip into your bathing suit on warmer days and head to the beach.

Cork offers students different but just as exciting opportunities. The most popular excursion is definitely to Blarney Castle, where visitors can kiss the famous Blarney Stone. Just be sure to bring some mouthwash with you! Other popular adventures include Killarney, the Ring of Kerry, and even the Cliffs of Moher. Cork is also across the channel from Wales, so many students choose to hop on a ferry and spend some time across the water. It’s believed that Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country, so have at it, Disney fanatics!

Fun Facts

Both Dublin and Cork have some pretty unique things about them. Did you know that St. Patrick, for example, might not be Dublin’s most famous person? St. Valentine (of Valentine’s Day fame) is rumored to be buried in Dublin’s Whitefriar Street Church. No one really knows why he’s supposedly buried here but no one seems to be really questioning it either. Forget Paris - Dublin is apparently the real city of love.

Cork has its fair share of fun facts, too. When in Cork, you cannot skip out on an experience at KC & Sons & Sons. Known for its amazing fish and chips (and awesome name), so many people flock to this restaurant and pub that they actually set up a webcam to check how long the queue is. It’s rumored that on some days the queue stretches so far that you can see it from space. Talk about out-of-this-world food!

SURPRISE BONUS - Consider Galway

In case one city still isn’t clicking for you more than the other, we’d like to suggest looking at Galway as another option. The region is Gaeltacht (primarily Irish-speaking) and bellies you up to the Atlantic Way of Ireland's west. If you’re the type of person who is up for the challenge of becoming really immersed in true Ireland and learning more Gaelic than “Erin go Bragh,” this small city might be your solution. Located smack dab amidst rolling hills, Galway is known as the “cultural capital of Ireland” due to its small size, huge personality, and commitment to only speaking in Irish – an unequivocal cultural experience for students in Ireland.

Despite being much less populated than Dublin or Cork, Galway has a large educational center and a student population making up over 20 percent of its inhabitants. If this isn’t enough for you, County Galway is also home to Muckanaghederdauhaulia, which is the longest place name (in English) in Ireland. We dare you to say that five times fast!

Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College, Dublin

In conclusion…

Despite their differences, Dublin, Cork, and Galway have one important thing in common: both will give students an amazing and unique study abroad experience. Ultimately what your decision will come down to is personal preference, as both cities offer great academics, tons of opportunity for adventure, and their own lively and endearing flavor.

Read the GoAbroad guide to studying in Ireland to learn more about visas, scholarships, fees, etc.