I don't think there are any other small towns in Ireland that have quite so many reasons to visit as County Cork's Cobh. Let's face it, many small towns are lovely places to stroll around and maybe get a bite to eat but there's not much substance that gives longevity to a stay. Cobh, on the other hand, has it all.
Cobh (pronounced Cove but go with Cob-h if you want to see how long you can get away with it before being corrected) is a town built on the side of a hill at the entrance to Cork Harbour. There are streets of colourful buildings housing cafes and shops looking out onto equally colourful fishing boats in the harbour. In contrast is the granite cathedral that looms slightly ominously over it all. In even steeper contrast is the semi-industrial naval base that sprawls out into the estuary in front. The latter though is what makes Cobh one of Ireland's most historically significant places. It was an important naval base for the British and then the Irish for centuries and served as one of the main points of emigration as disasters befell the Irish population.
The main propeller for emigration was the Irish Famine in the middle of the 19th century. You will hear a lot about the ravages of the potato famine during a trip around Ireland but the Cobh Heritage Centre gives a very good overview through the lives of ordinary people and influences of the Irish diaspora on the world.
Then there's the little known ship called the Titanic which stopped in Cobh for a short while but left a mark big enough to merit the Titanic Experience Cobh and heavily influence another visitor centre and numerous walking tours. Whilst it does not rival Titanic Belfast in terms of scale, it's still a very interesting and well executed and is more centred on the people than the construction.
For an overview of the village and it's important history, a walking tour with Titanic Trail is recommended. Taken by proud Cobh residents and academics this tour focusses on emigration, the Titanic and general local history. To get even closer to real Cobhians, this was one of the first places in Ireland to offer the home hosted lunch.
For a unique visit just off the Cobh coast, a guided tour of Spike Island can't be beaten. At times a monastery, defensive fort, British prison and Irish prison, Spike Island is a snapshot of Irish history. Time is needed for a visit to the island as the ferries are limited and once on the island you're there until you can get back so it's probably best for those staying two days.
Cobh is handily located just 30 minutes by car or by rail from the nearest major city of Cork. Regular services run from Cork's Kent Station..