Dublin Travel Guide

Grocery bags dragged my shoulders down and the sky was about to open up. I weaved in and out of a crowd of weekend shoppers and inattentive tourists, trying to reach the bus stop before the rain could hit me, all the while wondering: “why do people come to Dublin?”

Why travel to Dublin when you could be at a restaurant in Paris or at the beach in Barcelona? Then it all came back to me. That long gone day of February I had landed in Dublin in search of work, when I had known instantly Dublin would become my home.

Ha'Penny Bridge, Dublin
That day I had fallen in love; madly in love with the old pubs always full past office hours, with the small basement shop selling questionable vintage jackets, with the luscious chocolate flapjacks from the corner grocery store. More than a city, Dublin is a character full of life that grabs your attention in thousands of unexpected ways. It caught mine almost a decade ago and hasn’t let go.
A VERY SHORT HISTORY OF DUBLIN
Dublin was founded in the 9th century by the Vikings. Looting the Irish monasteries was their favourite hobby. Once the gold had been found, they would leave Irish shores until the next attack. But it wasn’t long before they swapped the freezing Scandinavian cold for more pleasant weather conditions. In 837 over 60 longships arrived from the North and never left. Many followed. Dublin then became the main Viking colony in Ireland and an important trading centre.

Visit the City’s Famous Landmarks

From the Viking invasions in early Medieval times to the 1916 Easter Rising, Dublin is a city steeped in History with beautiful landmarks waiting to tell you their very own stories. Among those not to be missed are:

  • Dublin Castle: with its lavish interiors, it is an absolute must-see to understand Ireland’s past under British rule,
  • Kilmainham Gaol: a former prison with high political significance (booking is advised) in Irish modern history,
  • St Patrick’s and Christ Church: the city’s two competing cathedrals built just 500 meters apart.

Enjoy the Free Museums

All the major museums in Dublin are free of charge! Whether you are travelling on a budget or a museum aficionado, here is your chance for an inexpensive cultural experience. I recommend:

  • The Chester Beatty Library: home of a world-renowned collection of richly decorated manuscripts from 12th century Bibles to an 18th century Turkish Quran and lots more.
  • Glasnevin Cemetery Museum: an active cemetery, the largest in Dublin, it is also a museum. Glasnevin Cemetery is the resting place of numerous personalities who shaped Irish history. Access to the cemetery is free although guided tours and access to the O’Connell Tower are not.
  • The National Museum of Ireland: the Museum has three distinct branches in Dublin: the Archeology Museum, the Decorative Arts and History Museum and the Natural History Museum. Out of the three my preference goes to the Archeology Museum for its exhibits of Celtic metalwork!
  • As for the Arts, you can access the permanent collection at the National Gallery of Ireland for free and admire paintings of well-known artists such as Monet, Picasso and Vermeer to name just a few. The Hugh Lane and the Irish Museum of Modern Art are also free of charge.

Take a Tour of a Distillery or Brewery

Ireland is world famous for its whiskey and beer, so a detour to a distillery or brewery should be on your bucket list.

The Guinness Storehouse is the one everybody thinks about when coming to Dublin. Possibly a tad overpriced, it is still a very interesting dive into the story of Guinness, a company intricately tied to the history of Dublin.

When it comes to Irish whiskey, the Jameson Distillery comes to mind but you won’t see the whiskey making process in action as no Jameson whiskey is produced in Dublin any more. My advice: visit the Teeling Distillery instead. There, visitors can access the huge copper pot stills in operation. On an empty stomach the tasting at the end of the tour went straight to my head!

Hit the Pubs

Dublin’s nightlife reputation has travelled beyond the borders of the Irish Republic and many choose Dublin to celebrate…anything! The Irish pub is a quintessential part of life in Dublin and some will say you haven’t seen the city until you drink a pint in one of its pubs.

What is Dublin’s best pub then? That’s a question people could argue over for days. Everyone has a favourite depending on what they are looking for: the crowd or quiet socializing, modern or traditional (live!) music, Irish beers or foreign imports. 

Although you can find a pub at almost every corner, let me suggest a few popular neighbourhoods to help you find your own favourite pub:

  • Temple Bar and its colourful establishments lining medieval looking cobbled streets lure crowds of tourists looking for an Irish pub with live Irish music. But it’s all a bit overpriced and you’ll barely meet any Irish at the bar. Expand your search slightly beyond the cobbled streets for a more local crowd.
  • Definitely Dublin’s best entertainment district, Camden Street attracts a crowd ready to party until late into the night. Mismatched looking pubs quickly fill up with locals and expats eager to chill out after a long week at work. Pick one and move to the next until you find the right one for you!
  • The area roughly stretching from George’s Street to Dawson Street is a maze of streets filled with pubs, bars and clubs. Hotspots include George Street, Dame Lane, South William Street, Fade Street and Dawson Street.

Escape the City for a Day

Finding the city crowd too overwhelming? Why not go on a day trip outside Dublin to escape the city’s hustle and bustle. There are some great spots around the Irish capital easily accessible by public transport.

Head North to Malahide, a seaside town just 30 minutes on the DART with a superb medieval castle and walled garden to visit; or go to Howth, a quaint little harbour with quality seafood restaurants and a food market straight outside the train station. 

Head South to Bray, a sleepy seaside resort with a long stretch of pebble beach. There the path at the end of the beach will bring you along the cliffs to the village of Greystones under just an hour with great views ahead of you. Or get on a bus to Powerscourt Estate and discover its magnificent landscaped gardens. The 47 acres include romantic ornamental lakes, an exotic Japanese garden, dramatic terrasses and much more.

Other interesting and easily accessible places include Glendalough and its monastic settlement, Skerries with its sandy beach and windmills, and Dun Laoghaire and its marina.

Other Things to Do and See in Dublin

Shop till you Drop

Looking to buy a new outfit or fill your suitcase with souvenirs and gifts? You’ll find all your favourite high street brands in Grafton Street, a posh pedestrian-only street on the Southside of Dublin. While on the Northside two shopping centres and three department stores can be found down Henry Street

Back to the Southside, Dublin’s Creative Quarter is home to Irish design and craft shops. At its heart can be found the Powerscourt Centre, a beautiful 18th century townhouse converted into an elegant shopping venue with fashion boutiques, jewellers, antiques, arts and crafts stores.

Vintage is your thing? Dublin is not short of vintage boutiques. Labelled as Europe’s oldest shopping centre, George’s Street Arcade is a colourful mix of quirky cafes, vintage and second-hand shops. Temple Bar is another hotspot on the vintage scene. I like to browse the many vintage boutiques found around its cobbled streets.

Wander Dublin’s Parks and Gardens

Like every capital, Dublin has its fair share of parks and manicured gardens you can visit for free. Probably the most famous of them is Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed park in Europe. As you cycle around the 707 hectares you may stumble upon a herd of 400 wild deer.

My all time favourite garden in Dublin is the National Botanical Garden in Glasnevin, created in the late 18th century as the first botanical garden in Ireland. Its 19th century glasshouse – made of curved iron and glass – houses a fantastic collection of tropical trees and cacti.

Dating from the 18th century, manicured Georgian squares such as Merrion SquareSt Stephen’s Green and Fitzwilliam Square are worth a visit. They are exceptionally popular during the summer months where locals love to spend their lunch break on the grass and soak up as much sunlight as possible.

Attend a Festival

Dublin has festivals running almost all year round. So if you happen to be around the corner at the time of St Patrick’s Festival, music or arts festivals, why not join in!

In March the week-long St Patrick’s Festival culminates with the St Patrick’s Day parade on the 17th March. Many travel to Dublin to celebrate the Irish national day in the Irish capital. So brace yourself for the crowd and join the green and orange tsunami!

Among the most established music festivals in Dublin is the Temple Bar TradFest running in January. Taking place in June, the Forbidden Fruit Festival is a massive music event conveniently organised on the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

For the film lovers, Dublin International Films Festival usually runs around February or March, while in September Dublin Tiger Festival brings an eclectic range of theatrical performances to its Dublin audience. Other Arts festivals include Dublin Dance FestivalBram Stoker FestivalGAZE Festival and more.

Research Your Family Tree

Genealogy is a hobby that is growing in popularity and more people every year travel to Ireland in search of their Irish roots. In Dublin, two places should be on your radar to get the answers you need:

  • The National Library of Ireland: visit the NLI’s free Genealogy Advisory Service in Kildare Street. You’ll find experienced researchers to help you out.
  • Glasnevin Cemetery Museum: if you have ancestors buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, the Genealogy Research Centre at the Glasnevin Museum has a dedicated genealogist to help you find the answers you seek.

How to Get to Dublin

With many airlines offering direct flights to Dublin International Airport from almost everywhere in Europe and beyond, it has never been easier to travel to Dublin. Low cost Ryanair is of course the airline that comes to mind when planning a trip to Dublin. Although don’t disregard other companies offering very competitive prices such as Aer Lingus or Air France/KLM.  From Asia, airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways fly all the way to Dublin. It’s also very easy to travel from the United States with Aer Lingus or American Airlines direct transatlantic flights.

From Belfast in Northern Ireland you can very easily reach Dublin by train. No security or identity check is required (at least for now) to cross the border with the Republic of Ireland. Twice as cheap as a train ticket, several bus companies also depart regularly from Belfast city centre.

Thought about travelling to Dublin by ferry? You can board a ferry from Holyhead in Wales to Dublin with a sailing duration of just a few hours. Dublin is also connected by ferry to Cherbourg in France but be prepared to spend the night at sea.

How to Get Around Dublin

Dublin city centre is fairly compact and you won’t really need to use public transport. You’ll be mainly walking between the city’s main landmarks and museums so make sure to pack comfy walking shoes.

If you need to cover more distance between the airport and the city centre for example, buses will be your main option. You’ll find all the information you need about Dublin Bus in their office on O’Connell Street. From the airport, public double decker buses or private coaches will get you to the city centre. Taxis are also available outside the terminals.

Dublin has recently expanded its tram network called the Luas with two lines now intersecting with each other.The green line connects the north to the south of the city while the red line goes east to west connecting Dublin’s main train stations.

Unique to Dublin, the city has a railway system called the DART connecting coastal towns nestled around Dublin bay like picturesque Howth or posh Dun Laoghaire. It is Dubliners’ favourite means of transport to escape the city for the day when the warmer months arrive.

Where to Stay in Dublin

You want to stay as close as possible to Dublin city centre so you don’t have to rely on public transport to get back to your hotel, especially at night time (no buses run after 11:30pm on weekdays).

Hotels on the south side of the Liffey can be expensive. If you can afford it, by all means stay at the luxurious Merrion Hotel (known to host celebrities!) or the iconic Shelbourne Hotel overlooking leafy St Stephen’s Green. You won’t find better than that in central Dublin.

If you’re on a budget and still want a room in a central location, you’ll find several reputable hostels in the city centre. The Isaacs Hostel is one of them. Book early as private rooms don’t stay available very long though. If you’re hoping to enjoy a good night’s sleep, you’ll want to avoid hostels located in Temple Bar. As for hotels, those located on Dublin’s Northside will save you a few bucks.

When to Go to Dublin

The unpredictable weather makes it almost pointless to figure out what month is best to visit Dublin. Showers regularly make way for dry spells while temperatures never go too low in winter or too high in the summer. You basically have to take a chance and bring the rain jacket along. 

The tourist-y season usually kicks in with St Patrick’s Festival in March. It is then a slow build-up until August when Dublin is so busy that it can be difficult to walk around the city centre. 

My favourite months to visit Dublin are April/May and September. The crowds are manageable and the sun makes regular appearances (I’m not kidding). You get to enjoy much longer days than in winter and the hotels are still affordable.

Best Booking and Planning Resources for Your Trip to Dublin

These are my favourite websites when it comes to researching and planning a trip to Dublin. You’ll find a selection of international and trustworthy booking websites that every traveler should know about. I’ve also included some go-to local websites used on a daily basis by every Dubliner.

  • Skyscanner – Skyscanner is a great search engine to find flight deals. It also has a great tool to help you plan the best route to reach Dublin, especially when departing from an airport with no direct flight to Ireland.
  • Irish Ferries – If you’re travelling from the UK or France, you can also get to Dublin by ferry. Check Irish Ferries for the lowest fares.
  • Booking.com – My go-to website when researching accommodation. The site offers a wider and cheaper selection of B&Bs that sometimes cannot be found on any other booking websites.
  • Hostelworld – If you’re on a budget and don’t mind the noise at night, you’ll find a good selection of hostels in Dublin with a great city centre location. You can check them out on Hostelworld.
  • Hotels.com – Hotels.com has me hooked for years now. I often find great hotel deals and collect free nights thanks to its loyalty program. No wonder I keep coming back.
  • AirCoach – My favourite bus company to travel from Dublin Airport to the city centre and also the fastest. You can buy your ticket online and head straight to the bus.
  • Dublin Bus – Dublin Bus website and its free app will help you navigate the city transport network if you ever need a bus.
  • Dublin Coach – If you’re looking for cheap bus fares to visit the rest of the country, check Dublin Coach first. Their bus network is not that extensive but it can save you some money.
  • Bus Eireann – The main bus operator on the island, Bus Eireann will bring you to all the cities and towns in Ireland. You can plan your route and check bus fares online. Enter “Dublin (Busaras)” as your departing location in the search box.
  • Irish Rail – Plan your train journey from Dublin with Irish Rail. Buying your ticket online and  well in advance will guarantee you the best price.
  • Heymondo – Don’t forget your travel insurance. Heymondo has a nifty app to help you get the assistance you need while on the go.
  • Lonely Planet – I’ve spent many years in Ireland. Still Lonely Planet remains one of my favourite guides when it comes to planning a trip around this beautiful country. Buy a copy online and take it with you to Dublin, it always makes for a great travelling companion!
QUICK TIPS ABOUT DUBLIN
  • Dublin is a safe place to visit but like any major European cities, be aware of your surroundings.
  • Some people will try to snatch your smartphone from your hands if you are too distracted.
  • You won’t be partying all night. Pubs serve alcohol until 11:30 pm (00:30 am on Friday & Saturday); some clubs can stay open till 2:30am.
  • Tipping is not compulsory in bars and restaurants (unless you’re part of a big party) but always appreciated (around 10%).
  • Travel prepared: pack a rain jacket as weather can change quickly.

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