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 visit 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.
I hadn’t felt overwhelmed when getting off the yellow double-decker bus in red-bricked George Street, ready to start a new life. Instead, 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.
Here must be some of the many reasons why people keep flocking to Dublin. 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.
Now the time has come for me to pour my knowledge and love into this Dublin Travel Guide. Hopefully all these years exploring Dublin’s museums and least-known corners should qualify me as an expert in what to do in Dublin!
What To Do In Dublin
I‘ve divided this Dublin travel guide into a range of activities with the aim to cover as much topics as possible while I give you my own recommendations. I tried to be as exhaustive as I possibly could be but let’s be honest, it would be futile to try listing all the festivals Dublin has to offer or all the landmarks the city boasts. I am not entirely sure I even know all them myself yet.
I would hope this travel guide constitutes nonetheless a good starting point to help you plan your stay in Dublin and to further explore the streets of the Irish capital. So without further ado, here comes my (almost) complete guide to things to do in Dublin.
Sightseeing In Dublin
Famous Landmarks In Dublin
I’m a big fan of historical landmarks and if they offer a guided tour I’ll jump right in, no matter how much the fee is. In Dublin I’ve visited some of them twice!
Dublin Castle is among my favourite landmarks in Dublin and is an absolute must-see to understand Ireland’s past under British rule. The lavish interiors are quite spectacular especially the high ceiling of St Patrick’s Hall.
Trinity College’s Old Library is another landmark that can’t be overlooked. The impressive vaulted ceiling had me in awe the very first second I passed through the Library’s wooden door. The building is also home to the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript believed to be from the 9th century and Ireland’s national treasure.
Other landmarks I recommend visiting are Kilmainham Gaol for its political significance (booking is advised), and Dublin’s two cathedrals – St Patrick’s and Christ Church – for their elegant architecture.
More About Dublin's Landmarks
Parks And Gardens To Visit In Dublin
Like every capital, Dublin has its fair share of parks and manicured gardens. Dublin is unique though as the city boasts the largest enclosed park in Europe: Phoenix Park. As you cycle around the 707 hectares you may stumble upon a herd of 400 wild deer introduced during the 17th century. Keep your distance though and keep in mind that feeding them is not allowed.
My all time favourite garden is the National Botanic Garden in Glasnevin, located North-West of Dublin City centre. It was created in the late 18th century as the first botanical garden in Ireland. In the elegant Palm House, a 19th century glasshouse, you’ll walk under the canopy of tropical trees; unless you prefer the company of the fun-looking cacti next door.
During the 18th century Dublin saw the creation of manicured Georgian squares such as Merrion Square, St Stephen’s Green and Fitzwilliam Square. 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.
Best Shopping In Dublin
Dublin’s Main Shopping Streets
If looking to buy a new outfit or fill your suitcase with souvenirs and gifts, head to Grafton Street, south of the river Liffey. From Topman to Victoria’s Secret, you’ll find all your favourite high street brands in this pedestrian-only street. More shops can be found at the far end of Grafton Street in Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, a shopping venue that never fails to impress me with its intricate architecture of glass and steel.
Located on the north side of the Liffey, at the corner of the General Post Office is Henry Street, another popular shopping district. Two shopping centres and three department stores can be found down the street with Arnotts catering for those with more expensive tastes. For travellers on a budget you’ll feel as if the world belongs to you in Penney’s.
Irish Design And Craft Shops In Dublin
If you prefer buying local, Dublin’s Creative Quarter is the place to visit. Stretching from Grafton Street to George’s Street, the Creative Quarter is a neighbourhood I like to explore when looking for unique Irish gifts made by local creators.
At the heart of the Creative Quarter can be found the Powerscourt Centre, another favourite shopping hot spot of mine. This beautiful 18th century townhouse has been converted into an elegant shopping venue. Fashion boutiques, jewellers, antiques, arts and crafts stores take their place around a central patio where you can relax around a meal or a coffee.
Dublin’s Vintage Shops
Vintage is your thing? Labelled as Europe’s oldest shopping centre, George’s Street Arcade is a colourful mix of quirky cafes, vintage and second-hand shops. This place oozes personality and cool! Find the main entrance of this historic building on George’s Street and sneak into its narrow alleys.
Many locals now call Temple Bar a tourist trap. But one thing I like to do is browse its vintage boutiques. Temple Bar has a few around its cobbled streets and you might find that cool 70’s jacket you were looking for! Didn’t find anything? You might get lucky in Smithfield Square, a more recent addition to the vintage clothing scene.
Museums In Dublin
All the major museums in Dublin are free of charge! Yes, free. Whether you are travelling on a budget or a museum aficionado, here is your chance for an inexpensive cultural experience.
The museum that always gives me the chills is the Chester Beatty Library. Called a “library”, it is in fact a museum of books. The Chester Beatty Library owns a world-renowned collection of richly decorated manuscripts from 12th century Bibles to an 18th century Turkish Quran and lots more. Free of charge, it is a must-see.
Another favourite museum of mine is the Glasnevin Cemetery Museum. Yes, it is an active cemetery, the largest in Dublin, AND a museum, the only one of its kind in the world. Your expert guide will take you around the cemetery’s quaint alleys, pointing at the tombs of famous people and filling you in with tons of anecdotes. Tours are not free but access to the cemetery is.
The National Museum of Ireland is a public institution offering free exhibitions. 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, but as a Celtic fanatic my opinion is totally biased!
Another free option will be my last recommendation. 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.
Distillery And Brewery Tours In Dublin
Ireland is world famous for its whiskey and beer, so a detour to a distillery or brewery could be on your bucket list. The Guinness Storehouse is the one everybody thinks about when coming to Dublin. Even though I consider the visit a tad overpriced, it is 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. It is certainly the most famous Irish whiskey and its recently remodelled visitor centre in Dublin plays the marketing card to perfection. The fact is, you won’t see the whiskey making process in action as no Jameson whiskey is produced in Dublin any more. The production is actually based in Cork. My advice: visit the Teeling Distillery instead.
Dublin had to wait 125 years for a new distillery to open in the Fair City. With the Teeling Distillery, we witness the revival of a brand started in the 18th century by the Teeling family. The tour of the facilities opened in 2015 is highly educative with visitor access to the huge copper pot stills in operation. On an empty stomach the tasting at the end of the tour went straight to my head!
Festivals In Dublin
Dublin has festivals running almost all year round. So if you happen to be around the corner at the time of a festival, why not check it out!
Ireland’s National Celebrations
Let’s start with the obvious one. In March is the week-long St Patrick’s Festival that 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 and it is without contest Dublin’s busiest day of the year. So brace yourself for the crowd and join the green and orange tsunami!
Planning to celebrate the New Year in Dublin? Dublin New Year’s Festival is waiting for you with three days of festivity. An outdoor concert is organised in Dublin City centre featuring Irish artists. A word of caution though: you need to buy your ticket in advance and pack adequate clothing. Who knows what the weather will decide for you.
Music And Arts Festivals In Dublin
Running in January is the Temple Bar TradFest. The festival doesn’t only cater for fans of traditional Irish music as it also features bands with a more modern approach to the Art. So take your pick and come along. Be warned though, the music is quite infectious and you could be jigging along!
In September Dublin Tiger Festival brings the bold and the entertaining to its Dublin audience with an eclectic range of theatrical performances. So get ready for the unexpected and some good times! The festival runs for two weeks.
Hardcore music lover with a generous budget? The Forbidden Fruit Festival might be for you. Dublin has this massive music festival conveniently organised a short distance away from the city centre, in the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Dozens of artists share the stage during this three-day music event. Organised during the June bank holiday weekend, wellies and rain jackets are still a must-have if the weather turns sour. Take my word from experience…
Dublin’s Film Festivals
Dublin International Films Festival usually runs around February or March, offering the option to stay indoors if the rain decides to ruin your holiday in Dublin. On a more positive note, it is your chance to ask questions to actors and film directors during Q&A sessions organised after the screening.
Dublin’s nightlife reputation has travelled beyond the borders of the Irish Republic and many choose Dublin to celebrate…anything! I am not going to recommend any establishments though as I am more of a stay-in than a go-out kind of person. But I can still point you in the right direction if you are looking for a good night out in Dublin.
If you’re staying in town and think you might not make it back to your accommodation, Temple Bar is conveniently located right in the city centre. It is very popular with tourists looking for an Irish pub with live Irish music. But it’s all a bit artificial and you’ll barely see any Irish at the bar. It might be worth expanding your search to Parliament Street on the edge of Temple Bar for a more local crowd.
Camden And Harcourt Street
Definitely Dublin’s best entertainment district, Camden Street on the South side of the Liffey attracts a crowd ready to party until late into the night. Camden Street is home to music venues and pubs popular with locals and expats. Nearby Harcourt Street is well-known for its clubs if you fancy a spin on the dance floor.
From George Street To Dawson Street
More centrally located, 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.
These recommendations shouldn’t limit your exploration of Dublin’s nightlife though. Dublin is famous for its vibrant party scene that continually reinvents itself with new establishments popping up every now and then.
Dublin Gay Scene
Ireland approved same-sex marriage by popular vote, so yes, Ireland is definitely a pink destination. But what’s the gay scene like in Dublin you may ask? Well, it is… small, but this certainly doesn’t mean nothing ever happens in Dublin. Here are some highlights.
Dublin’s Gay Bars
Dublin has a few but no-less famous gay bars, even amongst straight party-goers. Everybody in town knows The George. A cornerstone of Dublin’s nightlife, The George is Dublin’s longest running gay bar. Another establishment, small but popular with locals is Panti Bar, home of Ireland’s Drag Queen Superstar and cherished gay rights activist Miss Panti Bliss.
Mother is well-known among music lovers of all orientations while other clubs organise recurring gay nights attended by a mix clientele.
Dublin Gay Pride
Gay Pride happens in June in Dublin. It is hugely popular especially among the younger crowd and supported by tons of international Dublin-based corporations and local businesses marching under the rainbow flag. A series of events precede the parade and afterwards well… everyone grabs a beer!
Dublin’s Gay Cultural Events
In May runs Dublin’s International Gay Theatre Festival celebrating gay artists and theatrical works. Every year since 2004 the festival brings to Dublin an eclectic choice of performances to enjoy.
Around August or September GAZE International LGBT Film Festival presents a week-long screening of gay-themed movies. The festival is very popular and screenings hosted by my favourite cinema in Dublin, the Light House, can be sold out, so better book ahead!
Outdoor Activities In Dublin
There are other ways to discover Dublin while staying active. Here are some suggestions if you like the outdoors and great views.
Hikes Near Dublin
Just a short ride on the train is Dubliners’ favourite seaside town: Howth. This charming harbour located north of Dublin is the starting point of a 3-hour walk that takes you all the way around Howth peninsula to Sutton, walking along the cliffs for breathtaking views of the bay.
If you decide to head South of Dublin, the train will bring you 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.
Water Sports In Dublin
A way to discover Dublin from a different angle is from the water. Book a kayak river trip through Dublin on the Liffey or go on a guided trip in picturesque Howth. You can even go kayaking with the seals around beautiful Dalkey.
Another option to discover Dublin’s coastline is Stand Up Paddleboarding. Lessons and trips are available in Dun Laoghaire, a short train ride south of Dublin.
Things To Do Near Dublin
Tempted to go on a day trip outside Dublin without spending too much time in public transport? I’ve got you covered. These are my favourite spots.
Visit Malahide Castle And Gardens
Malahide is a seaside town just 30 minutes north of Dublin on the train that attracts countless visitors thanks to its superb medieval castle and walled garden. The free access to the park makes it a great spot for a picnic.
Chill Out In Howth
As mentioned earlier, Howth is the destination of choice when you want to head out of town for an afternoon. It’s quaint little harbour is a great respite from Dublin’s hustle and bustle. For the food fanatics out there, quality seafood restaurants and a food market can be found straight outside the train station.
Explore Powerscourt Gardens
It will take you at least an hour on the bus to reach the Powerscourt Estate in Co. Wicklow but it will be well worth it. The landscaped gardens, one of the most beautiful gardens in Ireland, are a joy to explore. The 47 acres include romantic ornamental lakes, an exotic Japanese garden, dramatic terrasses and much more.
Research Your Family Tree In Dublin
Genealogy is a hobby that is growing in popularity and that I myself share an interest in. But more and more people are taking a step further and travelling 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
The National Library of Ireland in Kildare Street should be your first port of call. The NLI’s free Genealogy Advisory Service offers great resources to help you in your research. Even better, experienced researchers are there to point you in directions you would never have thought about.
Glasnevin Cemetery Museum
If you have ancestors buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, the Genealogy Research Centre at the Glasnevin Museum can help in your research. The Museum has a dedicated genealogist to help you find the answers you’re looking for.
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