What Dublin has is character, and it has it in spades. The character is not necessarily in its grand buildings though there are some, or in its broad streets because there are a few. It is in the people. This means you cannot look for Dublin’s essence in any particular place, instead you will likely encounter it in the most unlikely of places: queuing for a bus, banter with a shop assistant or in an overheard conversation in a pub. That is not to say there is nothing to do in Dublin or places to visit, there are, but the key is watching and listening. Hang out, watch and listen.
But if you like lists – and many people do – here’s our Authentic Dublin list of things to do when in Dublin. At the end of our Top 9 list we’ve included our favourite Dublin walk and best Dublin day trip.
1. Dublin Bus Tour
It’s an easy option but it makes a lot of sense. Most tours take 1 to1.5 hours (if you don’t get off the bus) and the tour guides will make you laugh while giving you a good introduction to the city. If nothing else it will help you get your bearings which may prove vital when it comes to finding your hotel at three the next morning. Stops include Trinity College, the National Gallery and Museum (both free), St.Patrick’s Cathedral, Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery. So as you can see by doing the bus tour you can probably tick off half your to do list. There are a number of bus tour operators but they all operate on a “hop on, hop off” basis, meaning you have 24 hours to complete the tour. The Guinness Storehouse closes at 6pm so don’t plan on spending the night there! Rumor has it Dublin Bus run the best tours. If you have heard different please let us know. Bus tours cost14 or 15 euro.
The bus tour routes stop at many museums. Some are better than others. These are our top picks:
- Kilmainham Gaol Historical Museum: This is where the leaders of the1916 Rising were held and then executed by firing squad, an act which galvanized Irish public opinion at the time and eventually led to the Irish War of Independence a few years later. Much more than a jail tour, this building encapsulates a pivotal moment in Irish history. It is hard to do this tour and not be moved.
- National Museum:The National Museum on Kildare Street houses a very impressive collection of gold and silver treasures dating from 2500BC to chalices and brooches from the 8th century and later. All the exhibits taken together provide a fascinating and accessible sweep through Irish history. A must.
- Trinity Collage: standing in the heart of the city centre where Dame Street and Grafton Street meet, Trinity College is probably Dublin’s most recognizable building. Access to the campus is free and a stroll through the grounds is a very civilizing experience after the noise and bustle of city life outside its walls. The various old halls,courtyards and green areas exude an air of quiet enlightenment. From April to October students offer 30 minute guided walking tours starting from main gate. The €10.00 cost includes admission to the Old Library where the 8th century Book of Kells is displayed. Not to be missed.
- National Gallery: Western European art from the middle ages through the 20th century. The collection of Jack B Yeats’ paintings is a highlight.
- Natural History Museum: the kids’ favourite with over 10,000 animals on display.
- Also worth a visit: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christchurch Cathedral,Chester Beatty Library and No. 29 Fitzwilliam Street Lower, a restored Georgian townhouse.
3. Guinness Storehouse
As one of Dublin’s most popular tourist attractions, the Guinness Storehouse has certainly earned this reputation. The factory & tour are definitely worth a visit as extensive work has been put in to offering a thorough, fun & exciting tour. The story of Guinness and the many exhibits are interesting & well presented and the view from the Gravity Bar is certainly worth a look. The tour is self-guided & some might say this is a possible draw back, that to have a guide would enhance the tour more? Perhaps a fair point from our foreign visitors perspective but it certainly doesn’t take from the tour either. Larger group tours with a guide can be scheduled, just inquire in advance. There is no doubting the unique tastiness of the black stuff; it was certainly the smoothest I have ever tasted but don’t take my word for it; go along and try it yourself.
4. Do a walking tour
- 1916 Rebellion Tour:highly acclaimed tour and very entertaining even if you are unfamiliar with the history. Meet at the International Bar on Wicklow Street. Two tours per day – enquire at the bar.
- Dublin Literary Pub Crawl:actors performing extracts from major works in a number of pubs with literary connections. Meet upstairs in The Duke pub on Duke Street.
- Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl: go on a pub crawl with two musicians performing songs and playing music. Starts at Oliver St John Gogarty’s in Temple Bar, nightly at 7.30pm from April to October. Thursday to Saturday only from November to March.
5. Or go for a relaxing stroll on your own
- Stephen’s Green. Gorgeous on a sunny day. Half of Dublin lunches here during the summer. Grab a sandwich and join them.
- Merrion Square. Not as large as Stephen’s Green but even more spectacular when the flowers are in bloom.
- Grand Canal. Walk along Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘leafy-with-love banks’ from Rathmines Bridge to The Old Schoolhouse bar and restaurant.
6. Go Shopping:
In recent years Dublin has really taken off as a shopping destination. The two main areas of concentration are Henry Street (like Oxford Street in London, but smaller) and the more upmarket Grafton Street.
- Henry Street : Home to trendy fashion stores Zara, Oasis, A-wear and Mango, there’s also big department stores like Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and the home-grown Arnotts. If you don’t like crowds, avoid at peak shopping hours. Around the corner on O’Connell Street is the excellent Penney’s.The clue’s in the name – you’ll spend less here on a top than you will on your lunch; it’s surprisingly trendy stuff and at the price, gobsmackingly decent quality.
- Grafton Street : The charm of Grafton Street itself has faded somewhat due to the overabundance of mobile phone stores and the like, but in the surrounding warren of streets, cool shops are mushrooming every day. For high fashion and unique designer pieces, try Fran & Jane, Dolls, Ave Maria, Noa Noa, Jenny Vanders, Rococo, Chicas in the Westbury Mall and The Design Centre in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. Brown Thomas,the most aspirational store in Ireland, is a vast department store spread over 4 floors. Stomping ground of affluent Dublin, this is the place to pick up your Balenciaga tote, Chanel sunglasses and Jimmy Choo sling-backs. Couture fashion resides on the second floor, with Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Chloe, Stella McCartney, Gucci and Paul Costello;and on the top floor, exquisite home collections including John Rochaand Louise Kennedy’s crystal ranges, Denby homeware and Gaggia appliances. Brown Thomas is yummy mummy heaven; across the road its offspring BT2 is for the cool kids hooked on designer labels.
- Dundrum Shopping Centre: A huge spanking new mall a few miles from the centre with plenty of parking. Upmarket stores include the only branch in Ireland of House of Fraser and the exclusive Harvey Nichols.
- Temple Bar: Temple Bar is better know for its pubs and galleries, but in the ‘posh ‘part there’s also some great quirky shops. On Cow’s Lane, Whichcraft do beautiful designer jewellery, crafts and artwork; Retrospect sell funky 20th century furniture, lamps and clocks and every Saturday morning there’s a market dedicated to handmade one-off original Irish design in clothing, homewares and jewellery.
- Francis Street : If antiques is your thing, walk through the historical Christchurch and Patrick Street areas to get to Francis Street, literally lined with antiques shops, selling genuine pieces from all eras; check out Niall Mullen Antiques for exquisite remnants from the golden age of Art Deco.
7. Go to the Theatre
Dublin is famous for its writers and playwrights. Presumably as a result, Dubliners today are avid theatre goers. The Abbey, Gate and Gaiety Theatres are the most famous but there are many smaller highly regarded theatres that should not be overlooked. For up to date listings of what’s on check the following website:
8. Stare up in wonder at the Spire
Dublin’s controversial new landmark on O’Connell Street. What could it possibly mean?
9. Go on a Pub Crawl
Dublin is famous for its pubs and rightly so. Don’t expect underground jazz joints or chic cocktail bars, though they are starting to appear,instead focus on Dublin’s strength: what I refer to as “old man bars”. Don’t be put off, this doesn’t mean bars full of old men, it simply means they are old style Dublin bars that have refused to change with the times. These just happen to be the bars that older, wiser folk prefer to imbibe in. The great thing about these bars is that they attract a mix of all ages except the very young, i.e. the 18 to 25’swho prefer not to be able to hear themselves think. Sorry, is that a geist? I mean no disrespect of course. The following are all great Dublin pubs, check out as many or as few as you like:
- Mullligans, Poolbeg Street (some say the best Guinness in Dublin)
- Kehoe’s, South Anne Street (get there before the suits arrive at 5.30pm)
- Neary’s, Chathnam Steeet (for civilized conversation)
- Grogan’s, South William Street (perfect Saturday afternoon spot)
- The International, Wicklow Street (an institution)
- The Long Haul, South Great George’s Street
- The Upstairs Lounge in the Central Hotel (comfy, cozy)
- Sackville Lounge, Sackville St, off O’Connell Street (the real McCoy)
- The Palace Bar, Fleet Street, Temple Bar (a gem)
- The Stag’s Head, Dame Court
BEST DUBLIN WALK
the best walk within Dublin’s environs is Howth Head. Grab a DART from Tara Street Station (on the Liffey, just east of O’Connell Bridge)to Howth on Dublin’s north side (30 mins). Walk to the end of Howth along the water front following the road up and to the right at the end of the harbour. Keep following the coast and you will find yourself on a wide unpaved path that runs right around Howth Head. You can double back at any time or continue all the way to Sutton (2-3 hours) from where you can catch a DART back to the city centre. The walk has splendid sea views and is guaranteed to clear away any city cobwebs.Reward yourself with some of Dublin’s best seafood at King Sitric Fish Restaurant in Howth.
A second, more traditional and less taxing option is to walk the pier at Dun Laoghaire which extends more than a mile out into the Irish Sea. Again a DART from Tara Street – this time to the south – will get you there.
BEST DUBLIN DAY TRIP
The best day trip from Dublin is undoubtedly to Glendalough (glen of the two lakes) in County Wicklow. Only an hour’s journey by car, Glendalough has a beauty and serenity found in few other places in Ireland. The ruins of the 8th century monastic settlement only add to the otherworldly peacefulness of this unique valley. There are walking and hiking trails to suit all energy levels, the Spink Loop being a current favourite of mine. If you don’t have a car while in Dublin you can catch St Kevin’s Bus which provides a daily service between Dublin and Glendalough: http://www.glendaloughbus.com/