Dublin is famous for many things – its food, vibrancy, music scene, unique character and Guinness among them. To the list of reasons to visit you can also add an incredible history – Dublin is one of Europe’s oldest cities – as well as being designated a UNESCO City of Literature: considering it is the birthplace of several literary greats such as James Joyce and Oscar Wild this is little wonder. There are 1001 ways to pass a day in Dublin with everything from a castle to coastal cruises and antique libraries to ancient mummies included as possibilities.
The vast majority of the following day itinerary is walk-able but there are a few alternatives if you wish to save your energy and your legs or perhaps cram even more into your time. The city has an extensive network of buses as well as the charming Luas which is Dublin’s tram system. Alternatively you can hire a bicycle – Dublin has been designated one of the world’s 10 most bike-friendly cities – with a vast choice of places to hire from. If you are one of those people who prefer to leave the itinerary planning to someone else there are also a few choices for hop on hop off buses with various routes and 24 hour passes.
A Morning in Dublin
The Garden of Remembrance
Although Dublin is known and loved for its high energy hustle and bustle, this city also has its serene oases too. One of these – and a great way to embark gently on your Dublin day – is the Garden of Remembrance which is not simply a tranquil spot but one of almost complete hush. Screened in part by trees, this sunken garden exists as a memorial to all those ‘who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom’ which spans everything from the uprisings of the 18th century through to the conflicts of the 20th century.
At the centre of the gardens is a cross-shaped shallow pool whose mosaic-laid floor depicts a quantity of shattered swords and shields. This imagery is very purposeful and symbolic because in ancient times warring clans would symbolize the end of conflicts by throwing their broken weapons into oceans and rivers.
The other main feature of the gardens is the copper bronze Children of Lirt statue which was unveiled in 1966 exactly 50 years after the ‘Easter Rising’ rebellion. Representing rebirth and resurrection, the statue depicts the children and the swans they were turned into according to an ancient Irish legend.
The Hungry Tree
As you make your way towards the river and Trinity College – one of Dublin’s most iconic visitor attractions and the focus of your morning’s sightseeing – there are a few interesting things to take in as you go. One of these – if you don’t mind a quick detour – is the 80-year-old plane tree known as the Hungry Tree. This tree has started to engulf the cast iron bench at its foot which does very much make it appear as if the tree is making a meal of the bench. Listed as a Heritage Tree by the Tree Council of Ireland, the Hungry Tree sits in the grounds of the 16th century-founded law school of the Honorable Society of King’s Inns, the grounds of which are accessible to the public.
The General Post Office and The Spire
Just a 500 meter or so stroll from the bench-eating tree can be found Dublin’s General Post Office. While post offices might not typically feature on tourist itineraries this is an essential inclusion because this restored 19th century Greek revival-style building was used as the headquarters by the rebel leaders during the 1916 violence of the Easter Rising. It was here that the proclamation to establish Ireland as an independent republic was made and as a result has unrivalled significance for Irish history and nationalism. The imposing and tremendously important building is striking enough to at least want to see from the outside while those interested in the history can explore the GPO Witness History attraction which relates the story of both Easter Rising and its aftermath. There is also a copy of the original proclamation document to view.
Just across from the GPO can be found the Spire of Dublin although it would be hard to miss this 120 meter high needle-like monument. As part of a street rejuvenation project, the Spire stands on the former site of Nelson’s Pillar, a granite pillar which was destroyed by a bomb in the 1960s.
The Famine Memorial and the Jeannie Johnston
If you make your way across the river to Trinity College via the Sean O’Casey Bridge on Custom House Quay you will be able to take in the highly emotive Famine Memorial sculptures. During the Great Famine of the 1800s around 1.5 million Irish people boarded boats bound for America in an attempt to avoid starvation. The series of individual sculptures which depict the harrowing sight of despairing and starving men, women and even a dog are located on the site from which the Perseverance sailed in 1846 – one of the first of thousands of such famine ships. The sculptures are an incredibly moving sight and rank as one of the country’s most photographed memorials.
Just a stone’s throw away can be found the Jeannie Johnston – a museum dedicated to the famine story which is located inside a replica famine ship.
Trinity College– The Long Room and the Book of Kells
After having begun the day briefly taking in a few of Dublin’s sights you will now have arrived at the focus of your morning – the 16th century-founded Trinity College which numbers among its most famous students such greats as Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. The treasures contained within the library here – known as the Long Room – make this site so important it is one of the entire country’s five most visited fee-paying attractions and it can get very busy. The earlier you can arrive here the better your chances of escaping the crowds and long waiting lines.
Almost 200 feet long, lined with marble statues and filled floor to ceiling with 200,000 books this 18th century room with its barrel vaulted ceiling is nothing short of spectacular and is widely recognized as one of the most impressive library chambers in the world.
Although the incredibly beautiful Long Room is a unique attraction worth visiting for itself alone what actually draws the visitors here in great numbers is something contained here. Trinity College library’s collection is full of rare and priceless tomes but none more so than the Book of Kells which is more than 1000 years old. Moved to Trinity College in the 17th century to keep it safe from religion-focused Cromwellian raids, this hand-transcribed book is exquisitely and colorfully decorated with what at times appears to be impossible detail. This irreplaceable treasure is believed to have been created by Christian monks on the Isle of Iona in Scotland.
Although the Book of Kells steals the scene here the library is also home to further treasures. Two of the most significant of these are an original copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic dating from 1916 and a 15th century wooden harp. This harp will no doubt appear familiar to many, featuring as it does as the Guinness logo, appearing on coins and otherwise seen in a thousand places in Ireland having become a national symbol.
The Long Room
The Long Room aside, this ancient college is a maze of cobbled courtyards and inner quads along with its famous bell-tower with the whole infused with an air of time stood still. If the history of this hallowed institution interests you it is possible to take a guided tour to explore its stories and architecture further.
If you are a James Joyce fan there is one more sight to take in before you start deciding which of Dublin’s many options you are going to choose for your morning coffee break . Around 200 meters from Trinity College can be found McDaids pub. Having known guises as the city morgue and a chapel, this current day jazz venue is the pub which features at the opening of James Joyce’s ‘Grace’.
Morning coffee options in Dublin
If you don’t want to make too much effort after leaving Trinity College and have a hankering for something sweet with your coffee a stroll of less than five minutes will bring you to Dolce Sicily. Impossible to miss with its lime green and white timber-clad building flanked by gold painted mannequins, the café with its lovely interior is actually located down some steps to the right. The coffee is considered top-notch by Dublin locals and the diversity of desserts, cakes and sweet treats come in enough variety to suit all-comers.
Also just a stone’s throw from Trinity College is the much-loved Pepper Pot with its cute balcony overlooking the Powerscourt Centre. With its atrium ceiling this is an all-weather café raved about by Dublin’s coffee lovers. It also has a good choice of home-made cakes and sweet treats as well as savory snacks to compliment your morning coffee.
If you are looking for rather more refined surrounds head to Bewley’s which has a story stretching back more than 150 years. Still just a short stroll from Trinity College, this café has an historic façade but its interior is quite a sight. You can sip your coffee in a fantastic play of light offered by way of the Harry Clarke stained glass windows which surround you. Bewley’s don’t just make their own coffee but are Ireland’s leading coffee company and this café is full of pastries and cakes which you can actually watch being made by some top-notch bakers and chefs.
A few Quick Stops for James Joyce and Oscar Wild Fans
Before you head to your next Dublin attraction there are a few points of interest within close proximity to each other which you might want to check out if you are a fan of either James Joyce or Oscar Wilde.
Sweny’s Pharmacy – This pharmacy dating from the 1800s featured in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ with the lemon soap, which Leopald Bloom picks up while waiting for a prescription, featuring as a recurring theme throughout the book. Today Sweny’s is a second-hand book store but the fixtures and chemist cabinets full of artifacts are still in place.
Oscar Wilde’s House – Just around the corner from Sweny’s can be found the lovely collection of Georgian residences known as Merrion Square. Number 1 is the house in which Oscar Wilde was born in 1854 and lived with his family for several years. Unfortunately the house, although restored and preserved as an Oscar Wilde memorial by the American College Dublin, cannot be visited by the public. The house at number 82 was also the home of a famous resident – W. B. Yeats.
While you are in Merrion Square be sure to check out the somewhat quirky life-size sculpture of Oscar Wilde who lounges on a quartz rock bed clad in flamboyant clothes – all of which are made up of colored semi-precious stones such as jade and blue pearl granite.
The Little Museum
Once you have paid your respects to two of Dublin’s most famous sons you are just 800 meters away from one of the city’s gems – the award-winning Little Museum. When the call went out to the people of Dublin in 2011 for historical objects which told the city’s story the response was overwhelming. The result was this wonderful little museum which the Irish Times rates as Dublin’s best and is home to thousands of 20th century artifacts, art and memorabilia woven into stories and exhibits, with the whole collected together in a Georgian town-house.
The contents are eclectic – items range from a first edition of Ulysses to a room dedicated to Dublin band U2 – and the overall atmosphere quirky and delightfully crammed. Of the museum’s three floors, the top two can only be visited with a guide with the inclusion of an optional tour around St Stephen’s Green where the museum is located.
You can of course wander the 400 year old park of St Stephen’s Green yourself. Redesigned in 1880 through a commission of Sir Arthur Guinness, the park was made accessible to the public and today retains many of its original Victorian features. Because it is mostly screened from the streets of Dublin by hundreds of trees and incorporates a lake, walkways, sculptures, flowers and gardens this park is an oasis of green calm and couldn’t feel further removed from Dublin’s typical urban hustle and bustle.
Alternative Museums and Gallery
Dublin is home to many museums, many of them of the world-class or award-winning variety with a helping of the more unusual too, so if you want an alternative to the Little Museum you are spoiled for choice.
Located in the north of the city away from the centre, this enormous atmospheric museum opened in 1832 can be explored independently and without admission charge. However to make the most of this 124 acre site full of Victorian memorials and statuary the guided tour is well-worth taking.
The National Museum of Ireland
Another of Dublin’s free museum offerings, the National Museum of Ireland actually has three separate locations in Dublin with each focusing on a different cultural element. These are:
- Archaeology, – Kildare Street, Dublin
- Decorative Arts & History – Collins Barracks
- Natural History – Merrion Square
The decorative arts branch includes – among its other art exhibits – dazzling jewelry collections, Irish silver and impressive replica-rooms filled with period artifacts. The archaeology branch is perhaps the National Museum’s most visited and is home to ancient gold jewelry and many priceless objects found during archaeological excavations in Ireland such as the 8th century Ardagh Chalice, part of the Ardagh Hoard, and the Broighter Hoard finds which include the 18 cm exquisite solid gold boat.
70 million people all over the world, particularly in the United States, can claim Irish ancestry. This museum explores the reasons for such vast emigration, how those journeys were made and the impact those immigrants have had throughout history on the corners of the planet they have chosen to settle in.
The only one of its kind in the world, this off-beat museum is not simply a history of the leprechaun – the Irish folklore faerie – but encompasses all things relating to myth, mystery, legend and folklore in Ireland. The museum’s take is decidedly light-hearted with optical illusion features and tales of catching leprechauns.
Dublin City Gallery
If you would prefer to spend your time contemplating masterpiece artworks make your way to the Dublin City Gallery which is free to visit. Housed inside a majestic Georgian building you will find pieces by Manet, Monet, Renoir and Degas as well as exhibits from Irish painters and artists such as Sean Scully. The gallery is also home to the Harry Clark’s Stained Glass Room, a reconstructed Francis Bacon workshop and some thoroughly modern installations exhibited in a separate wing.
Lunch in Dublin
Once you have finished exploring the eclectic delights of the Little Museum you are in close proximity to some wonderful lunch option spots so you won’t have to roam far. One of these is the atmospheric and elegant private garden space of the deluxe Merrion Hotel known as the Garden Room. If all your morning adventures have left you with a large appetite this venue has plenty of choice of what they themselves describe as ‘whimsical combinations’ or you can enjoy a range of lighter bites which include such culinary offerings as Liscannor crab sliders or saffron arancini with parmesan. You can round it all off with some home-made ice-cream.
For something a little less formal but every bit as charming try the friendly-vibed Fumbally whose savory choices are what this well-regarded spot is best known for. This light and airy space which offers both permanent menu and mouth-watering specials is filled with benches, sofas, pouffes and lamps and has featured in a Condé Naste ’12 Best Places to Eat and Drink in Dublin’ list.
An Afternoon in Dublin
Once refueled you can head out onto the Dublin streets to continue your day of discovery with a choice of enough must-see attractions to keep any visitor busy for several weeks. Additionally, these multiple gems fall into incredibly diverse categories and offer distinctly different kinds of experiences to those you might find in other major cities. Three of Dublin’s major tourist draws such as these are Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol and the Guinness Store. All are situated within walking distance of each other but it is unlikely you will have time for all three so we will leave it to you to decide which appeals most.
Once a medieval fortress, itself built upon the site of an even more ancient Viking stronghold, Dublin Castle today serves as the ceremonial venue for the country’s government and is where each new president is inaugurated. In the 17th century an extensive fire destroyed the majority of the 13th century castle and all that remains today of that period – at least above ground – is the Record Tower which is home to the Garda Museum. What emerged in the 18th century from the ashes of that long-ago fire was more palace than castle and served as the residence of the British Viceroy. Today you can take a guided tour to explore the opulent and ornate State Apartments which were once the Viceroy’s private residence and court. To get a true glimpse into history dating back to Viking times take a guided tour of the below-ground level Undercroft complete with moats and ancient fortifications.
The castle is home to more than one free museum one of which – the Chester Beatty Library – is a major reason for visiting the castle. This museum is named after the American gold-mining magnate who gifted this Islamic, Western and Oriental collection to the country. Made up of priceless books, manuscripts, prints and paintings, this especially elegant and highly evocative modern exhibiting space contains such gems as Chinese jade books and ancient papyrus writings and is considered so exceptional is has previously held the title of European Museum of the Year.
Regularly featuring as the number one Dublin attraction on tourist review sites, Kilmainham Gaol is the largest non-working prison in Europe and offers visitors the chance to explore its deserted and vast interior by tour. In existence from 1787 until the 1920s, this prison was built on the very spot where the public hanging gallows had stood and death sentences continued to be carried out within its walls for its entire history.
Prisoners were made up of men women and children – the youngest believed to be just seven – who endured both a brutal regime and severe overcrowding. It is little wonder that a place which has witnessed such suffering and violent death retains an atmosphere both chilling and eerie and during your tour you will be regaled with some of its many dark and tragic tales.
From an Irish national story point of view Kilmainham Gaol has tremendous significance. It was here the fourteen leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising – each of those whose signatures exist on the Proclamation of Independence – were bought and then executed by firing squad after a secret trial. Far from ending the rebellion, these executions served to fan the flames of what had previously been a small movement and eventually led to the independence of what is now Southern Ireland, only a few years afterwards.
Besides the tour of the gaol Kilmainham is also home to a three-storey museum which includes an exhibition dedicated to Irish Nationalism and includes within its collections some of the Easter Rising leaders’ final words before execution.
If you have chosen to lunch in the vicinity of Trinity College, Kilmainham Gaol can be reached on foot with a 25 minute or so walk. If you want to save your energy or your time for more exploration of the gaol though there are plentiful buses which will deliver you to its doorstep or the tram can bring you within very close proximity.
The Guinness Storehouse
The third option for your afternoon’s sightseeing is something very different again and regularly features as Dublin’s most visited tourist attraction year after year. Throughout a guided tour which starts from the base of the largest pint glass in the world and in total covers seven floors of interactive experiences, you will learn exactly how Guinness – locally known as the black stuff – is produced. The fascinating insights presented and undeniable interest of this highly regarded tour is, however, somewhat more than just a lesson in how this stout is made. The Guinness story is a remarkable one which, since it all began, has at times played a significant part in the history of both Dublin and Ireland.
At the conclusion of the tour you will be taken to the rooftop bar with its fantastic Dublin views and given a pint of Guinness to enjoy.
If you are interested in something a little more exclusive you can upgrade your ticket to the VIP Connoisseur Experience which allows a select few to enter special tasting rooms.
For those who prefer a different tipple another popular option is a tour of the Jameson Distillery which dates from the beginning of this famous whiskey’s story. Refurbished since its 18th century days, visitors can sample several whiskeys during this 40 minute tour which ends in the JJ’S bar.
No matter which of Dublin’s iconic major attractions you have chosen for your afternoon in Dublin you should have just enough time to make a handful of interesting detours before you start thinking about your dinner venue.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
Whether you have just finished exploring castle, gaol or Guinness plant you will not be far from Ireland’s largest cathedral – St Patrick’s. This 13th century building, believed to be raised upon the very site where St Patrick performed baptisms from a well, is one of only a handful of medieval Dublin buildings still standing. Despite the fact that Dublin is a Catholic stronghold St Patrick’s, along with Christ Church, is an Anglican church and is the burial site of author Jonathan Swift who was dean here for 32 years until his death in 1745.
For those with an interest in the history of this church, which Oliver Cromwell once used to stable his horses during a visit in 1649, free tours are offered during the week.
Right next door to St Patrick’s Cathedral can be found an almost secret library which few Dublin visitors know exists. Hidden inside an 18th century building can be found the 300 year old library which is today both museum and research facility. Besides the antiquated books the library’s main point of interest is the cages into which visitors were locked as prevention against book theft.
St Audoen’s Gate
True history buffs shouldn’t miss St Audoen’s Gate located less than a ten minute stroll from St Patrick’s Cathedral. During medieval times and for the centuries which followed Dublin was surrounded by an imposing city wall with access to the city only possible through a series of gates of which St Audoen’s is the only surviving example. A sensitive restoration here in the 1970s converted this gate and the stretch of surviving wall which surrounds it into an enchanting little pocket of ancient history. Visitors can pass through the gate and follow a medieval pathway to further remaining sections of the city wall.
Pre-dinner Drinks and Dinner in Dublin
As dusk begins to descend on your Dublin day there are an enormous number of elegant or vibrant spots you can choose from to enjoy some pre-dinner drinks. If you enjoy drinking in a view along with your wine or cocktail Dublin boasts a fair number of rooftop bars one of which is The Marker Hotel. Said to offer the best birds-eye perspective in the city, this hotel has a tempting cocktail menu with snack accompaniments and an excellent wine menu which can be enjoyed from an elegant sofa-scattered balcony.
If Dublin’s decidedly unpredictable weather makes al fresco impossible the highly rated Delahunt has a lovely cocktail bar complete with chandeliers and soft lighting while the retro-look 1950’s-style Octagon Bar on the South Quays is something of a fashionable local hotspot. Part of The Clarence – a U2-owned hotel – this bar is known for its extensive choice of cocktails which range from the traditional favorites to incredible combinations which could quickly become new favorites.
Where venues for dining are concerned Dublin has emerged as a true culinary hub where everything from fresh seafood to traditional Irish fare and just about everything in between is possible. Its restaurants range from artisan café type places through hip and modern offerings and on to Michelin starred establishments. This all adds up to something special for those who rank excellent dining as an essential part of any trip.
If you don’t feel like making too much effort to find your dinner venue both The Marker Hotel and The Clarence are highly rated if you have chosen to take your pre-dinner drinks here. Or, if perhaps you have simply finished your afternoon’s exploration near St Patrick’s Cathedral and want to head straight to dinner you won’t have far to go to find Locks Windsor Terrace. A great choice for those who want to sample contemporary Irish cuisine amid elegant surroundings, Locks has both a high level reputation and a lovely location with Grand Canal views from the second (and quieter) of its dining room options upstairs.
Ingredients are sourced locally and include such delights as aged venison and trout. https://www.locksrestaurant.ie/ Appreciators of classic French cuisine with a love for al fresco dining will love Chez Max on Baggot Street located in a Georgian townhouse. The heated and covered garden area and terrace make it possible to enjoy the Parisian cuisine outside year round. If you prefer a location situated right beside Dublin Castle’s entrance with a more intimate atmosphere you can try Chez Max’s other branch on Palace Street.
An Evening in Dublin
While the sights and attractions of Dublin are plentiful and diverse it is the after-dark hours which many who have visited Dublin most remember. This is a city with a vibrant and world-renowned night-life which encompasses something for every taste – from the venues with live traditional Irish music by candlelight to hip and happening microbrewery joints where craft beers are the order of the day as well as plentiful refined choices for the more discerning customer.
For those intent on hunting down traditional music it is possible to just wander into any pub and happen upon some impromptu music session. However, if you would prefer to leave things less to chance Dublin has some iconic and authentic spots which cater to music-loving Dubliners rather than the tourists – your only difficulty is going to be narrowing down your options. If you are feeling a little footsore after your day of exploration don’t forget the Dublin tram system can usually get you close to where you need to go with little effort required from you.
Located within a short walk of the Spire can be found The Celt which offers authentic nightly musical sessions with a clientele made up of some of Dublin’s quintessentially colorful characters. Another option for those in search of a traditional Irish scene will find The Cobblestone fits the bill perfectly. Long established and beloved by locals The Cobblestone also has highly sociable nightly music sessions which are guaranteed to have you tapping your feet and making several new friends before the evening is out. Otherwise, direct your footsteps towards Dublin’s Temple Bar which covers two streets and comes with more than 20 pubs and bars which offer traditional music. The scene here tends to be more tourist than local but the great thing about this area is you can check out several spots all within close proximity to each other until you find your ideal venue.
If jazz is more to your taste head to McDaids whose traditional interior acts as venue for a range of jazz and blues musicians.
Alternative After-dark Options in Dublin
Literary Pub Crawl
Literary Pub Crawl – While a pub crawl might not typically register on the radar of those with more discerning tastes Dublin offers something a little different for quality literature and literary arts fans. Dublin has been home to literary greats such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and more. Dublin locations crop up time and again in their works while the city is littered with places – such as pubs – known to be favored haunts. The Literary Pub Crawl will take you on a journey of discovery of these places led by Dublin guides who, like so many of their fellow countrymen, know how to weave a tale which is both highly interesting and entertaining as well as liberally peppered with Irish song.
The ‘Dark Lands’ Night Tour
The ‘Dark Lands’ Night Tour – The National Leprechaun Museum – While this one-of-a-kind museum offers a family-friendly venue during the day, once night falls it provides rather more adults-only entertainment. The entire event – which is part show and part tour – weaves its way through the museum in the dark with guides who present to you some of the rather darker or bawdier sides of Irish legend and folklore. This unusual tour is not for the shy either as audience participation is all part of the fun and entertainment.
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