Riverdance, leprechauns and Guinness on tap; whatever it is that springs to mind when you think of Ireland, Dublin has all of that and more. The multicultural city is a world away from the sheep-filled moorlands of rural Ireland, inspiring generations of artists and literary talents with its blend of edgy modernism and rich historic roots. And while the saying may be true and you will likely never out-drink an Irishman, Dublin’s buzzing music bars and traditional pubs are a great place to experience the Irish party culture.
What to see and do
Dublin’s long and varied history makes for some great tourist attractions and there’s plenty to keep visitors occupied through the daylight hours. Dublin Castle, first built back in 1204 and now a major conference centre for Irish Government, is at the top of the list and if you skip the tour of the state apartments, wandering around the castle grounds and checking out the Chester Beatty Library won’t cost you a euro.
The Kilmainham Gaol Museum, a prison preserved from its days housing some of Ireland’s most famous prisoners is now one of the city’s most popular museums, a harrowing but fascinating insight into Irish history. Less frequented haunts include the Little Museum of Dublin, a foray into Dublin’s lively social and cultural past, and the house museum at Number 29, Fitzwilliam Street Lower, an homage to Georgian Dublin.
From its impressive entrance and courtyard, Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest and most prestigious college, makes another interesting pit stop. The key attraction is the college library, housing the illuminated manuscript of the Book of Kells, one of Ireland’s most valuable artifacts, dating back to 800AD. If all this history leaves you looking for something a little more lighthearted, a short stroll from the college lands you on Grafton Street, one of the city’s premier shopping districts.
Another important tourist draw is the city’s literary heritage and the birthplace of George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and William Butler Yeats was finally designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010. Literary enthusiasts can visit the setting of the opening scene of Ulysses at the renowned James Joyce museum, celebrate 300 years of Irish literature at the Dublin Writers Museum or even take part in one of the regular Literary Pub Crawls, one of the city’s most unique excursions taking in the stomping grounds of literary legends, plus a few pints along the way.
Those looking to get a real taste of Dublin culture can forget Riverdancers and lager louts – get yourself to a rugby game instead. Dubliners go crazy for the sport and the Six Nations Rugby Tournament is one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Grab tickets for a home game at Croke Park (if you’re brave enough book tickets in the Hill 16 section where you’ll be immersed in diehard rugby fans) or just enjoy the atmosphere at the local pub, where the games are sure to be shown. The Meagher’s Pub, around the corner from Croke Park will be heaving hours before and after the game, if you really want to get into the spirit. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Museum makes a worthwhile visit for fans.
Tourists flock to the Temple Bar area of the city, where souvenir hawkers and street artists line the streets by day and raucous stag and hen parties spill out of the many bars by night. If you’re looking to get away from the tourists this is not the place to come, but the colorful ‘Wall of Fame’, an ode to Ireland’s most famous artists is worth a peek. By night, if you’re looking for some more authentic Irish entertainment, try Hughes on Chancery St or The Cobblestone’s musician’s corner, to catch some local bands whipping up frenzy.
Eating and drinking
Classic Irish foods still have a hold on a Dubliner’s heart, but the city’s eateries are fast becoming more cosmopolitan, with celebrated restaurants and hip bistros popping up all over the city. Try the popular Chapter One, tucked away in the cellar of the Dublin Writers Museum for gourmet fare that rivals Europe’s best restaurants, or hit the Temple Bar Farmer’s Market on a Saturday for a modern spin on tradition, with an array of locally produced goods on offer. Munch on some home-baked Irish soda bread (popular Irish flour bread leavened with bicarbonate of soda and blended with buttermilk), splash out on some freshly harvested oysters or hunt down the Nóirín’s Bakehouse store for some of Dublin’s finest cakes and tarts.
Those looking to line their stomachs with some traditional Irish fare should head to the popular O’Neills Pub where classics like Irish stew (made with a healthy splash of Guinness, no less) and roast dinners grace the menu, or search for other local favorites like coddle (a mix of sausage, bacon and potato) or black pudding (a blend of pigs blood and barley that’s apparently better than it sounds) in one of the city’s many pubs.
Dubliners have a reputation for drinking, rather than eating, and with some 976,000 bars and pubs in the city, it’s a habit that dies hard. The Temple Bar area is awash with pubs where the bars are lined with bleary eyed tourists and empty pint glasses, but there are plenty of more unique destinations. Try the Porterhouse, the oldest microbrewery in the city, where an excellent range of home-produced beers, lagers and ales provide an authentically Irish experience; the Hole in the Wall, proud owner of Ireland’s longest bar (around 100 yards); The Gravediggers in Glasnevin, so-called due to its popularity amongst 19th-century funeral workers at the nearby Glasnevin Cemetery or The Blue Light, hidden at the foothills of the Dublin mountains and legendary for its riotous live music sessions.
Read more: 5 Places to Eat and Drink in Dublin
Best insider tips
The best free thing to do: If you’re looking for a free place to wile away your hangover, hit one of the city’s many parks. The deer-filled Phoenix Park, Europe’s largest city park at 1,760 acres, and St Stephen’s Green, with its garden dedicated to Irish poet WB Yeats, are the most popular haunts and worthy of their stellar reputations, but there are plenty of lesser-known gardens in which to escape the crowds.
Head to the Dubh Linn Gardens, a pocket of landscaped tranquility tucked away behind the Dublin Castle and the namesake of the city itself, or seek out the Iveagh secret Garden, a Victorian rosarium home to a grotto, maze and display of water cascades. If you fancy getting your blood pumping, attack the Howth Coastal path, winding it’s way into the cliffs around the city and offering incredible views of the urban sprawl below.
If you only have one day in this city, don’t miss: The world-famous Guinness Brewery is a major attraction, offering tours of the Guinness Storehouse to the public in 2000 and showcasing the history of Arthur Guinness’s beloved beverage over 7 stories. Sure, it’ll be packed with tourists, but you can’t visit Dublin without paying homage to the national drink. The top-floor Gravity Bar offers incredible panoramas of the city, as well as the chance to sip a couple of free brews. If you prefer something a little stronger, visitors can knock back some whiskey samples (for which you’ll receive an Irish Whiskey Taster Certificate) whilst learning the history of the Ireland’s favorite whiskey during an Old Jameson Distillery tour.
An often-overlooked place/attraction you love: Dollymount strand with its kite surfing and swimming spots is a popular destination but few tourists explore the rest of North Bull Island. A UNESCO biosphere reserve, home to a vibrant bird sanctuary, it’s a haven of impressive wildlife mere minutes from the city centre.
The best thing to eat in this city is: Forget Shepherd’s Pie and Irish stew, Dublin’s surprise delicacy is its freshly harvested Atlantic oysters, best in the autumn when the oyster season is in full swing. Reputedly saltier and stronger in flavor than their Pacific cousins, pair them with thick slices of buttered soda bread and a hearty pint of Guinness for the full effect.
- Zoë Smith
Editor’s Note: Viator recently held a contest to “Win Your Dream Travel Job” where we selected 4 finalists to travel the world shooting video. For 60 days, these teams traveled and filmed in some of the world’s top destinations, documenting their experiences along the way. Go here to read more about their Dublin adventures!