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Ireland’s capital and largest city offers so much to see and do it’s almost overwhelming. On top of that, by traveling just a short distance north or south of the city center, you’ll find a string of picturesque coastal towns, harbors, beaches and beautiful sea views. If that makes your decision even more difficult, you’re not alone, but this list can help make it a bit easier to decide how to make the most of your time here.
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What Is It? One of Dublin’s top visitor attractions, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral has been a part of Ireland’s history for more than 800 years.
Why Do It? It was built in honor of the country’s patron saint between 1220 and 1260 and offers an especially compelling cultural experience as one of the few buildings left from Dublin’s medieval days. The author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, was its Dean in the 18th century, and he was buried on site. The cathedral is also internationally renowned for its choir, which still performs daily during the school year.
Good to Know: Perfect for a rainy day in Dublin, you can sign up for guided and self-guided tours, which offer the chance to hear the incredible tales of Ireland’s patron saint and other famous historical figures that shaped the course of Ireland’s history and culture. Some of its must-see relics include the statues, the beautiful stained glass and its gorgeous interior décor.
What Is It? One of the best things you can do to beat jet lag if you’ve just arrived in the city is to get some fresh air and exercise.
Why Do It? After flying across several time zones before landing in Dublin, taking a walk through Phoenix Park is a great way to do it. Even if you aren’t battling jet lag, it’s an enjoyable place to spend some time as the largest city park in Europe. In addition to great people-watching, there is a lot to see and do – don’t miss checking out the President’s House, you’ll see a candle in one of the windows that continues to burn as a reminder that those who’ve left the country are welcome home.
Good to Know: It’s available for public tours, but you’ll need to call and make arrangements ahead of time. Keep an eye out for the herd of wild fallow deer, the animals are often situated on the 200-acre flat meadow area known as Fifteen Acres, and in the woodland of Oldtown Wood on the northern perimeter. When you’re in need of a refreshment, the Phoenix Park Tea Rooms make a perfect stop too.
What Is It? Viewing the Book of Kells is an absolute must for anyone visiting Dublin.
Why Do It? Located inside the Old Library at Trinity College, it was written around 800 AD by Irish monks and is considered to be one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world. Among its 680 pages of vellum contain Latin texts of the Four Gospels with vibrantly hued depictions of Christ and his followers, bordered by intricate Celtic knots and other designs.
Good to Know: You don’t have to be religious to understand that seeing it is truly a sacred experience. The book had been buried in the ground for fear that the Vikings would steal it – when it was eventually recovered, it was given to the college for safekeeping in 1653.
What Is It? The moment you step into the National Museum of Ireland, you’ll be transported back in time.
Why Do It? You can gaze in wonder at the finest collection of prehistoric gold artifacts in Europe, entitled Ór, while The Treasury features stunning examples of Celtic and Medieval art, like the famous Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch. There are a number of examples of extraordinarily intricate sacred and secular metalwork dating from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages, along with displays of well-preserved artifacts from prehistoric and Viking Ireland, plus Ancient Egyptian artifacts on the first floor.
Good to Know: But what has fascinated so many in recent years, are the bog bodies, bodies that were mummified and preserved in peat bogs. Around 100 of them have been found in Irish bogs to date, some are thought to have been there by accident, others were considered to be formal burials, and others possibly met a more sinister end. The ancient bodies, some thousands of years old, were naturally mummified by the acidic conditions of the peat bogs in which their remains were deposited, their skin basically was turned into leather, so you can see their fingernails, fingerprints, eyelashes, and even the hair in their noses.
What Is It? The Dublin Zoo is one of the best zoos in the world and the No. 1 visitor attraction in Dublin. Located inside Phoenix Park, it provides a great opportunity to stretch your legs as well as being an ideal destination for families.
Why Do It? The zoo houses more than 400 types of animals over nearly 70 acres in a tranquil, picturesque setting. Open since 1831, it’s one of the oldest zoos in Europe and helps to preserve some of the most endangered animals in the world. Its famous conservation projects take care of animals like great apes, tigers, and rhinos.
Good to Know: The African Savanna section includes a family of very entertaining chimpanzees that seem to enjoy putting on a show for visitors, while one of its orangutans, a male named Jurong, became famous a few years ago for rescuing a moorhen chick that appeared to be drowning in a pond – the incident was captured on video and went viral on YouTube.
What Is It? In the last 15 years or so, Dublin has become one of Europe’s hottest shopping cities, which means that if you like to shop, you better bring an empty duffel bag with you so that you can fill it with your finds to take back home.
Why Do It? Grafton Street, which runs south from College Green, is the most fashionable shopping area, in addition to being home to some of Ireland’s best street performers. You’ll find quirky boutiques in the Temple Bar area, and the streets that run west from O’Connell Street, like Mary Street and Henry Street, are great spots for bargain hunters. Grafton Street features the chic Brown Thomas department store, and nearby is a branch of one of Ireland’s most popular stores, Avoca, which offers woven products from its mill in County Wicklow.
Good to Know: Behind Grafton Street, Powerscourt Townhouse is lined with outlets from top Irish and international designers.
What Is It? While it’s definitely touristy, you really can’t leave Dublin without having taken a tour of the Guinness Storehouse. It’s one of the city’s most iconic attractions, and Guinness, of course, is synonymous with Ireland.
Why Do It? The building itself is rather impressive with its core shaped like a giant pint glass, consisting of seven floors. Yes, it’s a cramped tourist trap, but the tour includes not only the chance to learn about how this world-famous drink is made on each floor, but at the end, you’ll get to sample it in the Gravity Bar on the top floor, and enjoy the panoramic, bird’s eye view of the city at the same time.
Good to Know: If you go early in the morning, you may even be able to savor that view all to yourself.
What Is It? If you’re ready to enjoy some more of that delicious Guinness, you might as well head to what claims to be the oldest pub in Dublin, The Brazen Head.
Why Do It? While its building dates from the mid-18th century, they say pints have been poured here since 1198. No matter what the real story, there’s no doubt that it’s had some illustrious alumni, like Daniel O’Connell, Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet, who planned the Dublin rising of 1803 underneath its low timbers. Emmet was said to have lived here for a time and some say that he still visits on occasion, despite the fact that he was executed more than two centuries ago.
Good to Know: The building was originally a coach house, with its walls lined with old pictures, papers and ads from the past. Today, you’ll find live music every night as well as a tasty bowl of Guinness stew to enjoy with that pint.
What Is It? The front snug of Hughes’ Bar on Chancery Street is known as the coziest spot to hear traditional music in Dublin.
Why Do It? You’ll literally become a part of the tight musicians’ circle and everyone is encouraged, but not forced, to sing a song. Once, Bob Dylan’s backing band hooked up with house musicians for the type of unplanned and informal gig for which the pub has become known.
Good to Know: This is one of the places where you’ll want to end your night, the music generally doesn’t start until after 10pm, but it’s worth the wait – unlike Temple Bar staples that tend to play amplified Allman Brothers covers, the Irish musicians play whistles, mandolins, fiddles and pipes, with whoever is around and wants to join in.
What Is It? Grafton Street isn’t just for shopping, it’s actually just as famous for the number and variety of buskers who take to the street every morning in hopes of earning a few euro in exchange for their entertainment.
Why Do It? While all are certainly not created equal, there are definitely more than a few worth shelling out cash for, like Brenda Malloy, a harpist who’s been playing on the sidewalks across the road from Trinity College for nearly a decade, and pianist Luke Slott. Slott says that he got the idea to bring his piano to Grafton Street over 10 years ago when he saw a man do it in Paris.
Good to Know: Of course, when it comes to busking, things are always changing, you never who or what you’ll run into on the streets of Dublin, that has been acclaimed as one of the hottest spots for buskers on earth. Even Bono has busked on Grafton Street and regularly performs a charity singalong on Christmas Eve.
What Is It? If you happen to walk by the tempting aroma of Leo Burdock’s famous traditional fish and chips in the Christchurch neighborhood of Dublin, you may not be able to resist stepping in, and you shouldn’t.
Why Do It? But rather than waiting to be lured in by the smell, make it a point to go into Leo Burdock Christchurch so that you don’t miss it. The original shop has been in business since 1913, though there are now other newer shops in Dundrum, Liffey Street, Rathmines, Phibsborough, Tallaght, and Temple Bar.
Good to Know: Generations of Dubliners have grown up on Burdock’s, and it’s also frequented by Hollywood stars, well-known politicians, famous authors and musicians. Expect to wait in line, but you can also expect it to be more than worth it.
What Is It? The GPO, or General Post Office, is a must-see as it’s where the defining moment of Ireland’s modern history took place.
Why Do It? One of Dublin’s most iconic buildings, it was the headquarters of the rebels during the Easter Rising 1916 – you can still trace the bullet holes that riddle its façade. Today it hosts a brand new permanent visitor attraction, the GPO Witness History Visitor Centre, a highly immersive and engaging exhibition that will bring you right inside the GPO during Easter Week in 1916.
Good to Know: History comes to life, allowing visitors to experience events from both sides of the conflict, as well as through the eyes of bystanders who were caught in the crossfire.
What Is It? This tour conducted by Hidden Dublin Tours offers a spooky, bewitching, twist on the typical history tour.
Why Do It? Ireland is known as one of the world’s “most haunted” countries, with everyone from the Celts to the Protestant ascendancy leaving a mark on its haunted history. Guides, associated with PSI Ireland (Paranormal Study and Investigation), reveal all sorts of interesting facts that even many longtime locals aren’t aware of and bring visitors to parts of the city that few would otherwise see on a typical visit to Ireland.
Good to Know: Families with hard-to-please teens and pre-teens, take note, the history, humor and spooky tales are something that even the most unenthusiastic teenager is sure to appreciate. Some of the stories include the burning of an 18th-century madam, Darkey “The Witch” Kelly and the tragic tale of the Green Lady of St. Audoen’s.
What Is It? Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol held some of the most famous political and military leaders in Irish history, including Robert Emmet, Charles Stewart Parnell, the 1916 Rising leaders and Eamon de Valera.
Why Do It? A visit provides a realistic insight into what it might have been like to be confined in this forbidding bastion of punishment and correction that was open between 1796 and 1924. A must for history buffs, the museum tells a gruesome part of Irish history, with the 1916 Easter Rising leaders executed here, and several Irish nationalist leaders imprisoned here over the decades.
Good to Know: The experience includes an exhibition as well as a guided tour.
What Is It? Although it’s located in the heart of Dublin, most visitors pass the National Leprechaun Museum of Ireland without a second glance, but it’s certainly worth taking a closer look.
Why Do It? While you’re unlikely to see leprechauns leaping out to greet you, you will get the chance to understand what it might be like to be as tiny as these mischief-making little men – and, perhaps even how it would feel to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Good to Know: This quirky museum is a great way to get a humorous introduction into Irish myth and legend, including the true meaning of tales that have been told for thousands of years.
What Is It? In Irish, whiskey is called “uisce beatha,” which literally translates to “the water of life.” A visit to the Old Jameson Distillery, chronicles the history of the Jameson family, and this “water,” that they’re known for.
Why Do It? While the distillery itself no longer makes the actual drink, it does offer interesting tours that provide good insight on how it’s done. A trip to the Bow Street distillery not only includes a guided tour but a tasting experience to give you a real appreciation for the Jameson story. The distillery also hosts a restaurant serving lunch every day and a gift shop where exclusive Jameson gifts are available, and you can even bottle your own cask strength Jameson Select Reserve.
Good to Know: Whether you’re a fan of whiskey or not, learning its history is fun and entertaining, including tidbits like the founder of the most famous Irish whiskey, John Jameson, was actually a Scotsman.
What Is It? The Science Gallery is one of Dublin’s best-kept secrets.
Why Do It? Located at Trinity College, this innovative science museum is a world first, with the collision of science and art making it stand out from the rest, though its success has resulted in others attempting to clone the experience. This unique venue is a place where ideas meet and opinions collide, while hot scientific issues are debated, and even visitors can have their say. It takes a fresh look at real-life science applications, making cutting-edge technology accessible to all.
Good to Know: There have been exhibitions that include displays of robotic art and techno-thread clothing, and they’ve even harnessed nanotechnology to inscribe their logo on the face of a diamond. Unlike most galleries, they don’t have a permanent collection, so there is always something new to see.
What Is It? Dublin is famous for its writers and playwrights, and possibly as a result, many Dubliners today are avid theatergoers.
Why Do It? The Abbey, located in the heart of Dublin, was founded as the country’s national theater by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904, “to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland.”Today, it produces an annual program of diverse, engaging, innovative Irish and international theater, investing in and promoting new Irish writers and artists.
Good to Know: The Abbey, Gate and Gaiety Theatres are the city’s most famous theaters, but there are multiple smaller but highly regarded theaters as well.
What Is It? At some point, you’ve got to take the short ride aboard the DART to Howth.
Why Do It? Hopping on at Dublin’s city center at Connolly Station, you can be there in less than 30 minutes. From the picturesque harbor to Howth Head and the Howth Market, there’s something for everyone in this charming fishing village.
Good to Know: If you’d like to enjoy a nice walk, the Bog of Frogs Loop offers scenic views of the lighthouse, Lambay Island and the cliffs. Or, you can always take a stroll down the pier enjoying views of Ireland’s eye, an island that’s just a 15-minute boat ride away. There you’ll find a long, sandy beach, great bird-watching opportunities and gorgeous views of Dublin Bay. The Martello Tower Museum houses an excellent collection of exhibits that chronicle the history of telecommunications from the 1840s to the present time. The Howth Market, located adjacent to the DART station, is filled with an array of Irish crafts, handmade jewelry, vintage antiques and an extensive selection of organic foods. Just a short walk from here and you can immerse yourself in the history of 15th-century Howth Castle, and enjoy its beautiful surrounding gardens.
What Is It? While you’re in Dublin, you really should explore more of the countryside, and taking a day trip to the Wicklow Mountains is one of the best ways to do just that.
Why Do It? Less than an hour’s drive from Dublin, you’ll find numerous hiking trails suitable for all fitness levels. One of the best is the seven-mile roundtrip trek from just above Lough Tay, near the village of Roundwood, to Lough Dan – the area is also used as the setting for the History Channel series “Vikings,” and if the Hollywood film crew is shooting, the trail may be blocked off. Still, just seeing the view of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world surrounded by soaring mountains is reward enough.
Good to Know: You can continue on to Glendalough, which not only offers numerous trails but the ruins of an 8th-century monastic settlement. If you don’t have a car, there are buses and tours that will bring you to Wicklow’s most popular attractions.