We all know that Dublin is the world capital for ‘great craic’ and partying the night away – but there is so much more to this medieval city, and you’ll appreciate your pint of Guinness a lot more if you scratch the surface a little bit and see what Ireland’s capital is all about.
History is everywhere – from the 5,000 year-old artifacts in the National Museum (that’s 1,000 years older than Stonehenge) to the Irish-language newspapers, but a myriad modern dining and shopping options add sparkle to this Celtic city. Here are some recommendations for the perfect day in Dublin – even if you do spend it with a hangover!
Most of the recommendations below are based in the city center, which is easiest to navigate on foot. The two main thoroughfares are O’Conell street and Grafton Street, which is pedestrianized. If you need to jump on public transport, The Dublin Bus network is fairly reliable and cheap. You can download routes and timetables before you arrive at www.dublinbus.ie.
Try to avoid taking taxis, they’re hugely expensive and you’ll probably get stuck in traffic. To get to the bus and train stations, take the ‘DART’ – a tram-like rail system that will take you from the center (‘Dublin Connelly’) to Heuston Station for trains or Pearse Station for the bus.
Culture and sights
Spend some time digging up the past to really get to grips with how old this city is.
Take a walk around Trinity College. Founded in 1592, it’s Ireland’s oldest university, and the ancient stone walls have seen famous students like Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde pass through the cobbled courtyard.
Inside the library is the country’s most famous tome, The Book of Kells. It may seem like a crumbling old bible, but look closer at the amazing designs and colors on these manuscripts (a different page is carefully turned every day), and marvel at the fact that they were painstakingly traced by monks in cold, dark cells over 1,200 years ago.
For something a little more lively, do your best to hit Dublin when a gaelic football or hurling match is on in the national stadium, Croke Park. These traditional Irish sports are incredible to watch, and the atmosphere is electric, no matter who’s playing. The best time of year is the third or fourth Sunday in September, when the All-Ireland Football Championship takes place – it’s an unforgettable experience to hear the passionate crowd roar out the unofficial anthem “Fields of Athenry”.
You can buy tickets in advance from the official Gaelic Athletic Association website or try your luck at the stadium on the day – there are three ticket booths open around the park on match days. To get out there you can take the DART (get out at Drumcondra station) or the bus (lots of routes take you within walking distance – check the Dublin Bus website for details).
And for a modern sight that’s great for photo opportunities, walk to the end of O’Connell street where you’ll catch sight of the gleaming Dublin Spire (officially the ‘Monument of Light’) – a giant needle-like monument made of stainless steel that seems to pierce the sky 120 meters above. It has become like the Eiffel Tower of Ireland, so you can’t really miss it. And don’t feel embarrassed about snapping ‘arty’ shots looking up at at the clouds from the base – the locals have seen it all before.
Check out these tips for having an indie travel experience in Dublin.
Even the most independent, hardcore traveler likes to jump onto a tour every now and then, and Dublin has a few that are funny, useful and, well, lubricated.
The Guinness Brewery tour at St. James’s Gate is very much on the tourist trail, but worth it to get a glimpse into the history of ‘the black stuff’ (and The Guinness Book of Records) and the free pint afterward overlooking the Dublin city skyline in the Gravity Bar. Book tickets online for a 10% discount and to skip the queue.
Keeping to the theme, for those who prefer their spirits, the Old Jameson Distillery guides you through the whiskey process from malting to maturing, and finishes with a good Irish whiskey tasting session.
The best time to go is April to October on a weekend, when the distillery holds a ‘shindig evening’, with food, singing and Irish dancers – a ‘must see’ if you want to get all your culture in one go.
Moving to spirits of a completely different kind, if you’re a fan of the macabre, then definitely check out the Ghost Bus tour. (Book online for a 20% discount.) The guides are hilariously over-dramatic, but some of the stops are still frightening – even if you’re an Irish cynic and you know most of it is myth and legend. However for those on a tight budget, the 25 euro price tag might be the scariest thing about it.
Finally, for some cheesy fun, get yourself on the Viking Splash Tour. The 90-minute tour is full of silliness, including growling at passing tourists and the donning of plastic-horned helmets. But aside from the gimmicks, the tour is pretty unique.
The old WWII vehicle is amphibious – and so you’ll roll into the canal at the end – and made up to look like a viking vessel, and the tour takes in most of the points of interest around the city, including celebrity hangouts.
Food and drink
If you need an early-morning shot of caffeine to get you going, then be sure to stop into Bewleys Cafe at 78-79 Grafton Street. It’s been around since 1927, and has six beautiful stained glass windows that throw soft colored light over your freshly brewed (on the fourth floor) coffee. Actually, this is a must-do at any time of day; it’s huge and noisy and crowded, but almost every Irish person has been here at least once.
Mid-morning, you’ll need a hearty breakfast, so a good place to go for a ‘full Irish’ (not for vegetarians) is the Kingfisher (166-168 Parnell Street). It’s a small, family-run place at the top of O’Connell street, that has even won awards for its traditional breakfast, which includes sausages, rashers (bacon), white pudding, black pudding (made with pig’s blood, but don’t let that put you off – it’s delicious), beans, fried egg and hash brown, plus the obligatory pot of tea.
For lunch on the go, a local favorite in the center is the cheap and cheerful Gruel (68a Dame Street). Their signature is the “roast in a roll” – available weekdays, it’s a whole meal in a home-baked roll. The quirky, mismatching interior is also a great place to sit with a steaming bowl of home-made soup, or tea and a sweet treat.
When you finally get around to dinner, you can call into most of the pubs in Temple Bar for a decent Irish stew or fish and chips. One of the best in this area is the Quays; offering a cozy pub atmosphere and big portions, plus there’s often a dinner special for 10 euros, which is a great value.
For something a little more upmarket (though still just over 20 euros for three courses) try Millstone restaurant (39 Dame Street) for great steaks and pizzas. If you have a sweet tooth then be sure to order the chocolate mousse profiteroles.
As you can imagine, you won’t be stuck for a place to drink in Dublin, and everyone you meet will give you their own recommendation for the place to get the perfect pint. If you want to drink with the locals, grab a seat at the Celt (81 Talbot Street) which has live traditional music seven nights a week.
Another good spot if you’re willing to walk along the River Liffey down to the southside of the city is The Brazen Head (20 Bridge Street Lower). They say it’s Ireland’s oldest pub, and you’ll usually find music and storytelling happening inside. If it’s cold, there’s a fire lit in the fireplace, and if it’s warm, you can enjoy your pint in the cobbled courtyard.
Grafton street and the nearby St. Stephens Green Shopping Centre are great for clothes and shoes and have all the usual high street stores you’ll find in other parts of the world. The city’s main department store – like an Irish Macy’s – is Brown Thomas (2 Grafton Street), which features jewelery and clothes by Irish designers.
A nice place to visit, even if you don’t have a shopping budget, is the Georges Street Arcade (South Great George’s Street) which is off the tourist trail and has been around since 1881. An eclectic redbrick indoor market, it houses stalls and stores selling everything from antiques and organic food to vinyl records and foreign books.
For Irish souvenirs – especially Aran sweaters, crystal, and linen – you can buy for the folks back home at any of the plentiful souvenir shops you’ll pass in the city center; but if you’re looking for a good selection of modern Irish books, head to Easons (80 Middle Abbey Street) and for music, you can’t beat Charles Byrne (21-22 Lower Stephen Street) for instruments and Claddagh Records (2 Cecilia Street, Temple Bar) for CDs.