If you fly to Dublin, Ireland from the east coast of the United States, you will most likely fly overnight and arrive in the early morning, long before you are able to check into your hotel room. Leave your luggage with your hotel and ask where you can find a nice Irish breakfast nearby. Eat slowly and drink some strong Irish tea (with milk, of course) while you make some notes about what you want to do during your visit to Dublin.
If your visit to Dublin is from a country where cars drive on the right (or what the Irish consider the wrong side) as we do in the Americas, to avoid becoming Dublin road kill, make sure you look to the left first and last before crossing a street. At each intersection, lest you forget, the correct way to look is helpfully painted on the street next to the sidewalk at central Dublin intersections.
To get you started, here’s the list of activities and places we found worthwhile during our four day visit to Dublin. I have not provided prices and hours since these change, but I have linked to the relevant websites so you can obtain the latest information.
11 Things to Do During your Visit to Dublin, Ireland
1) Hop On, Hop Off City Sightseeing Bus Tour We try to do one of these tours on our first day in any new city we visit. Dublin seems to have two competing companies (red buses or green buses) with similar pricing and itineraries. Our ticket was good for 24 hours and included a walking tour.During our visit to Dublin, we took the red open top bus that departed from Saint Stephen’s Green near our hotel.
Without hopping off, this tour takes about an hour and a half. It alternates trips with live commentary in English and recorded commentary in eight different languages.
The concept is that one can get off at any of the stops and then catch a later bus and continue on the tour. We didn’t get off for the Guinness brewery tour as did most of the people on our bus. As one might expect, Mr. and Mrs. Excitement are more history buffs than drinkers (not that we don’t enjoy a pint now and then), so we got off at Kilmainham Gaol (Jail).
2. Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) A visit to the gaol interior requires a one hour guided tour. There are two tours per hour. You can pre-purchase timed tickets on-line, but some daily walk in tickets are available.
In addition to providing a sobering look at prison conditions over the years (1796-1924), including during the Great Famine years, the tour provided an Irish history lesson as the guide recounted the history of individuals incarcerated and/or executed here, many for political “crimes”.
There is also an excellent on site museum that chronicles the evolution of the Irish penal system. A visit to Kilmainham Gaol is not just dispassionately interesting, it is also haunting.
3. Trinity College: This college, located near Saint Stephen’s Green, was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I of England on the site of a medieval Augustinian monastery. In prestige, it is the “Harvard” or “Oxford and Cambridge” of Ireland. Originally it was open only to upper class, Protestant males. Women were not admitted until 1904, immediately following the death of the provost who maintained that women would be admitted over his dead body.
Catholics and Dissenters (Protestants from the wrong denomination i.e. not Church of Ireland) were barred from matriculation until 1793 and from holding any professorships until 1873.
In a classic case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face (IMHO), the Catholic bishops refused to allow their adherents to attend until the 1970’s for fear their minds would be polluted by Protestant doctrine (oy vey).
The best way to see the college is to go on the half hour guided campus tour. The tour price includes the fee to see the Book of Kells exhibit.
4. The Book of Kells The Book of Kells is a 680 page illuminated (illustrated) manuscript of the Four Gospels on vellum (calfskin), dating from the second half of the 8th century.
The “Book” establishes that there was a glimmer of light, even at the far reaches of the known world during the Dark Ages. It is the work of Irish monks working on the Scottish Island of Iona. To avoid Viking raids, the manuscripts were taken to an Irish monastery at Kells in 806 A.D. until they were transferred to Trinity College in 1654.
Today the manuscripts are viewed in the treasury of the Old Library of Trinity College after an introductory exhibit which explains their history and the techniques used in creating the vellum, the writing and illuminating, and in binding.
Obviously, the books are carefully conserved, so you won’t be leafing through the volumes, but certain pages will be on display under glass. After the Treasury, you will walk through the large reading room of the Old Library (where there are stacks and stacks of old books) before being ushered out through the gift shop—of course.
5. Chester Beatty Library Although most people think of the Book of Kells as the illuminated manuscript exhibit “must see” in Dublin, we were more impressed by the collection of manuscripts in the Chester Beatty Library.
Chester Beatty was a New Yorker who became Ireland’s first honorary citizen in 1957. This library houses his impressive collection of Christian, Islamic and Asian manuscripts and texts along with some objets d’art. The collection is beautifully displayed and curated and includes the oldest surviving copy of Paul’s letter to the Romans, dating from c. 180-200 A.D., which is written on papyrus.
This library is located next to the Dublin Castle. (We didn’t do an official tour of Dublin Castle which served as the seat of the British administration of Ireland until independence.)
6. Historical Walking Tour This tour starts at the entrance to Trinity College. The tour guides are history graduates of the College.
Our tour guide was a young woman who was a newly minted Ph.D. She wrote her doctoral thesis on medieval Dublin. (When not guiding, she waitresses–depressing).
Our tour group had only four people, we and two native Dubliner brothers. (Kind of like Philadelphians finally getting around to visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell).
The tour is supposed to last for two hours, but we stayed together for three hours, the last hour spent chatting about all things Irish on a sunlit bench in a park across from the Dublin Castle.
7. National Museum of Archaeology and History: Before even mentioning the exhibits, I was impressed by the architecture of this museum which opened in 1890.
This museum is part of a complex of buildings that also includes the next door Oireachta (do not ask me to pronounce this), the bicameral legislature of the Republic of Ireland.
The museum has exhibits containing artifacts and narrative covering Irish history from Stone Age Ireland up through the Celts, the Vikings, the Anglo-Normans and the fight for the Irish Free State established in 1922.
Perhaps the most
disturbing interesting of the exhibits are the well preserved 2,000 year old human bodies (and pieces of bodies) recovered from what were once bogs. It is thought that they were sacrificed as they were found with caches of other items that would have been considered valuables back in the day.
The National Museum also has two other branches: Natural History and Decorative Arts and History which are housed in separate buildings.
8. Georgian House Museum: #29 Lower Fitzwilliam Street built in 1790. The houses in the Saint Stephen’s Green area are in the Georgian style of architecture.
This museum home is decorated in the style of a “middle class” family of the era. (Maybe not the 1%, but probably upper middle class.). The home is entered through what would have been the downstairs servants’ entrance. After viewing a 15 minute video about life in the house told from the point of view of a scullery maid, there is a half hour guided tour with more information and insight into the life of the upstairs family.
9. Grafton Street Shopping: I’m not much of a shopper, but if you are, this pedestrian shopping street is a must visit.
The street starts (or ends) at Saint Stephen’s Green and is many blocks of department size stores and individual retailers. You can find the usual international suspects like Zara and I admit to indulging in one frappacino at Starbucks on an unusually warm day.Even if you intend to keep your euro in your pocket, Grafton Street is worth a stroll to sample the street musicians, and the pubs and restaurants on intersecting side streets. At the opposite end, one can find the statue of Molly Malone, also known as “the tart with a cart” for reasons that will be obvious.The restored Temple Bar section of Dublin, Ireland.
10. The Temple Bar: This cobble stoned area of central Dublin adjacent to the south side of the River Liffey, does not have just one bar. It has many, many bars. Actually, the “bar” referred to in the name is a reference to a loading “bar” (dock) along the river, but thinking about the kind of bar where people imbibe would certainly capture the essence of the place.
This once down on its luck skid row has been reclaimed as a cultural area, but at night, apparently the main activity is drinking, with some music masking total degeneracy. Not surprisingly, Mr. and Mrs. Excitement, did not hang in this area after dark.
11. The Parks: Central Dublin provides nice parks for meandering or sitting on a park bench to rest museum feet.
Saint Stephen’s Green: As our hotel, Premier Suites Dublin, was half a block from Saint Stephen’s Green, we passed through this 22 acre green oasis, complete with water features, several times a day.
Merrion Square: This square was laid out in 1762 as a private square for the elegant Georgian town homes that surround it. Today, it’s open to the public.
Phoenix Park: Our Hop On-Hop Off bus did a swing through this expansive urban park. If we had more time, we would have enjoyed renting bicycles to tour the park which contains the Dublin Zoo, a formal garden, a restored 15th century tower house and museum, various monuments, the residence of the American ambassador and the residence of the President of the Irish Republic—which looks a lot like the home of the president of another country.
Once you have had you fill of urban sightseeing, there are many sightseeing day trips you can take using your visit to Dublin as your base to tour the surrounding countryside.