When I think about Dublin (or Ireland), I think about the shamrock, and leprechauns, and sheep, and green meadows, and Guinness. And during my visit to the city, it was exactly what I saw everywhere! Guinness on the signboards; and shamrocks, leprechauns and sheep on ALL the souvenirs. Hard to think I’m anywhere else but in Ireland — what fantastic marketing, really!
I was in the United Kingdom for the summer to visit my brother and his family, and other than visiting some towns around the area (read about my visit to the Welsh town of Llandudno before heading to Dublin); I wanted to use the opportunity to tick off another country on my list. I was looking to head to somewhere near and affordable (due to time and budget constraints); and Dublin, I have to say, was the obvious and best choice. I’m really glad I chose to travel to the capital and largest city of Ireland, as it is a lovely, bustling and historically rich city — and only an hour away from Manchester by flight!
We arrived in Dublin via Ryan Air in the mid-afternoon. We spent almost 3 days exploring the city — and honestly, I really wished I had more time to take a road trip and visit the other cities around the republic. But 3 days was all I had — and I believe that I managed to see some of the best attractions in the city within that time, so here’s sharing with you my list of the top things to do in Dublin.
1) Dublin Castle
The site where the Dublin Castle now stands has a long history. The original castle was built in the 13th century, then rebuilt over the 17th to 20th centuries. Dublin Castle is now occasionally used for state receptions and presidential inaugurations; but parts of the castle are now open to the public. Visitors can either go on a self-guided tour for €8 (US$9) that only provides access to the State Apartments; or follow a 40-60 minutes guided tour for €12 (US$13.50) that includes visits to the Medieval section and the Chapel Royal. I followed a tour (which I always find insightful) and really enjoyed the visit deep down into the undercroft of the castle. The garden beside the castle is free to enter — and is the site of the Black Pool (called ‘Dubh Linn‘ in Gaelic) where the city got its name.
2) Christ Church Cathedral and Dublinia
Christ Church Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in Dublin, founded in the early 11th century. We got to admire its Gothic and Romanesque exterior and interior, visit the chapel where the heart of Saint Laurence O’Toole (Archbishop of Dublin in the 12th century) is enshrined, and enter the largest crypt in Ireland (and Britain) that showcases some of the cathedral’s treasures. There is a stone bridge at the west end of the cathedral that leads to its former Synod Hall. It now houses Dublinia, a living history museum on Dublin’s Viking and Medieval past using interactive exhibits, mannequins, recreations of scenes and buildings, and reenactments by costumed actors. Visitors are also allowed to climb up the old St Michael’s Tower that offers lovely views of the city. Combined tickets to both sites when I visited cost €14 (US$16) per adult (there was a €1 discount because a portion of Dublinia was closed for renovation).
3) Trinity College and the Book of Kells
The Trinity College of the University of Dublin is the most prestigious college in Ireland, established in 1592. The university is home to the Book of Kells, one of the oldest and most famous gospels in the world. Created in the 9th century, it is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels of the New Testament that is extravagantly illustrated and written in Latin. After walking through an area that details everything about the book, we got to view one page of the opened book that is kept in a glass case. One floor above is the Trinity College Library, a legal depository that keeps a copy of every Irish publication. The main draw here is the 65m Long Room — lined with marble busts of great men of our time, and filled with 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. You can also view the “Brian Boru Harp” — the oldest Irish harp from the 15th century. I’m glad I bought my tickets online as I got to beat the queue; and I could also select the best time to get the cheaper tickets. Entry per adult costs €11-€14 depending on time and date.
4) Temple Bar Area
The Temple Bar area is located in central Dublin, on the south side of the River Liffey. It is said to be the cultural quarter of the city, as it is home to many cultural institutions that include photography studios, film schools and institutes and art galleries. It’s also filled with souvenir shops! However, come dark — it transforms into a nightlife centre lined with buzzing restaurants, bars and clubs. The most photographed and most popular pub has got to be The Temple Bar Pub (because of its name and its bright red color) — but the area is not named after this pub. During my visit, I had dinner and drinks at The Quays Bar and Restaurant; and of course, a quick drop-by Hard Rock Dublin.
5) Guinness Storehouse
The Guinness Storehouse at the St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin was the one place I was looking forward to visiting the most. I love my stout, and I guess it’s just the thought of being at the very place where it started. The brewery was founded in 1759 by Arthur Guinness — but the attached Guinness Storehouse, which is the visitor centre showcasing the 250 years of Guinness history, was opened in 2000. The storehouse covers seven floors and is enormous; with so much attention to detail in providing the perfect Guinness experience — from the beer-making process, to its advertising, and even a tasting room. The Gravity Bar is located on the highest floor and offers visitors 360 degree views of Dublin, while enjoying a free pint of Guinness. Admission prices vary depending on timeslots and days, and can go up to €25 (US$28) — but I booked online and managed to secure tickets for €18.50 (US$21).
6) The Little Museum of Dublin
I absolutely loved the tour at The Little Museum of Dublin. This award-wining museum is located just opposite St Stephen’s Green in an 18th-century Georgian town house. Opened to the public since 2011, it showcases the history of the city in the 20th century. During our tour, we were brought on a 40-minute storytelling journey by our guide, Eamon — using all the antiques, pictures and memorabilia donated by the general public, in just 2 rooms. He told us hilarious tales, cracked some Irish jokes, and even sang us a song. After the tour, we were allowed to roam about the museum to admire the artefacts and photographs, and also visit the rock band U2‘s exhibit. Entrance to The Little Museum of Dublin cost €18 (US$9); inclusive of the timed tours.
7) Dublin’s Free Museums and Galleries
Dublin is home to some great museums… and best part of all, is that they are free! Within the center of Dublin, just a quick walk south of Trinity College or north of St Stephen’s Green are three of Dublin’s best ones — the National Museum of Ireland’s Archeology Museum and Natural History Museum, as well as the National Gallery of Ireland. During my visit, I had just enough time to visit one of these free museums, and I chose the Archeology Museum. I only had about an hour to explore the place; and honestly, I felt that I could have spent a lot more time if it had not been closing! Other free museums around Dublin include the National Museum of Ireland’s Decorative Arts and History Museum and the Country Life Museum; the National Library of Ireland; and the Chester Beatty Library.
8) Grafton Street
And then it’s time for some shopping! Grafton Street is one of the two main shopping streets in Dublin — and runs from College Green in the North to St Stephen’s Green in the South. During my visit, we started our walk along this bustling street from the north, after visiting the iconic Molly Malone Statue (it used to be on Grafton Street but has been relocated to Suffolk Street). Molly Malone is a character that is sung about in a popular song set in Dublin. Along Grafton Street, we passed by high-end shops, restaurants, department stores; and the occasional busker attracting a small crowd of listeners. At the southern end of the street, we dropped by the St Stephen’s Green Mall — and I have to say I was totally mesmerized by the pretty greenhouse-like interior of the mall. From there, it was onwards to the St Stephen’s Green, the largest public park in the city that opened in 1880.
9) Ha’Penny Bridge and the River Liffey
The Ha’penny Bridge is a white-colored cast iron pedestrian bridge over Dublin’s River Liffey (that flows through the centre of the city). Built in 1816, it was originally called Wellington Bridge; and then later officially renamed Liffey Bridge. However, the more significant name of Ha’penny is often used instead — derived from the half penny toll that was charged to anyone crossing the bridge when it was first constructed. The toll was only dropped more than 100 years later. The current Ha’penny Bridge was rebuilt from the original one in 2001, with further maintenance in 2012 (where love locks were removed from the bridge). It’s an iconic landmark of the city.
10) Eating in Dublin
And finally, the one thing not to be missed when is Dublin is the food and the drinks! This is one of the cities where you can see people drinking at all hours of the day; be it whisky or beer. After all, that’s what the city is known for. That being said, other than the drinks — I quite enjoyed some of the popular Irish dishes that I had while in Dublin. For the two mornings on my visit, I made sure I fed myself with a Full Irish Breakfast to start the day; and I had it at two cafes along Dame Street — the Queen of Tarts and Copper Alley Bistro.
However, my favorite meal while in Dublin has got to be the delicious Irish dishes of Coddle, Irish Stew and the Beef and Guinness Stew I had at The Quays Restaurant. Located on the first floor with a cozy wooden interior, I really felt like I living the whole Irish experience, especially while chugging down my mug of Guinness!