The cool and drizzly April weather always leaves me waxing nostalgic for my travels in Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is a destination full of friendly people, rich history, great architecture and gorgeous scenes. Its attractions are many and range from points of natural beauty in the country to vibrant shopping & nightlife in Dublin. Because of the great number of people (some estimates are up to 1.5 million) who fled Ireland during the great famine, many Americans (like me) have Irish ancestors. If you claim Irish heritage, or if you’re only Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll no doubt enjoy the many fun features Dublin has to offer. Read on to learn the top ten attractions in my Dublin, Ireland City Guide.
Assuming you are traveling to Europe from America, you’ll most likely depart from an East Coast airport which puts your flight somewhere around 6-7 hours. During this time, I strongly recommend that you try and sleep, as you will be quite tired when you reach your destination. If you’re traveling on to other destinations abroad after a stop in Dublin (as I was) you’ll want to take special care that you’re well rested enough to enjoy your trip. After you get there, it’s also a good idea to try and remain awake until it’s time to sleep according to local time. This will help you better adjust and feel less jet lagged when you wake up on your first whole day in Ireland. Although you will likely be very tired, it’s better to push through your exhaustion when you first arrive rather than give in to sleep and end up on an unfortunate schedule which will impede your enjoyment of the vacation.
In Dublin, it’s easy to catch a taxi at the airport to your hotel. Be sure that you know what time your check in is. Some of the hotels in Ireland are different from what Americans are used to in that they aren’t always open and staffed. When I arrived at 6:30 a.m., local time, the taxi left me at my hotel, only for me to discover that no one was available to let me in. I walked around the campus of Trinity College for a few hours before there was an employee available to check me in. Luckily, my only luggage was a book bag which contained exactly one additional outfit, a couple of toiletries and my laptop. When traveling abroad, I highly recommend packing lightly, as you will be less encumbered by luggage as you vacation. Don’t worry about dirty clothes, there are laundry services readily available.
Trinity Lodge. The hotel is located inside several large Georgian style homes with en suite rooms and a complimentary breakfast served across the street from the main building. Its location is excellent, with Trinity College, Temple Bar and the world famous Grafton Street shopping area within walking distance. Some of the other hotels nearby (closer to the Temple Bar area) are rumored to have complaints of late night noise, but you needn’t worry because Trinity Lodge is on a very quiet street. Book your stay via their website.
Plan to arrive early in the day so that you have as much time to sightsee as possible, especially if you are spending only a short time in Dublin. On your first day, you can accomplish easy exploration by hopping on one of the many tour buses that venture around town. The bus circuit is perfect because you don’t need to spend too much energy walking, and you can hop off and back on the bus at several points or interest all around town. Plus, the trip will help you get your bearings so you are better prepared to navigate the city during your stay. Notable attractions are:
- Trinity College. Trinity College is a research university founded in 1592 and one of the 7 ancient universities of Britain and Ireland, as well as the oldest university in Ireland. The campus sprawls across 47 acres of land and is bisected by College Park, which has cricket and rugby pitch. If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a game, it’s very interesting to watch. Beside the gorgeous architecture and grounds, its imperative that you visit the stunning library which holds over 4.5 million volumes of significant manuscripts, maps and music. Exclusive to the Trinity College Library is the Book of Kells, a copy of the Gospels believed to have been written around the year 800 AD. You can buy tickets to view the text here.
- Patrick’s Cathedral. St. Patrick’s is the National Cathedral of Ireland, as well as the largest. The church is built on the site where St. Patrick first baptized people into Christianity in 450 AD, however, the first documentation of a formal church was not until the year 890. There’s a wealth of information available online where you can learn more about its history and its current worship schedule. Definitely a must see. Visit their incredible website to plan your tour.
- Christ Church Cathedral. The earliest manuscripts date Christ Church at its present location since about 1030. The site was believed to have originally been a Viking church which was probably subject to the archbishop of Canterbury. It was incorporated into the Irish church by 1152 and after about a decade it saw Lawrence O’Toole, famous archbishop installed. Over the years the church has been heavily remodeled, with its beautiful structure now featuring mainly Victorian influence. Click here to hear the church’s famous bells.
- Bars/ Restaurants. Dublin is a cosmopolitan city with a multitude of options for dining. A few suggestions:
- Lunch – A great place for a quick lunch is Alfie’s, located on South Williams Street. View their website for lunch and dinner options.
- Dinner – For a fun and casual dinner, The Banker’s Bar, near the Temple Bar area, offers fried fare. Its small town atmosphere will have you feeling like a local. The bartender will serve you and keep you entertained with conversation in what is said to be one of the last traditional Irish pubs. Click here to visit their website.
- Drinks – In addition to beer, whiskey is a popular libation in Ireland. Stop into The Dingle Whiskey Bar on Nassau Street for the perfect place to grab a drink and learn a bit about different types of Irish whiskey. For lively, authentic Irish music any day of the week, Oliver St. John Gogarty’s is a must. They serve food in addition to a variety of drinks, and their atmosphere is second to none.
- National Gallery. The National Gallery of Ireland was instituted in 1864 and since then has acquired a number of works by famous artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Monet, Vermeer, and many others. The free admission and worthwhile exhibitions make it a great place to duck out of the rain for a few hours. You’ emerge feeling refreshed, cultured and ready for more sightseeing.
- Dublin Castle. In addition to serving as a major tourist attraction, Dublin Castle is a government complex. Take a tour and learn the history of its establishment on a Viking settlement, to its installment as an English, then British, then Irish government headquarters. There’s a lot to learn at this fascinating stop.
- Kilmainham Gaol. An institution integral to the history of Ireland, Kilmainham Gaol is a place for which there is no adequately eloquent description – you simply must experience it. Its most notable prisoners were leaders of rebellions from the years 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916, as well as members of the Irish Republican Movement which occurred from 1919-1921. Many ordinary people were detained here as well. After visiting, the permeating, damp chill of the interior of the jail (due to its construction with limestone) will be etched into your memory.
- Guinness Storehouse. The Guinness Storehouse is the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland. Located at St. James’s Gate, it offers the best views of the city at its 360 degree rooftop view bar. In addition to learning the history of Guinness’ brew, you’ll receive training on how to pour the perfect pint.
- Grafton Street. Your trip to Dublin won’t be complete until you spend an afternoon wandering through the shops of Grafton Street. There are a range of establishments in which you can buy souvenirs, clothing, snacks, toiletries, toys, gifts, sports equipment, and just about anything you can imagine.
- The Irish Museum of Modern Art. Not only are the works of art on display inside the museum worthwhile, the gardens outside are too. Wander the grounds and be inspired as you take in all the beauty. Scheduling tip: the IMMA is near to Kilmainham Gaol, so plan to visit these two back to back.
Happy Traveling! Share your Dublin vacation story with me in the comments section below, or tag me on social @philippakarr.