Top picks for a trip to Dublin: sights and sounds

Recently, I’ve had a few friends refer their friends to me to get tips on what to do in Dublin while on vacation.  I generally like to get a feel for what the particular people are into, but there are some standard recommendations I make that I think will appeal to just about anyone.  Not an exhaustive list, but some of my personal favorites.

Cultural sights:

  • Guinness Storehouse – While this tour has some interesting tidbits on the history and production of one the most iconic beers in the world, the best part is at the end when you grab your pint in the Gravity Bar.  You’ll get a perfect pour to enjoy while gazing at the great 360° views of Dublin which are a nice introduction to the city.  One of my “you have to say you’ve been there” places.
  • The James Joyce Centre – Keeping with the theme of Irish icons, Joyce is certainly one of the writing world’s most famous.  I loved Dubliners but admittedly drifted away from Portrait of the Artist when I encountered strange talk of moocows and a baby named tuckoo.  But literary tastes aside, this museum has really interesting exhibitions (both permanent and visiting) that any book and/or history lover will appreciate.
Having the chats with another Irish great, Mr. Wilde
  • Kilmainham Gaol – This jail turned museum played an important role in Ireland’s history both during and after 800 years of English occupation.  Many rebellion leaders were held here, some subsequently executed on site, with the major players in the 1916 Easter Rising being most strongly associated with it.  One of my favorite Irish rebel songs, Grace, first heard in a pub in Derry, starts off as thus:

“As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Jail 
I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we’ve failed 
From our schooldays they have told us we must yearn for liberty 
Yet all I want in this dark place is to have you here with me”

My first visit to Kilmainham in 2010
  • National Library of Ireland’s Photo Detectives – I saw an ad for this exhibition on the back of a Dublin bus and told myself I’d find time to go.  It wasn’t until my mom was visiting and we were going on my usual walk-through of Temple Bar that I spotted it.  We decided to check it out and were not disappointed.  The NLI started a project posting photos of unknown people and places on Flickr where a community of “photo detectives” got to work on identifying the missing information.  Some knew the people in the photos themselves while others used fantastic research skills to track them or the locations down.  Some very cool stories are told through the pictures and give you a great look into Ireland’s socio-cultural past.
  • Sandemans Free Dublin Walking Tour – Get a nice overview of the major sights in the city center along with interesting historical points.  I’ve been on this tour twice now and for being free, it is very high quality.  Make sure you’ve got comfortable shoes on as it lasts an average of three hours.  Don’t forget to tip your guide!

Catch some trad tunes

  • The Cobblestone – A solid pub for a session and my favorite place to take guests due to the cozy, traditional feel and steady stream of talented local musicians.  I took my mom here on her 2018 visit and she loved it.
  • The Church Bar – I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again and again: the acoustics here are on point.  I wouldn’t expect anything less from a converted church.  Live music every Wednesday through Sunday from 7 pm.
church bar
Interior of The Church courtesy of Dublin Town
  • The Celt – My sister-in-law and I packed ourselves into this small venue on Talbot Street after a day spent up in Howth in 2016.  Great tunes and atmosphere.  Music seven nights a week.

**A note on the Temple Bar area: If you’ve done any research into your trip, you’ve probably come across the Temple Bar area and thought, “hey, that looks pretty cool.  Live music in traditional bars.”  While the brightly painted pubs and store-fronts seem tempting, my recommendation is to spend very little time there.  There’s not much traditional about it – it’s essentially a tourist trap.  I usually like to walk my guests through the area, let them snap a few pics, maybe pop into one of the more “famous” pubs for an overpriced pint, then swiftly exit to someplace more local.  It’s one of those places you have to say you’ve been.  Granted, the first time I came to Dublin in 2010, I had the craic there big time with some new friends from the hostel.  But I was also 22.  Enough said.

Green spaces

Weather permitting (this is precarious in Ireland), a stroll through Dublin’s public green spaces is a nice way to enjoy the outdoors within the confines of a city.  If it’s a particularly nice day, find your way to a Tesco grocery store to pick up a meal deal (boxed sandwich, bag of crisps, and a drink for 3.50) and have a little picnic in the park.

  • Phoenix Park – Home to a surprising amount of wildlife, there is ample space to explore and quiet nooks to enjoy a snack or a book.
    • Located nearby: Dublin Zoo, Kilmainham Gaol, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Heuston Station (should you fancy a trip out of town)
  • St. Stephen’s Green – In the heart of Dublin city center, this compact park offers a bit of solitude from the buzz of the surrounding streets.
    • Located nearby: Grafton Street (shopping, also mentioned in Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl which was hilariously critiqued by the internet here), Gaiety Theatre, National Museum of Ireland’s Archaeology and Natural History museums, National Gallery of Ireland, National Library of Ireland, Trinity College
Amazing drone shot of Stephen’s Green courtesy of Falco Ermert on Flickr

Getting around

Dublin is a great, compact little city with plenty to see and do.  I prefer the ol’ heel-toe express as a means to getting around but Dublin Bus (the handy app shows real time arrival info) and Luas (tram line) connect most parts of the city to the center.  I recommend picking up a temporary Leap Visitor Card while you’re in Dublin.  It’s easier than awkwardly fumbling around for exact change; simply tap your card on the bus or at the Luas stop.  The card works for:

  • Dublin Bus
  • Luas
  • DART – train trips to north and south County Dublin
  • Airlink – bus to the airport

Seen all there is to see?

Consider some day trips out of Dublin.  An article I wrote for Matador Network has some ideas to explore –> 6 awesome day trips from Dublin

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