When I (Meaghan) was 16, I was desperate to get out and explore the world. Europe was calling my name, I just needed to figure out how to get there. Not to date myself too much, but the internet was still dial up and I took a painfully slow couple of weeks to research how I could get to Europe (without my parents). Inspiration took hold when I came across a summer school that offered programs throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. How could my parents say no to a teenager wanting to go to school in the summer?! I eagerly ordered a brochure, and waited patiently for it to arrive. My first pitch to spend the summer in Amsterdam was quickly shot down, however a compromise was stuck to spend the summer in Dublin studying Irish History and Culture. With family friends near by, my parents felt safe enough to let go off alone at the age of 17, and I was getting my wish a summer aboard to explore Dublin alone.
Perhaps there is a certain love for a city that can only be developed at 17 years old, but that summer I fell madly, deeply, truly in love with Dublin. And every time I’ve returned since there is a magic along the cobblestone streets of the city centre and the stunning coastline that captivates me and simply makes my heart happy.
When it comes to capital cities, Dublin is relatively small. What it lacks in size it makes up for in reputation. Dublin is an eclectic mix of history, culture, and debauchery. While much has changed since my first visit almost 20 years ago (thank you Celtic Tiger), I initially described Dublin as having a “dirty charm”. Underlying the new glamour and shiny buildings of Dublin that “dirty charm” personality still resides as the lifeblood of the city and its’ residents. It allows for an unpretentious welcome for visitors that will make you feel at home.
Whether you are looking for fun, to explore the history of Ireland, or to experience Irish culture or the great outdoors – there are so many things to do in Dublin! Here are a few of my favourite spots to explore.
Are You Interested in History?
The history of Dublin extends back to 6th century. The first known settlement was Áth Cliath, which took its name from a major ford across the tidal River Liffey. A monastery Duiblinn (Irish for ‘blackpool’) was founded due south of the tidal pool in the River Poddle, a tributary of the Liffey on the south bank. By the 8th Duiblinn became known as Dyflinn a viking settlement, and for a time it was the largest viking settlement in the world.
Come the Anglo-Norman invasion, Dublin became the capital of the English Lordship of Ireland from 1171 onwards and was populated extensively with settlers from England and Wales. For most of the history of the British Empire, Dublin remained the second largest city next to London.
With a rich history, Dublin is home to many of the nations important historical artifacts and significant architecture. Two not to be missed attractions are the Book of Kells and the newly opened Irish Emigration Museum.
Book of Kells
The Book of Kells resides in the 18th century Old Library at Trinity College. Truly this artistic literary masterpiece should be first on the list for all visitors to Dublin. Written around the year 800 AD, the Book of Kells contains a richly decorated copy of the four gospels in a Latin text.
The Irish Emigration Museum
Ireland’s newest Museum, The Irish Emigration Museum (EPIC), is situated in one of Dublin’s most historic areas. The Dockland’s area of Dublin has been a constant hub of activity in the city since the Vikings inhabited the city. EPIC leads visitors not only through the history of Ireland, but tells the story of how the Irish have influenced the world. This interactive museum also allows visitors to explore their own family history through the Irish Family History Centre. It is a unique experience that is not to be missed.
Are You Looking For Fun?
Strike the right balance in Dublin with a little bit of fun and enjoyment of the famous Irish hospitality! From lively pubs, restaurants serving local fare, animated buskers and plenty of festivals – there is something for everyone.
There is so much more to Grafton Street then shopping, making it an ideal spot to start your hunt for fun in Dublin! To prep yourself, a must stop is the newly renovated Bewley’s Cafe for a traditional cup of tea and sweet treat.
Traditionally Grafton Street is home to the famous Molly Malone statue, however, due to construction work she has been relocated to just a short walk away on Suffolk Street outside of the Central Tourist Office in St. Andrew’s Church. You won’t want to miss out on a photo with Dublin’s most famous lass!!
The Temple Bar district is considered the hub Dublin’s historical and cultural activities. The area is an interesting patchwork of architecture, from medieval to modern. Historically it was redeveloped in the 1600’s for British families and then again in the late 20th century to become the vibrant spot in the city filled with pubs and restaurants.
Temple Bar is filled with bustling cafes, and restaurants; walking through Temple Bar you will often hear live music wafting out of the pubs. It also plays home to Trad Fest every January, which is Ireland’s largest festival of traditional music.
Seeking To Get Outdoors?
While the weather in Ireland may be unpredictable, when the sun is shinning you will definitely want to get outdoors!
St. Stephen’s Green
If you are based in City Centre an easy way to get outside and enjoy the beauty of Dublin is to spend an afternoon in St. Stephen’s Green. We highly recommend collecting a picnic lunch from a cafe on Grafton Street, and enjoy an al fresco lunch in the park. Perhaps read the works of Yeats or Joyce to complete your Dublin experience!
St. Stephen’s Green has a long history, stretching back to the 16th century. The park as we know it today was a gift to the people of Dublin from Sir Arthur Guinness, who purchased the park and set about landscaping the Green, while ensuring a municipal act was put in place to ensure the Green would remain open to the public, accessible to all.
“The picture is a truly delightful one and cannot fail to impress every visitor to the Green with the incalculable benefits which such an oasis must bestow on the city and its people.”
– The Daily Express, 28th July 1880.
Take the time to explore the statues in the Green, include the Wolfe Tone statue which is one on Dublin’s new ‘talking statues‘. A new initiative that brings history and the statues alive to tell their stories. There are 10 talking statues around the City Centre.
Dublin Bay Cruise
A unique way to get perspective of the a city, is to view the city from the water. Whenever I visit a new city, I love to talk a harbour cruise if possible.
On a sunny day, a Dublin Bay cruise is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon. A Dublin Bay cruise will reveal the beautiful landscape of the Dublin Mountains, Dalkey Island, Joyce’s Martello Tower, and the Baily Lighthouse.
Want To Experience The Culture?
Above all else, Dublin is a city of culture. In fact Dublin was the European City of Culture in 1991 (click the link for a New York Times article on the 1991 celebration) and narrowly lost out to Galway to hold the honour again in 2020.
There is so much we could have included for cultural recommendations! Here are our favourite two.
Irish Museum of Modern Art
It could be the juxtaposition between the classic architecture of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, with formal gardens and impeccable lawns, and the modern and contemporary art housed within the Irish Museum of Modern Art – but I find this museum fascinating.
The presentation of the permeant and touring exhibitions has always been thought provoking and interesting. The Museum is youthful and vibrant, while housed in an iconic landmark. It represents the best of old and new Dublin.
The Museum is easily accessible by bus and tram, a short distance from the City Centre. It is also located a short distance from the Guinness Storehouse.
A visit to the Guinness Storehouse is all about getting to know Ireland’s most iconic brand that is interwoven in modern Irish culture.
There is a reason the Storehouse is Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction.
Through 7 floors, the inactive displays journey visitors through the brewing history of Guinness fused together with Ireland’s history.
At the end of the tour, visitors are rewarded with a pint and the most amazing 360 degree view of Dublin.
There is certainly something for everyone in Dublin. We hope you’ve enjoyed our 8 things to do and see in Dublin! And perhaps feel inspired to plan your Dublin getaway!
What To See:
- Trinity College and College Green
- Little Museum of Dublin
- National Gallery of Ireland
- The General Post Office
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral
If you plan to take in numerous attractions, then we would recommend you consider the Dublin Pass, which will offer free attraction, public transportation and fast track entry to many exhibits – which during busy tourist season is a huge benefit!
Where To Stay:
A great option to explore Dublin is the centrally located O’Callaghan Stephen’s Green Hotel. We’ve stayed there (not an ad!) and can highly recommend!
Direct flights from most North American and European cities, connect Dublin to the world. While there is no rail line from the airport to the city centre, there are several affordable and efficient bus options.
Dublin also makes a great starting point for your Irish vacation!
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