A weekend in Dublin
Dublin City guide
Dublin is the capital city of Ireland and with the country's main airport will be the first taste of Ireland for most visitors. This Dublin city guide will put the building blocks in place to grapple with a bustling big town of a city.
Dublin doesn't offer the spectacular architecture or world famous attractions that Paris, Rome and London may do to their respective countries but it does act as an very good gateway to Ireland. A great nightlife, recognisable brands like Guinness calling it home, a smattering of nice buildings, fantastic side trips on the doorstep and a friendliness you wouldn't expect in a big city all go towards creating a good visitor experience.
Roughly split in two by the River Liffey, Dublin offers two fairly contrasting areas on either side. The southside boasts attractive Georgian architecture, including Trinity College, Christchurch Cathedral, the national museums, galleries and government buildings around St Stephens Green and, of course, the famous Temple Bar area. The north side is a little grittier and more claustrophobic and contains some of the city's more stand out, but largely off limits, buildings like the Four Courts, General Post Office (GPO) and Custom House. Then throw in main thoroughfare of O'Connell Street plus important amenities, like Connolly Rail Station and Croke Park Stadium for sports and big gigs.
Slightly further south from the city centre, beyond the Grand Canal, lies the hotel-heavy leafy suburb of Ballsbridge where you might find yourself staying. Towards the Liffey's estuary in the east is a renovated area of shiny corporate buildings, new apartment blocks and the 3 Arena which acts as the city's main music venue. Finally, on the western fringes of the city centre is the sprawling Guinness Brewery at St James Gate within the inner city Liberties area, the Jameson Distillery in the trendy Smithfield complex and the surprisingly scenic Kilmainham Gaol and Hospital.
On the face of it, beyond Guinness and Trinity College, it seems that there's not that much to do in terms of attractions in city. However this certainly isn't the case as you just need to think about what you want from your Dublin experience. After all, many of the attractions are all a little niche. They generally come in the form of alcohol, 1916, religious or national museum inspired visitor attractions.
The alcohol ones are easy. The Guinness Storehouse still leads the way with an interactive experience that brings in the crowds. Pull your own pint, sup a Guinness in the panoramic Sky Bar and splurge in the pilgrimage worthy gift shop in this Dublin must-visit. A word of warning though; try to stay out of this place during the weekends in May to September and over St Patrick's week as this place gets rammed and is less fun than a morning rush hour train commute.
For fans of the amber nectar, the newly remodelled Jameson Distillery Bow St. is a decent whiskey visitor centre if not a must see and the Teeling Distillery, Dublin's first working distillery in over 125 years, is a real success story and a fine visit. The more central Irish Whiskey Museum is also a better-than-it-sounds journey through the history of whiskey with a few samples along the way.
A food and drink guide to Dublin is for another day but it goes without saying that, as the most cosmopolitan city in Ireland, Dublin offers the biggest selection of cuisines and types of restaurants and bars. Most tourists make a beeline for Temple Bar, a popular area of bars one street back from the Liffey on the southside. We would always encourage trying this area as it's the place most likely to find live music, a good atmosphere and friends to make within seconds of arriving. Downsides though include sardine can bars, a lack of authenticity, an abundance of your own nationality and prices that start expensive and increase throughout the night. It's actually a surprisingly nice place to hang out during the day as the pubs are a little quieter, the streets are pleasant and there are normally street markets on in Temple Bar Square.
To find some great wining and dining options a good plan is to simply step a few streets to the south of Temple Bar to Dame Street, South Great George's Street and warren of streets from Dame Lane to Fade Street. To the west of the city centre, en-route to the Guinness Storehouse, the Brazen Head Pub, Dublin's oldest pub is more touristy than a tourist information centre but the warren of intimate rooms will charm the socks off you.
1916 was a very important in Ireland and in particular Dublin. It was the year of the Easter Rising when a failed uprising against British rule galvanised the Irish independence movement after the leaders were brutally executed en-masse. Following on from the 100 year anniversary of this significant event there's a number of good attractions that have popped up around the city.
At the top of the list is Kilmainham Gaol which gives an interesting Victorian prison experience as well as an account of the last days of the 1916 leaders before their executions at the jail. Be sure to book online as it does fill up and it's a little too far out of the dead centre to just hit and hope.
Smaller and lesser known for now are the GPO Museum - a major location during the rebellion which has the perfect video explainer of the battle that raged on Dublin's streets - and Glasnevin Cemetery, a surprisingly pretty attraction where a tour takes you through Dublin's struggle for independence through the famous internees of the cemetery.
For those wanting to hit up less political history - without spending a cent - there is the archaeology and natural history (more for kids) sites of the National Museum of Ireland plus the National Library and National Gallery of Ireland all within a zone of knowledge between the two very sittable urban parks of St Stephen's Green and Merrion Square. On the north side lies one of our favourite new museums - EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. This super (so excited I used a 'super') interactive museum brings the Irish diaspora to life by looking at how the Irish have inspired culture, music, politics, sport and everything else in the modern world.
With three cathedrals - St Patrick's, Christchurch and St Mary's - Dublin is not wanting for religious sites. St Patrick's is the national cathedral of Ireland, impressive inside and out, is also adjacent to a pleasant park. Christchurch Cathedral is our favourite in terms of the exterior and is joined on to Dublinia, a museum all about Dublin's Viking roots. If visiting around lunchtime there will usually be a lunchtime recital at at least one of these two. Aside from the cathedrals, the stand out religious visit might even be St Michan's Church, an old church with well-preserved remains of bodies in it's atmospheric crypt. A good addition to Jameson Bow St. if in the area.
Finally for religion there's the Book of Kells at Trinity College. This truly impressive 9th century artefact shares an exhibition with the Old Library which manages to so some serious thunder stealing. Another visit whose popularity has led to overcrowding so make sure that you really want to go before queuing up.
If you've a couple of days in Dublin and the weather is nice, there is a number of excellent daytrips which are especially recommended if you're not moving on to tour the island. It's likely that on your Dublin leg you won't yet have a car but most of these are easily reached by public transport.
The complete daytrip is to the fishing village of Howth. Easily located on the DART line just north-east of Dublin and on the Castles and Coast red bus tour, it can easily be accessed without breaking the bank on an organised daytrip. The village of Howth is a working harbour ringed by an enviable selection of restaurants and cafes. Try out the fish and chip institutions of Leo Burdocks or Beshoff Bros or go for one of the many independent eateries. A Howth must is a walk around the Howth Peninsula, a pretty yellow gorse-lined route that looks out onto the Bailly Lighthouse and beyond.
At the end of the northern DART line is the affluent town of Malahide which offers a decent castle and grounds and town full of pubs and restaurants. Further north is the town of Skerries where two good beaches, an incredibly lively harbour (lively thanks to the locals spilling out of the bars) and the much queued-for Storm in a Teacup ice cream hut are more than enough reasons to make the 40 minute journey by train.
We might be biased towards north Dublin but the south also has a lovely seaside areas in Dun Laoghaire and Dalkey. Also to the south is the Glendalough lakes and monastic site in the Wicklow Mountains. Next to two lakes lie significant monastic ruins in picture perfect surroundings. After visiting the ruins (free or paying with the visitor centre), take a walk around Upper Glendalough on a number of stunning walking routes. Without a car, Glendalough is only accessed by a not-nearly-frequent-enough bus service or by organised day tours which normally combine it with Kilkenny.
Finally, Dubliners love a trend. At the time of writing, if you enjoy eating burritos or fancily decorated doughnuts, getting your haircut for ridiculous prices and escaping from rooms then you're in luck.