There is no shortage of interesting places to explore in Dublin. From castles to Guinness Storehouse tours, the Irish capital is full of entertaining stops. But some of the best cultural experiences that Dublin has to offer are inside the city’s impressive roster of museums. Step into the 10 best museums in Dublin to discover award-winning exhibits, mummies, a hurling Hall of Fame, a fearsome prison, and much more.
Hugh Lane Gallery
Dublin’s city gallery just off O’Connell street is a central option for art lovers. The collection was founded by Hugh Lane, who was born in County Cork but made his fortune as an art dealer in London. Lane established one of the first modern art galleries in the world in 1908, and his collection (which included Degas, Manet, and Renoir) eventually passed to the city. The lovely gallery is free to visit and full of an impressive mix of internationally renowned masters as well as Irish-born artists. The highlight, however, is Francis Bacon’s studio. His painting workshop was disassembled and shipped from London to Dublin after his death only to be fully reconstructed inside the Hugh Lane gallery—complete with the champagne bottles he tossed in the corner while painting one day.
Chester Beatty Library
Many of Dublin’s museums focus on Irish history or culture, but the lovely Chester Beatty Library has international collections of art and artifacts that offer a glimpse at global wonders. Best of all, the celebrated museum is absolutely free to visit. Set inside the gardens of Dublin Castle, the library and art exhibitions are considered some of the best in Ireland. Browse through the impressive archives of Islamic art and rare manuscripts or explore the East Asian collection. Beatty was an American by birth and made his fortune in the mining sector. He became an honorary Irish citizen in 1957 and eventually left most of his extensive collections to a board of trustees in Dublin. Though he died in 1968, the Chester Beatty Library only opened in 2000. It was quickly recognized as one of the best museums in Dublin and voted European Museum of the Year in 2002.
Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA)
The National Gallery of Ireland houses the country’s most important classical art collection, but for more contemporary exhibits it is the Irish Museum of Modern Art that wins out. The collection of 3,000 modern Irish and international works is housed inside the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, which dates back to 1684. Most of the art inside the 17th-century building was produced after 1940, including pieces by Joseph Cornell and Roy Lichtenstein. In addition to these globally recognized names, the museum dedicates most of its funds to acquiring pieces by Irish contemporary artists. The museum is free to visit and found slightly outside the center of Dublin, but the straightforward trip is easy to combine with a visit to Kilmainham Gaol.
Little Museum of Dublin
Located inside one of the 18th-century Georgian houses that gives St. Stephen’s Green its frozen-in-time air, the Little Museum tells the story of Dublin City. The museum, which opened in late 2011, has quickly become a beloved stop to learn about the history of Dublin and the people who call the capital home. The Little Museum can only be visited via a guided tour, which will walk visitors through the townhome filled with more than 5,000 Dublin artifacts. Before heading back out into the city, pop down to the basement for a coffee and a light meal at Hatch & Sons Irish Kitchen.
The Science Gallery
Scientific debates usually take place between the pages of academic journals, but the Science Gallery at Trinity College helps bring the issues to life for visitors of all ages. The cutting-edge exhibits touch on human perception, biomimicry, and the future of technology in the workplace. Best of all, the interactive exhibits help to include the public in ongoing scientific research. The landmark venue also plays host to talks by visiting lectures and is the setting for TEDxDublin.
Dublin Writers Museum
From poets to fiction writers, tiny Ireland has a huge literary tradition and has birthed four Nobel Prize winners. Some of the country’s most beloved authors are honored at the Dublin Writers Museum on Parnell Square. The museum is spread over several floors inside an 18th-century mansion, which makes for an impressive setting for exhibitions on Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, and Beckett, among others. There is a room dedicated to children’s literature, as well as space that is regularly used for literary readings. Between the books and historical exhibits, you will also find impressive oil portraits of Irish writers by celebrated artists.
Kilmainham Gaol (jail) opened its doors in 1796 and the bleak prison soon developed a reputation for overcrowding and poor conditions. Men, women, and children were all incarcerated in British-run Kilmainham Gaol, but the most famous prisoners over the more than 200 years of operation were the Irish Revolutionaries who fought for an independent Ireland. The gaol was decommissioned in 1924, soon after Irish independence, and is now one of the largest unused jails in Europe. Guided tours of the imposing structure and its old cells are now available and there is also a museum dedicated to Irish Nationalism on site. Kilmainham Gaol is a short taxi or bus ride from the center of Dublin and worth the trip to learn about the revolutionary side of Irish history.
National Museum of Ireland—Natural History
Ireland’s Natural History Museum is affectionately nicknamed the Dead Zoo thanks to its extensive exhibits of taxidermy animals. Housed on Merrion Square, the National History Museum is one of the most impressive branches of the National Museum of Ireland. The collections span from geology to zoology, with an emphasis on the natural wonders found on the Emerald Isle, as well as an exhibit on “Mammals of the World.” In addition to showcasing historical flora and fauna, the exhibits aim to educate visitors about modern-day threats to Irish wildlife. This Dublin Museum is always a hit with kids and is free to visit.
National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology
Find mummified bog bodies and even Viking artifacts at the Archaeology Museum on Dublin’s Kildare Street. The museum is brimming with unique historical objects found in Ireland, as well as archaeological treasures from abroad. For those drawn to all that glitters, the museum houses one of the most important collections of prehistoric gold in Europe. Special exhibits also provide an excellent introduction to some of Ireland's top sights, including the Hill of Tara. Admission is free, as is entrance to the three other branches of the National Museum of Ireland (Natural History, Decorative Arts, and Country Life).
Get a look inside the Irish psyche with a visit to the GAA Museum at Croke Park. GAA, short for Gaelic Athletic Association, celebrates the native Irish sports of hurling and Gaelic football. The museum, located at the Dublin stadium where major matches are held, looks at the ancient origins of the sports (which remain little known outside of the Emerald Isle). The unique Dublin museum also boasts a Hall and Fame, and an interactive games area so visitors can test their GAA skills. Entry is free with a ticket to a game, but it is also to possible to visit and to even take a tour of the park during the offseason.