Saint Patrick’s Cathedral has been part of the fabric of Dublin city life for over 800 years and this long history has included plenty of twists and turns as the church evolved from a small parish into the national cathedral of Ireland. Today, it is one of the best examples of medieval architecture still standing in the Irish capital.
The cathedral should be a stop on any trip to Dublin, for both its historical significance and its continuing cultural contributions to Dublin life, including the daily choir concerts.
Ready to plan your visit? Here is the complete guide to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is founded on the spot where St. Patrick himself is believed to have baptized the first Irish believers into the Christian faith. The sacred well which St. Patrick used has been lost, but the Cathedral was built in the area where the conversions are believed to have taken place.
The first church was constructed here in the 5th century but Saint Patrick’s as it stands now was built between 1191 and 1270. In 1311, the Medieval College of Dublin was founded here and the church began a place of higher education as well as a place of worship.
By the 16th century, however, Saint Patrick’s fell into disrepair following the English Reformation – when the Church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. In 1537, St. Patrick’s became designated as an Anglican Church of Ireland and it remains a part of the Church of Ireland to this day.
Repairs began in the 1660s and continued in phases over the following decades to save the cathedral from falling into complete ruin.
As its status grew, it began to rival Christ Church Cathedral in importance. This is where the history of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral takes a bit of a complicated turn in term of church definitions. The current cathedral building is often hailed as one of the best examples of medieval architecture in Dublin, however, it is only fair to point out that the structure went through a massive rebuild in the 1860s, mainly financed by money from the Guinness family.
As one of Dublin's two Church of Ireland cathedrals, St. Patrick's is actually designated as the "National Cathedral of Ireland." However, St. Patrick’s Cathedral lacks the one thing that usually makes a church a cathedral – a bishop. The Archbishop of Dublin actually has his seat at Christ Church Cathedral, which is the official Cathedral of Dublin. St. Patrick’s is instead headed by a dean.
The cathedral is now used in some Irish state events, including the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies.
What to See
Saint Patrick’s is the largest (and the tallest) cathedral in Ireland and there is plenty to see when you visit the church. The best-known thing to see inside the cathedral is the tomb of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. The famed writer was once dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and is buried inside next to his beloved Stella (Ester Johnson).
During the school year, there are daily concerts in the Cathedral which you can time to be a part of your visit. It is always best to check the calendar of events online, but the Sung Martins usually take place at 9 am Monday through Friday, with an evening choral concert held on the weekdays at 5:30 pm.
There are also several smaller points of interest scattered throughout the cathedral, including by hundreds of memorial plaques, busts, and monuments. The most impressive belongs to the Boyle Family Tomb from the 17th century. Smaller mementos are dedicated to Turlough O'Carolan (the famous blind harpist) and Douglas Hyde (the first President of Ireland).
Be sure not to miss another unusual monument: a door with a hole, which is where Lord Kildare literally risked his arm to shake hands with his enemy Lord Ormonde. Fun fact: this is where we get the saying “to chance your arm” from.
If you wander outside, the well where St. Patrick is believed to have performed baptisms has been lost, but there is a stone commemorating the holy spot in the cathedral’s garden.
How to Visit
St. Patrick's as one of the top sights of Dublin and lies on edge of the city center. It can feel a bit off the beaten path because it is set in an older residential area, but it is quite easy to reach by public transportation, on foot (from Temple Bar) or as part of an organized tour. The nearest bus stop is Patrick’s Street which is on the 150, 151, 49, and 77 bus routes.
The beautiful church has a ticketing system, and you can buy tickets when you arrive or online in advance (with the online tickets saving you about €0.50 on an adult entry). Regular adult tickets are €8 each and tours are available at no extra cost at various times throughout the day.
There are extended hours during summer, but these are subject to change based on the season and holidays. The best place for information on current opening times, admission prices, and special events is the Saint Patrick's Cathedral website. The church website also lists service times for each day of the week, in case you wish to worship there. The ticket price applies to casual visitors wishing to sightsee but it is free to worship inside the cathedral.
What Else to Do Nearby
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is set close to Christ Church Cathedral, the church which serves as the official Cathedral of Dublin.
Saint Patrick’s is not too far from Temple Bar, and you can walk to the buzzing area if you have time. Temple Bar can be an entertaining place for lunch, shopping for artistic souvenirs, or an evening of live music after the quieter choir concerts at the cathedral.
St. Stephen’s Green is also only about a 10-minute walk away and offers a peaceful green retreat in the center of Dublin. A bit further beyond the park, you will find the National Museums which cover everything from art to archeology.