The Irish capital city may be small but it has plenty of sights, experiences, and activities to suit any taste and work with any budget. How much you can see and do often comes down to how much time you have to spend exploring. Luckily, many of Dublin’s must-see attractions are within easy reach of the city center—and even within walking distance—which leaves plenty of extra time for other essential Dublin activities including stops for pints and tea.
Walk the Halls of Dublin Castle
It might not live up to your fairytale expectations, but how many cities have their very own castle? Dublin Castle dates all the way back to Viking times, though that old fortress has since been expanded, renovated, torn down and rebuilt over the centuries. Most of the fortifications have disappeared and the castle is now mainly used for government offices. The main tower and the Royal Chapel still have a medieval look about them while all administrative buildings done up in more modern styles—adding to the mix of architectural influences which makes this one of the best castles in Ireland. Though many of the offices are closed to visitors, the beautiful gardens and impressive state rooms are a must-see on any visit to Dublin.
Visit the Guinness Storehouse for a Pint From the Source
Guinness goes with Dublin like milk and cookies. The famous Irish beer was born in the city and nowhere is the stout more the center of attention than at the Guinness Storehouse. Based at historic St James's Gate, the now touristy (but fun) Guinness factory is housed in part of the original brewery. A tour of the old storehouse will lead you through the history of the drink, how the beer is brewed and even teach you how to pour the perfect pint. However, the real highlight of the tour is the free pint in the stunning Gravity Bar, which offers some of the best views of the city.
Admire the Book of Kells
Dublin, and Trinity College, in particular, is home to one of the most important illuminated manuscripts in the world. Every page of the Book of Kells feels like a work of art—with its scrolled Latin script that records the Gospels and its elaborate decoration. The book dates back to 384 A.D. and was probably created by three different artists and four different scribes, all working together on a religious-themed masterpiece. No trip to the Irish capital is really complete without a pilgrimage to see the book, which is split into four volumes and housed in the university’s library. Because the 1,600-year-old pages are so delicate, there are usually only two volumes on display at any given time: one open to a page which shows the beautiful illustrations, and another open to demonstrate the way the script was written.
Stroll Down O'Connell Street and See the GPO
O'Connell Street is Dublin's main traffic artery with a central pedestrian area that is dominated by statues and monuments like the famous Spire. The largest and most impressive of the buildings which line the Dublin street is the General Post Office (GPO), scene of the 1916 rebellion. The GPO was faithfully rebuilt after being shelled by artillery and, in addition to being the head office for Ireland's postal service, now offers an entire museum dedicated to the 1916 Rising: the "GPO Witness History" in the basement.
Pay Homage to Saint Patrick's Cathedral
No visit to Dublin is complete without a stop in Ireland's largest church (and the National Cathedral). St. Patrick’s Cathedral was officially founded in 1191 by Archbishop Comyn, but most of the architecture that is visible today is a result of a huge renovation funded by a member of the Guinness family (yes, that Guinness) between 1844 and 1869. The result is an impressive neo-Gothic cathedral with some older details hidden away. Here you will also see the graves of Jonathan Swift (who wrote "Gulliver's Travels") and his beloved Stella.
Have a Night Out in Temple Bar
Over the years, Temple Bar has been an abandoned marshland, a well-to-do neighborhood, a scrubby artistic enclave, and finally Dublin’s premier nightlife destination. During the day, you may find street artists peddling homemade wares or typical Irish souvenirs in the small shops which line Dame Street and the surrounding lanes. However, the Temple Bar district is really known for its lively bar scene. The area is full of pubs, many of which have live music every day of the week. Temple Bar has rightly been accused of being a bit touristy and expensive but it is a fun spot for a few pints. Enjoy the jolly mood and leave before 10 p.m., when things have a tendency to go from cheerful to rowdy.
Get an Education at Trinity College
Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, Trinity College is still an unmissable part of the Dublin landscape well over 400 years later. The campus feels quiet and studious and the sounds of the and bustling city seem to disappear as soon as you walk through the gates onto College Green. Take a tour to really understand the history of the buildings and to learn more about everything that has been accomplished on the grounds. Then, peek inside Trinity College Library, which is home to more than a million books and some priceless manuscripts—including the "Book of Kells," which is a Dublin attraction in its own right.
Marvel at Christ Church
Christ Church Cathedral was built in 1030 and, with nearly 1,000 years of history, is the oldest building in Dublin. It is one of the best examples of medieval Dublin architecture and is the final resting place of Strongbow. The Cathedral became a part of the Church of Ireland in 1153 and is still the seat of the Church’s archbishop of Dublin. After admiring the 12th-century crypt, be sure to stick around to hear some of the cathedral’s 19 church bells ring away.
Pop Into a Pub for Live Music and a Pint
Is there anything more Irish than listening to a live session while sipping on a pint? Dublin is brimming with great pubs to suit any taste, and all stand at the ready to pull that pint of Guinness. Stop into O’Donoghue’s for vegetable soup with a side of live music, or make your way out to The Cobblestone, which describes itself as a “drinking pub with a music problem” and hosts traditional Trad sessions every night of the week.
Catch Your Breath in Phoenix Park
Located on the edge of the city, Phoenix Park is the world's largest enclosed municipal park with enough to keep the average visitor busy for days. Naturally, there are paths for strolling along the green hills, or working in a vacation run, but you will also find the magnificent residences of both the Irish President and the United States Ambassador to Ireland. After peeking through the imposing iron gates, keep exploring to find quaint cricket and polo fields, Ashtown Castle and even herds of deer roaming free. Phoenix Park is also home to Dublin Zoo, as well as numerous monuments and memorials.
Walk Across the Ha'Penny Bridge
Dublin is a city built along the Liffey and the river is a defining part of the Irish capital. Take in the scenery by waltzing across the iconic Ha’Penny Bridge. The cast-iron bridge is fully pedestrianized and can be found near the Temple Bar area. It takes its name for the halfpenny toll that used to be charged to walk across its planks and pretty scrolled railings. These days it is completely free and you may even find entertainment in the form of live musicians playing an Irish tune along the walkway. (And keep in mind that locals pronounce it as “hey-penny.”)
Shop on Grafton Street
Running between Stephen’s Green and the entrance to Trinity College, Grafton Street might be considered the true heart of Dublin. It is also rumored to be the only street in the city without a pub. Fear not—there are plenty of cozy pints to be had nearby, but Grafton Street is where to come to see lively street performers and buskers (musicians who play for tips), as well as to do a bit of shopping and take in the cheery atmosphere.
Get a Taste for History at the National Museum of Ireland
The city of Dublin has some of the best museums in Ireland, but one truly notable stop has to be the National Museum of Archaeology and History on Kildare Street (Dublin 2). The museum specializes in prehistoric and medieval Ireland (with some Egyptian artifacts thrown in for good measure). This is the best place to build an understanding of long-ago Irish history, catch a glimpse of bog bodies, as well as explore the entire wing dedicated to the Viking Age in Dublin, where models show what daily life would have been like. If you have more time, keep the exhibits coming with a trip to the National Museum dedicated to decorative arts and more recent history.
Eat Fish and Chips
For a truly greasy and totally satisfying meal, nothing can beat a trip to the “chipper” for fish and chips. Every local has their favorite spot for this iconic Irish supper, so arguing about the best fish and chips in Dublin is almost pointless. Decide for yourself by trying different versions from the likes of Beshoff Bros, Leo Burdock (who started frying fish way back in 1913), or The Lido (135a Pearse Street), which is popular with students thanks to its location a short walk from Trinity College. There is something universally appealing about fish and chips, but the mushy peas are optional.
Picnic in St. Stephen's Green
With the LUAS zipping along the tracks, double-decker buses whizzing by, and even a few horse-drawn carriages thrown in for good measure, there is a certain buzz about Dublin. This is especially true right off of Grafton Street, one of the main shopping areas in the city. Luckily, there is a green escape a few minutes inside St. Stephen’s Green. The small park is a tiny oasis in the center of the city, complete with swans and a duck pond. On mild days, take a sandwich with you for a picnic – but don’t be afraid to visit in rainy weather either. Regardless of the time of year, you can always walk through to see the famous statues and memorials to figures from Irish history.
Get an Art Fix at the Hugh Lane Gallery
Dublin has several world-class museums and quirky little exhibits, but one of the loveliest little museums to see is Dublin City’s own gallery, named the Hugh Lane Gallery. The free gallery is a quick walk from O’Connell street and even though it is central, it is almost always quiet. That means you will be able to admire works by Degas, Manet, and Renoir, without the hustle and bustle of the city crowds outside the door. The true highlight of the little museum, however, is the art studio of Irish painter Francis Bacon, which has been completely reconstructed inside the museum.
Go Georgian at Merrion Square
Now known for its government offices, Merrion Square is one of Dublin’s Merrion Square is also one of the best places to see Georgian architecture in Dublin. The brick townhomes that ring the square were built in the 1760s and have a classic style about them which hints at their aristocratic history. Oscar Wilde was born at No. 1 Merrion Square, and the poet W.B. Yeats lived at No. 82. Their houses aren’t open for visits, but any visitor can still walk by and take a photo of the famous doors. The colored entryways are so closely associated with the city that their images make for a perfect Dublin souvenir.
Get Spooked By the Mummies at St. Michan's
Dublin’s two main cathedrals (St. Patrick’s and Christ Church) are unmissable religious landmarks, but one of the more unique churches in Dublin is tiny, simple St. Michan’s on Halston Street on the north side of the city. The wood-lined chapel has a few interesting artifacts but most people admittedly visit for the mummies. A small, short tour will lead you under the church where the mummified 17th remains of influential Dubliner’s can be seen in five small burial vaults, along with the desk mask of famed rebel leader Wolfe Tone.
Stop for Tea
Some people say that you haven’t seen Dublin until you have had tea at The Shelbourne. The capital’s most famous hotel puts on a lovely afternoon service complete with dainty cakes and is simply the place to see whos-who of the city. For an artistic touch, walk a few blocks further to The Merrion, where you will find tea cakes inspired by the hotel’s extensive collection of paintings. Of course, you can always find a humbler “cuppa” to warm up at most of the city’s cozy pubs and cafés.
Raise a Glass at the Old Jameson Distillery
Dublin is probably most famous for being the home of Guinness, but Jameson Whiskey was also born in the city—right on Bow Street. Production has now moved out to the countryside, but it is still possible to visit the old distillery to learn more about the history of the beloved Irish spirit. Naturally, a tour includes a comparison tasting of whiskey, bourbon, and scotch, as well as a whiskey-based cocktail to really unwind at JJ’s Bar.
Catch an Irish Game at Croke Park
Ireland's native sports are not well known outside of the country but local fans go crazy for GAA. There is no better way to learn about the fast-paced sports of hurling and Gaelic football than by attending a game in person. The atmosphere at Dublin's Croke Park is electric when the teams (representing their home counties) take to the pitch. Even if the schedules don't line up, you can still visit the famous stadium and take a tour, with a stop at the GAA Museum.