A Complete Guide to Dublin's Theater Scene

exterior theatre

Ros Kavanagh

Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature and has long been associated with both the words written on the page as well as those performed on the stage. Famous playwrights have called the city home over the generations, leaving an impressive mark on Ireland's cultural heritage. In fact, for the size of its population, Ireland has had a massive impact on English-language theatre throughout the world. While lowkey pub nights are always an option, theater remains a large part of Dublin's going out culture.

Remember that the theatre culture in Dublin extends beyond the performance itself. Nights out usually begin with an early bird dinner to take advantage of the so-called "pre-theatre menus" that many restaurants offer. Most are set menus of two to three courses that are provided before 7 p.m. Then, after the curtain falls, its time for a nightcap at a favorite Dublin pub or cocktail bar.

For a real Irish cultural experience, here is a guide to the most historic theatre in Dublin, plus the city's best modern music venues.

Famous Theatres in Dublin

The Abbey Theatre

The Abbey Theatre on Lower Abbey Street is the National Theatre of Dublin. The theater was co-founded by several significant figures in the Dublin literary scene, most prominently W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory. The Abbey began in 1899 as the Irish Literary Theatre. It was established after Yeats confided to Lady Gregory that he hoped to create a new theatre to stage his ambitious plays and avoid having to compromise his vision as a playwright. In its early years, the theater became known as a writer’s theatre, though it was also known for its controversial performances. After almost closing following World War I and the 1916 Easter Rising, the Abbey Theatre managed to endure and gain international recognition. Today, the Abbey is one of the main cultural reference points in Ireland and the most famous theater in Dublin. The Abbey continues to produce new plays, as well as host discussions with living Irish writers. A full schedule of performances is always available on the official website.

The Gate Theatre

The majestic columns set outside the Gate Theatre on Cavendish Row in central Dublin add to the dramatic sense of attending a performance at the storied playhouse. The theater is known for presenting a balanced mix of internationally acclaimed plays and contemporary Irish performances. This began in its opening season in 1928, when the Gate Theatre staged seven plays ranging from Henrik Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" to Oscar Wilde's "Salomé." Many famous actors have gotten their start as a part of the Gate's company, including American performer and director Orson Welles. These days, the Gate Theatre may be staging a drama from Ancient Greece, or the debut of a never before seen work by a new Irish playwright. Information about upcoming performances can be found on the official website.

The Olympia Theatre

The Olympia Theatre has been one of the most beloved concert and performance venues in Dublin since it opened on Dame Street in 1879. While theater performances are still held on the red-draped stage, the Olympia is best known as a music venue. Artists who have held concerts here include David Bowie, Adele, and Arcade Fire. In 2007, R.E.M. performed at the Dublin theater for five straight nights to create the album Live at the Olympia. The theater was almost demolished in 1974 when part of the interior collapsed, but it was thankfully restored and has undergone several renovations since to return it to its classic glory. Today, the Olympia hosts shows for children, international plays, and musical events.

The Gaiety Theatre

Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre opened on Nov. 27, 1871, with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland attending as the guest of honor. In its more than 140 years of existence, the theater has remained at the top of the city’s venue list, particularly for musical reviews and operas. The Gaiety has been carefully restored but still has many of its original Victorian characteristics and is one of the most historic venues in the Irish capital. While most performances are musical in some way, the theater also puts on comedic and dramatic shows throughout the year. Sure to sell out every December is the Gaiety’s Christmas Pantomime—a family-friendly holiday show that has been a part of the theatre’s regular line up since 1874. Similar to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, the Gaiety has celebrated its most renowned collaborators by immortalizing their handprints in bronze outside of the entrance to the theater on South King Street.

Smock Alley Theatre

The Smock Alley Theatre is the oldest theater in Dublin that is still putting on performances today. Technically, the venue first opened as the Theatre Royal in 1662. The original theater was the only Theatre Royal ever to be built outside of London, and it entertained 300 guests a night, seven days a week. Unfortunately, the Royal Theatre at Smock Alley ran into trouble during the 17th-century Puritan crackdown, then partially collapsed in the 18th century. The performances stopped, and the building was first used as a whiskey store before then converted into a church. Now the former church near the Liffey River has once again returned to its artistic beginnings. The newest old theater in Dublin has a diverse lineup of dance, drama, and other creative encounters.

More Performance Venues in Dublin

  • New Theatre: Located in the popular Temple Bar district of Dublin, the New Theatre hosts part of the city’s Fringe Festival.
  • The Helix: This performance venue on the main campus of Dublin City University has a lineup that spans from ballet and philharmonic shows to rock concerts.
  • Bord Gáis Energy Theatre: Located in the Docklands, the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre is a modern glass and metal venue that is Ireland’s largest fixed-seat theatre. It was formally known as the Grand Canal Theatre and is the city’s main venue for international musicals.

Concerts

In addition to classic theaters—some of which play double duty between showcasing dramas and musical events—Dublin has some fantastic concert venues. Whether you are in the mood for a classical concert or a modern mosh pit, these are the best places to listen to live music in the city. (Outside of pubs, which have small performances, of course).

  • National Concert Hall: A traditional concert venue in the center of the city which hosts a variety of orchestral and more intimate music events.
  • 3Arena: A contemporary indoor amphitheater that is one of the largest music venues, used for major headliners visiting Dublin.
  • Blue Note Bar and Club: The city’s only venue that features jazz and Blues exclusively, located in Dublin 1.
  • The Academy: A multi-level venue with club nights, featuring artists from every genre in regular live performances.
  • DC Music Club: A 100-seat venue in the basement of one of Dublin’s historic Georgian houses.

Dress Code

Smart dress is recommended if you are attending an evening play at any of Dublin’s classic famous theaters. This might include slacks and a jacket for men and a dressy (but not formal) outfit for women. There is no need for black-tie gala wear, though opening nights tend to be more extravagant affairs than midweek shows. Other venues are unlikely to have enforced dress codes, and concerts can be quite casual, depending on the musical genre. Note that there are sometimes restrictions on the size of bags that are allowed inside, so it is best to leave backpacks and luggage at your accommodation before heading out for the night.

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