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Ireland‘s capital has a lot more to it than the stereotypes. In fact, wander around the place (outside of notorious tourist hot spot Temple Bar) in a leprechaun hat shouting about your drinking prowess at your peril: Dublin is a cultured and varied spot, and like many other European hubs, its citizens are kind of sick of the cliches. Instead, dig deeper into abundant aspects of Irish culture: other parts of the country might jokingly calling Dublin ‘West Britain’ for its metropolitan and liberal – almost ‘British’ – outlook, but there are things here you can’t do anywhere else. Other options are just too good to turn down. Here are our 15 essential Dublin experiences.
Dublin has several of those wonderfully musty old-world libraries that look like they’re lifted straight from Harry Potter. Trinity College‘s incredible home to The Book of Kells is the one everyone knows, but a must-see none the less. Those with the inside track might look at the Renaissance Marsh’s Library, Ireland’s first public library when it opened its doors to the general public in 1707, and a truly mesmerising spot for book lovers.
Yes, technically this trail only ends in Dublin (we hear your protests, people of Wicklow), but if you’re into hiking, it’s one of Ireland’s best experiences right on the capital’s doorstep. Uncover the villages, hillsides, and relics of the Wicklow Mountains* over the course of 131kms (81 miles) of multi-day, single-route hiking (*who are we kidding, they’re hills).
One of the largest city-centre parks in the world and 350-years-old, Phoenix Park is a day exploration in itself if you want to see it in full. Home to the President’s house, Dublin zoo, endless sporting occasions, an abandoned military fort, and a herd of deer left over from the day in which this spot was largely a hunting site, it’s the place to be in should you encounter a rare Dublin bout of good weather.
‘The city that fought an Empire’ is amongst the proud slogans of Dublin, and learning about the Irish battle for freedom from UK rule is to learn about a part of the city’s identity. It’s spread across the city, from St Stephen’s Green to Croke Park, with serious experiences on offer in spots like Kilmainham Gaol and the GPO. Ireland in its modern form is a relatively new country: learn how it got here.
From Joyce to Wilde, Beckett to Binchy, the Irish have always had poetry in their heart, and there’s plenty of it to explore in the capital. From retracing the tale of Ulysses on Bloomsday to learning about Joyce and Beckett’s turbulent relationships with Irish society, you might find your reading list crammed full for months.
The Chester Beatty Library – in the grounds of Dublin Castle – was once described by Lonely Planet as “not just the best museum in Dublin, but one of the best in Europe.” What’s it all about? A conveyer belt of high-end exhibitions on everything from Arabic art to Samurai (with the occasional local stop off, too) means this place is constantly interesting. It’s free to go in, too.
A little Dublin secret that passes many tourists by: the locals love to dive into the freezing Irish waters. From the famous 40-foot in Sandycove to the unlikely sea swimming club half way along the city’s Great South Wall, you’ll find brave nutters frolicking with seals and shivering in the rain. Everyone should try it once, honestly.
The Museum of History and Archaeology is, in our view, a criminally underrated spot. Housed in a beautiful building and home to an unlikely array of ‘borrowed’ Egyptian offerings, it’s the dark corners you’ll want to explore. In them, you’ll find Viking skeletons, contorted bodies pulled from bogs after thousands of years at rest, ancient butter crumbling in its urn, and tales of the Irish clans.
The peninsula to the north of the city is something of a city vent, with an airy, fenceless cliff walk and a harbour where boats leave to check out the puffins and seals on ‘Ireland’s Eye’ island. You can get stuck into kayaking and golf, too, but for us, it’s the food that helps this corner stand out: fresh-from-the-boat seafood served in old-world harbourside restaurants and bars. Don’t miss the oysters.
Does trad music develop? Of course. Can you find it in a form that’s passed down over generations in Dublin? Absolutely. Finding the best trad pub is a subject every true Dub has an opinion on, and the ‘sessions’ are something to behold. There’s nothing staged or ceremonial about it all: instead, a group of friends huddles over their instruments and pints in aging pub corners, plucking out tunes that have echoed around the same spots for centuries. Soak it up.
Known in GAA circles simple as ‘headquarters’, this absolute monolith of a stadium (capacity 82,000) is a testament to the power of the GAA community and their thriving amateur sports. Gaelic football and hurling are both regulars on a pitch that’s twice the size of a typical soccer offering, and the atmosphere in the latter stages is incredible. The season runs February to September (though you may as well forget about final tickets), while tours and the museum run year round. There’s revolutionary history to be uncovered.
Because yes, it really does taste better. That and the Guinness Storehouse has recently expanded to also feature a new bar where you can try brewers’ experimental beers, ones that you can literally get nowhere else in the world. And why would you not want to do that?
It’s worth mentioning here that plenty of Dublin locals have long since had enough of St Patrick’s Day festivities in Dublin (and most go for a big night the evening before, March 16th, with the work day on the 18th and mass-tourist evasion in mind). The green-tinged, alcohol-fuelled chaos is preceded by a memorable city-centre parade and some great GAA finals in Croke Park, but it’s the cheesy leprechaun hats, pints of the black stuff and manic crowds you’re here for, right? Depending on who you ask, it’s the best and worst thing that happens every year (expect a messy one).
Didn’t see this one coming? Wind and a beach jutting out into a nice enclosed bay make Dublin’s North Bull Island a top class kitesurfing destination, whether you’re learning to stand up whilst holding a wind-grabber, or good enough to leap from the top of the jumps that arrive for the annual Battle for the Bay festival.
Ireland has quite strict licensing laws, and despite the country’s reputation for drunken debauchery, all night drinking generally isn’t a thing here, at least not in public. Dublin has some great exceptions, though, that the wilder, party-loving locals have worked out. Option one is a ‘lock in’: every so often a pub simply closes its doors and carries on serving until sunrise, but you’ll need the inside track on where to be and when (or just some blind luck) as they tend not to advertise. Better, perhaps, is the oldest trick in the book: stay until closing time (typically 3am), grab some food for an hour, and hit up the port, where pubs have a ‘morning’ license, and serve brews to returning fishermen.