As one of the most varied cities to visit in Europe, Dublin packs enough art, culture and character to fill a month-long itinerary and still leave you wanting more. Despite this diversity, the capital of Ireland retains a small-town feel that never fails to charm. Although there are thousands of nooks and crannies to explore in the city, these are the ones you can’t miss.
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Jameson Distillery Bow St
Founded in 1780, Jameson makes the best-selling Irish whiskey on the planet. Although distilling no longer takes place at this Bow Street building, a slick and interactive tour more than compensates for the lack of working stills. There are videos on the founder, John Jameson, and lab benches showing the progress from barley to bottle. The tour also includes a tasting where you will finally understand the difference between bourbon, scotch and Irish whiskey. Head to the classy downstairs bar for a post-tour cocktail. Whiskey-blending and cocktail-making classes are also available.
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Built in 1204, Dublin Castle was the seat of power for British rule for more than 700 years. In April 1684, a fire ripped through the castle, destroying much of the structure. A stunning Georgian palace was built in its place. Since 1938, all the presidents of Ireland have been inaugurated in St Patrick’s Hall. The manicured castle gardens are a highlight; a guided tour will explain their history. The tour also includes an excursion to the oldest pub in Dublin, The Brazen Head. The castle regularly hosts special exhibitions and events, which it advertises on its website.
Christ Church Cathedral
This magnificent cathedral was founded in 1030 as a wooden Viking church. While Romanesque and gothic elements were added over the next few centuries, Christ Church Cathedral underwent a major renovation during the Victorian era. A standard ticket covers a self-guided tour of the cathedral, crypt (among the largest in the British Isles) and the Treasures of Christ Church exhibition. The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral has been enchanting visitors since 1493.
The most popular tourist attraction in Dublin is an interactive, seven-storey structure that showcases the history and process behind Ireland’s most famous export. To explore the venue, book the Signature Package Tour, which allows you to skip the queue. The tour also includes a memento gift box containing a Guinness Dublin glass and a fridge magnet showing an iconic Guinness advert. At the end of the tour, you get to enjoy a perfectly pulled pint at the Gravity Bar, which has panoramic views over Dublin.
When William Walsh’s passenger ferries began to deteriorate, he saw the opportunity to commission the first pedestrian bridge in Dublin. The Wellington Bridge opened in 1816, with officials extracting a half-penny toll from anyone wishing to cross. This toll was dropped in 1919, but the “ha’penny” moniker stuck. Constructed by the Coalbrookdale Foundry in Shropshire, England, the bridge retains around 85 percent of its original decorative ironwork. A great way to see the Ha’penny Bridge – and the other sights along the Liffey – is from a boat tour.
The Book of Kells
Possibly Ireland’s most important artefact, this remarkable ninth-century manuscript details the four gospels of the life of Jesus Christ in astounding calligraphy. The book’s 340 folios are made from prepared calfskin (vellum). Artists used mineral pigments such as red lead, lapis lazuli and copper to create symbols representing the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A guided tour leads you into the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin to see the manuscript before everyone else arrives. Afterwards, your guide will take you to tour the grounds of Dublin Castle.
The Teelings Distillery
Irish whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the world – more popular than scotch, even in Scotland. This changed when the Scots adopted the Coffey-still method of manufacturing, increasing production exponentially. Prohibition in the United States, the Anglo-Irish Trade War and the Great Depression followed, and the industry collapsed. However, renewed interest in Irish whiskey began in the 1990s, and Teelings Distillery opened in 2015 as the first new distillery in Dublin in more than 125 years. Guided tours include a tasting of three whiskeys or a handcrafted whiskey cocktail.
A visit to Kilmainham Gaol is essential to understand Ireland’s long road to independence. Leading figures in Irish history have been interned here, including Henry Joy McCracken (a founder of the United Irishmen), Easter Rising revolutionary Patrick Pearse, and Éamon de Valera, who later became the President of Ireland. The torture and execution of rebels also occurred on the prison grounds. Closing in 1924, the gaol underwent restoration in 1960, becoming a monument of Irish nationalism. Entrance is by guided tour only, which includes a visit to the Irish National War Memorial Gardens.
The Silicon Docks
An amalgamation of Georgian and modern architecture, Dublin Docklands is also known as Silicon Docks due to the vast number of tech firms making their home here. Regardless, it’s still full of character and interesting sights, including EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum, and the contemporary Waterways Ireland Visitor Centre, affectionately known as the Box in the Docks.
For a taste of fresh sea air, head northeast to Howth, a popular day-trip destination from Dublin. This ancient fishing village is brimming with quality seafood restaurants, and there are plenty of handicraft and vintage wares to peruse at Howth Market. Hikers and nature-lovers are in luck as seals, eagles and guillemots are visible from the many coastal trails of the region.
Named after Archbishop Croke, one of the first patrons, Croke Park is the third-largest stadium in Europe and the centre for Gaelic sport in Ireland. Tours are available, which will give you the chance to try hurling and Gaelic football in the interactive museum. You can also visit the team dressing rooms, VIP area and the stadium itself. For the particularly brave, there is a Ericsson Skyline tour that takes you up 17 storeys to a platform suspended over the stadium, for views of the city beyond.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
Legend has it that a well once stood on this site, where Saint Patrick baptised people into Christianity. Today, baptisms still take place in St Patrick’s Cathedral, constructed between 1220 and 1260. Archbishop Luke, the building’s architect, was blind by the time of its completion, so he tragically never saw his idea come to fruition. Famous deans of the cathedral include Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. His grave is here, as well as a collection of his early works. Visits to the cathedral are self-guided.
The cutting-edge shows of the Abbey often tackle controversial subjects, which is unusual for a national state theatre. WB Yeats and dramatist Lady Gregory opened the theatre in 1904, with a manifesto “to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland”. It certainly did that – Abbey productions triggered riots in 1907 and 1926. In the second instance, Yeats leapt onto the stage to scold the audience. Things have calmed down these days, but you can still enjoy top-class Irish theatre or a backstage tour.
National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery opened in 1864 and is now home to more than 16,000 works of art, representing all the major European schools. Monet, Rembrandt, Turner and Picasso can all be admired here. Hibernophiles (fans of Irish culture) will love the works of Jack Butler Yeats, one of Ireland’s most important 19th-century painters. Yeats was known for his romantic portrayals of Irish urban and rural life. One artistic highlight of his that hangs in the gallery is The Liffey Swim, a lively expressionist depiction of Dublin’s annual sporting event. The Yeats Archive contains his sketchbooks and journals, plus writings and artworks by other members of his gifted family.
National Museum of Ireland
The National Museum of Ireland comprises four museums, one of which is in County Mayo. The three Dublin buildings are the Museum of Archaeology, the Museum of Decorative Arts & History and the Museum of Natural History (also known as the Dead Zoo for its vast range of taxidermied animals). All are free to enter and contain a wealth of historical artefacts, costumes, zoological models and more. One thing you can’t miss is the collection of exquisite Irish metalwork in The Treasury permanent exhibit at the archaeology museum.
American mining engineer Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was a man of great wealth and taste, using his fortune to collect rare objets d’art from around the world. He left his collection to the Irish state upon his death, and it’s now housed in the Chester Beatty Library. You can expect to see Japanese paintings, Islamic manuscripts, Chinese snuff bottles and many more extraordinary artefacts. What’s more, entrance is free, though donations are always welcome. The centre runs art-oriented workshops for kids, teens and adults.
St Stephen’s Green
This delightful urban park was once a marshy patch of land. After its conversion to a public park in 1663, St Stephen’s Green became a fashionable place for high society to meet, take a stroll and indulge in gossip. The park was returned to private landowners in 1814, a widely unpopular move, but in 1877, Sir Arthur Guinness (the politician, not the brewer) bought the land and returned it to the people. His statue now stands in the park, which retains many of its original Victorian features. Take a picnic and enjoy one of the lunchtime concerts held during the summer.
Irish Whiskey Museum
The one-hour tours of this Grafton Street museum are an enjoyable, interactive romp through the history of Irish whiskey. Engaging guides illuminate the Irish people’s deadly first attempts at distilling and explain the rise and fall of the whiskey industry in a faithfully recreated Irish bar. Tours finish with a tasting that will educate novices and experts alike. Tongue-in-cheek jokes are a hallmark, and Scottish guests can expect to be good-naturedly teased about their “inferior” product. If you want to take your experience to the next level, pair your tour with a whiskey-blending class.
Phoenix Park stretches over 7sqkm (3sqmi), making it the largest park in any European capital. Inside is the acclaimed Dublin Zoo (established in 1831, it’s one of the oldest zoos in the world) and the home of the President of Ireland. Free guided tours of his home, Áras an Uachtaráin, are available on Saturdays on a first-come, first-served basis. A great way to navigate the park is by hiring a bicycle from the stand at Heuston Station (register with Dublinbikes first). If you’re lucky, you may even get to see the native deer.
National Concert Hall
Despite the impressive facade, this concert hall offers possibly the best-value tickets in town. It’s the performing home for the state-funded RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and Concert Orchestra, who delight audiences several times per week with crowd-pleasers such as Ravel’s Boléro and the film scores of John Williams. Since 1865, the building has been many things, including an exhibition venue and a university. The current hall opened in 1981, dedicated solely to music for the first time. And what a hall – with acoustics this good, it doesn’t matter where you sit.
Where to stay
Dylan Hotel, for a cosy spot by St Stephen’s Green
Dylan Hotel is down Baggot Street only a short walk from the lovely St Stephen’s Green and a few minutes from the city centre. Bedrooms are light, airy and homely with Victorian-style decor combined with modern amenities. Get cosy in the outside Nursery Terrace with a cup of frothy coffee or head to Ruby Room for an Irish-themed cocktail served by a waistcoated bartender.
The Westbury Hotel, for an arty retreat near Grafton Street
Just a stone’s throw from the lively Grafton Street, The Westbury Hotel is an ideal base for exploring the main attractions in Dublin. Keep your eyes peeled for pieces by local artists on the walls and furniture created by the renowned furniture designer George Smith. Hungry? Traditional Irish recipes and carefully chosen dishes from around the world are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the hotel restaurant, Wilde.
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