From its majestic cathedrals and handsome Georgian squares to its Modernist gems and coastline of Martello towers, Dublin is blessed with an abundance of landmarks. Here are 10 highlights the Irish capital has to offer.
The first of Dublin’s two medieval cathedrals, Christ Church dates back to the early 11th century when the Hiberno-Norse King Sitric Silkenbeard ruled over Dublin – though the stone structure that stands today was built later, around 1200. The crypt measures more than 60 metres (197 feet) in length, and has been used as a marketplace, a place to do business and even a pub during its lifetime. After falling into disrepair, a major restoration during the Victorian period means the building owes more to that era than the time of the Vikings, but it still holds the distinction as one of Dublin’s oldest cathedrals.
The jewel in the crown of this early 13th-century building is Dublin’s last intact medieval tower: the imposing Wardrobe Tower. It was named as such because it used to house the royal robes of King John of England when he came over to Ireland. Designed to be a stronghold from which Ireland could be ruled by the Crown, the castle remained the seat of the British government in Ireland until 1922 when the country secured its independence. Today, visitors can peruse the permanent collection of artwork on display in the castle’s state rooms, or enjoy a leisurely stroll in the gardens.
Originally Kildare House, Leinster House was the palatial home of Ireland’s senior peer James FitzGerald, the Earl of Kildare. FitzGerald called upon German-born architect Richard Cassels to design a mansion of scale and grandeur that would reflect the Earl’s prominence in Irish society. While FitzGerald took a gamble by building his home on the unfashionable south side of Dublin, other prominent figures swiftly followed suit. When the Earl was made the first Duke of Leinster in 1766, the residence was renamed Leinster House. It was such an influential building that the first and second floors were used as a model for the White House in Washington DC, designed by Irish architect James Hoban. The house was eventually sold to the Royal Dublin Society in 1815, and since 1922 the building has been the home of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament).
While not located in the city centre, Dublin Bay’s Martello towers are an intriguing part of the capital’s history and certainly worth a day trip. The small defensive forts were built in the 19th century by the British Empire to protect the country against the French Revolutionary Wars. Possibly the most famous of all is the James Joyce Tower and Museum, immortalised as the opening location in Ulysses. A constant magnet for James Joyce biographers, scholars and aficionados, this well-kept Martello tower in Sandycove hosted the Irish author for a short stay in autumn 1904, and now houses an exhibition dedicated to Joyce’s life and work.
Dublin’s masterful Neoclassical Custom House government building was designed by the English architect James Gandon, who would go on to have a lasting impression on the city during the building boom of the Georgian period. It’s difficult to choose just one Gandon building for this list – he also designed the Four Courts and the extension of College Green’s grand Parliament House – but the Custom House, his earliest contribution to Dublin, is widely regarded as the most significant. Its four monumental facades are probably its most lauded feature, along with the towering statue-topped dome, which had to be reconstructed after the building was set alight in 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.
Taking its cue from the famous Oxbridge colleges, Trinity College Dublin boasts an equally impressive combination of cobblestone walkways, pristine emerald-green lawns and 18th-century architectural treasures. Tucked away inside the grounds is a real gem – the Palazzo-style Museum Building designed by Irish architectural duo Sir Thomas Newenham Deane and Benjamin Woodward, who were also responsible for the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Elaborately constructed from Irish marble and granite, the building is covered in carvings by Irish sculpting family O’Shea and Whelan. While you’re there, a visit to the university wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Long Room in the Old Library – one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
Located in the Liberties quarter of the city – historically associated with market traders, whiskey distilling and the textiles industry – is the iconic Guinness Storehouse, now a major tourist attraction. Designed in the style of the Chicago School of Architecture, the handsome industrial building was highly innovative for the time, being the first multi-storey, steel-framed building to be constructed in Ireland. It’s got a pricey entrance fee, but it’s worth climbing the seven storeys to the Gravity Bar, where you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views across Dublin and the best tasting pint of Guinness in the world.
The Dublin Docklands has become synonymous with the city’s creative community and tech scene, establishing itself as a hub for cutting-edge contemporary architecture. The award-winning Convention Centre Dublin by Dublin-born architect Kevin Roche became the world’s first carbon-neutral international convention centre when it was completed in 2010, with its innovative curved glass front overlooking the River Liffey. Walk across the harp-inspired Samuel Beckett Bridge and you’ll find Daniel Libeskind’s dramatic, angular Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and the striking checkerboard-style Marker Hotel.
Situated directly opposite James Gandon’s imposing Custom House, Dublin’s central bus station couldn’t be more different. Drawing on the International Modern style, this 1950s building by Drogheda-born architect Michael Scott was highly controversial at the time. Many objected to its austere appearance and hefty £1,000,000 price tag, but it was recognised among the architectural community as a Modern masterpiece, winning a gold medal from the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland in 1955. A number of its original features remain intact, including its terrazzo flooring, exotic timber fittings, brass and copper detailing and mosaics.
The Irish Life Centre was Dublin’s first major mixed-used development, designed by one of the country’s most prominent Modernist architects, Andy Devane. Smack-bang in the heart of the city centre, the building’s stand-out feature is Oisín Kelly’s Chariot of Life copper-bronze sculpture, which sits at the front of the centre on Abbey Street. The building overlooks the 1960s Liberty Hall office block and Dublin’s first skyscraper, which was due to be demolished but was spared when planning permission was overturned in 2012.