From gazing up at elk skeletons at the Dead Zoo to learning how to pull the perfect pint of Guinness, Dublin’s best museums offer a diverse range of experiences.
Dublin’s museums reflect the changing city, with Victorian taxidermy, Georgian townhouses and modern-art galleries all providing immersive adventures through Ireland’s history. Many museums in Dublin are free, and they make a great day out for those familiar with the city and new visitors alike.
Located in the imposing Royal Hospital Kilmainham, which was built during British rule in 1684, IMMA holds the national collection of contemporary art inside a reminder of the country’s colonial history. The permanent collection features 3,500 artworks by Irish and international artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Mary Swanzy and Wolfgang Tillmans, and the museum regularly hosts themed exhibitions. With the exception of some temporary exhibitions, entry is free. The museum is surrounded by beautiful formal gardens, so a trip to IMMA is really worth setting aside some time for.
Spread across an elegant Georgian townhouse on Stephen’s Green, the Little Museum focusses specifically on Dublin’s history. To create a comprehensive overview of life in the city through the ages, the museum put out a call asking the public for items worthy of inclusion; they were inundated with donations, and the museum now contains over 5,000 artefacts such as furniture, old photographs and letters. For anyone who grew up in Dublin, the museum will provide a nostalgic trip; for new visitors, it will provide an insight into the city’s character that isn’t available elsewhere. The museum is accessible by pre-booked guided tours, which are led by actors, making for a great storytelling experience. Admission starts at €10, but for locals who are willing to tell a traditional story or sing an Irish song, their next visit is free.
The home of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), Croke Park is worth a visit for more than just a match. This museum takes visitors on an adventure through the history of Ireland’s national sports – Gaelic football, camogie and hurling – from their ancient origins right through to the modern games played here today. With a Hall of Fame commemorating the most exceptional players through the ages, a trophy room and an interactive area where visitors can try out the sports for themselves, this museum gets you closer to the pitch than ever before. Entry costs €7 for adults and €5 for children, but if you are visiting Croke Park for a match, you can enter the museum for free before the game. Alternatively, a stadium tour also includes a ticket to the museum.
Kilmainham Gaol is a must-visit for anyone interested in architecture and Irish history. It has been connected to the most monumental points in the nation’s turbulent history, from the 1798 rebellion against British rule to the civil war in 1922. Many of Ireland’s revolutionaries have been incarcerated in these cells, and famous detainees have included Constance Markievicz, Pádraig Pearse and future president of Ireland Éamon de Valera. It’s probably most well known as the place where leaders of the 1916 Rising were detained, and where some were subsequently executed. The tour touches on this history, as well as the cruel conditions prisoners had to endure. There is also an exhibit displaying political memorabilia and artefacts from the jail’s past. Entry costs €8 for adults and €4 for children over 12, and tours should be booked in advance.
Home to Ireland’s most famous export, the Guinness Storehouse has a range of exhibits and interactive experiences spread over seven floors. Visitors can discover the history of founder Arthur Guinness and see a copy of the 9,000-year lease for the brewery he signed in 1759. There are areas where you can learn about the brewing process and view some of the brand’s iconic advertising materials from over the centuries, and even a bar where you can try out the perfect technique for pouring a pint of the black stuff. Unlike most museum experiences, this one ends with a drink. On the top floor, exchange your ticket for a pint to sip on as you take in the panoramic view of Dublin.
Just a short walk from Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, this permanent collection hosts some of Ireland’s most notable modern art and is free to enter. It’s named after Sir Hugh Lane, who donated a collection to the council in 1908; the works included pieces by well-known French impressionists such as Renoir, Manet, Morisot and Pissarro, and they can still be seen on display here today. There is also a room dedicated to the abstract works of Dublin-born painter Sean Scully, who has twice been a Turner Prize nominee. Perhaps the biggest draw of this gallery is the recreated studio of painter Francis Bacon, who was also born in the city. After his death, his London studio was deconstructed and meticulously rebuilt here. The gallery also hosts free concerts every Sunday at midday, from September to June.
Known as ‘the Dead Zoo’ by Dubliners, the Museum of Natural History hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1857. A big part of its appeal is as a “museum of a museum”; the dark wood, polished brass and glass cabinets are reminders of a bygone era when the Victorian obsession with exotic animals was at its peak. With a collection including specimens gathered by Charles Darwin, the taxidermy and skeletons on display makes for intriguing but sometimes macabre viewing. Spend a rainy afternoon roaming the hallways of this free museum and make sure not to miss the native Irish wildlife exhibition downstairs, which includes the towering skeletons of extinct giant Irish elk.
This museum tells the story of why 10 million people left Ireland, where they went and the impact they had on the world. EPIC spotlights the Irish influence on everything from sport and music to science and politics using video, touchscreens and interactive exhibits. Entry to this immersive experience costs €15 for adults and €7.50 for children over six, and the organisers even offer resources to help visitors trace their own Irish heritage. It’s poignantly situated in the Dublin Docklands, an area many Irish emigrants over the centuries would have passed through for the last time when leaving their homeland.
This tenement museum in the north inner city preserves the truth behind the often-overlooked urban history of Dublin. With the help of a tour guide, videos and audio materials, visitors can explore 200 years of the city’s social and architectural history through the lens of this single Georgian house. The museum traces the building’s journey from a luxurious townhouse, built and occupied by members of the aristocracy, to a tenement that housed 100 people in cramped, unhealthy living conditions. Thus, 14 Henrietta Street gives an unvarnished glimpse into the real lives of Dublin’s society, from the highest echelons of the rich to the forgotten poor. It is accessible only by guided tour, which costs €9 for adults and €6 for children over six.
Every June, Dubliners come together to celebrate possibly the most famous novel set in the city: James Joyce’s Ulysses. However, fans of the Irish writer who miss the festivities of Bloomsday can still visit the James Joyce Museum in Sandycove throughout the year for free. Located in the Martello tower that inspired the opening of Ulysses, the museum houses Joycean memorabilia such as letters and first editions. This museum also offers a rare chance to get inside one of the fortified Martello towers, which were built in the early 19th century all along Dublin’s coast to defend against invasion by Napoleon. Just half an hour from the city centre on the DART, the village of Sandycove and the surrounding beaches are well worth exploring, and the tower itself provides breathtaking views over the Dublin coastline.