Dublin is a vibrant and beautiful city. But some of its major attractions leave something to be desired. Perhaps the best way to visit is to enjoy the laid back atmosphere and temper your expectations about some the popular things to do in Dublin. Here is an honest guide to Dublin attractions.
Visit the Trinity College Library
The Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells exhibition is not to be missed, particularly if you love books and libraries. You’ll have to book tickets in advance for a specific time of day. I was under the impression that this would mean the number of people in the exhibit would be controlled, but I was sorely mistaken. The Book of Kells exhibition was impossibly crowded. If you don’t have an audio tour, you can barely read any of the information over other people’s heads. The exhibit explains the process of book-making at the time the Book of Kells was created, which is extensive and interesting. But I’m not going to lie, the ancient Gospel text itself was disappointing. After seeing multiple blown-up pages from it, the actual thing is like the Mona Lisa of books… small and surrounded by a mob of people.
That being said, the Long Room of the Old Library at Trinity College is absolutely worth the visit. The room is flanked by busts of important writers and thinkers. And for being the most beautiful part of the visit, it felt less crowded because it’s so big. In the Long Room, you’ll also see one of the oldest surviving Gaelic harps and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, so it’s historically significant as well as visually impressive.
Get your drink on at the Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Storehouse
Some of Dublin’s main tourist stops are their drinking attractions, namely the Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Storehouse. These are somewhat divisive because some people love them and some people hate them. It’s probably primarily because both attractions are more like a brand presentation and less of a brewery or distillery tour. Jameson isn’t even produced at this location; the working Jameson distillery is in Cork. Although Guinness is brewed at St. James’s Gate, the Guinness Storehouse experience is more like a museum about beer brewing.
You’re probably asking yourself, are these even worth it? Let’s take each of them one by one to help you decide. The main thing going for the Guinness Storehouse is the Gravity Bar which towers over Dublin with 360-degree views of the city and where you’ll drink the best Guinness you’ll have in your life. Without paying for the tour, you can’t access the bar. I also enjoyed the Guinness advertising displays. However if none of this seems interesting, an alternative to the Storehouse visit is to go to the Open Gate Brewery, the place where Guinness brewers experiment with seasonal and special beer recipes. It’s tucked away next to St. James’s Gate and you need reservations to visit.
Is the Jameson Distillery worth it? I’ll preface this by saying that I think Jameson is straight garbage. The tour experience was cute and worthwhile if you appreciate the whiskey, and if you want a charming Irishman telling you stories. You’ll learn about whiskey-making in general and the Jameson history and finish off with a tasting.
I didn’t love the tasting because unlike literally every other alcohol tasting I’ve ever done, it’s a comparison tasting, not a tasting of several Jameson products. So they give you Jameson and then a cheap American whiskey brand and a cheap Scottish brand. Who goes to Ireland to drink Jack Daniel’s? Get the fuck outta here with that. If you rather experience Irish whiskey exclusively, you can simply visit the distillery bar which has an extensive selection of Jameson whiskeys and cocktails. Alternatively, you can also try the Irish Whiskey Museum, where you get to enjoy different kinds of Irish whiskey.
See Dublin’s best churches
There are two important churches in Dublin worth checking out. The first is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, named after the patron saint of Ireland. The second is Christ Church Cathedral, which is the oldest building in Dublin. Both require an entrance fee so you may want to choose just one if you don’t want to experience church fatigue. Christ Church is more visually imposing from the outside, but there is a nice park adjacent to St. Patrick’s where you may better enjoy the architecture of the largest cathedral in Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland where it’s believed that the patron saint baptized people. Over 500 notable people are buried here including Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels. Aside from being older, Christ Church is notable for having the largest crypt in Britain and Ireland. If you’re a fan of the TV show, The Tudors, this cathedral was one of the filming locations and there’s a tiny exhibit of costumes from the show inside. The interior is otherwise similar so if you have to choose one, the crypt sets Christ Church apart.
Catch a traditional Irish show or just get drunk in Temple Bar
Irish pub culture is the best part of visiting Dublin. That’s because you can expect live music at the majority of venues that sell alcohol. There are also several nightly music and dance shows where you’ll get to see traditional Irish dancing along with live music like Celtic Nights and Irish House Party. These are popular with tour groups and they’re often offered with an accompanying dinner. While these can be fun, especially if you’re not in the mood for a rowdy bar atmosphere, you can also get the same experience for free by stumbling upon it at a bar.
Yes, Temple Bar is crowded and touristy, but there are dozens of beautiful pubs with great beer and live music playing all day long. So you don’t have to go very far to find something you’ll enjoy. Sometimes musicians play alone, sometimes as a group with several different instruments. A good rule of thumb for drinking around Temple Bar is to go wherever the music sounds best to you. If you want to drink at the Temple Bar, I recommend sneaking in between sets to increase your chances of grabbing a seat.
Visit Dublin Castle
Nestled in the center of Dublin, Dublin Castle is strikingly beautiful and also notably small. If you’re expecting sprawling grounds on a hill overlooking the city, you’ll be disappointed when you find something that probably better qualifies as a large mansion. If you’re visiting, the guided tour may be worth your while because if you only pay for admission, you can only see the state apartments. On the other hand, the guided tour will also take you to the Medieval Section and Chapel Royal. The castle exhibitions feature decorative art and paintings, so you know, chandeliers and 17th century portraits galore.
Outside the castle walls, you’ll find the beautifully maintained Dubh Linn Garden, which has plenty of beautiful corners to relax among the flowers and sculptures. The wide green center of the garden doubles as a helicopter landing pad. Also adjacent to the garden is the Chester Beatty Library, which has been called Dublin’s best museum. Its permanent Arts of the Book exhibit is far more enjoyable than the Book of Kells exhibition and it’s free to enter. The rooftop garden also gives you a nice view of Dublin Castle and Dubh Linn Garden below.
Notable places to eat and drink around town
Dublin may not have world class sights or museums. But perhaps the best way to spend your time there is to eat and drink well. And there are more than enough opportunities to do that, but I’ll leave you with a couple of suggestions that are particularly memorable.
The Church, as the name suggests, is inside a former church. I love any opportunity to do something in a church that isn’t pray so the opportunity to have a decent meal and an Irish coffee underneath a large pipe organ make this a worthy stop.
The Bank Pub is also a converted space. It’s one of the most beautiful interiors you’ll see in Dublin because it used to be, you guessed it, the Royal Bank of Ireland. Don’t let its marble pillars and ornate ceiling fool you though. Its extensive drink menu will fuck you right up. They have a handy map of the different whiskey brands of Ireland that makes you want to try them all. And who can pass up something called a Galway Hooker Honey Beer?
The Old Storehouse has some of the best food and live music in Temple Bar. I can’t vouch for the service in the crowded bar, but I can guarantee you the pub food is excellent. If you’re not dining, regular bar seating around the stage is available on a first come first serve basis, but it does get crowded, so come early in the evening.
For a slightly different kind of food stop, the Rolling Donut has excellent sweet treats just off O’Connell Street. So if you happen to be sightseeing in the area, pop in for a Bailey’s cream donut before you head toward the Spire in the center of the avenue.
Remember how I said you could skip the Irish dinner show and see traditional Irish dancing out in the right pub? My best recommendation for that is The Celt. The local pub has a better mix of tourists and locals than anything in Temple Bar, and when the music starts in the evenings, you’ll find plenty of people singing and dancing their little Irish hearts out. You might even learn a step or two.