ViaHero · August 21, 2019
If you think Dublin is all bars and Guinness, then… well, you aren’t wrong exactly, but Ireland’s capital is way more than its nightlife. Yes, the beer is excellent—but Dublin is also home to tons of unique attractions like book markets, artsy neighborhoods, and even some of Ireland’s most impressive castles and churches. We’ve put some of the best into this list of 17 absolutely delightful things to do in Dublin, Ireland.
Want to experience the *real* Dublin? Have an actual Dubliner plan your trip! They’ll build you an itinerary full of local gems that never make internet lists—even ones as great as this. Why see Ireland like a tourist when you could see it like a local? Learn more.
#1: Explore the hipster-fabulous Temple Bar district
The riverside district of Temple Bar is gorgeous—full of cobblestone streets, old stone buildings, and colorful facades—and it has the highest density of bars in Dublin. Which means that once the sun goes down, Temple Bar is the place to start your night. First things first: make a beeline to the iconic, fire-engine-red Temple Bar pub. It’s been around since the 19th century, and tourists aside, it’s a long-time favorite for good beer and live music.
That said, Temple Bar has a lot more to offer than just pubs. The neighborhood is full of restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries, which reflect its artsy, creative vibe. Perched on the banks of the River Liffey, it’s also an especially picturesque part of town. Explore it to your heart’s content!
#2: Search for treasures at the Temple Bar Book Market
And speaking of Temple Bar: at sunrise on Saturdays and Sundays (ok, 11 AM, same difference after a night out), the centrally-located Temple Bar Square transforms from artsy party paradise into The Temple Bar Book Market—a bibliophile's utopia.
The market is relatively small—six or seven stalls, covered with white canvas—but it’s swimming with treasures. From books by Dublin authors like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett to old maps, postcards, and other fun knick-knacks, there’s a little something for everyone. If you dig flea markets and you’re keen to get a bit off-the-beaten-path while you’re in Ireland, check it out. All told, Temple Bar’s combo of nightlife and culture makes it one of the best places to stay in Ireland.
#3: Start your day with a Full Irish Breakfast
Bacon, sausage, beans, eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, potatoes, black pudding… ok, so you might not want to start every day in Dublin with a full Irish breakfast, but you need to try it at least once while you’re in town. It’s not just one of the most delicious things to do in Ireland (and a great choice after a night spent pub-hopping)—it’s a cultural institution.
As for the best place to grab this life-changing breakfast? Highly contested. Your Dublin local will know best, but we’d recommend checking out long-time favorites like Gerry’s, which serves their full Irish with plenty of toast and coffee.
#4: Spend an afternoon exploring phenomenal Phoenix Park
What do adorable deer and the president of Ireland have in common? No, this isn’t the start of a joke. Stop laughing, you’re being weird.
Anyway, the answer is this: both of them live in Dublin’s phenomenal, sprawling Phoenix Park! And we mean sprawling—just west of Dublin’s town center, Phoenix Park is twice the size of NYC’s Central Park. And just as Central Park is one of the best places to visit in New York, Phoenix Park is a must-visit in Dublin.
Take an afternoon to explore every nook and cranny of this massive green space. You’re more likely to spot Dublin’s famous deer than the president—while the deer wander freely throughout the park, the president stays mostly in Áras an Uachtaráin, the official presidential residence.
Pro tip: In addition to deer and politicians, Phoenix Park is also home to some fantastic historic landmarks, as well as the stellar Dublin Zoo.
#5: Enjoy a Guinness (or two…or five...)
We know, we know—this is an obvious must-do in Ireland, but Dublin is the best place in the world to drink Guinness. It’s like having a hot dog in NYC—you just can’t not do it. Enjoy a pint or three at a neighborhood pub, or go right to the source and drink up at the St. James Gate Guinness Factory—it’s all delicious.
Our advice: ask your Dublin local to tell you all their favorite places for a pint—and about what other Irish beers you have to try out. (Psst—Smithwick. Definitely try Smithwick.)
#6: Get creepy at Christ Church Cathedral
Though it might not sound like much at first, Christ Church Cathedral is, without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in Ireland. Why? It’s packed with bizarre curiosities. Here, you’ll find a mummified cat and rat who got trapped in an organ pipe; the (once-stolen, recently returned) heart of St. Laurence O’Toole; and the tomb of Strongbow, one of the first Norman invaders of Ireland (PS: one of the best things to do in Kilkenny, about two hours away, is exploring Strongbow’s Castle).
Basically, the cathedral is full of awesome, weird stuff. Descend into the crypt, explore the main church, and climb the belfry for a great view of Dublin. You can’t really go wrong.
Pro tip: Love the weird treasures you can find in old Irish churches? Then check out the mummies of St. Michan’s Church, also in Dublin. They’re so creepy, they inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
#7: Discover the up-and-coming Drumcondra neighborhood
On the north side of the River Liffey, and about twenty minutes from Temple Bar, you’ll find the Drumcondra neighborhood. Recently called “quietly confident” and “on the up” by the Irish Times (PS: for you non-Irish folk, that’s basically as complementary as they get), Drumcondra is home to great Dublin attractions like the National Botanical Gardens and Croke Park Stadium—along with a newly-arrived hipster vibe and some awesome bars and restaurants.
Drumcondra is also home to the immense Glasnevin Cemetery—and despite the 1.5 million Dubliners buried there, the cemetery tours are lively and fun. Plus, it’s one of the best places in town to trace your Irish roots.
#8: Tap your feet to a trad session
Irish pubs aren’t just about ales—they’re also about music and dancing! For the uninitiated, an Irish folk music jam session is known as a trad session—and Dublin is full of them. Ask your Dublin local where to catch the best trad sessions in town; The Cobblestone, O’Donoghue’s, and the Hairy Lemon (don’t you love Irish pub names?) are all fantastic, but a music-loving local will definitely know best.
Pro tip: Interested in Irish folk music? Head to Galway. Just a couple hours away from Dublin, Galway is one of the best cities to visit in Ireland for its music scene alone (though there are things to do in Galway that aren’t music-related as well).
#9: Explore Dublin’s incredible museums
As you might imagine, Dublin has some incredible museums. It’s two most famous are the gorgeous National Gallery of Ireland (full of work by Irish artists) and the National Museum of Ireland (full of Irish history and culture). Great news for budget travelers: both museums are free to visit!
If you’re looking for a more Dublin-centric museum, though, stop by the Little Museum of Dublin. Practically overflowing with Dublin artifacts—including an entire room dedicated to U2—the museum is like a love letter to Dublin. It’s an excellent stop on any Ireland itinerary.
#10: Drink all the Irish whiskey
If Guinness is Ireland’s national beer, whiskey is the country’s national spirit. And in Dublin, your whiskey options are limitless. Start out at the Irish Whiskey Museum. Not only is it a great place to learn about whiskey, but each of its tour options includes a tasting.
Once you’ve learned enough to really enjoy the experience, check out some of Dublin’s iconic distilleries. The Jameson Distillery, open since 1780, is a classic. The Teeling Distillery, only open since 2015, is the new kid on the block. Since it’s impossible to compare the two without visiting each, you basically have no other choice but to go to both…
#11: Enjoy the shopping (and buskers) on Grafton Street
If you loved the film Once (those songs! that romance!) then you’ll know Grafton Street. But for anyone who doesn't dig romantic dramas, Grafton Street is the place in Dublin for musicians to try out new material. Why? Running through the heart of Dublin—from St. Stephen’s Green to Trinity College—Grafton street is home to some of the hippest boutiques and coolest pubs in the city. Plus, most of the street is designated for pedestrians only, which makes wandering along the cobblestones pretty freaking idyllic.
Pro tip: As a central hub of Dublin, Grafton Street is an incredibly popular place for tourists—so get some local advice on which tourist traps to avoid.
#13: Step behind bars at the Kilmainham Gaol
It may sound odd, but one of the coolest things to do in Ireland is to explore old Irish jails. Yeah, we know. But, seriously—people rave about touring the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. Constructed in 1796, the Gaol housed Irish political revolutionaries, prisoners destined for Australia, and desperate women and children who stole food during the Irish Famine. It’s heavy stuff, but the tours are excellent and informative and do a great job of sharing the stories of the people imprisoned at Kilmainham.
#14: Sup under the steeple of The Church Restaurant
An 18th-century church-turned-restaurant, The Church: Cafe, Bar, and Restaurant is more than just a funky little oddity. Seriously—it’s a character in Dublin history itself! It hosted the wedding of Arthur Guinness in 1761 and welcomed Irish author Jonathan Swift to church services, among others, before shutting its doors in 1964. Pretty cool, no?
A few decades later, The Church magnificently reopened as a four-story restaurant, offering cocktails, live music, and Irish cuisine. Dine alongside the tremendously cool original organ, or, if the weather permits, grab one of their tables outside.
#15: Wander the Hogwarts-like shelves of Trinity College Library
If you’re still convinced that your Hogwarts letter got lost in the mail (where are you, Hagrid?!) find some solace in the Hogwartsian stacks at Trinity College Library. It’s absolutely divine. We could spend all day climbing the spiral-staircases, admiring the arched ceiling, and just enjoying that book smell.
Be sure to check out the Library’s prized possession: The Book of Kells, a 9th-century manuscript that documents the life of Jesus Christ. You have to buy tickets, but hey—when will you ever see something like that again?
Pro tip: If you want to learn more about Trinity College itself, ask your local to set up a campus tour with a student. The college is stunning.
#16: Take in 800 years of history at Dublin Castle
Ireland is home to a whopping 30,000 castles (seriously) and the Dublin Castle is one of the best. It’s in remarkably good shape for being 800 years old—fun fact, Dublin’s name comes from the castle’s black ponds (dubh linn in Gaelic). Today, it’s free to wander the castle’s gorgeous grounds. You’ll have to pay for a tour of the castle, but for less than 10 euros, it’s really worth it—the guided tour takes you to fascinating parts of the grounds that you’d miss otherwise.
Pro tip: All about that castle life? One of the best things to do in Belfast is visiting its castle.
#17: Take a sunset selfie at Ha’penny Bridge
If you went to Dublin and didn’t take a picture of the city’s Ha’penny Bridge, did you really go to Dublin? In all seriousness, crossing (and photographing) this picturesque bridge is an absolute must while you’re in town.
Officially called Liffey Bridge, Ha’penny’s nickname comes from a deal struck between ferry operator William Walsh and the city—Walsh would allow the bridge’s construction, as long as he earned a half-penny from tolls. Today, it’s one of Dublin’s top landmarks. And a pretty wonderful place to take a sunset stroll.
Pro tip: Looking for a unique Dublin activity? Sign up for a kayak tour along the River Liffey.
Want to see all of Dublin’s coolest spots and skip the tourist fluff? Have an Irish local plan your trip. They’ll build you an immersive itinerary based packed with local gems *you* want to see and do—because Dublin is *their* city. Which means you’ll get experience Dublin like a local—not a tourist. Why would you want to do it any other way? Learn more.
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