Dublin Travel Guide – Top 10 Vacation Highlights

Few capitals in the world have succeeded in balancing the heritage of the past with a buoyant spirit of the present, as has Dublin. While the Irish capital’s city center offers a metropolitan feel, visitors can still get a sense of the history that makes Dublin a wonderful destination for a great vacation.
Dublin Travel Guide
Table of Contents

Tourists will never run short of things to do in Dublin, a city which offers a great mix of old classics and new favorites. Dublin has a myriad of attractions to suit all interests. History buffs and culture vultures will surely delight in all that Dublin has to offer.

One of the absolute musts during any tour of Dublin is a trip to Trinity College, which is guaranteed to charm with its 18th century cobbled paths, historic buildings and enchanting grounds. Here you get to see some of Ireland’s most ancient literary treasures, including the magnificent Book of Kells which is housed within the college’s intriguing Old Library.

Dublin is renowned for its wonderful art galleries and museums that hold priceless treasures. At the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, you will be taken by incredible bog bodies from the Iron Age, impressed by Caravaggio’s masterpiece, and stunned by a gold collar from the Bronze Age.

Dublin’s main attractions derive from its rich history and architecture, some of which dates as far back as the Viking era. At the National Gallery of Ireland, you can indulge in over 2,000 art works from around Europe, including some world-famous paintings.

Dublin Castle is another major attraction with its restored historic buildings, which include the popular favorites – the Medieval Tower and the Chester Beatty Library. The castle complex comprises some of the city’s oldest surviving architecture.

Guinness, probably the most recognizable drink in the World, has its spiritual home in Dublin. And at the Guinness Storehouse, tourists can enjoy an interactive tour on the history of the brand with details on how the famous stout is brewed.

If you are into horticulture then you will enjoy a visit to the National Botanic Gardens, with its impressive array of plants, trees, flowers and other exhibits. The gardens provide the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of the main Dublin shopping district.

Temple Bar is Dublin’s cultural quarter and the undisputed hub of activity in the city. Here you will have your pick of cafes, restaurants, quirky shops, markets, street musicians and cultural events. Visitors can go on a themed pub crawl or just visit one of the tried and tested pubs.

Travelers to Dublin visit mainly for the Irish craic (fun), its literary heritage, atmospheric pubs and fascinating museums. Famous for its trendy nightlife and of course – Guinness, its special brew, Dublin is one of Europe’s top tourist destinations, whose popularity continues to rise. A visit to Dublin is bound to be a memorable experience that will leave you with a stirring narrative to share, for years to come.

1. Dublin Castle

Built between 1208 and 1220 on the orders of King John of England, Dublin Castle has been at the center of every milestone that the Irish capital has achieved. The site of the first Celtic settlement over 800 years ago, as well as every presidential inauguration, Dublin Castle is today the city’s main government building.

For 700 years, the castle served as residence to governors of the British Crown in Ireland, until it was taken over in 1922 by the Irish Free State. Ever since inception, the castle has continued to play an important role in the history of Ireland. Having undergone numerous renovations since its founding, Dublin Castle has served as a court of law, a military fortress, and a prison.

Situated in the city centre, between of the River Liffey and its tributary the Poddle, the Castle is today used for state functions and presidential inaugurations and offers a wide range of dining and conference venues.

With hardly a turret in sight, Dublin Castle architecturally resembles more an eccentric palace than a castle, with its 13th century brick gate and hulking circular tower that features large chandeliers, brass works and elaborate carpeting. The castle’s opulent interiors sit in striking contrast to its medieval-style exterior.

Visitors can go on a guided tour of the State Apartments contained at the site of the medieval fortress, which are some of the castle’s most popular rooms. The tour highlights the castle’s history and that of Ireland, showing the State Apartments in which Nelson Mandela and other heads of state, presidents and leaders of business, industry and government, and other dignitaries once stayed.

The tour will also take you into various rooms with gorgeous furniture, the exquisite throne room, and underground to the moat and the oldest part of the castle.

Alternatively, you could just tour the grounds on your own and visit the gothic revival Chapel Royal, the Revenue Museum and the Garda Museum. Go see the lower-ground-floor Undercroft, where boats once delivered provisions through an archway. You can also admire the Center for the Arts, see the Church of the Holy Trinity, climb up Birmingham Tower and descend the dungeons to relax in a cozy café.

With regards to architecture, the Chapel Royal and the castle’s massive tower retain the medieval look, while the administrative buildings have a more modern look. While the castle’s defensive character is all gone now, it’s impressive state rooms and beautiful gardens make up for this transformation.

Dublin Castle draws visitors from around the world due to its architectural beauty and history. Open daily to visitors, it is also a key venue for art, cultural exhibitions, and performances such as concert recitals.

While at Dublin Castle, do not miss out on the Chester Beatty Library, the only museum in Ireland to ever win the title “European Museum of the Year”. The library is regarded as one of Europe’s best museums, and houses one of the greatest collections of ancient oriental manuscripts in the Europe. This includes diverse and vast collections of Renaissance manuscripts, jade books from the Imperial Court of China and rare miniature paintings that make for a must-see during any tour of Dublin.

The museum is named after Alfred Chester Beatty, an American mining magnate. Beatty was a major collector of Eastern art, who transferred his collection to Ireland in 1950. Beatty’s collection is in 2 parts: “Sacred Traditions” and “Artistic Traditions”, with highlights including one of the largest collections of ancient Egyptian papyri in the world, and a selection of ancient Korans and Bibles.

Visitors can admire the very first illustrated Life of the Prophet, as well as the Gospel of Mani. There are also ancient Egyptian manuscripts, carved Chinese snuff bottles, Old Masters paintings and other rare artifacts. Some of the museum’s most astounding pieces date as far back as 2,700 BC.

2. The Old Library and the Book of Kells

Dominating the Dublin city landscape is Trinity College, the oldest University in Ireland. Founded in 1592, Trinity College is also one of the oldest English-speaking Universities in the world and the only one not located inside the United Kingdom. Regarded as the most prestigious higher education institution in Ireland, Trinity College is home to one of the oldest libraries in the world.

Situated within the college’s resplendent Long Room, the Old Library holds a collection of over 45 million books and priceless manuscripts in over 20 languages, including 200,000 ancient books. The Old Library was built between 1712 and 1732, and is said to have been the inspiration behind the libraries in some of the Star Wars and Harry Potter films.

The Long Room of Trinity College is itself an amazing spectacle to behold with its marble busts of famous European thinkers, writers and academics. Also on display in the Long Room is the oldest harp in Ireland, which legend attributes to Brian Boru, the high king of Ireland.

The Old Library is particularly famous for housing the Book of Kells, a 9th Century manuscript of the Four Gospels of the New Testament in Latin. Dublin’s most renowned tourist attraction and a national treasure of Ireland – the exquisite Book of Kells is regarded as one of the most beautifully illustrated books in existence. The book is also one of the oldest books in the world, dating from around 800 A.D.

While modern-day translations of the manuscript have revealed it to have mistakes, these have been overlooked. This is because the manuscript is believed to have been designed to serve a ceremonial and decorative purpose, rather than a functional one.

Indeed, it is the illuminations of the Book of Kells that makes it so remarkable. Visitors will be awestruck by its intricate patterns and vibrant colors that enhance the traditional Christian iconography. Also remarkable are the Celtic knots adorning images of humans and mythical figures included in the text. No other manuscript of this kind offers such fine craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Visitors to Trinity College’s Old Library can admire the detail in the renowned Book of Kells. An important symbol of Christianity in Ireland, the lavishly-illustrated sacred manuscript is a marvel of early Christian art, executed by medieval monks. Today, the Book of Kells is valued for its display of Celtic art dating from the 6th century and represents the pinnacle of artistic achievement in the early Middle Ages.

Visitors can learn about the history of the creation of the book before viewing several of its pages full of elaborate portraits and calligraphy. Pouring over the intricately decorated pages of the manuscript is bound to forever alter your perception of the art of bookmaking, as you come to appreciate the painstaking process that went into the creation of this magnificent work.

The Book of Kells has had a fascinating history in that it was once buried in the ground by Irish monks who feared its destruction by the Vikings. It was later rediscovered, transported from Iona, off the coast of Scotland, and stored at Kells in Meath. It was then deposited for safekeeping at the Trinity College in 1653. The book, which derives its name from the Abbey of Kells, was also stolen at one point.

While the Book of Kells and the Old Library are usually the first port of call for every tourist to Ireland, visitors can also explore the beauty and serenity of the Trinity College campus grounds. An all time favorite with tourists, the beautiful buildings and grounds of Trinity College are worth a peek in their own right.

The college’s oldest buildings date from 1700, while most of the other impressive buildings were established during the 1759 renovation phase.

For an enjoyable experience of the Trinity College grounds, take a stroll around Front Square, and drop by The Buttery for a snack. Walk along the cricket green and join the students in The Pavilion for a pint. Visitors here may also tour the Zoology Museum and Science Gallery.

The front gate of Trinity College is also the meeting point for the historical walking tours of Dublin. During the two hour walk, visitors get to learn about various facets of Irish history.

3. St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Built in 1192 by John Comyn, Dublin’s first Anglo-Norman Bishop, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was established in honor of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. The church’s site is adjacent to where St. Patrick baptized converts during one of his visits to Dublin.

The largest church in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is built in the neo-Gothic architectural style, typical of the Victorian era. Visitors can marvel at its large windows, carved panel chairs, elegant floor tiles, and exquisite organ. The church is also full of rows of statues, beautiful stained glass, and elegant decorations that you can admire as you walk through the building.

The original wooden church was established on this spot during the 5th century and rebuilt at the end of the 13th century to reflect its boost to the status of cathedral. The present cathedral building was constructed between 1200 and 1270, and restored between 1860 and 1900 following decades of disrepair.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is today not only a museum, but also a church that holds services every day. While the church is primarily a place of worship, it is also open to the public as a historical and architectural attraction. The cathedral is also notable for hosting the very first performance of Handel’s Messiah, and even has the original music composition on display.

Visitors are welcome to join one of the services held there or simply enjoy concerts held by the cathedral’s talented choristers. You can coordinate your visit with a lunchtime recital for an aural treat. But bring a cushion to the choral performances as the hours of sitting on the hard wood benches can leave you with a numb feeling.

Given its close proximity to the city center, a visit to the cathedral is essential for any Dublin itinerary, no matter the duration of your stay.

4. National Gallery of Ireland

Museums are a natural first port of call for anyone compiling a sightseeing itinerary in any brand new city. Dublin is home to an abundance of museums that celebrate Ireland’s rich history, with its main museum attractions being located in the center of the city.

Dublin’s museum scene features all the regular haunts for museum goers including the popular National Gallery of Ireland. Over 150 years old and home to some of the world’s most unique and exquisite art collections, the National Gallery of Ireland is located near Grafton Street, and offers one of the best ways to escape a rainy afternoon typical of Dublin.

The National Gallery of Ireland was opened in 1864 and today boasts the largest collection of fine Irish art in the world, as well as an impressive collection of European paintings. The collection comprises more than 2,500 paintings and some 10,000 other works in a variety of media, including drawings, watercolors, prints and sculpture.

During your visit to the National Gallery, take your time to explore the Masterpieces exhibit, which features an expansive collection of paintings from some of Ireland’s famous and most talented artists. There is also a fine permanent collection of Dutch Masters, Italian Baroque and other European artists.

The works date from the 13th century to the 20th century, and every major European School of painting is represented extensively in the gallery. Some of the famous names you can expect to find here include Picasso, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Monet, Goya and Caravaggio.

There is a rotating schedule for the various tours offered in the museum’s different sections. One of the most popular tours is that featuring the work of William Turner, the English Romanticist landscape painter. Turner’s works comprise 31 water colors, which are displayed only in January when sunlight is at its lowest.

Be sure to check out Caravaggio’s The Taking of the Christ, which was lost for 200 years before being rediscovered in 1990 within the residence of Dublin’s Society of Jesus, where it had been hanging since 1930. Since 1802, the painting had been considered a copy of the lost original and was sold as such several times, until it was bequeathed to the Society in the Thirties.

Architecture enthusiasts can drop by the museum’s Russborough Revisited exhibit, which is one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture. Souvenir hunters can also browse the Gallery Shop and purchase prints, publications and other interesting memorabilia.

5. National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

The National Museum of Ireland was founded in 1877 to preserve and promote Ireland’s natural and material history. It is today one of the best spots to enjoy a well-rounded view of the heritage of Ireland. The museum buildings are beautiful in their own right and house plenty of information to soak up for a crash course on all things Irish.

The National Museum of Ireland comprises four centers that celebrate Ireland’s heritage and provide insights into the country’s interesting past. The centers focus on archaeology, decorative arts & history, country life, and natural history, while offering a great introduction into the history of Ireland.

Home to all artefacts found in Ireland, the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology is just the place to visit for an appreciation of Ireland’s Celtic past. Located on Kildare Street, the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology first opened its doors in 1890 and today houses exhibits spanning 7,000 BC to the 20th century.

The museum is home to Ireland’s finest treasures, dating back to the Celtic Golden Age before the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1170. Well worth a visit, the museum allows you to pour over artifacts in great permanent and exciting temporary exhibitions.

On the ground floor, visitors can admire the brilliant Gold exhibition, which features an impressive range of Ireland’s Prehistoric Bronze Age gold works in the form of jewellery, war trumpets and chariot parts. On the same floor is the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibition, which features some recently discovered bog bodies.

Upstairs is the Viking exhibition, which offers fascinating insights into the daily life of the Norse settlement, recreated in models. There is also the War of Independence Exhibition, as well as an Ancient Egyptian exhibition where visitors can view the cartonnage case of a mummy. There are also exhibits on Medieval Ireland and life during the Roman era.

6. Guinness Storehouse

Dublin is a city that treasures its past, even while living firmly in the present. And this is something you will clearly see when you visit the Guinness Storehouse. No visit to Ireland is complete without a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, the most visited attraction in Ireland.

The Guinness Storehouse lets you in on one of the world’s most famous brands – Guinness. Fondly referred to by Dubliners as a “meal in a cup”, the Guinness stout is today Ireland’s most famous export; and the Storehouse is a source of knowledge and entertainment that makes for a fun day out.

The Guinness Storehouse comprises a 7-storey-high interactive museum, which offers insights into the history of the Guinness brand, the brewery and generations of the Guinness family. Here, visitors will learn about the brand’s humble beginnings and how it evolved into today’s success story.

Located at the centre of St. James’s Gate Brewery, the Storehouse gives visitors the opportunity to discover the story behind Guinness. During what can only be described as the ultimate brewery tour, you will learn about how Arthur Guinness rented a brewery adjoining St. James’ Gate brewery and began brewing his beer in 1759.

A must-see during any visit to the Irish capital, the Storehouse offers 250 years of brewing history – from Arthur Guinness’ first shipment of beer in 1769 to the contemporary brewing method and Ingredients. The tour begins at the Atrium, the world’s largest pint glass, at which you will learn about the step-by-step brewing process, and also see how the brand has been portrayed in the media over the years.

Beer lovers can also sign up for the Connoisseur Experience, a 90-minute tasting session of the most popular Guinness variants, during which they will learn how to expertly pour and drink Guinness for optimum taste.

On the first floor are exhibits, equipment displays and videos on the Guinness brewing and barreling process. Over the next 3 floors you will learn about the Guinness story through various interactive displays and multi-sensory experiences. Be sure to visit the Brewers Dining Hall on the fifth floor for a taste of some Guinness-inspired dishes.

At the end of the tour, visitors can enjoy a complimentary pint in the Gravity Bar on the top floor. While the Storehouse building is itself impressive, it’s the Gravity Bar, with its 360-degree view of the city that is the real highlight. With its great views, Gravity Bar is arguably the most spectacular bar in Dublin.

The bar resembles a large glass bird’s nest which offers panoramic views of the Dublin rooftops and parklands, over the city steeples and mountains. Visitors can sit here and leisurely enjoy the scenery while sipping on a pint of “the black stuff”.

You can also drop by the Guinness Shop on the ground floor to shop for unique memorabilia and treats to take home, including traditional magnets, books and key chains, as well as chocolates and sweets with beer filling.

If you have a spare afternoon, visit this excellent attraction – whether you like Guinness or not. This dark, brooding beer is very much a part of Dublin’s history and the Guinness Storehouse experience is a polished, Hollywood-style operation that is very entertaining. This is an ideal spot to enjoy respite from all the history learning at other Dublin attractions, and a good place to get a true taste of Ireland.

7. Christ Church Cathedral

Founded around 1028 by Norse King Sitric, Christ Church Cathedral is the main Cathedral in Dublin, which also happens to be Dublin’s oldest building. Sometimes referred to as the “Cathedral of the Holy Trinity”, Christ Church is located on Wood Quay, in the heart of medieval Dublin, the oldest part of the city.

If you fancy a bit of history, Christ Church Cathedral is your best bet. One of Dublin’s finest historic buildings, the cathedral has a long history in Dublin. The medieval Irish Parliament met within the church, which was also the coronation site of King Edward VI. The church is today regarded as the spiritual heart of the proudly Catholic country of Ireland.

The cathedral was built in the 11th century for the first archbishop of Dublin, and completely renovated in the 19th century, by Henry Roux. Today, the church offers visitors a beautiful sight to behold and peaceful interiors to enjoy, as well as an interesting exhibit of historic artifacts, rare manuscripts, gold and silverware.

Step inside the cathedral and be amazed by the church’s bespoke interiors and interesting medieval crypt. The Christ Church Cathedral’s medieval crypt is the earliest remaining structure in Dublin and one of the largest in Britain. The cathedral’s crypt is a particular favorite among visitors who enjoy exploring.

There is an informative audio-visual presentation and memorials of past Irish heroes and personalities. Visitors can also drop by the Cathedral Shop for some souvenirs or the Cathedral Cafe for some refreshments. While here, be sure to witness a performance by Evensong, the cathedral’s world-renowned choir.

The cathedral also houses the alleged tomb of Strongbow, a Norman-Welsh warlord, and a mummified cat and rat known locally as “Tom & Jerry” that were discovered behind the organ. Visitors can also take a peek at 17th Century stocks used to punish offenders, as well as old books and carvings.

Whether or not you’re of the religious persuasion, stepping foot inside this historic building will make for a beautiful experience during your tour of Dublin.

8. National Botanic Gardens

It’s not for nothing that Ireland is nicknamed the “Emerald Isle”, as the country boasts some of the most pristine green spaces in Europe. The Irish capital of Dublin has a wealth of gorgeous, leafy parks that make it the perfect city-break destination in Europe.

Situated in Glasnevin on the south bank of the Tolka River, the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin are a beautiful and tranquil green oasis. The gardens are more than 150 years old and constitute 19.5 hectares in which more than 300 endangered plant species from around the world are conserved.

The gardens were established to share, explore, conserve and understand the importance of plants. The site features a visitor’s centre complete with a lecture hall, restaurant and display area that has exhibits relating to the history and purpose of the gardens. Educational exhibits and classes are regularly organized here.

If you are in need of a refreshing break from the Dublin pubs and sightseeing, simply go and wander around the botanic gardens. This is one of the best ways to experience Dublin during which you can discover over 20,000 varieties of living plant specimens, in addition to millions of dried plants.

Visitors here can enjoy many attractive features including a sensory garden, arboretum, rock garden and burren area, large pond, extensive herbaceous gardens and an annual display of decorative plants which includes a rare example of Victorian carpet bedding.

A visit to the gardens is also worthwhile from an architectural point of view, as there are several glasshouses with architectural significance. The Curvilinear Range and the Palm House, for instance, are spectacular buildings that date from the mid-19th century.

Although the gardens’ main function is to serve as a scientific collection, visitors can also enjoy concerts, photo exhibitions and demonstrations held there throughout the year.

9. Temple Bar

Located in the area south of the River Liffey, Temple Bar is a bohemian enclave founded in the 1980s by Dublin’s creative community. The area was originally earmarked to be torn down and redeveloped into a bus and rail terminal. However, it was saved and reinvented into the “bohemian quarter” it is today.

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Temple Bar is named after William Temple, the Dean of the University of Ireland, who lived there in the 17th century. The most popular area in the city and one of the oldest quarters of Dublin, Temple Bar is today a haven of car-free cobbled streets that houses a hotbed of art-house cinema, galleries, music, theatres, trendy boutiques and a cultural centre.

There is simply no better way to get to know Dublin than by getting lost on the meandering streets of Temple Bar. Culture vultures will enjoy the little art galleries, inviting museums, street performers and saxophonists crooning on the side streets. The neighborhood is also full of bustling cafes, eateries and shops.

Have a wander around the historic Temple Bar neighborhood during the day and view the brightly colored street art, as well as the “Wall of Fame” which features pictures of famous Irish artists. Art lovers can also check out the Irish Film Institute and the Gallery of Photography.

If you’re in the neighborhood on a Saturday, visit the fabulous Food Market, with its aromas of freshly baked bread, brewed coffee and locally grown produce. The market is located at Meeting House Square and features diverse stalls selling everything from cheese to seafood. For lunch, you can sample the local favorite of Beef and Guinness Pie.

The Designer Mart at Cow’s Lane is yet another great market at Temple Bar, which showcases the best of handmade crafts and design in Ireland in over 20 stalls. At the Book Market held in Temple Bar Square, book lovers can browse through vintage books, while music fans peruse a selection of vinyl.

At night, the neighborhood gets pretty chaotic and fun, as Dublin’s legendary nightlife kicks off and Guinness starts to flow inside the many atmospheric watering holes of Temple Bar.

Dublin and Guinness are so inextricably linked that it’s hard to imagine a trip to the Irish capital without sampling the national brew. But while visiting the popular Guinness Storehouse is top on most Ireland itineraries, the most authentic experience for beer lovers in Dublin is the pub crawl. Pub crawls come in all sorts of themes from the literary pub crawl to the traditional music pub crawl.

The literary pub crawl is the most popular because, while other cities in Europe are known for their art or music, Dublin is most famous for its literature. During the crawl, actors lead visitors from pub to pub through literary landmarks, while regaling them with excerpts from books by Dublin’s famous authors.

For the music pub crawl, visitors are led by professional musicians, and get to visit famous pubs and bars, while hearing the story of Irish music. The Irish love a good party, and one of the best ways to enjoy traditional Irish music in Dublin is at one of the many live music nights held at various pubs around the Temple Bar district.

You could also try your hand at traditional Irish dancing at venues such as the Irish House Party Pub, located just a short distance from the Temple Bar area. Here you can learn to move to the beat of the bodhrán (Irish drum) and also listen to local storytellers.

Whether you join an organized pub-crawl or indulge in a DIY drinking tour of popular local haunts, Temple Bar offers one of the best ways to experience the drinking side of Dublin.

The best time to visit Temple Bar is during St. Patrick’s Day, the ultimate celebration of all things Irish. During “St. Paddy’s Day”, the entire city of Dublin is engulfed in 5 days of festivities, with street theatre, live music, a massive street carnival, funfair and an Irish Beer festival that keep the crowds well entertained.

The dramatic culmination of the festivities is the flamboyant St Patrick’s Day Parade, a dazzling procession of floats, marching bands and dancing troupes that cover 2.6km through the city.

10. Kilmainham Gaol

Built in 1792, Kilmainham Gaol is the largest unoccupied prison in Europe. Once the setting of some of Ireland’s most heroic and tragic events, the prison today serves as an important memento of Ireland’s journey towards becoming a republic.

History buffs visiting the prison can take in the detailed exhibition on how the prison started, as well as its restoration over the years. There is an interesting and informative audio-visual tour available to highlight the history of the prison.

As one of the largest correctional institutions in 18th century Europe, the Kilmainham Gaol was once the residence of prominent Irish political figures who served as inmates. During the tour you will view the cells which held some of the most important political prisoners in Irish history.

The former prison’s chilling exhibition and guided tours paint a vivid picture of lives of the political and lay prisoners who were held within its stone walls. It’s eternally cold and bare cells also bear silent testament to the harsh prison life the inmates faced, as up until the mid-19th century, the prison had no windows or light, and the food was very modest.

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