Erin go bragh! Whether you’re celebrating in Dublin, Boston, or London, you’ll hear this common phrase shouted on St. Patrick’s Day (along with rousing renditions of “Danny Boy” and “Whiskey in the Jar.”) “Erin go bragh” translates to “Ireland Forever,” and on St. Patty’s Day, when cities dye their rivers and fountains green, everyone is Irish—at least for a day. St Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world, and while the holiday has long been marketed as an excuse to drink endless pints of Guinness and wear “Kiss me, I’m Irish” buttons, there’s more to Ireland’s beloved national holiday than beer and paraphernalia.
St. Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. March 17th marks the anniversary of his death in the 5th century, and the Irish have observed this date as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. However, the first recorded St. Patrick’s Day parade was not celebrated in Ireland but in Boston in 1733. So what’s St. Patrick’s claim to fame? According to Irish lore, he defeated the pagan druids, drove all the snakes out of Ireland, and single-handedly converted the Irish people to Catholicism. In other words, St. Patrick was a busy man and a busy man should be honored with parades, parties, and a couple of pints. Here are the best places in the world to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
Denmark is known as the home of Prince Hamlet, the birthplace of hygge (the art of coziness and well-being) and a champion of Scandi design—think high-powered wind farms and Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair. It’s also home to Noma, winner of the World’s Best Restaurant a record four times. For many travelers, Denmark brings to mind Nordic Noir, not the lush green hills of the Emerald Isle.
However, Copenhagen celebrates Ireland’s national holiday with the same passion you’d find in Dublin’s Temple Bar district. The city’s many bars and clubs host Irish concerts and traditional dancing. Restaurants feature Irish-inspired menus (lamb stew, bangers and mash, blood sausage), and a “green” parade takes place at Radhuspladsen. The St. Patrick’s Day event that best captures the Irish spirit is Copenhagen’s three-legged charity race. The race is sponsored by Carlsberg Beer and raises money for charity. And yes, Copenhagen’s most famous landmark—the Little Mermaid—glows green for the day.
Ireland and Iceland: The names are almost identical, and the similarities don’t stop there. Both islands have a penchant for folklore and fairy tales—Ireland with a long tradition of leprechauns and selkies, and Iceland with stories of elves and trolls. The Norse may have colonized Iceland, but the Irish set up permanent settlements on the island in the 8th and 9th centuries, too, thereby making a fraction of the inhabitants of modern Iceland Irish descendants.
Of course, everyone is Irish on St. Patty’s Day, regardless of ancestry. Reykjavik is a city that knows how to party, so live music, happy hours, whiskey presentations, and Guinness pie are all part of Iceland’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. And Reykjavik’s top monuments—Hallgrimskirkja Church and the Opera House—go green for the occasion. Who knew that sing-alongs of “Danny Boy” took place this close to the Arctic Circle?
St. Patrick’s Day falls a few days before the vernal equinox, which means that many countries turn the day into an early celebration of spring. In other words, St. Patty’s Day is a cosmopolitan holiday, an all-inclusive event designed to get people out of the house after the long, cold winter.
Irish parties and festivals are widespread in Italy on St. Patrick’s Day, but the best place to shout “Erin Go Bragh” is Bologna. Bologna is home to Italy’s best Irish festival, known as Irlanda in Festa. The celebration last several days and features beer, music and dancing.
It’s hard to imagine, but even in hard times London hosted an elaborate parade on the Sunday closest to St. Patrick’s Day. By the 1990s, when political tensions cooled, bars, dance clubs and church halls across England experienced a surge in Irish-themed events. According to the think tank British Future, a survey found that English people were more likely to be able to identify the date of St. Patrick’s Day than St. George’s Day, and St. George is the patron saint of England.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in cities across England, but the best place to experience the holiday is in London. A 1.5-mile parade begins in Green Park and runs through Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. The latter becomes the focal point of the day’s festivities and celebrations, with marching bands, dance troupes, Irish music, and thousands of merrymakers hoisting Gaelic flags. While London’s pubs overflow like rivers of gold with green-clad revelers, St. Patrick’s Day is also a family day for many Londoners—a holiday at the beginning of spring reserved for outdoor games, food, street theater, and numerous other activities and events.
There’s no better place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than in the heart of the action. Every year, the Irish capital city is awash in green as people of all ages take to the streets of Dublin to celebrate Irish history and Celtic folklore. Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade attracts over 500,000 people and features hundreds of elaborate floats, costumes, and musical performances. Fun-loving, anarchic revelry takes place over the entire weekend with a roster of music, film, and sporting events. St Patty’s Day in Dublin is like Mardi Gras, only with shamrocks and pints of Guinness instead of Kings Cakes and hurricane drinks. It’s March Madness at its finest.
On the other hand, there’s more to St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin than hoisting frothy pints and enjoying the “craic” at the local pub. The holiday also features church services, arts and crafts festivals, food fairs, a Firefighter’s Pancake Breakfast, the Dublin Lion’s Club Parade, and the Shamrock 5 Fun Race & Walk.
As the old saying goes, “When Irish eyes are smiling, ‘tis like a morn in spring.” And that spring morn just happens to fall on St. Patrick’s Day. Slainte!