Ireland’s natural beauty has long been lauded throughout the world. For many of us, Ireland conjures up idyllic imagery of green pastures, thatched farmhouses, verdant gardens, and pretty villages like Athlone, Kinsale, Kenmare and Adare. We think of striking cliffs and a dazzling countryside blessed with weathered castles, stone cottages, stately manor homes, and historic monasteries like Glendalough, Clonmacnoise and Kylemore Abbey.
Travelers to Ireland flock to the Lakes of Killarney and the Ring of Kerry. They want postcard views of the Cliffs of Moher, the River Shannon, and the Dingle Peninsula. The hills of Connemara, the rugged beauty of the Burren, the countryside of Kildare, and the Aran Islands off Galway’s coast welcome visitors to Ireland year after year. All of this begs the question; are we giving the capital city of this admittedly-beautiful island country enough credit? Has the Irish countryside raised the bar so high that we’re left blind to Dublin’s charms?
We hope not, because Dublin merits a visit in its own right! Words like charm are often used when describing tourist destinations, but laid-back Dublin is extraordinarily charming. And it makes for the perfect getaway for visitors traveling from America or Canada. You can’t beat the great availability of flights from North America to Dublin. There is the ease of speaking a common language. There is a terrific selection of hotels, superb restaurants and fantastic cultural attractions. And it’s important to note that Dublin is much smaller (and less exhausting to visit) than some of Europe’s other capital cities like London, Paris or Rome.
In fact, Dublin is oh-so stroll-able that it’s very easy to sightsee, shop, and leisurely wander past neighborhood cafes, lively pubs, interesting museums, cool vintage shops, and art galleries; this city has seriously great energy! That being said, should you choose to dedicate a few vacation days to Ireland’s beautiful capital city, here are 10 of our favorite sightseeing attractions in Dublin!
1. The Guinness Storehouse Tour
This dry stout has left its mark on Dublin’s culture, heritage – and streets. As you approach the storehouse for a guided tour, you’ll pass building after building marked with the brewery’s name; you almost feel a bit like you’re in “the city of Guinness.” The tour of the historic storehouse is interesting and fun, and it concludes with a delicious pint high inside the very cool Gravity Bar, which offers picture-perfect, 360° views of Dublin.
2. Kilmainham Gaol Museum
A short walk from the Guinness Storehouse will take you to our next suggestion: Kilmainham Gaol. A guided tour of this historic prison (and all visits are guided) will take you through some of the fascinating and often tragic events in Ireland’s history from the 1780s to the 1920s. You will learn about the former penal policies and hear about some of its most famous prisoners, quite of few of whom were involved in the rebellions leading up to the Irish War of Independence. We cannot recommend this tour enough.
3. See the Book of Kells in the Old Library of Trinity College
Found inside of the Old Library at Trinity College, this beautiful, painstakingly-illustrated and scripted manuscript is approximately 1200 years old. An extremely rare treasure, the Book of Kells details the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and serves as a testament to the tremendous religious and scholastic value of the Celtic monasteries of Ireland and Scotland – when the rest of Europe was stuck in the Dark Ages.
4. Go on Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawl
This is one of the best ways to spend an evening in Dublin! Beginning in the Duke’s Pub, two actors will take you on a very entertaining spin through the grounds of Trinity College as well as several favorite pubs of Dublin’s literary sons and daughters. Over a pint (or two) you can sit back and enjoy humorously-performed passages from some of Ireland’s literary masterpieces. Hear the works of Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde as you bounce from pub to pub; it’s plain good fun.
(Note: If this sort of thing strikes your fancy, consider also checking out the Dublin Writers Museum in Parnell Square).
5. Check out Dublin’s ordinary, neighborhood pubs
Part of Dublin’s charm comes from the fact that its locals are so laid-back and friendly, so make some time in your schedule to steer yourself off the tourist track to soak up the fantastic ambience in neighborhood pubs and bars.
While you find historic spots and great local craft beers, this isn’t just about drinking. Very often the food is very good, and you’ll find that many pubs regularly have terrific live music sessions.
A few favorites to frequent include Brazen Head (great music), Abbey Tavern (great food & entertainment), The Sackville Lounge (great character), the Stag’s Head (great ambience), Davy Byrnes (referenced in James Joyce’s Ulysses, very good seafood), and the J.W. Sweetman gastro pub (best fish chowder we’ve ever tasted).
It’s especially fun to try going to the pubs when a hurling match is on!
6. Splurge on a nice meal
We’ve been going on and on about Dublin’s pubs, but at least one night on your trip to Dublin merits an upscale dining experience. This city has an absolutely fantastic restaurant scene! Local chefs pride themselves on the freshness of local, Irish ingredients. Some blend Irish produce with French culinary techniques. Others offer innovative takes on delicious classics. Think farm food – with a twist – paired with seriously impressive wine lists.
Some favorites to try include the Winding Stair, Chapter One, the Vintage Kitchen, l’Gueuleton, Eden, Dax and One Pico.
7. Buy Mom, Grandpa, Uncle Bobby or yourself an Aran wool knit sweater
These sweaters hail from the Aran Islands, and were originally made for fishermen. Now you will see these sweaters all over the place in Ireland in souvenir shops, but we must admit – they’re lovely and very warm. And you know your Mom will want one!
8. Tour the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery
Set on the grounds of the original, 18th-century distillery in Dublin, the whiskey tour experience lasts an hour and takes you through the process of how John Jameson came up with the smooth whiskey that Ireland today exports all over the world. Again, it’s a fun way to sightsee, and they offer various tasting options depending on how interested you are in whiskey production.
9. Travel to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre to see Newgrange
Located just north of Dublin near the Boyne River, this 5000-year-old Neolithic site will knock your socks off. Think about it; this fully-intact monument is a passage tomb, the oldest astronomical observatory on the planet, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is much older than Machu Picchu. It’s older than Stonehenge. Why, it’s even a thousand years older than the pyramids of Egypt! And much like Stonehenge, no one can be certain about its exact purpose.
Understandably so, Newgrange is very well regulated as they cannot allow massive crowds of people on site at the same time. It’s best to take a tour here to ensure entry. Whether you come on an official tour or decide to arrive on your own, it’s essential to follow the specific time slots allotted to you for your chance to go inside the monument.
10. Visit the Hill of Tara
Just southwest of Newgrange lies another giant in Irish history: the Hill of Tara. This ancient, mystical spot was the royal seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Various ancient ceremonial monuments – including the Stone of Destiny – can be found atop the hill. The view as well is amazing; on a clear day you can see over 20 counties of Ireland.
(Because of their proximity, it is possible to do a combo tour of Newgrange and the Hill of Tara)
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our recommendations for what to see, do, eat, drink and buy on your next trip to Dublin! For a look at our Dublin Escape package please click here, or click directly on the links to see all of our vacation packages to Ireland.
We’ll end by saying that with Halloween being right around the corner, we feel safe in confessing that while we did not include a Dublin Ghost Tour on our Top 10 List, truth be told – we love a good ghost tour.