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Irish Enchantment: Dublin’s Top Attractions

Historical landmarks, world-class museums, incomparable pubs and abundant shopping are just a few of the draws in this capital city.

 

Think of Ireland, and you think of enchantment. While leprechauns and pots of gold may seem more compatible with the picturesque Irish countryside than with Ireland’s bustling capital city, Dublin is a mesmerizing blend of the quaint and the contemporary; of the fashionable and the fey. Tourists and native Irish alike flock to Dublin in droves, for shopping, music and literary festivals, sporting matches, or just a bit of culture. While cosmopolitan enough to compete with other European cities, Dublin has an openness and charm that make it unmistakably Irish.

Suburbs sprawl out from Dublin in all directions, but the city center itself is small, easy to navigate and full of delightful surprises. With talented musicians playing for change on practically every street, a young population and a vibrant literary scene, Dublin teems with culture, life and its own special magic.

Getting Your Bearings

If your sense of direction is less than reliable, never fear; just let the river be your guide. The River Liffey runs through Dublin, dividing the north and south of the city. The south is historically the wealthier area of town, and it contains some of Dublin’s most famous sights. It can be tempting to spend all your time there, lounging in St. Stephen’s Green and wandering up and down Grafton Street, but don’t overlook the area just north of the river.

This part of Dublin includes the General Post Office, the grand and imposing Customs House and one of Dublin’s newest landmarks, the Spire of Dublin. This huge, needle-like statue, which towers over the Dublin landscape, was built in 2002 in an effort to spruce up O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare. The Spire has been given many colorful nicknames celebrating its upright nature, such as “The Stiffy by the Liffey.”  

Of course, you don’t need a lewd sense of humor to enjoy Dublin (although it might help when wandering past the well-endowed statue of Molly Malone, aka “The Tart With the Cart”). Fortunately, there are enough museums, parks and restaurants to satisfy even the most mature traveler.

Historic Dublin

Dublin is a youthful city, with a thriving nightlife that caters to the large population of young adults. However, much of Dublin’s character still lies in its past. Get acclimated to the city and its history by taking a 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour. This will take you throughout the city center, exploring landmarks that played a role in the 1916 Easter Rising, when Irish republicans took arms against the British in an attempt to gain their independence.

Though perhaps not for the squeamish, a fascinating historic spot is the Kilmainham Gaol, where those captured in the Easter Rising were held and some were executed. This somewhat gruesome landmark is a must see for those interested in the power struggle between Britain and Ireland throughout the years.

Of course, there’s more to Dublin’s history than the fight for independence. Go even further back in history with a Viking Splash Tour, a fun-filled excursion that pays tribute to Dublin’s first settlers while exploring the city by boat.

Dublin Museums

Dublin boasts many fine museums and galleries, including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Chester Beatty Library and Gallery of Oriental Art. All three of these attractions are a wonderful way to while away an afternoon, and best of all, they’re free!

While it isn’t technically a museum, the Old Library at Trinity College is a great place to explore some of Dublin’s culture. Ireland’s oldest university houses many treasures in its library, including ancient texts such as the Book of Kells. This remarkable manuscript contains the four gospels of the Bible and illuminations drawn in breathtaking detail.

Also at the Old Library is the Long Room, which boasts a gorgeous barrel vaulted ceiling that showcases the gallery bookshelves. While in the Long Room, be sure to take a gander at the oldest surviving Irish harp, an instrument that has become a symbol of the country.

Dublin Outdoors

The east of Ireland enjoys some of the country’s best weather, making Dublin a great place to enjoy Ireland’s outdoors. St. Stephen’s Green is a lovely park in the middle of the city. With numerous winding paths and grassy patches, this is a grand spot for a picnic lunch on a sunny day.
 

There are also numerous gardens and paths throughout Dublin’s city center and its suburbs, suitable for taking a bit of exercise or just drinking in the beauty of your surroundings. [Read more about Dublin outdoors.]

Irish Castles

While Ireland no longer has royalty, it still has some breathtaking castles. In the city, you will find Dublin Castle, the former seat of British-appointed rulers. A guided tour of the castle provides an interesting history lesson about Irish government. Dublin’s suburbs have some beautiful castles as well: The Dalky Castle & Heritage Center is worth a visit, as is the Malahide Castle.

Churches and Cathedrals

A visit to one of Dublin’s famous cathedrals will help you appreciate Ireland’s long history of Christianity. Christ Church Cathedral is the oldest of Dublin’s cathedrals, dating back to about 1030 A.D. Be sure to head down to the crypt, which is even older than the cathedral. Also worth a visit is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest church in Ireland.

For those who like their religion with a touch of the macabre, head north across the Liffey to St. Michan’s Church. After a cheerful tour of the pretty, yet unremarkable sanctuary, a friendly guide leads you deep beneath the church into a dusty and slightly claustrophobic crypt, where mummified body parts peek out of off-kilter tombs.

Brew Tours

No one in Dublin would judge you harshly for enjoying a pint with your lunch. But if you need an excuse to imbibe, consider taking a tour of one of Dublin’s famous breweries or distilleries. The Guinness Storehouse is a great place to start. The Storehouse, often mistakenly called the Guinness Brewery, is located behind the iconic St. James Gate, just west of the city center. Once inside this modern attraction, the self-guided tour teaches you about the history of Ireland’s most famous drink, from how it’s made to its groundbreaking advertising history. Once you’ve finished your tour, head upstairs to the Gravity Bar where you can take in the impressive view of the city while you enjoy a pint of the black stuff.

If you fancy something a bit stronger, head north of the Liffey to the birthplace of Jameson Whiskey. While it’s no longer an active distillery, a tour of the Old Jameson Distillery will teach you what goes into the making of an Irish whiskey, and at the end you are rewarded with a glass of this famous Irish drink.

Drinking in Temple Bar

A prime example of a successful urban renewal project, Temple Bar was once run down and derelict, but now is Dublin’s most popular night spot. Located just south of the River Liffey, at the picturesque Ha’penny Bridge, Temple Bar is full of traditional Irish pubs. The streets in this area are made of cobblestone, adding to its old-fashioned charm. While the area works a bit too hard at attracting tourists, it certainly deserves a visit. [Read more about Drinking in Dublin.]

Shopping

Of course, you will need a souvenir to commemorate your stay in Ireland’s most cosmopolitan city. A Claddagh ring for that special someone makes for a beautiful and lasting souvenir. Linen, glassware and bottles of good whiskey are also popular items to pick up in Ireland. You can find these items almost anywhere in the city, including St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre and Grafton Street. [Read more about Shopping in Dublin.]

Theater

Catching a play is a great way to sample some Irish culture. If you are in the city in late September and early October, don’t miss the Dublin Theatre Festival, one of Europe’s oldest theater festivals. If your stay in Dublin doesn’t coincide with these dates, check out the Abbey Theatre. This renowned theater features classic Irish and international plays and is an obvious destination for drama aficionados. For those with an inclination for opera or musicals, take in a show at The Gaiety Theatre, located just off Grafton Street.

Literary Dublin

Ireland has a long and proud literary history, and Dublin is its most prolific city. James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker all hail from Ireland’s capital. Fans of Ulysses can retrace Leopold Bloom’s journey through the city, or if you want someone else to do the work for you, join a Literary Pub Crawl to see famous literary sights throughout the city while you enjoy a night out on the town. [Read more about Dublin’s Literary Scene.]

Places to Stay

At the end of a whirlwind day of sightseeing and pint drinking, you’ll need a comfy bed in which to rest. Cheerful B&Bs are a classic form of Irish accommodation, and you’ll certainly be well looked after if you choose the Azalea Lodge. If you prefer the decorum of Dublin hotels, there are plenty of new and stylish ones popping up throughout the city. Pamper yourself at the swanky Four Seasons or stay more central at the Dylan Hotel, a 10-minute walk from the heart of Dublin. If you want to save money for more drinks, chose one of Dublin’s numerous city-center hostels, such as Avalon House or Barnacles Temple Bar House.

Branch Out

After a few days in Dublin, you may be tempted to stay forever. But don’t miss some of the outstanding Irish landmarks within driving distance from the capital. A hike in the Wicklow Mountains will expose you to breathtaking views of the countryside. Or explore ancient Irish history at Newgrange in County Meath. If, as the Irish say, you can’t be asked to leave Dublin, that’s OK. There’s so much to do in this enchanting city, no one would blame you for making yourself comfortable and staying awhile.


Destinations: Dublin

Themes: Art and Museums, Historical Vacations, Shopping

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Museums, Shopping, Sightseeing, Pubs and Bars


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