Things to Do in Dublin
Dublin Castle has served many functions since it was built by King John of England in 1230. At that time, the castle was meant to act as a defense center against the current invaders, the Normans, and serve as the seat of the English government. Since then, Dublin Castle has also been the site of the royal mint, the police headquarters and the residence of various British leaders. Today, the castle grounds are used for some governmental purposes but are mostly only used for ceremonial purposes, such as the Irish President's inauguration, and to host conferences, like those of the European Council.
When no such event is occurring, Dublin Castle is open to the public. Guided tours take visitors through the grounds, sharing the history and ever-changing purpose of each building.
St Michan's Church is a church in Dublin, Ireland that was originally founded in 1095. The church was established to serve a colony of Danish Vikings who had been forced outside of the city walls after the majority of the Vikings had been killed or kicked out. The church was rebuilt in the late 1600s, and a large pipe organ was installed in 1724. It is believed that George F. Handel used this organ when composing The Messiah.
The big draw for St Michan's Church is in the basement. Below the church is a crypt with coffins, many of which are open. The bodies laid to rest here have mummified over the centuries with various theories as to why the bodies here have remained in a semi-preserved state. Some credit the limestone that makes the basement so dry, and others point to the methane gas from the former swamp land the church was built on. While the bodies have been preserved, the coffins have been disintegrating, often causing them to fall apart and reveal the mummies.
The bronze statue of Molly Malone commemorates the young woman featured in the local ballad, 'Cockles and Mussels'. As the song goes, this beautiful woman plied her trade as a fishmonger through the streets where her statue now rests, until she suddenly died of a fever. As a nod to the folk song, a statue was erected on the corner of Grafton and Suffolk streets and unveiled at the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations.
This tune has been adopted as Dublin's unofficial anthem, boosting this heroine to eternal fame. Though there is debate as to whether or not a Molly Malone like the one in the song ever existed, she is real to the people of Dublin and is remembered both in song as well as on June 13, National Molly Malone Day. The statue also acts as a popular rendezvous spot for groups as the beautiful bosomy woman with her cart cannot be missed.
Temple Bar is known as the cultural quarter of Dublin. Originally a slum that was to be developed into a bus terminus, it became home to a number of artists' galleries and small businessmen's shops who took advantage of the cheap rent in the 1980s. Presently, the Irish Film Institute and the Temple Bar Music Centre are amongst the several cultural institutions tucked away in this district's narrow cobbled streets.
Since the success of the movement to preserve Temple Bar, several drinking establishments have also popped up in the neighborhood. Though family-friendly during the day, what happens here after dark wouldn't be considered "culturally rich experiences" by most. As far as nightlife goes, Temple Bar is a popular place to get a drink or two (or three!) with friends, enjoy some traditional Irish music and observe the rowdy antics from a distance.
Dividing Dublin into north and south, the River Liffey is the subject of stories and songs by everyone from James Joyce to Radiohead. Entwined in Dublin's cultural identity, let's just say that some of the stories surrounding the Liffey are more than a little mythical: so if any Dubliners tell you that the capital’s Guinness tastes so good because the water comes from the Liffey, let them know that Guinness water is actually piped from the Wicklow mountains.
A popular spot for a river cruise or for a spot of canoeing, in recent years, the Liffey has had its riverbanks' developed so that you can stroll the overhanging boardwalks and visit the riverside parks which run alongside many parts of the river. Most Dublin attractions are near the river, and there are plenty of bridges to help you get from side to side, including the famous Ha'penny Bridge, built in 1816, and the modern Samuel Beckett bridge which is shaped like a harp.
Playing a large part in the establishment of Ireland as an independent nation, Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol was built in 1787 and many prominent Irish independent fighters were incarcerated – and some executed – in this jailhouse during the lengthy political Troubles between Ireland and the UK. Irish Republican Robert Emmet was hung here in 1803 and later that century Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell was imprisoned at Kilmainham in 1881, before his private life – scandalous by the standards of the time – led to his downfall in public life. The future Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera was also held at Kilmainham for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916, which failed in its attempt to establish an independent Ireland but saw increased public support for the radical republican group Sinn Féin. Founded in 1905, the party is still active in both parts of Ireland; today it has five Northern Irish MPs at Westminster under the leadership of Gerry Adams.
The Old Jameson Distillery, tucked away in a quaint cobbled alley that opens into a small courtyard, has managed to maintain the charm of its heyday in the early 1800s. Though most of the operation has since moved to Cork, Ireland, the old distillery is one of Dublin's top attractions and a must-see for whiskey fans as well as those curious about this Irish landmark.
Tours run daily and cover the history of John Jameson and the family business he created in addition to the whiskey making process. After learning about malting, milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling and maturing, visitors are invited to take part in the final step--tasting!
For those who feel that the tour sample has not quenched their thirst, they have the option to pull up a stool at the Jameson Bar or take their next drink with a meal at The 3rd Still restaurant. On the way out, a stop at the gift shop is a must to pick up souvenir bottles, glasses and everything else.
One of the oldest buildings in Dublin, Christ Church Cathedral is located in the former medieval heart of the city. Founded in 1030 by Sitric, King of the Dublin Norsemen, the grand cathedral (also known as The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity) has long been a place of pilgrimage for Ireland's devout. Incorporated into the Irish Church in 1152, today it's the seat of both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic archbishops of Dublin.
Renowned for its design, on a one-hour tour you'll get to explore the interior, keeping a look out for its famous stained glass windows, the smaller chapels behind the main altar, and the secret underground floor. You'll get an insight into the history of the cathedral, and hear the strange tale of the mummified cat and rat. You'll visit the crypt — one of the largest and oldest in Britain and Ireland, and also get to have a go at ringing the bells of Christ Church Cathedral in the belfry.
More Things to Do in Dublin
The pedestrian-friendly Grafton Street stems off of the western end of Trinity College and runs down to the main entrance of St. Stephen's Green. Acting as a direct link between these famous landmarks, Grafton Street is a main thoroughfare but is also a popular destination in itself. Both locals and visitors to Dublin come to Grafton Street to peek in the high-end shops and grab a bite at one of the eateries. At the end of the street, across from the entrance to the park, there's also St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, which adds to the wide selection of stores down at street level.
Those meandering the broad boulevard will find entertainment along their way as well. The fact that most of Grafton Street is closed to cars makes it a prime location for street performers to set up their acts.
Any visitor touring Dublin by foot will eventually walk down O’Connell Street. This bustling street is Dublin’s main thoroughfare, and while it’s only approximately a quarter mile in length, it’s believed to be the widest urban street found anywhere in all Europe. O’Connell Street is also famous for its statues, where the stone likeness of James Joyce watches over the swarm of crowds. It’s also home to the world’s tallest sculpture, and is the site of the O’Connell Monument that still has bullet holes from the 1916 Easter uprising. The General Post Office involved in the uprising is also along the street, although the historical buildings and statues aside, it’s the shopping, restaurants, and pubs that draw most of O’Connell Street’s visitors today. After slowly strolling the length of the street—past the impromptu gatherings of street musicians and shadowy city eccentrics—cross the River Liffey on the O’Connell Bridge to head towards Trinity College.
The name might not sound inspiring, but one glimpse of the General Post Office’s (GPO) imposing facade is sure to capture your attention with its ornate stone-carved portico and iconic statues punctuating the skyline.
The monumental building was constructed on O'Connell Street between 1815 and 1818 as the headquarters of the Irish postal service. Designed by Francis Johnston, the building’s architectural prowess features a Greek-revival theme, with 55-foot (17-meter) high Greco-Roman pillars and a series of dramatic Ionic columns flanking the entrance. Statues of Hibernia (goddess of Ireland), Fidelity and Mercury (messenger of the gods) stand proud atop the roof – the handiwork of sculptor John Smyth. The GPO isn’t simply a landmark though; its walls hide an illustrious history. The building was famously used as the main stronghold of Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Easter Rising and the front steps were where Patrick Pearse made his famous pre-siege speech.
The National Museum of Ireland is dedicated to showcasing items of Irish art, culture, and natural history. Of the three branches the collections are divided amongst, the archaeology section, located on Kildare Street, holds the best known and most impressive of all of the exhibits.
Its collection of medieval metalwork is known as the Treasury and is home to the world's most complete collection of Celtic metal artifacts, dating back from Ireland's Iron and Bronze Ages. Highlights of the collection include the Ardaugh Chalice, considered the finest piece of Celtic art found, and the Tara Brooch, an intricate piece of jewelry crafted in the 8th century. Other artifacts are grouped into "hoards", of which the Mooghaun and Broighter hoards are the most notable. The museum also displays an extensive collection of prehistoric goldwork as well as artifacts that document the settlement of Ireland from 7,000 BC all the way up to 500 BC.
Built in the late 18th century, Dublin City Hall is a classic Georgian building that was designed by renowned architect Thomas Cooley. Originally intended as the Royal Exchange for prosperous Dublin's large merchant population, inside it's all fluted columns and grand pillars, and as you enter you'll notice the beautiful rotunda.
Then head to the vaults to visit the "Dublin City Hall, The Story of the Capital," exhibition. Through multimedia displays you'll get to trace the story of Dublin from Viking times before the Anglo-Norman invasion back in 1170, through to tales of the buzzing Irish capital today. Downstairs in the gallery, Dublin City Hall is also home to Tir na nÓg Caife, which serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and snacks.
St. Patrick's Cathedral, built to honor the patron saint of Ireland, is a must-see attraction in Dublin. It stands adjacent to the well that it is said St. Patrick himself used to baptize converts. The original wooden church was erected in this spot in the 5th century but was rebuilt at the end of the 13th century to reflect its boost to cathedral status. Some repairs were done in the 1800s but the original style was maintained well enough to make it unclear as to how much of the medieval structure remains.
Milestones in the cathedral's history include famous author Jonathan Swift serving as Dean and the first performance of Handel's Messiah by members of the cathedral's Choir School. The former Dean's grave and the original music composition are on display in the cathedral as evidence of these events. Besides these items, St. Patrick's is filled with rows of statues, beautiful stained glass, and elegant decorations for visitors to marvel at as they walk through.
Opened in 1880 as a grand Georgian park to be enjoyed by the people of Dublin, on sunny summer days St Stephen’s Green gets packed with families and groups of friends relaxing by the lake.
A walk around the 22-acre park is like a mini lesson on Irish history’s most celebrated figures. Fittingly for a park that was funded by the Guinness fortune, the grandest statue of all is that of Arthur Guinness. Look out for the bust of James Joyce by the bandstand, and in the northeast corner of the park, see Edward Delaney’s bronze memorial of the Great Famine of 1845-1850. By the central flower display, see the park bench where a modest plaque is dedicated to Dublin’s so-called ‘fallen women’ who were forced to work in the city’s Magdalene laundries.
Surrounded by elegant Georgian buildings, St Stephen’s Green wasn’t always so impressive—this was once a dangerous, marshy common that hosted public whippings, burnings and even hangings right up until the 18th century.
Packed with Celtic crosses and one gigantic round tower, Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery was founded in 1832 as a resting place for people of all faiths—remarkable at a time when Catholics were banned from burial in Protestant graveyards.
Over 1.5 million people have been buried here, including Daniel O’Connell, the political leader who founded the cemetery, and Michael Collins—an Irish revolutionary who still gets flowers on his grave nearly 100 years after his death.
Next to the National Botanic Gardens and affectionately known as Croak Park to Dubliners, there are regular 90-minute tours of the graveyard, which is home to an award-winning museum that gives an insight into Ireland’s social and political history through the stories of the people who have been buried here. Explore the museum’s Milestone Gallery, an interactive, digital timeline that gives an account of some of Glasnevin Cemetery’s most famous residents.
Spanning 1752 acres just north of the River Liffey, Dublin’s Phoenix Park is one of the largest walled city parks in Europe. Established as a royal deer park for King Charles II in 1662, a herd of wild fallow deer have lived in the park grounds ever since. Look out for them in the meadow area known as Fifteen Acres.
Phoenix Park is full of tree-lined avenues, woods, and open spaces dotted with wildflowers. The park’s Victorian People's Flower Gardens are a popular visit, and next to The Walled Garden and Ashtown Castle there’s a cafe that serves fresh, organic food. There’s also a Victorian tea room on Phoenix Park’s Chesterfield Avenue. In summer, the park hosts open-air concerts and the Phoenix Park Motor Races every August. A popular spot for a picnic, the park is home to Dublin Zoo which receives over a million visitors a year, and there are bikes available for hire.
Known as one of Ireland's national treasures, the Book of Kells is a sacred and important historical text dating from around 800 A.D., making it one of the oldest books in the world. The book gets its name from the Abbey of Kells, which was its original home until the continuous plundering of the Vikings proved to be too great of a threat. Since the 15th century it has been at Trinity College for safekeeping.
The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks that depicts the 4 gospels of the New Testament as well as other texts. Written in Latin, the book has been translated and found to have a few mistakes. But these are overlooked as the manuscript was made to serve a more decorative and ceremonial purpose than one of utility. In fact, it is its illuminations (illustrations) that make the Book of Kells so remarkable.
One of the most popular attractions in Dublin, the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship and Famine Museum is dedicated to the Great Famine of 1845 to 1852, when over 1 million Irish people fled their devastated homeland in search of a new life in North America.
The Jeanie Johnston was one of the last “coffin ships” to sail the Irish across the Atlantic. Despite harsh storms and squalorous ship conditions, not one of the 2,500 passengers died aboard the boat in its 16 journeys to the New World, a rare run of good luck credited to the compassion of its captain and doctor.
On a one-hour guided tour of the replica ship, learn about the catastrophic potato blight and how the Great Famine affected Ireland and beyond. As you wander the dimly-lit cabins, get a sense of how hard ship life must have been at a time when four adults would have shared one six-foot square bare bunk. And on the lower deck, come up-close to the life-sized wax figures modeled on some of the passengers.
Dublin is known for its inclement weather, and if a chilly drizzle starts raining down from the city’s notoriously gray skies, one of the best places to escape the rain is at the National Gallery of Ireland. This renowned national gallery of art began in 1864 with only 112 pieces, and has grown over 150 years to feature over 15,000 different pieces of Irish and European art. All sorts of mediums from painting to sculpture are on permanent public display, and pieces from the 13th-20th century are exquisitely represented. In addition to the world’s most comprehensive collection of original Irish art, standout pieces include those of Caravaggio, Monet, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh. There is a rotating schedule of various tours through different sections of the museum, with one of the most popular being the tour that features the work of William Turner—the English Romanticist landscape painter—whose 31 watercolors are only displayed in January since the light’s at its lowest level.
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