When you think of visiting Dublin, I bet the first thing that comes to mind is enjoying a pint of Guinness, or spending a fun night out in the Temple Bar. And while these can be fun activities for sure, there is so much more to see and do in the Irish capital! If you’re not a huge beer or whiskey fan, read on to learn more about 10 fun activities you can try out on your next visit, and learn more about the history and culture of Ireland as you go. Let’s dive into the list of some fun and unexpected things to do in Dublin!
1. Book a guided tour of Dublin Castle
One of the best attraction in Dublin is actually the most obvious one: the Dublin castle, the medieval heart of the city. It only took me four visit to discover this, but hello – who would have thought that a guided tour through a couple of state apartments can be so damn interesting?! The truth is, I loved every bit of the tour and I’d definitely recommend booking one, as opposed to doing a self-guided tour.
During this tour, one of the enthusiastic and knowledgable guides will take you on an amazing discovery tour of this enormous castle. Starting at the oldest part of the castle, which is actually right underneath the castle, are the Viking excavations. You can even see the underground river Poddle, where the original Viking settlement was located. Once you make your way back, be prepared to have your breath taken away by the beautiful, intricate interiors of the Chapel Royal. Lastly, the guide will guide you through the very impressive State Apartments, including the beautifully painted St Patrick’s Hall. Have I persuaded you yet?
Location: Dame St, Dublin 2
Costs: Adults €8,50
Opening hours: 9:45am – 5:15pm
2. Check out the Chester Beatty Library
After you’ve discovered the best of Dublin Castle on a guided tour, don’t head back to the city just yet; the nearby Castle Gardens hide one of the most unexpected treasures of Dublin: the Chester Beatty Library. Located in an eye-catching glass building, the collections of Chester Beatty are a sight to behold – and free for all. Divided across two floors, the rooms and exhibitions comprise a breathtaking collection of rare Islamic manuscripts (think gilded leather-bound prayer books), Asian and Middle-Eastern artifacts (from Chinese snuff boxes to Biblical texts on papyrus).
You can spend as much time as you want, but even if you’re not a huge fan of historical books and manuscripts, I’d recommend just stopping by and having a look around. The exhibitions change over time, providing background information about the life of Chester Beatty and his outstanding philanthropic efforts. And, last but not least, the museum has got a cute little bookshop downstairs, as well as a beautiful café, providing a welcome refuge from the rain.
Location: 15 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
Opening hours: 10:00am – 5pm
3. Join a student-guided tour of Trinity College
In my opinion, the best way to explore the grounds of the Trinity College is booking their Authenticity tour of the campus. On this amazing student-guided tour, you’ll get to explore the campus, with all its nooks and crannies, and you’re bound to learn a lot of fun facts and anecdotes from student life. You’ll need to book this tour online in advance, but you can pay on the spot (there is a small stand right behind the main gate entrance – you can’t miss it). The costs for the tour of the campus are 6 euros, without the admission to the Long Room and the Book of Kells. However, for 13 euros, the student-guided tour will include entrance to the Long Room library, which I think is definitely worth a visit!
While exploring the college grounds, make sure you don’t miss the bronze sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro, called ‘Sphere Within Sphere’. Located in front of the Berkeley library, it makes for a lovely photo spot. There are ‘sister’ versions of this sculpture to be found in Vatican Museum, UN Headquarters in New York, as well as in Washington D.C.
Another beautiful spot you don’t want to miss is the neighbouring Museum building, with its stunning architecture. You’ll only be able to enter the main hall, unless you’re a Trinity College student, but it is definitely worth stopping by and admiring the columns and mosaics that just ooze history.
4. Visit the Long Room library & the Book of Kells
As said before, not visiting the Long Room library would mean you’re missing out on one of the most impressive parts of Irish history. Besides the extremely well-preserved Book of Kells, the Long Room library houses over 200,000 rare books and manuscripts, divided over two floors and covered by an impressive vaulted ceiling. Just imagine being surrounded by so many books, and the smell of these ancient, leather-bound volumes! It is a truly awe-inspiring experience, as you’re able to walk amongst the marble busts of prominent writers and philosophers, while surrounded by the omnipresent smell of old books and rare manuscripts. When you took your pictures and absorbed the atmosphere of the Long Room, don’t forget to check out the Trinity College souvenir shop downstairs. Here, you’ll find an array of Trinity College paraphernalia, from Oscar Wilde mugs to Seamus Heaney poetry collections; but be warned: chances are you’ll be leaving with a bag full of gifts, from a Trinity hoodie, to a silver pair of shamrock-shaped earrings or an actual little harp. Just saying.
5. Visit the Little Museum of Dublin
Ready to learn more about quirky sides of Irish history? There’s no better place to discover more about the major events and people who shaped Dublin as we know it than the Little Museum of Dublin. As the name suggest, it is not enormous, but it offers lovely guided tours and three floors of memorabilia, old pictures and letters, as well as a whole room dedicated to U2. The guided tours are run by experienced storytellers, who will offer both interesting and entertaining insights into various parts of Irish history within 40 minutes. Definitely recommended if you get caught by sudden rainfall while walking in the area (and believe me, the chances are pretty high).
Just around the corner from the Little Museum of Dublin are numerous other monuments worth checking out, starting with the Leinster House (the seat of Irish Parliament), Merrion Square (with the famous Oscar Wilde’s statue), the National Gallery and the National Museum of Archeology (both free to enter and absolutely worth a visit). However, my favourite parts of the city located just off the Little Museum are St Stephen’s Green and the colourful Georgian doors surrounding the park and the nearby Merrion Square. Read on to find out more about how to locate them, and snap a few highly Instagrammable pictures along the way!
Location: 15 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
Costs: Adults €10 / Students €8
Opening hours: 9:30am – 5pm
6. Go for a walk in St Stephen’s Green or Phoenix Park
A green oasis in the heart of Dublin, St Stephen’s Green was once only reserved for the weealthy citizens inhabiting the beautiful mansions surrounding the park. Nowadays, it is a free-for-all paradise full of statues, fountains, and ducks. If you enter the park from Grafton Street, you’ll be passing under the Fusiliers’ Arch – make sure to stop there and look for the bullet holes, which damaged the monument in a cross-fire between the Irish Citizen Army and the British troops during the 1916 Easter Rising. These are just one of the many reminders of Irish tumultuous history around the city.
Alternatively, Dublin has a plenty of other green spaces on offer – you might want to visit the smaller, but equally beautiful Iveagh Gardens. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, head out of of city center to visit Phoenix park, which is an enormous urban park located about 2km west of the city centre. In this park, you can opt to visit the Dublin Zoo, admire the Áras an Uachtaráin (official residence of the President of Ireland), or go for a long, refreshing walk through the forested areas, trying to spot some of the deer freely roaming around.
7. Georgian doors hunting around Merrion Square
Surely you’ve seen pictures of the brightly coloured front doors in Dublin before – similar to some of the most beautiful houses (and doors) in London, the Georgian houses are actually a remnant of the British rule, still clearly visible in many parts of Dublin. Built largely under the British reign during the 18th and early 19th century, the parts of the town with the symmetrical Georgian houses were sought-after residential areas, often occupied by wealthy citizens. After Ireland gained independence from the Britain in 1922, the opulent Georgian houses started to be seen as a symbol of oppression, and many of them ended up in a run-down, desolate state.
Nowadays, the Georgian houses of Dublin are considered a valuable part of the city’s complex history. One thing is certain, though: their colourful doors are bound to cheer you up, and trying to spot the most beautiful one provides for a great walk around the city. The easiest way to admire whole rows of these bright and cheerful doors is by taking a stroll along the Parnell Square, Merrion Square, or Fitzwiliam Square. Just be warned: you might end up with about a hunderd different shots of nothing but doors!
8. Street art spotting in Temple Bar
The famous (or rather infamous?) Temple Bar is not only home to the most popular pubs in Dublin. Besides being famous for its lively night life, the Temple Bar area is also a paradise for any street art enthousiast. If you make your way from the Temple bar Square, you can’t miss the colourful facades of the Skate City shop at Crown Alley, as well as the large mural paintings on both sides of the Blooms Hotel. This beautiful artwork by James Earley, inspired by James Joyce’s famous characters from Ullysses, is in fact the largest mural in Ireland.
One of my favourite places to snap some cool shots is Anne’s Lane. A bit of a hidden gem, you’ll find this small alley just off Grafton Street. The best way to locate this popular umbrella street is to search for Zozimus Bar on your Google maps. While the bar itself is not that great, I’d definitely make your way to Anne’s Lane in the evening to catch the lights reflected on the colourful umbrellas. You can also try out my secret tip and try to photograph the umbrella’s reflected in one of the puddles (thank you, potholes).
Another cute little alley worth exploring is Love Lane, adorned with tiles with lyrics, quotes and love-related messages. This laneway, which connects the Temple Bar to Dame Street, was decorated by street artist Anna Doran, and it remains a fun spot to take a picture – with or without your loved one. Admittedly, I only stumbled upon this lane by accident upon my fourth visit to Dublin, but with a bit of luck, you might find it right away – the exact address is Love Lane Street, Crampton Court, Dublin 2.
9. Hit the dance floor & learn the ceili dance
Can you imagine a night out in Dublin, without enjoying some traditional live music in a pub? Surely an expereince you don’t want to miss. But what if I told you you could actually learn how to dance the traditional Irish dance, known as ceili? If you’ve never heard of ceili (also known as ‘ceiligh’ in Scotland), let me assure you it’s a lot of fun, and actually joining the fun while attempting to learn the basic steps is an unforgettable experience. On Monday night, you can join a live music & dance group and learn the basics of the dance in the popular O’Sheas Merchant pub. Best place in town to put your dancing shoes on, grab a pint and have some Irish craic!
Location: 12 Lower Bridge St, Dublin 8
Costs: Free to join, but a pint or two beforhand are recommended 😉
Opening hours: Live Set Dancing every Monday night, 9pm; live music on every other night of the week
10. Catch the train to Howth and go on a hike
After a full day or two in Dublin, you might have the feeling that you’ve pretty much seen it all. But one thing you definitely should not miss out on is the amazing Irish countryside – which is surprisingly close to Dublin! In just about 30 minutes by train, you’ll find yourself at the coast (with all its beauty – the omnipresent seagulls, seals playing in the harbour, fishing boats and, of course, gusts of wind). Howth is a little fishing village, but one that is absolutely worth visiting. You can catch the train to Howth from Dublin centre ( either Tara Station or O’Connell Street) for app. 6-7 euros round trip.
Whether you choose to spend the day actively and go for the popular cliff walk around Howth (solid shoes and reasonable shape required), or just explore the village and enjoy a great lunch in the marina, you will not regret taking the trip. Howth is a real breath of fresh air after the hustle of the city, and the views from the cliffs are stunning.
Weather permitting, I’d recommend making your way through the village and at least climb the first part of the cliff walk. You don’t have to make it all the way to the Howth summit to enjoy the breathtaking views, but if you’re up for it, the shortest hike you can take will lead you all the way to the Bailey Lighthouse and the summit. From here, you can choose to make your way down to the village again and catch a bus to the train station, or finish the loop and walk back to Howth (app. 2-3 hours).
Well, that’s it from me! I sincerely hope I’ve inspired you to travel deeper, and give Dublin another shot in case you’ve already seen the main tourist spots. I really can’t recommend exploring Dublin and Howth enough. In case you decide to make use of some of these tips to make the most of your next trip to the beautiful Irish capital, let me know, and have fun exploring!