Dublin is a city that has something for everyone. It’s steeped in history. Since the Gaels established Dublin around the 7th century, it has been a Viking settlement that was taken over by the English following the Norman invasion until it became the capital of Ireland about 100 years ago. Trinity College contributes to Dublin’s college town vibe. The warm, friendly Irish people to have a good time and want to share it with you. I have put together a list of my favorite things to see and do in Dublin.
Dublin Castle is a large complex of buildings that has had a variety of functions over the centuries. The Medieval Tower is part of the original 13th Century castle and is one of the oldest, intact and most important surviving buildings in Dublin.
The State Apartments, along the south side of the upper yard, are currently used for important state functions. One of those was a state dinner in 2011 when Queen Elizabeth made history as the first English monarch to visit since Ireland’s independence in 1922. I was so impressed by our guide’s Irish pride as he described that historic moment.
The Castle Gardens, enclosed by a stone wall, are next to the State Apartment. Entering through a wrought iron gate, we see a large grassy area and four smaller gardens. Dubh Linn Garden, the serpent-patterned green space is supposedly near the original site of the black pool. This is where the Vikings landed their ships and set up a trading post. I was fascinated to learn that Dublin gets its name from Dubh Linh (black pool.)
In looking at my pictures of Dublin Castle, you may have noticed that it was overcast at the Medieval Tower and sunny at Dubh Linh Garden. This apparently is typical of Dublin weather. We were in Dublin in mid-August. The temperatures were in the low 70s so it was very comfortable. But, at some point during each of the four days we were there, it threatened to rain. Dublin is definitely a place to always have an umbrella or waterproof shell with you because you never know.
I love visiting college campuses and Trinity College was no exception. The famous, over 1000 year old, Book of Kells–the manuscript containing all four Gospels of the New Testament is housed in the Old Trinity College Library. If you love looking at ornate, beautifully-illuminated old books then this is a must see. The library itself is quite magnificent and for me, the real jewel. I would strongly encourage taking the student-guided tour of Trinity College to really understand the Book of Kells in context. Trinity College is located in the heart of historic Dublin. Even if you have no interest in a formal visit, it is totally worth walking through the campus on your way to Dublin Castle or the Irish Whiskey Museum (literally across the street).
Christ Church Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest church in Ireland and was named the “National Cathedral of Ireland” by the Church of Ireland. But the Christ Church Cathedral was one of my favorite pieces of architecture in Dublin. Both of these churches are worth a walk by. If you are interested in learning more about these imposing structures, their place in Irish history and the people associated with them you can buy tickets to enter.
Since St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, I figured this was a good time to ask about the traditions I normally associate with celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. At home in the United States, March 17, is about parades, green beer, green bagels, green everything, lots of drinking, corned beef and cabbage. In Ireland, March 17 is the day the Irish celebrate St. Patrick with religious services and feasts–not wild partying. Apparently it was the Irish immigrants to the US who transformed it into a secular holiday to celebrate all things Irish. I also discovered that the Irish think that it is sacrilegious to “corn” beef. Corned beef is made from an inexpensive cut of meat that is heavily cured. Cows and sheep are ubiquitous in Ireland and with such availability there is no reason to make corned beef. Turns out this is another Irish immigrant invention!
Learning about Irish Whiskey
The Irish Whiskey Museum combines Ireland’s two of Ireland’s best traits–history and drinking. I really enjoyed this place. The museum tour is entertaining, informative and not a sales pitch. Unlike other distillery tours, no one brand is featured. Instead, we got a detailed history of all types of whiskey. Uisce beatha (pronounced ishka baha), the Irish word for whiskey, literally means “water of life.” This name was given to distilled alcohol by the Irish monks in the Middle Ages and they have been drinking a lot of it. During the tour, I learned one of the possible origins of the Irish wake. Apparently, in the old days, people would get so drunk on whiskey (and its impurities), they were catatonic. Presumed to be dead, they were placed in a coffin and, on occasion, were buried alive. The wake was a vigil to see if the “dead” person would come back to life. I don’t know if this is actually true but it certainly made for an entertaining story. At the end of the tour we got to taste three whiskeys. My favorite was The Irishman Founders Reserve, a triple distilled whiskey from one of the small, craft distilleries.
Exploring Temple Bar
Temple Bar refers to both an actual bar and the area its in. The history of Temple Bar dates back to the 1600s and is probably the most iconic bar in Dublin. But, make no mistake, it is a tourist bar. The area known as Temple Bar, in the heart of the Dublin, is the center of the nightlife scene. Needless to say, Temple Bar–the pub, is in Temple Bar, the area. You definitely need to go check out the Temple Bar area–it’s beautiful and happening–both by day and night. There are so many great restaurants and pubs to check out. You can go listen to live music every day of the week, well into the night. One thing that surprised me and that you need to know is that the price of drinks increases as the night goes on. Another insider tip–don’t stay in the Temple Bar area. Many of the hotels in Temple Bar have rooms facing the street where loud, drunk people party into the wee hours of the night. You can stay only a couple of blocks away and walk into Temple Bar. We stayed at the Westin Dublin on Grafton Street and it was less 10 minute walk to Temple Bar.
We enjoyed one of my favorite dinners was at Gallagher’s Boxty House in Temple Bar. Actually, to be perfectly honest, we liked it so much that we went there twice. I know, you are wondering what a boxty is. A boxty is an Irish potato pancake. Boxty House had multiple variations but the Gaelic boxty- Irish Fillet Beef in a Whiskey & Mushroom Cream Sauce, wrapped in a traditional Leitrim Boxty Pancake is to die for. We washed it down with the Jack Smyth Craft beer sampler but had to have another pint of the red ale for dessert.
Concert on the Move
Dublin is a phenomenal place to listen to music. There are a seemingly an unlimited number of places playing live music. Be prepared–most of the pubs were smoky and extremely crowded. Our best experience was the Music Pub Crawl. This is not a typical pub crawl, it’s more like a moving concert. We, of course, had the option of buying a drink at each of the stops but this crawl is really about the music. Basically, professional musicians double as the guides, tell the history of Irish music, shared their personal stories and played a variety of Irish music as you move from one privately booked pub to another. This is a big deal since it is often difficult to even get into a pub’s door let alone get a seat or a drink. An Irish dancer (think River Dance) performed at one of our stops–up close and personal. Want to know the best places to listen to live music in Dublin? Fill out your email and I will send you my insider’s scoop.