DUBLIN BY DAY
Visit Dublin like a local, not a tourist
I had the good fortune to grow up in Dublin, spent 22 years living there before moving to Charleston and even though Dublin has changed a lot since then, I’ve been going back at least 3 times a year and see as much of the city as I can when I’m home, so I can give you some great recommendations on how to get the most out of a few days in Dublin.
My suggestions will bring you all over the city center itself, up to the mountains, out to the coast, through a market and some pubs of course
You’ll see that many typical tourist spots aren’t on my list. I’ve no interest in 9th century manuscripts (Book of Kells) or drinking in bars full of other tourists (Temple Bar) so you won’t see them on my list. You’ll learn a lot more about Ireland chatting to a local character while drinking a pint of Guinness in one of true Dublin pubs than you will walking around the Guinness Storehouse exhibition (where you don’t see any brewing).
Stay in the city center, It just makes things convenient. Dublin city is divided into the northside and the southside by the River Liffey. I know I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but stay on the southside, there’s more to see, it’s nicer and it’s more secure (not that Dublin is a dangerous city). Accommodation isn’t cheap and the rooms are small, just be prepared for this.
Flights from the US tend to land in two waves in the morning, either 4:30-6am or 9-10am. I always get the flight that lands at 4:30am, so then I can go home and get a few hours sleep and be up at 10am fresh for the day ahead. It’s the best way to start getting on Irish time and over jetlag. It will likely mean paying for an extra night in a hotel since they won’t let you check in that early. If you’re on a once in a lifetime trip, it’s worth doing to maximize your awake time and non jet lagged time on your trip.
Don’t get a car while you’re in Dublin or you’ll be navigating a city with more one way streets than Charleston, lots of traffic and very expensive parking.
You can get a bus/taxi from the airport to your hotel and from there you can get taxis, buses, DART or LUAS (both light rail). Your best transportation will be your feet, Dublin isn’t that big, so you’ll end up walking a lot, bring good shoes. If you plan on going outside of Dublin, just rent a car after you’re finished in Dublin.
Here is my list and they are not in any order, just pick and choose whatever sounds interesting to you. I’m happy to answer any questions that you have ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
The list below are things to see and do in Dublin during the day. Be sure to check Dublin By Night page for what to do in the evening.
Walk Around Town
You’ll be groggy from your flight, so spend some time walking around the streets of Dublin and take in the atmosphere of the city as it goes around its normal day.
I’ve already advised to stay in a hotel on the south side of the city center, so come out of your hotel and wander around and get lost.
Grafton Street can be your guide since it’s the main street but it’s got many of the chain stores you’ll see in any city, so it’s a lot better to wander the side streets off it where there are more local Irish shops.
Some of my favorite streets are Wicklow St, Clarendon St, S William St, George St, Chatham St, South Anne Street. You’ll probably wander through Trinity College too, which is gorgeous (I spent a fine 4 years studying there). At the top of Grafton Street is St Stephen’s Green, which is a beautiful park, especially during the summer.
You’ll stumble upon lots of nice cafes to grab a snack in and just watch the Dubliners walk by. Don’t be surprised to see the locals sitting outside eating even when it’s freezing cold. Remember you’re in a different country to try different things, don’t get your coffee at Starbucks or eat at a chain restaurant, try local places. Talk to the people next to you, Irish people really are exceptionally friendly.
Note : We call it “town” (never downtown).
Temple Bar Food Market
Meeting House Square in Temple Bar hosts an excellent food market on Saturday mornings. It’s a mixture of farmers selling their produce and also stalls with food ready to eat. My mother goes in there every Saturday morning, she loves the food from the Hare Krishnas, I love the spuds from the BBQ place and the scones from one of the bakers. You can also have fresh Irish raw oysters and wine too.
One of the biggest myths is that Irish food isn’t good and is bland. It couldn’t be further from the truth. When you fly in to Ireland, look down at all the green fields, then look up at the cloudy skies and feel the rain they produce, then look at a map and see how we are surrounded by the sea. We have fantastic conditions for raising livestock, growing food and harvesting the fish from our seas, which combined give us some of the best & most natural food in the world.
Now since this will bring you to Temple Bar, let’s talk about it for a minute. First Temple Bar is an area of Dublin, there is a bar called the Temple Bar, but the name Temple Bar refers to an area that is a few blocks long and wide. I’m sure it’s in every guide book as a must see. That itself is the first warning to avoid it. It’s a tourist area. Please don’t eat or drink there !!!
You will be overcharged, surrounding by only other tourists, eating mostly mediocre food in a Disney version of Ireland. No self respecting Dubliner spends time in Temple Bar, so go enjoy the market Saturday morning and then get out of there ! Keep reading below for plenty of other places to see real Dublin
Only a 30 minute walk from O’Connell Bridge, or a short bus/taxi ride is the Phoenix Park. It’s the largest walled park in Europe and is gorgeous, even in the winter, when it takes on a grey bleak look that is still stunning. Just wrap up well.
It’s easy to get around, just walk on the grass paths that run parallel to the main road that runs through it, that’ll keep your orientation and you’ll pass Dublin Zoo, the Wellington Monument, cricket, soccer, gaelic, polo fields, where you’ll see Dubliners playing their sports. You can’t get more local than that. If you stop at the cricket look for my dad, he’ll be there. There’s no plan here, just walk and enjoy the lush Irish grass that is a result of all our rain.
Keep walking and you’ll see Aras An Uachtarain, where the Irish president lives. You’ll also spot an American flag when the US Ambassador lives. You’ll see the Pope’s Cross from when he visited in the 70s and best of all, you’ll probably see the deer. Yes, there are wild deer who live in a park in the middle of Dublin. I say wild but they’ve become tame recently because of tourists feeding them. Don’t do that !!! But you can get very close to them, they’ve clearly never heard of South Carolina’s passion for deer.
There are some nice views of the Dublin mountains from the park too. If you get tired, just go to the road and there’s always taxis driving through. You can also rent bikes at the main entrance.
Not far from the Phoenix Park (or the city center) is Kilmainham Gaol (Jail). It’s going to be the most haunting experience of your trip. It’s a now closed jail, where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held and then shot dead by the British. If you want to gain an understanding into Irish history, you will learn a lot here. All tours are by guide and they’re always excellent. You will visit the jail’s chapel where Grace Gifford married Joseph Plunkett hours before his execution. This has been immortalized in the song “Grace” (that Tommy Snee sings at our gatherings).
I can’t recommend highly enough going to Kilmainham Gaol, it’s an unforgettable tour. I’ve been through it countless times and it’s still send a shiver through the spine.
Note : You may have to book ahead, they seem to be always changing the rules, it is extremely popular so check online before you leave for Ireland.
It is always freezing in the jail, wrap up very very warmly, even in Summer.
Ireland is sports crazy. Check to see if there are any sporting events on during your visit and if there is go. Soccer, rugby, Gaelic football, hurling or horse racing. Check the sports calendar and go. If you’re there during the Summer, there may well be hurling or gaelic on, that’s really a local experience. Even if the game is sold out, which many of them are, go to the area around the stadium and take in the atmosphere, all the pubs surrounding will be jam packed. It’s nothing like US tailgating.
Horse Racing is huge in Ireland and is a very social outing, even if you haven’t a clue about horses. Ladies dress up for it and it can be a see and be seen crowd, but it’s a lot of fun. Most of the courses are a bit harder to get to though.
You can legally bet in Ireland too, so look out for a Paddy Power shop, which are on just about every street corner and go place a bet to make the game more interesting.
Dublin is blessed with so many small villages situated along the coast. The good news for any visitor is that the DART, our light rail system, goes to lot of them, which makes them so easy to get to. You can even make a day of it and go to a few of the villages, buy a day pass and hop on/hop off.
Again, I’m going for a south side bias here, jump on the DART in town and you can get off at nearly any of the south side stations for some beautiful views across Dublin Bay. Even if you have some mobility issues, just stay on the DART and enjoy the views, it’s got to be one of the nicest commutes around.
Pronounced Dun Leary, this place is a gem. There is lots to enjoy in Dun Laoghaire.
The most obvious are the views, the ship to Wales leave from here and there is a 1.5km long pier you can walk and enjoy the refreshing sea breezes. If you go at the weekends, there’ll be lots of people doing this too. You can see all across to Howth on the other side of the city, watch the ships come and go, take in views all down the coast of south Dublin and see the mountains too.
On Sundays, there is one of the best food markets in Dublin at The People’s Park. Tons of food trucks and stalls with the best of Irish food. Come hungry !
Check the schedule at the Pavilion Theater in Dun Laoghaire, they have lots of good Irish acts, plays, comedians. You’ll be the only foreigner there if you go and will get a taste of local Irish culture. Shows are generally inexpensive too.
The main shopping street in Dun Laoghaire is not great, so I wouldn’t spend too much time on it, but you can wander around the side streets and see some Irish architecture.
The odd looking building on the waterfront is the library, built in 2014, I haven’t been in but have heard that there are stunning views from some of the higher floors.
For walks, once you’ve walked the pier, I highly suggest walking south along the waterfront until you see the James Joyce Tower and the 40 Foot swimming area, where people swim every day of the year, even in the depths of our winter. Then turn back and take the DART either back to town or keep walking to the next village.
Dalkey is one of the poshest addresses in Dublin, most of U2 live around this area.
Dalkey Village well worth a visit. It’s on the DART, so very easy to get to. If you started walking in Dun Laoghaire, Dalkey is only 45 minutes walk away.
You can visit Dalkey Castle and being an affluent area, there are plenty of nice shops & cafes on the small main street but the reason I keep going back to Dalkey is for the natural scenery, which is some of the best in Dublin when you walk from Dalkey to Killiney.
Take the short walk from the village up Coliemore Road, just past the tiny harbor, there is a small area with benches where you can look across to the uninhabited Dalkey Island. During the season, there is a guy with a boat there who will bring you across to it. I’ve never done it, but it looks amazing.
A nice option is to take the DART to Dalkey later in the afternoon, watch the sunset and then get dinner and a quiet pint in one of the many nice restaurants. It’s an evening alternative to spending it in the city centre.
If you’re able to, from Dalkey, keep walking up Vico Road and you’ll get yet more world class scenery at the top of Vico Road where there is a lookout area over Killiney Beach and to the Wicklow Mountains.
On a sunny day, the water is crystal blue and you could be in any sun drenched coastline in the world, instead of cold Ireland. It’s spectacular.
Since you’re here, you may as well walk up Killiney Hill and be treated to these views you see in google maps.
If you do the Dalkey to Killiney Hill walk, it will take a good hour and more if you take your time, but it’s some of the best views in the city and it’s all locals there. There’s not many tourists. They usually go to Howth (which is well worth a visit too).
You can then keep going to the Killiney DART station and go home for a well deserved rest.
Greystones is nearly an hour from town on the DART, but it’s a beautiful trip, so don’t let that put you off.
Greystones is in County Wicklow, the next county over from Dublin. It’s another well off area with a main street that has nice eateries.
It has lots of sea views itself, but the main attraction from Greystones is as the starting point on the Greystones to Bray Cliff Walk. It’s 7km long and takes about 2.5 hours. It’s such a scenic sea walk along the cliffs, it’s fabulous and well worth your time taking an afternoon to do it.
Bray has seen better days in my opinion, but you can wander around the town before heading back to town.
You can start in Bray too which is also on the DART line and walk to Greystones.
Now we are switching over to the northside ! Howth is a fishing village 45 minutes from Dublin city centre on the DART.
I have relatives here so I have spent a lot of time in Howth growing up (look out for Dorans fish shop on the pier).
Howth is probably the most scenic of all the places I’ve listed. It has a real working harbor where you can see the fisherman at work, there’s a nice pier to walk out on and you can walk or take the bus up to Howth Summit and walk along the Howth Cliff Path. It’s about 6km, takes 2 hours and you’re treated to scenery that is as good as you’ll see anywhere.
My only drawback about Howth is that it’s in all the guide books and gets a lot of tourists. On a nice day, be prepared for crowds unless you go early. Some of the shops and restaurants are a bit touristy too. If you’re there midweek, you should be able to enjoy without too many other tourists taking away from the experience. You really won’t have that problem in any of the south side villages I mentioned.
Note : If it’s cloudy/rainy/misty, don’t go. You’re better off in Dun Laoghaire or Dalkey, the paths are better.
Croke Park is the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA)
At 82,000 capacity, it’s the biggest stadium in Ireland where gaelic football & hurling are played along with many major music concerts.
The GAA is not just about sports, they have played a big role in Irish history and it’s fascinating to learn about it in their museum.
One of Ireland’s darkest days happened at Croke Park in 1920 on “Bloody Sunday” when the British forces opened fired during a game and 14 people were killed.
They have a number of different tours here that are worth your time. The stadium tour, the Bloody Sunday tour (Saturdays only) and the skyline tour where you can walk 17 storeys high along the stadium rooftop walkway to Dublin’s highest open-viewing platform which has panoramic skyline views of Dublin City.
I’d suggest going to the Bloody Sunday tour if you are there on a Saturday.
It goes without saying that if there is a game on where you are there, you should absolutely go to it. All games are amateur and you only play for your home parish or county, there are no trades or transfer, they only play for the pride of the shirt so it’s one of the most passionate sporting events you’ll see.
Glenadalough & Wicklow Mountains
One of the great things about Dublin is that when you are standing in the middle of the crowds on O’Connell Street, you can be at the sea or in the mountains in only thirty minutes. The Wicklow mountains are that close to Dublin, you leave the city behind and are in the middle of what seems like a Patagonian landscape very quickly.
The mountains are not huge Alpine/Himalayan type peaks, more big rolling hills, but the drive over them is really beautiful. I’ve been up there probably 20 times and every time, the vista is different because of the weather. Sometimes you can nearly touch the low hanging grey clouds and on other days, you can look out over the entire city of Dublin with a bright blue sky.
Lots of companies run half day bus tours, just google “Wicklow Mountains Half Day Tour”. If you’ve done some of the walks I recommended above, this is a nice way to let someone else do the work and sit on the bus just taking in the scenery. You’ll see lots of sheep, waterfalls, trees, barren landscapes and they all stop at Glendalough, which has old 6th century monastic ruins, lakes and some movies like Braveheat and PS I Love You have been filmed around the area too. There’s a bit of walking at Glendalough, so as always, dress warmly and be ready for that.
The tours will have back in town shortly after lunch.
It’s a top pick for me because aside from spectacular scenery, you drive through some suburbs to get there, which I always find interesting anywhere in the world, to see where locals really live, what their villages are like. That is really seeing a city and I try to do it where ever I go.
TIP : Try to book a tour on a small 16 seater bus, rather than the large 53 seater coaches. It may be a little less comfy, but it’s a short trip and it’ll be a better experience.
If you enjoy walking and are venturing outside of Dublin, here are the Irish Independent’s Top 20 Irish Walks