Rolling hills of four-leaf clovers dotted by sheep. Leprechauns, or at least Ryan Merriman. Pints of stout and shots of whiskey.
What comes to mind when you think of Ireland?
Like many people, my concept of Ireland and its capital city Dublin were, eh, a bit stereotypical. Then I took a trip to Dublin and spent a week exploring the rest of Ireland, and travel worked its magic power: my stereotypes were shattered. I found that Irish history, culture, and cuisine often get green-washed every March when St. Patrick’s Day comes around, but there’s so much more that you can only experience by visiting local pubs, wandering through castle grounds, and yes, having a few pints.
If you’re planning your first trip to Dublin and want to see all the city has to offer – and dig a bit deeper into what makes the city special – here’s what you need to know.
When to Visit Dublin
The peak season for visiting Dublin is between June through August, when the weather is warm and sunny. This is the prime time to visit Dublin for sunny days, strolls along the river, and picnics in the park. There are also loads of festivals and outdoor events to enjoy if you visit during the summer. However, if you visit Dublin during this time, be prepared for crowds. Many Europeans take their holiday in the month of August, so that’s when it’s especially likely to be busy.
The shoulder seasons for Dublin are March to May and September to October. During these months, the weather might not be quite as nice, warm, or sunny, but you make up for it with fewer crowds and cheaper accommodations and flights.
Oh, and one of the other super-popular times to visit Dublin is for St. Patrick’s Day in mid-March! That’s when I visited in 2013, and I have a whole guide on how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin if that’s when your planning to visit too.
Traveling to Dublin
There are several Irish airlines that fly into Dublin Airport, including Ryanair, TUI Airlines, and Aer Lingus. Both of these airlines offer flights from the rest of the U.K., continental Europe, and Aer Lingus operates flights to North American too.
Other European airlines that fly into Dublin include British Airways, Norwegian, Air France, Icelandair, KLM, and Lufthansa, plus a score of other smaller flag carriers from other countries. You can easily fly from most primary and secondary cities in Europe direct to Dublin on one of these airlines.
From North America, in addition to the aforementioned airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and Air Canada all fly direct to Dublin from various cities in the U.S. and Canada. Common departure cities include Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Miami, and Washington D.C.
From further abroad, airlines including Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, and Turkish Airlines fly to Dublin Airport too. In short, you can count on almost any airline you normally fly!
If you’re looking for cheap flights to Dublin, be sure to check out Ryanair, Wow Air, and Norwegian to see if you can snag a deal.
Getting Around Dublin
Dublin is a pretty accessible, flat city, making it easy to explore. While some streets are cobbled or uneven, for the most part, all you need to get around the city is a good pair of walking shoes. If you have limited mobility, consider checking out these accessible hotels and this wheelchair guide to Dublin from my blogger friend Cory Lee.
If your trip to Ireland is only to Dublin, you don’t need a car. Instead, take a bus from the airport. You have two choices: the express Airlink coach – a bright teal double-decker that costs €6 one-way – or a public bus, the #41 bus which costs €3.30 one-way. There are also private coaches you can book in advance if you are so inclined.
Once you arrive in Dublin, it’s pretty easy to walk to almost every major destination. Sometimes, you might need to take a bus to get to some of the sites I’ve listed below. The Dublin Bus network has their own mobile app that will help you route and get on the correct bus for anywhere you want to go.
If you’re traveling around Ireland after visiting Dublin, as I did, you can rent a car from the city center or airport. Both Sixt and Europcar have rental locations near the city center; Enterprise and Hertz are a bit further out of town. Any rental car agency of your choice is available at the airport – but you’ll need to catch a bus back to pick it up!
Where to Stay in Dublin
When I stayed in Dublin, like usual, I went for an Airbnb. If you’re a hotel person, try checking Booking.com to what hotels fit your budget and style
If you’d rather go for a more local option, consider an Airbnb. Here are a few, right in the heart of the city, that catch my eye:
- This apartment is spacious – an uncommon thing in Dublin – and sleeps up to six for $209/night.
- This two-bedroom (one queen, two twins) is another good group option; it says it can fit up to six people but four will be more comfortable. From $124/night.
- For a little less – and if you’re not spending much time in the room – this bright bedroom fits two comfortably, from $95/night.
If you’ve never booked on Airbnb before, you can also receive $40 in travel credit by clicking this link before you book!
A Brilliant 3-Day Itinerary for Dublin
Rather than give you a detailed hour-by-hour breakdown of what to do for three days in Dublin, I’m being a bit more flexible this time. I’ve listed some things I love and recommend in Dublin, and which days you could do them on to make the most of your time. There are definitely more things to do in Dublin than just these – but here is what I recommend, based on my experience.
Day 1: Wander Along the River Liffey
Like many European cities, the river that cuts through Dublin is the main vein pumping blood through the city, and many of the main attractions have built up around the River Liffey. There are loads of attractions in Dublin on or near the river, but here are some of my favorites:
Jameson Distillery Tour
The Jameson Distillery on Bow St is a must-see if you’re interested in Irish Whiskey. Even if you’re not, consider it part of your cultural education, and book a tour. They have three tour options:
- The Bow Street Experience is a 40-minute group tour that includes a drink at JJ’s Bar. Tickets are €20 for Adults and €16 for Students and Seniors. Book here.
- The Whiskey Blending Class is a 90-minute small-group tour where learn from a Jameson Ambassador and get to blend your own whiskey (and take that blend home with you). €60 per person. Book here.
- The Whiskey Cocktail Making Class is a 60-minute small-group where you get to make and try three Jameson cocktails. €50 per person. Book here.
Like visiting the Guinness Factory (which I recommend on Day 2, to help balance the impact of a trip to Dublin on your liver), the Jameson Factory is a must-do!
On my trip to Dublin, I stayed in an Airbnb literally right at one end of the Ha’penny Bridge – I could see it out the window from the tiny studio I was sharing with the three classmates traveling with me! Officially called the Liffey Bridge, this cast-iron span is a pedestrian-only crossing of the River Liffey, and connects the Temple Bar and North City.
Here’s another rental apartment literally right next door to where I stayed if you want another option right near the Ha’penny Bridge.
Oh, and conveniently, it’s a short walk from the Jameson Factory to the Ha’penny Bridge, which you can then cross to visit Temple Bar!
Temple Bar is possibly one of the most popular parts of Dublin, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. This neighborhood is the center of all tourist nightlife in the city, and you have your choice from noisy pubs to bass-pumping clubs. Since I stayed so close to Temple Bar (like I said, literally across the Ha’penny Bridge!), I had dinner here almost every night, and partook of a few pints too! ?
Day 2: See Dublin’s Top Sights
For your second day in Dublin, take in the city’s Greatest Hits: the masterpieces of history, architecture, intellect, and cuisine that make the Irish capital unique. You could see these sights in any order, but I’ve arranged them in an order that makes sense for walking between them.
Trinity College is an active academic institution – but it’s also one of the most touristed sites in the city. You can walk freely through the gorgeous green courtyards past statues of famous Irish citizens. Or, book a tour of the picturesque library with its Long Hall and the exhibit on the Book of Kells, the most famous medieval manuscript in the world. Can you believe students actually go to school here?
Dublin Castle dates back to the year 1204, which is older than just about anything I’ve ever seen – how about you?! The castle was the seat of British power in Ireland until the civil war in the 1920s; now it houses government state rooms and two museums. The building and grounds are generally open to the public, and sometimes public events like concerts are hosted here.
You can do a self-guided tour (€7 for adults, €6 for students/seniors, €3 for kids), or book a guided 70-minute tour which includes the State Apartments, the Viking Excavation, and the Chapel Royal (€10 for adults, €8 for students/seniors, €4 for kids) to make the most of your trip.
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral is close to Dublin Castle, just a five-minute walk. The Cathedral is the older of the two medieval cathedrals in Dublin, dating back to the year 1028. (Seriously, if you’re from the U.S. like me, it’s pretty mind-blowing how old buildings can be – and they’re still preserved and open for tours!)
You can explore the crypt (including seeing the famous mummified cat and rat), walk in the footsteps of pilgrims (this church was once a famous site for Catholic pilgrims), and experience Evensong (typically sung at 5pm or 6pm, so this depends on your time of visit). Religious travel is a common activity, and if you enjoy visiting religious sites, Christ Church Cathedral is a must.
While everything else you visit in Dublin for Day 2 is pretty old, the Guinness Storehouse is relatively new: it was only established in 1902. However, it’s likely to be around as long as any of them, since Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease on the land!
The Guinness Storehouse is part brewery, part museum, part bar. When you book a tour, you get to see all three. Tickets are €18.50 (adults/students/seniors) and you can pretty much wander through the museum as long as you like. Make sure you end at the Gravity Bar, with its panoramic views of Dublin, where you can enjoy the literally freshest pint of Guinness in the world.
Day 3: Explore Beyond Dublin
One of the best parts of visiting a new city is getting out to explore a bit beyond the downtown/city center. Depending on your interests, any or all of these farther-flung sites may be perfect for your final day in Dublin (or convince you to extend your trip!). There are some amazing Dublin day trips to choose from, but here are a few of my favorites.
If history is part of what draws you to travel, you may want to visit Kilmainham Gaol, which is located west of the city center. Kilmainham Gaol was opened in 1796 and used to imprison Irish revolutionaries over the 128 years it was operational, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. Now, Kilmainham Gaol has been turned into a museum, where you can immerse yourself in Irish history including its darker chapters.
Kilmainham Gaol is accessible by bus from the city center. It’s also near the Irish National War Memorial Gardens and Park, as well as the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
John Kavanagh “The Gravediggers”
If you haven’t had enough Guinness on your trip, there’s one pub you must visit: John Kavanagh “The Gravediggers.” This pub was established in 1833 and claims to be the oldest family pub in Dublin – and also to pour the best pint in the city. (To be fair, most pubs claim that second part, but John Kavanagh was recommended to me by my Irish friend, so that’s extra points for it!)
Also, Bourdain drank there and loved it: “heaven looks like this,” he reportedly wrote in their guestbook.
Don’t expect any posh pub here; this is a local with home-style cooking. If you (like me) love that kind of experience, it’s worth the trip. John Kavanagh “The Gravediggers” is located north of the Dublin City Center, and is reachable by bus.
If you want to experience a bit of Irish life outside of the bustling cities like Dublin, you could take a day trip to the town of Howth. Located on the Howth peninsula northeast of Dublin, Howth was once a small fishing village well away from the city. Now, it’s a bit more suburban and is home to about 8,000 residents. You can still see fishing boats along the waterfront; enjoy fresh seafood, or walk along the coastal cliff trail while the wind whips in off the Irish Sea.
Mix is some history by visiting or booking a night at Howth Castle, one of the oldest occupied buildings in Ireland, home to the St Lawrence family since the Norman Invasion in 1180 (!).
The Giant’s Causeway
Grant me some liberty, please: yes, I know that the Giant’s Causeway is not in Ireland. It is, however, one of the main attractions and natural wonders of the Irish islands, and well worth a trip to Northern Ireland if you have the time. You’ll need a car to drive from Dublin through Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway (three hours each way), but you can stand on these fascinating geometric basalt pillars and feel very, very small.
If you’re taking this trip, you might consider making a stop in Belfast too. The Titanic Belfast museum (£18.50 for adults, £15 for students/seniors, £8 for kids) is the most popular site, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars where you could have dinner on your way back to Dublin.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are the farthest of my suggested ‘day-trip’ destinations from Dublin – in fact, I’d recommend you take a few more days to see the Cliffs of Moher and make an Irish road trip out of it. If you do only have one day, make the 3.25-hour drive from Dublin to Liscannor in the morning, and spend the midday admiring the shale and sandstone cliffs, as well as the few stone castles and towers in the area.
Grab lunch at my absolute favorite, #1 recommended spot for fish and chips in Ireland: Vaughan’s Anchor Inn. Chef Denis Vaughan is consistently named one of the top seafood chefs in Ireland.
No matter which activity you choose for Day 3 – or if you decide to stay in Dublin and see other sights – you’ll end up with plenty of proof that, like I said at the beginning: there’s a lot more to Ireland than whatever stereotypes you arrive with.
Have other questions about visiting Dublin? Contact me and I’ll help answer any I can! ?
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