Things to Do in Dublin
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.
Housed in a Georgian townhouse on St. Stephen's Green, the quirky Little Museum of Dublin tells the story of the city through the years 1900 to 2000. Opening its doors in 2011, the museum was made possible by the Dubliners who donated thousands of artefacts to the nonprofit — 5,000 of which you can see in the vast display collection.
There are three museum floors to see, with exhibitions covering everything from the 1916 Easter Rising to JFK's visit to Dublin. There's even an exhibit dedicated solely to the success of the Irish rock band U2.
Nominated for the European Museum of the Year Award in 2012, a visit to the Little Museum of Dublin gives a feel for how it would have been to live on St Stephen's Green a century ago, and the museum's also home to the acclaimed cafe Hatch & Sons Irish Kitchen.
Just across from the main entrance to Dublin's Trinity College, the Irish Whiskey Museum offers fully-guided tours where you'll learn the history of the drink from its beginnings as an antidote to the woes of a poor and troubled nation through to the current revival in craft whiskies. Once you've had the full, interactive experience through the brand new museum, opened in 2014, it's tasting time.
With an expert to guide you through the differences in the top-rated whiskeys' flavors, you'll learn how to appreciate the subtle nuances of the drink. You get three whiskey tastings with a regular ticket, or if you upgrade to the VIP admission you'll get an extra tasting — of a matured whiskey no less — as well as a souvenir to take home with you. If whiskey's not for you, the Irish Whiskey Museum also has a cafe bar.
The Gaelic Games are integral to Irish culture, and at Dublin's Croke Park stadium, a visit to the popular GAA Museum will lead you through the history of the games right through to the present day. The museum focuses on the Gaelic Athletic Association's most popular sports — hurling and football — and you'll also find sections dedicated to camogie (female hurling), handball, and the Tailteann Games among others.
Attracting over a million visitors a year, exhibits and audiovisual displays provide the opportunity to learn about the Games: you'll see a grave slab depicting a hurley stick that dates back to medieval times, and you'll learn how hurleys are made too. Fun facts are interspersed among the trophies and memorabilia — did you know there was a GAA game that couldn't be finished because of the lack of a spare football? The upper floor takes you to the popular interactive games zone where you can practice your curling and football skills.
As one of the four branches of the National Museum of Ireland, the Decorative Arts & History Branch offers visitors the chance to view antique crafts from Ireland and around the globe. The rare collection is wonderfully eclectic, and features everything from rare, Chinese porcelain that dates back to the 13th century, to a ceremonial, Japanese bell that’s over 2,000 years old. There’s a large collection of Irish silver as well as clothing from the 17th century, and an impressive medieval coin collection that showcases over 1,000 years of currency that’s changed hands during Ireland’s history. Also, if you don’t have time to make it to the countryside, the collection of traditional Irish furniture not only mimics a rural home, but also exhibits the exceptional skill of Irish woodworkers and craftsmen.
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.
One of Dublin's most attractive bridges, O'Connell Bridge spans the River Liffey from O'Connell Street to D'Olier Street, and since its inception in 1792, the bridge has been part of the most fashionable route through the city. Though back in the 18th century, it was called Carlisle Bridge, after the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and initially it was a controversial bridge, as traders from the medieval quarter were worried that the bridge would mark the unstoppable shift of the city's power toward the south.
And that's exactly what happened. In fact, the bridge was almost too popular — congestion getting so bad that by 1852 it was known as “the most dangerous bridge in the empire.” So between 1877 and 1880, it was reconstructed to be 50 meters wide and 45 meters long — dimensions that are said to make it unique in Europe as the only traffic bridge wider than it is long.
Medieval Dublin was a disease-riddled era of slavery, Vikings, and torture, where Bubonic Plague and bloody warfare were parts of everyday life. Though Dublin isn’t often equated with Vikings, the conquering seafarers played an important role in Dublin’s Medieval past, and at the popular Dublinia heritage center, this grisly period is on entertaining display with their interactive exhibits. Take a walk down a street from the days of Medieval Dublin, smelling the aromas of streetside merchants and hearing their tales of woe. Wrap yourself in the heavy chains of a hapless Irish slave, and walk through the dark, smoky interior of an authentic Viking household. Learn about the savage and primitive weaponry that Vikings would use in battle, and board a replica Viking warship to experience conditions at sea.
More Things to Do in Dublin
Built in the 18th century on the north bank of the River Liffey, Custom House is one of the grandest neoclassical buildings in Dublin. Designed as part of a city-wide plan to enhance the streets and public buildings of the Irish capital, it took over a decade to build: all the city's masons got roped in, and altogether Custom House cost £200,000 to construct; a princely sum for the time. Originally the headquarters of the Commissioners of Custom and Excise; by the beginning of the 20th century, the role of Custom House was to house the offices of local government, and today it's home to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.Designed by the English architect Thomas Cooley, during the Irish Revolution, Custom House was seen as a symbol of British power in Ireland, and so on May 25, 1921, the Dublin Brigade of the IRA set fire to the building, destroying the grand dome and entire interior.
At this laidback, small-scale gallery in Dublin’s happening city center, visitors can browse over 2,000 pieces of modern and contemporary art. “The Hugh Lane,” as locals call it, holds the work of well-known artistic greats such as Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Manet, and also hosts a revolving array of temporary exhibits. Perhaps most fascinating is the studio of Francis Bacon—an Irish born painter who won international acclaim for his emotional and moving pieces. Here in the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, his entire studio was recreated in the exact, eccentric, and extremely messy state that he kept it while he was alive. Historians have lauded the Hugh Lane Gallery for the impeccable attention to detail, and a visit today is a look into the life of one Ireland’s most legendary painters. If visiting on a Sunday, show up in the morning and stay until Noon for the weekly Sunday concert series that takes place in the sculpture hall.
At Custom House Quay in the Dublin Docklands, the Famine Sculpture was commissioned by the City of Dublin in 1997 as a way of remembering the victims of the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1849, when over a million Irish men, women, and children died as a result of the problems exacerbated by the potato blight.
The bronze sculptures were designed by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie. Portraying a group of starving figures trying to reach Dublin port and a chance of escape to the New World, a visit to the docklands is a time for reflection and remembrance for those who died just 150 years ago. Some of the text accompanying the Famine Sculpture reads, “A procession fraught with most striking and most melancholy interest, wending its painful and mournful way along the whole line of the river to where the beautiful pile of the Custom house is distinguishable in the far distance...”
The Dublin Writers Museum features unique works and memorabilia from famous writers heralding from this city. Letters and personal items from such icons as Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett allow visitors to connect with their favorite Irish authors on a more personal level while also admiring their works, which are also on display. Over 300 years of historical memorabilia and literature are displayed in this charming Georgian house-turned-museum, complete with a library, gallery and lecture rooms. There are also an adjoining bookshop and cafe as well as a basement restaurant that all follow the literary theme.
Built as a centre to honor past Irish literary figures, the museum has also become a place for young aspiring writers to gain perspective and inspiration for their own works. The headquarters for these authors, the Irish Writers' Centre, is conveniently located next door to the museum, providing them a respite to work and share ideas.
Often erroneously overlooked in favor of more “popular” churches, St. Audoen’s Church is the oldest medieval church still used in Dublin today. Constructed back in the late 12th century, the church is named for St. Audoen (Ouen), a patron saint of Rouen (Normandy) who lived in the 7th century. Though some parts of the church are in literal ruins, others have been restored and now host guided historical tours. When wandering the shadowy and ancient hallows of this stone and wooden compound, hear the tales of what life was like for residents of medieval Dublin. There is a Catholic Church by the same name that was built in the 19th century, so in order to bypass any confusion, be sure to visit the St. Audeon’s that’s nearly 1,000 years old. Next door to the church, a set of stairs leads to the only remaining gate from the original city wall.
Since James Joyce was one of Ireland’s most beloved novelists and poets, it only makes sense that an entire center is dedicated to his life and work. Though Joyce never lived in this Georgian-era house not far from Parnell Square, it’s very similar to the one where he was raised, and was actually the home of Denis Maginni—the dance instructor who is prominently mentioned in Joyce’s famous Ulysses. The center contains pieces of Joyce’s furniture that were moved from his studio in Paris, and also has the door of 7 Eccles Street—the home of Leopold and Molly Bloom that also appears in Ulysses. Though the number of period artifacts is thin, Joyce fans will enjoy the interactive displays that include documentaries and computer programs explaining his life and works. In addition to touring the center itself, the James Joyce Centre also hosts walking tours around the streets of Dublin.
Dublin residents are passionate about sport, and the Aviva stadium is the pulsing epicenter of Rugby Union and football (soccer). This 51,700-person stadium holds Ireland’s largest sporting events and concerts, and tours are available on days that don’t have a concert or large-scale event. Aside from being a popular venue, Aviva Stadium also holds a bit of Dublin history, as back in 1873, this was the site of one of the world’s first international sporting contests. Rugby matches were held on the grounds between regional teams in Ireland, and the Lansdowne grounds held international contests in 1878. Originally built as a multi-purpose venue for cricket, rugby, and athletics, Aviva Stadium is best known today as the site of Irish football. It’s also the site of superstar concerts, with big name acts such as Rihanna, Neil Diamond, and Michael Jackson having performed at Aviva’s grounds.
The Georgian Period was a regal time, when many of Dublin’s most well to do residents resided in lavish homes. One of those stunning historical abodes is Number Twenty Nine, a Georgian townhome from the late 18th century that’s now a public museum. Tour every corner of this extravagant home, from a basement that holds an authentic collection of Georgian era furniture, to an attic that has carpets, curtains, and artifacts that have been preserved for hundreds of years. In addition to the intriguing period pieces, informative storyboards help to educate visitors on the life of a wealthy homeowner. Similarly, there’s also info on the daily lives of residents who weren’t so well off—particularly the servants who kept the home in such a reputable and high-class state. Wandering through Number Twenty Nine takes the better part of an hour, and seeing as it’s only a short walk from Grafton Street and the city center, it’s an educational and insightful stop on a walking tour of Dublin.
Giant's Causeway is a cluster of approximately 40,000 basalt columns rising out of the sea on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. These rock formations get their name from an old legend stating that Irish warrior Finn McCool built the path across the sea to face his Scottish rival, Benandonner.
On his way back to Scotland, Benandonner tears up the path behind him, leaving just what exists today on the Northern Irish coast and the Scottish island of Staffa, which has similar rock formations.
While the legend makes for an interesting story, geologists have a different explanation for the creation of the Giant's Causeway: volcanic activity. Now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thousands of tourists visit Giant's Causeway each year to marvel at and photograph this natural wonder.
The Irish landscape, normally so gentle and well-behaved, reaches for a dramatic flourish as it meets the Atlantic coast. The seaboard offers no greater sight than County Clare’s mighty Cliffs of Moher, which tower above the raging ocean below along a 5-mile (8-kilometer) stretch.
The viewing platform on top of crenellated O’Brien’s Tower provides the best vistas, stretching west to the Aran Islands and north to Galway Bay. To find out more about the natural and historical significance of the cliffs, explore the visitors’ center which is discreetly embedded in a hillside.
Home to one of the country’s most popular historic sites, a 6th-century monastic complex, Glendalough, or ‘the valley of the lakes’, is set in an idyllic location between two lakes. An hour south of Dublin, Glendalough makes a popular day trip, as well as a common stop-off for hikers attempting the famous Wicklow Way, which runs through the valley.
The monastery was founded by the hermit monk St Kevin around 618AD and by the 9th century was among the leading monastic cities of Ireland, up until its destruction by the English in 1398. The ruins remain impressive today, with a collection of ancient churches, burial sites and monastic buildings sprawled around the Upper and Lower lakes.
A huge part of Glendalough’s appeal lies in its spectacular surroundings, with the two lakes encircled with woodlands, verdant pastures and the hilltops of the nearby Wicklow Mountains National Park.
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