Since its founding by vikings well over a thousand years ago, Dublin’s fortunes have waxed and waned with each successive wave of migrants and invaders. From the original Celts that first inhabited the lush landscapes of the Dublin area to the Norman invasion of the 12th century and on through more than a half a millennium of colonization by the British, Dublin has remained the center of Irish commerce, culture, and craft throughout it all.
And it’s no different today. Ireland and Dublin are riding high on a wave of tech-industry powerhouses, making this city a global player. For anyone planning a visit to Dublin, we recommend you stay at the Conrad Dublin Hotel, prep yourself with a Dublin Pass, and go over this list of the 10 best reasons to visit Dublin — and not one has anything to do with St. Patrick’s Day (though this city certainly does that day, well five days, right).
It’s hard to put into words how Irish cream can be so creamy, how Irish butter can be so buttery, and how Irish milk can be so milky, but it probably has something to do with the 12 months of green grass that Ireland experiences throughout the year. Yes, Irish cows, whether for dairy or meat, are fed exclusively on fresh grass and field fodder. Since snow is a rarity in the country, the cows of Ireland live exceptionally healthy lives, eating their fill each day on the fresh pastures that surround Dublin. It’s that meat and dairy and every other ingredient grown on the island that make up the plates of the finest restaurants in the city.
Particularly impressive is The Pig’s Ear, whose menu offers everything from roast duck leg to Earl Gray tea-cured salmon with Irish trout caviar. The Coburg Brasserie, located in the aforementioned Conrad Hotel, is a great spot to sample the country’s best ingredients, with Irish beef, Irish salmon, Irish lamb and a huge assortment of gins and Irish whiskeys. Local fish-and-chip shops are also superb, serving fresh Irish salmon or North Atlantic cod. Drench it all in vinegar like the Irish do — you won’t regret it.
In Ireland, you can’t get more than a few blocks down a street without passing in front of a bar or pub. If this were the 19th century and you were walking through the Liberties section of Dublin, you’d be hard pressed to find a building that wasn’t a bar, pub, or distillery, since this was the epicenter of Irish whiskey-making for decades prior to its collapse in the early 20th century. But, with distilling making a return to Dublin in the form of Teeling Distillery (which offer extremely informative tours that are topped off with an excellent tasting) — the first new distillery in the city in 150 years — Irish whiskey is once again heading to the fore of the brown liquor world. When in Dublin, check out Dublin Whiskey Tours for a short, powerhouse pub crawl from one ideal whiskey purveyor to another with a little bit of fun history thrown in. Did you know there was a great whiskey flood in Dublin in the 1800s? Several peopled were killed … but only by alcohol poisoning.
There are two types of pubs in Dublin: pubs that Americans would call bars and pubs that Americans would call dives. In Ireland, these dives are known as “old man bars” for their simplicity, lack of bass-pounding music, and generally quieter and more communal atmospheres. If a quiet afternoon having a pint with the locals is what your after, pubs like Brogan’s, The Brazen Head, and O’Neill’s will serve you just fine.
If something more upscale is what you desire, we recommend Lemuel’s at the Conrad Dublin for its excellent cocktail program helmed by bar manager Stephen Tighe, who’ll offer up a drink you never knew you wanted just by asking your favorite liquor and flavor profiles. And last, but certainly not least: The Palace Bar, a two-story, Victorian pub decked out in all the required accouterments such as antique (original) wallpaper, dark wood details, a fancy, though well-used bar, and the quintessential Irish bartender holding court over the sea of locals deep in low-voiced conversations.
The Irish are a literary people. One local noted that every Irish person can either “sing a song or, if they can’t sing, recite a poem.” Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Bram Stoker, and Jonathan Swift all hail from Ireland and all called Dublin home for at least some period of their adult lives. The Literary Walking Tour is a great way to not only orient yourself in Dublin’s mildly labyrinthine downtown, but to also “learn which writer was a university athletics champion and who stole and married the girlfriend of a fellow famous novelist.” Make sure to order your copy of Ulysses well before your trip.
In a country that has been settled by pre-history peoples for more than 5,000 years, it’s no surprise that Dublin (and Ireland in general) is rife with historic buildings, monuments, and locations. From the artifacts and exhibits in the Irish National Museum and National Library to The Little Museum of Dublin (which offers the quickest tour through Dublin’s history you’ll ever encounter) to the centuries-old churches, cathedrals, row-houses, and statues, Dublin is full-to-bursting with historical activities and fun. The best of the best can be found just north of Dublin in the Boyne River Valley, an ancient area that was home to the country’s first Celtic tribes.
Newgrange, a stunning mound-monument built 500 years before the pyramids and faced in bright white quartz, holds an inner chamber that is illuminated by a single shaft of sunlight that emerges over a mountaintop across the valley during the winter solstice. The light shoots directly into the mound’s interior and down a long, narrow, stone corridor until it spills out in all directions in the inner most chamber. Tours of the monument include an electric-light replica of the event, but a lottery to actually be present for the winter solstice alignment is also held every year. Visitors to the site can submit their name at that time for a chance to see the very rare event (a UNESCO tour guide with 20 years at Newgrange has only experienced the alignment a handful of times). The Hill of Tara is another excellent historical location among the rolling green countryside outside Dublin. Walk among (and over and around) thousand-year-old Celtic mounds and touch the Stone of Destiny. If it starts to roar, as legend has it, you might just be the next true ruler of Ireland.
What many visitors to Dublin don’t realize is that the capital was the British Empire’s “second city” for the vast majority of its existence. Because of that, Dublin is filled with imported architecture from the United Kingdom, such as Georgian-style rowhouses that line the square surrounding St. Stephen’s Green and other larger public spaces within the city. The Georgian architecture in Dublin is, in fact, some of the best-preserved in the entire world. These old townhouses now host beautiful office buildings and commercial spaces.
Other architectural delights of Dublin include Christchurch Cathedral, where you can not only see the mummified remains of Tom and Jerry, a cat and mouse who were found in the church’s pipe organ, but you can also climb the bell tower and actually ring the bells! (Those with a fear of tight spaces, heights, or loud sounds need not apply).
Finally, you can’t visit Dublin without taking a few minutes out of your day to explore The Longroom at the Trinity College Library. For bibliophiles, nothing could be closer to paradise since this room is filled with thousands of rare and antique books on hundreds of shelves, all held together under a massive barrel-vaulted ceiling hovering many stories above. The ancient atmosphere and smell of dust and books is a scent you’ll never forget.
The Shopping on Grafton Street
As we have previously established, Ireland has some of the best dairy in the world. But what they also have is some of the best dairy soaps in the world, too. From goat’s milk lavender soap to heavy-cream hand salve, Ireland’s natural, local products are some of the finest you can get in Europe and are definitely worth a little splurge. All these can be found on Dublin’s quintessential shopping street: Grafton. For Americans, walking down this pedestrian-only thoroughfare will feel like a scene straight out of Harry Potter, only instead of magical wizarding gear, you’ve got your choice of clothing, shoes, souvenirs, real furs, food, cosmetics, and more.
If you really want to go big and bring home an Irish souvenir you’ll have for life, check out the Aran Sweater Market just off Grafton. These hand-knit, Irish-wool sweaters come from the Aran Islands, a windswept archipelago located in the North Atlantic just at the entrance to Galway Bay. These are not inexpensive, so ask yourself: When will you ever return to Ireland? Shouldn’t you get a souvenir you can appreciate every winter for the next thirty years? Yes. The answer is clearly yes.
The Guinness Storehouse
No visit to Dublin is complete without a tour of the Guinness Storehouse. Begin your tour at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass and slowly wind your way up through interactive exhibits that explore the history and science of Guinness through the centuries. Topping off the tour (literally, at the top of the Storehouse), is the Gravity Bar, where you not only get to drink a pint of Guinness, you can also get to learn how to pour one. Hint: It takes a lot more time than you want it to, but patience is a virtue.
From the moment you step foot in Dublin to the moment you leave, you are surrounded by the incredible warmth and hospitality of the Irish people. With smiles as big and bright as Americans; a love for conversation, jokes, and tall-tales; and a genuine interest in where you come from and your ideas (or misconceptions) about Ireland, the Irish people are some of the most welcoming people in Europe. Don’t be surprised if a stranger on the street strikes up a conversation with you then invites you back to his family’s home for dinner and music. It’s an offer you cannot and should not refuse.