15 Best Things to Do in Dublin (by a local)

Ha'penny Bridge, River Liffey, Dublin - Courtesy Gareth McCormack
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While Dublin is a very modern city, you’ll find traces of its history on every street, from Viking to Norman conquests, British colonisation to Irish independence. That makes Dublin a very exciting place to visit.

I moved to Dublin in the late 1990s, as it emerged as the capital of a more self-confident Ireland. Ever since, the range of sites and facilities for visitors has strengthened and you can find plenty of things to do from itineraries of a day or two to longer stays.

I’ve picked out a range of things to do in Dublin, from free options to ticketed options that you need to pre-book. Some are perennial favourites, like the Guinness Storehouse or Kilmainham Gaol. But let your tastes wander a little, from a picnic on Stephen’s Green to the crypt at St Michan’s Church.

Now let’s dive in to Dublin!

St James’ Gate at Guinness – Courtesy Failte Ireland

1. Guinness Storehouse

A visit to Dublin’s most famous brewery is one of the top things to do in Dublin. The reason is simple: the tour is incredibly well-organised over 7 floors, and it’s interactive and fun, even if you are not a fan of Guinness!

The tour is self-guided, so you can focus on the parts you prefer (the brewing process is possibly the most interesting part). The advertising section is also worth a look – Guinness ads back in the day were a lesson in branding.

From there, you can either learn how to pour a pint at the Guinness Academy (Floor 4) or head to the top floor for a free pint of the black stuff at the Gravity Bar (this was my preference). If you don’t drink alcohol, you have options of a non-alcoholic version or a soft drink.

As Dublin doesn’t have many tall buildings, the Gravity Bar has a great overview of the city. It’s even better if you pick to go on a good day!

Details – Guinness Storehouse

1-2 hours
Self-guided Brewery Tour
Free pint (or soft drink) & great views in the Gravity Bar
Buy Tickets Here from €30 pp

2. National Museum of Ireland

One of the best things to visit in Ireland is free! The National Museum of Ireland is a great way to get your bearings in Irish history, particularly if it’s your first visit and you don’t yet know how things connect together.

There are four sites (details here): decorative arts & history, country life, natural history, and archaeology.

I really love the archaeology museum as there’s just so much to see – please visit the fantastic Viking exhibition and, if you’re intending to go to Glendalough on your trip, seek out the “Glendalough: power, prayer and pilgrimage” exhibition. There’s lots more to see – honestly, put this on your list!

Details – National Museum of Ireland

Su-Mo: 1-5pm, Tu-Sa: 10-5pm
Archaeology museum is great
Permanent & temporary exhibitions

3. Book of Kells at Trinity College, Dublin

The Book of Kells is famous as a highly-decorated copy of the Gospels that was probably written around 800 AD in Iona. Even today, the exact history of the manuscript and how it reached Trinity College is the subject of scholarly controversy.

Photo of the Long Room at Trinity College – ©James Bowden

What you’ll see in Trinity’s Long Room is two of the four books on display: one open on an illustrated page and one open to show regular script. The Ulster Annals described this book as “the chief treasure of the Western world”. It’s seen by over 500,000 visitors a year.

The Chi Rho page is the most famous page and introduces the nativity in Matthew’s gospel (you’ll see lots of purchasing opportunities featuring Chi Rho!).

The “Book of Kells Experience” is a new option for visitors which is a more interactive display built with digital projections. If you’re coming during the peak season (July-August), you should pre-book your tickets to guarantee access. Buy Options 1 and 2 direct from the Book of Kells website, or get your fast-track tickets here.

Details: Book of Kells

1-2.5 hours
Option 1: Book of Kells & Long Room only – €19
Option 2: Book of Kells Experience (new interactive experience) – €25
Option 3: Fast-track Book of Kells & Dublin Castle – €72

4. St Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patrick’s Cathedral is designated by the Church of Ireland (Anglicans) as the national cathedral for that faith in Ireland. It was founded in 1191 as a Catholic cathedral on the site of a holy well associated with St Patrick. The building you see today is over 800 years old.

Don’t confuse St Patrick’s with nearby Christ Church cathedral – there are TWO Church of Ireland cathedrals in Dublin, and their respective roles has been a bone of contention for hundreds of years! Nowadays, Christ Church is the cathedral of the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, while St Patrick’s Cathedral is seen as the national cathedral.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, at night – Courtesy Failte Ireland

The author Jonathan Swift was once the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral and is buried there. You may remember Jonathan Swift as the author of Gulliver’s Travels. When you’re there, make sure to check out the stunning floor.

Details: St Patrick’s Cathedral

1 hour (check opening times)
Self-guided tour including an Audio Guide
Free guided tour at 10.30 and 14.30 Monday to Saturday
Tickets from €10 pp – buy here

5. Go to a Show in Dublin

How to research concerts in Dublin

3 Arena – expect big name singers, bands and comedians.
National Concert Hall – classical venue for concerts, opera and choral. The summer lunchtime concerts are a great attraction.
Bord Gáis Theatre – expect musical theatre, international touring shows and music gigs.
Abbey Theatre – Ireland’s National Theatre, expect world-class plays
Gate Theatre – renowned for theatre by Irish and international playwrights
Olympia Theatre – plays, music shows and comedy in a charming venue.
Gaiety Theatre – touring shows, Riverdance summer season, music and dance events.
Vicar Street – great venue for comedy, touring and specialty music.
Whelans – arguably the best venue for live music in Dublin.
Patrick at the Hapenny Bridge, over the River Liffey

6. Tasting Whiskey at the Jameson Distillery

Many people visit Ireland to taste our famous whiskey! The good news is that the former Jameson Whiskey factory, built in 1780, was turned into a distillery tour, where you can taste the good stuff, learn how to make cocktails and find out about blending Irish whiskey.

Did you know that the word “whiskey” comes from the Irish term “uisce beatha” meaning water of life? The Irish words are pronounced ish-ka bah-hah.

Details: Jameson Distillery

45 mins
Distillery Tour including whiskey tastings
Tastings included
Tickets from €33 pp – buy here

7. Take a Walking Tour of Dublin

One of the best things about Dublin is that the city centre is compact. It means that the main sites, whether a museum, venue or the latest cool cafe, are all (relatively) close together.

If you’re quite organised and have time to prepare, it’s entirely possible to plan your own walking tour hitting some of the main places mentioned on this page, and add famous photo-stops like the Molly Malone statue, the Spire on O’Connell Street or the Ha’penny Bridge. Some people add on a River Liffey boat trip to see the city from its main artery.

For my money, I’m a fan of walking tours – they put you in the hands of an expert who knows where to go and in what order. Dublin has some ‘free walking tours’ (no upfront charge and pay the tip you choose) and some highly-rated organised options. The tour I recommend below is one of the best organised options in the city.

Details: Dublin Highlights Walking Tour

2 hours
Accredited guide
See Dublin Castle, Christchurch Cathedral, Trinity College
Tickets from €23 pp – buy here

8. Temple Bar (and pub culture)

Dublin is famous for its pubs. There’s something for everyone, from traditional ‘old school’ bars to delicious cocktail bars, places with traditional music or cool pubs for LGBTQ+ people.

The area of Temple Bar is along the River Liffey with charming cobbled streets, busy pubs, even busier cafes and restaurants. You’ll find some independent and chain stores and venues like Temple Bar Gallery and the (excellent) Project Arts Centre.

Dessert at the Queen of Tarts, Temple Bar – image courtesy Failte Ireland

But the area is a bit controversial with Dubliners. Some of us see it as too touristy, inauthentic, noisy, crammed and overpriced. Some of the criticism is fair, but go find out for yourself. Take a walk, have a drink, bop to some music, take an organised pub crawl or do the Irish House Party. If it’s not your vibe, walk up to South William Street, or go to the Brazen Head.

One thing is true: you won’t be stuck for a pub in Dublin.

9. The National Gallery of Ireland

The National Gallery is one of my very favourite places to visit in Dublin and the tasty lunches in the Gallery Cafe are not the only reason! There’s a mix of permanent and special exhibitions that keep me coming back (I like art, so this is a no-brainer for me).

My particular love is to visit the permanent exhibitions with Irish artists like Jack B Yeats, but you’ll find art works by Vermeer, Degas, Turner, Rembrandt, Picasso, Monet and an excellent Caravaggio (The Taking of Christ). The new portrait of Edna O’Brien by Mandy O’Neill is worth the visit alone.

Details: National Gallery of Ireland

1-2 hours
Self-guided, or regular free tours
Permanent and visiting exhibitions – latest information here
Two entrances: Merrion Square or Clare Street
Accessibility: everything is wheelchair-accessible, there are 4 disabled parking spaces outside on Merrion Square and access to temporary exhibitions is free for carers
Free (small fee for some temporary exhibitions)

10. The General Post Office (GPO)

The GPO was the headquarters of An Post, Ireland’s postal service and is still the main post office in Dublin, positioned right in the centre of O’Connell Street.

I’m not sending you just to pick up stamps! The GPO is one of Ireland’s most famous buildings, mainly because it was the headquarters of the leaders fighting the British occupation of Ireland during the Easter Rising.

The GPO bears the scars of its seminal role in the foundation of the Irish state… you can find bullet holes in the columns at the front of the building. You can visit the GPO Museum to find out a lot more.

Details: GPO Museum

1 hour
Award-winning museum
Tells the story of the 1916 Rising and modern Irish history
€17 for adults (some concessions) – book here

11. Visit the Vaults in St Michan’s Church

St Michan’s Church was built in 1686 on the site of an older (then Catholic) church from 1095. I visited the vaults on a school trip in the 1980s, when I was horrified to see the mummified remains in the crypt! I still recall the 400 year old remains of a nun being pointed out!

I’m a little less squeamish nowadays, but even if that’s not your thing, the organ in the church is renowned as the place where Handel composed his famous Messiah.

Tours are available at very strict times on weekdays. The website of the church is not the best, but the latest opening hours are available here.

Details: St Michan’s Church

30-45 minutes
Tours of the crypt during opening hours (available here)
Buy tickets on arrival (no pre-booking)

12. Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham Gaol was a working gaol for over 100 years and had quite the reputation as a bleak and unforgiving part of the prison system. It is the role of the Gaol in pivotal parts of Irish history that makes it worth visiting.

The Gaol is now a museum that shares the stories of both everyday prisoners as well as people who fought in the 1798 rebellion, the Easter Rising in 1916 and the subsequent civil war.

Interior of Kilmainham Gaol, image courtesy Chris Hill

Booking tickets for the guided tours needs you to be *organised*!. Tickets are made available 28 days in advance at midnight (in Irish time). They get booked up VERY quickly. If you’re unsuccessful, you might be able to get a cancellation on this website at 9.15am on the day you want to visit.

Note: the Gaol hosts special exhibits from time to time which resonate with its historical character.

As this is a historic building, access can be problematic for wheelchair users.

Details: Kilmainham Gaol

1 hour (but allow 90 minutes)
Guided tours only
Tickets available 28 days in advance (they fill quickly)
Tickets available ONLY from the Gaol Website

13. Picnic in St Stephen’s Green

Right at the top of Grafton Street lies one of Dublin’s real gems: the beautiful park of St Stephen’s Green. I have worked and lived within hailing distance of Stephen’s Green and love to spend time walking around it or finding a spot on a warm day to enjoy the rays.

One of the best things to do in Dublin on a summer day is to pop across to the Dunnes Stores in the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre and put together a picnic to take back to the Green.

It’s the perfect place to watch the world go by.

14. Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle was the seat of English (later British) power at the heart of Dublin for over 700 years as the Dublin home of the Viceroy of Ireland. In 1922, it passed into the ownership of the Irish state and today, visitors can see some of the state apartments and enjoy a visit to the famous castle yard.

The site is where many famous politicians and heads of state were entertained by the Irish government, from Nelson Mandela to Queen Elizabeth II. In my time as a performer with Irish group, Anuna, I sang at a number of state dinners held in Dublin Castle.

While I won’t be along to sing for you, it’s well worth a visit to see this crucial part of Irish history. You can pre-purchase self-guided tour tickets up to 14 days in advance, and buy a ticket for a guided tour (if you wish) on arrival at the welcome desk.

Details: Dublin Castle

1 hour
Self-guided Tours of the State Apartments
Option 1: Buy self-guided tour tickets 14 days in advance (buy here)
Option 2: Fast-track Book of Kells & Dublin Castle – €72

15. Chester Beatty Library

Originally the private library of a wealthy American philanthropist (hence the name), the Chester Beatty Library is an excellent free resource and museum, considered one of the best in Europe (according to our chums at Lonely Planet).

The reason is the Library holds so many rare books and artefacts from around the world and is designed to welcome people, for free, to enjoy its displays. They really make an effort to engage kids too, so it’s not all for grown-ups!

This venue is extremely friendly for those with accessibility needs: parking is available at Dublin Castle for anyone with a permit, the entire building is wheelchair friendly and there’s a suitable toilet. I note that the Library offers dementia-friendly tours too, which is amazing.

Details: Chester Beatty Library

Open 7 days, check the latest opening hours
World-class facilities, welcoming to everyone
Excellent accessibility provisions, including parking and a toilet

One more thing! Shopping in Dublin

You might not be coming to Dublin to go shopping. However, any time I visit a city, there’s only so much art or history I can absorb before I need somewhere to wander, pick up a gift and people watch over a frothy coffee!

There are endless shopping opportunities in Dublin, but Grafton Street and Henry Street are the most popular for a reason.

Grafton Street is on the southside of the River Liffey and stretches from Trinity College to the glass-domed Stephens Green Centre. You’ll find the bigger chain stores, but look out for Brown Thomas (the Irish department store) and Bewley’s Cafe with its famous stained-glass windows. Grafton Street is also famous for buskers and they’re celebrated here, so stop by and support them.

The market on Moore Street, Dublin – image courtesy Paola Floris

Henry Street is on the northside of the River and this pedestrianised street is home to Arnotts department store (a great place to find things you didn’t know you needed). The Jervis Centre has a lot of big brand chain stores, but stop by Moore Street, famous for its open air market and the signature calls of the traders!

If you love books, visit the Winding Stair bookshop and enjoy a lunch in its excellent restaurant.

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The Dublin Best Of Wrap-up!

I hope you enjoyed my whistle-stop tour of my best things to do in Dublin. As ever, there’s more than just 15 things to do, so if I missed something YOU loved, let us know about it in the comments section below!

If you’re planning your visit right now, take the time to review the best value hotels in Dublin, or dream big and go stay in a castle hotel near the city! If Dublin is your main base, I think you’ll enjoy this post about popular day trips that leave from Dublin (some organised, some you can self-drive). Thanks for choosing Planet Patrick for your inspiration!

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I'm Patrick, your Irish guide to the skies and beyond. With 58 countries visited, my journeys have taken me from busy economy to fabulous first-class.

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