Dublin, the capital of Ireland, is one of my favourite cities in Europe: it has a very unique aesthetics and magnificent historical landmarks. See my list of 20 sites to visit there!
1. Trinity College
Trinity College, the only college of the University of Dublin is the oldest operating university in Ireland. It is the most well-known university in Dublin, founded in 1592, and one of the reasons behind it is the Old Library – and now it features Gaia, beautiful Earth installation by Luke Jerram.
That’s a hall with an astounding collection of old books, occupying the shelves up to the ceiling as if this were some fairytale space. Additionally, the Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscript famous for its most impressive object or Irish cultural heritage, is displayed there. Now there’s an exhibition highlighting different features of the Book of Kells in a room adjacent to the book display.
You can’t take photos of the Book of Kells but those are some animals from it to give you an idea of how it looks like (apart from texts and portraits)
Book your tickets for a visit online ahead of your trip to escape disappointment – we went for the guided tour around the campus plus the Library visit.
I’d highly suggest you watch The Secret of Kells cartoon, 2009 (and all the others in the series, such as The Song of The Sea and The Wolfwalkers) for more inspiration!
2. St Patrick’s Cathedral
St Patrick’s Cathedral is the most important religious building for Christians of Dublin: it was founded in 1191 and named after the country’s patron saint who baptised Ireland in the 5th century.
The cathedral is famous for the Door of Reconciliation (two families – the Butlers of Ormonde and the Fitzgeralds of Kildare – shook hands throughout it and agreed to stop the mini-war between them) and for the burial of Jonathan Swift, one of the best satirists the English language has seen and the author of the Gulliver’s travels, A Tale of a Tub and Drapier’s Letters.
3. Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle is a magnificent fortress dating back to 1204. It reflects Irish history very well: it was constructed on the site of Viking settlement, then was under English (and later British) rule, massively restored after a fire of 1684 and was transferred to the government of the new Irish Republic on the 16th January 1922.
Now, it feels more like a museum because there are lots of precious art objects on display, such as tapestries, paintings, furniture and many more.
Christmas in the Castle takes place here, too, with the courtyard filled with stalls selling food and crafts and the Castle itself being decorated magnificently on the inside.
4. O’Connell Street
O’Connell Street is one of the main arteries of Dublin – and you can’t imagine how many historical events took place here! The street was previously known as Drogheda Street and Sackville Street, and the Nelson Pilar, a large column commemorating the Trafalgar Battle, stood on this street. At the same time, Ireland was still under British Rule.
This area became a literal battlefield during the Easter Uprising in 1916 between British forces and Irish republicans fighting to make Ireland a free country again (and Ireland became a free state after 1922). During the Irish Civil War, Sackville Street was damaged again. In 1924 it was renamed O’Connell Street 1924, with many talks of column removal. Danial O’Conner, The Liberator, was a significant figure in Irish politics of the 19th century who supported Catholics in the country. Many administrative buildings are still located somewhere near this location.
5. Spire of Dublin
In 1966, the Nelson Column on O’Connell Street was blown up by a blast without governmental authorisation. The Spire of Dublin, or the Monument of Light, was erected in the same place in 2003, and now this 120 metre-high is a new Dublin landmark.
6. Christ Church Cathedral
The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, or Christ Church Cathedral, is another unmissable landmark of Dublin. This former Roman Catholic (now it’s under the Anglican Church of Ireland as well as St Patrick’s cathedral) cathedral was founded in 1030 under the rule of the Hiberno-Norse King Sitriuc Silkenbeard as a wooden building, rebuilt in stone in the 12th century and largely reconstructed in the 19th century. It is located not far from St Patrick’s Cathedral, so you can see both in a short time!
The most prominent religious relic of it is the heart of Lorcán Ua Tuathail, or Laurence O’Toole (his burial is at Eu, Normandy, France, where he died in 1180), the 12th century’s Archbishop of Dublin who was canonised as a saint. It was a big event when it was stolen in 2012 – but thankfully, it was found in 2018, and it’s back to its place now!
You can visit its treasury and the crypt (the largest in Ireland and Britain!) too, where apart from the religious treasures you can find the remains of a cat and rat that were found in the organ (it’s believed that the cat chased the rat into the pipe and both got stuck) and naturally mummified in the lack of oxygen. Famously, James Joyce referred to them in Finnegan’s Wake ‘…as stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christ Church organ…’
7. St Stephen Green
St Stephen Green is a great green space in central Dublin. Its name can be traced back to a 13th-century leper hospital whose patron saint was Saint Stephen (it still exists today as a clinical centre named Mercer’s Hospital.
With green grass, ponds, numerous memorials, pavilions, and some flowers blooming even in winter, St Stephen Green is a must-visit if you seek some nature sights.
8. St Stephen’s Green shopping mall
St Stephen’s Green shopping mall is a large venue with over a hundred stores inside. It was opened in 1988, right at the end of Grafton Street, and named St Stephen’s Green, located across the road from it.
Apart from the shops, there are cafes and restaurants – and I really loved the Christmas decorations I’ve been able to witness two years in a row!
9. Temple Bar
Temple Bar itself is a pub in central Dublin known for its live Irish music and, of course, beer! It dates to the 19th century, and ‘Temple’ refers to the surname of the first owners of the house here.
Now, this name is spread throughout the area known for its – well – bars. Although the drinking culture in Ireland is an essential part of the local heritage, you don’t have to immerse yourself in it too deeply and can visit this area for food: there are lots of dining options there, too. Live music is another must in the Temple Bar area!
10. National Museum of Ireland
In Dublin, there is a collection of museums under the National Museum of Ireland, all not far away from each other, and I’d recommend you to visit them all. To start with, the National Museum of Archaeology has a fantastic collection of Celtic heritage – because if not here, where else should you see it first-hand?
Amazing gold pieces (think of massive shiny collars and torcs) dating from 2200 BC to 500 BC are absolutely astonishing, as well as the Viking heritage, as Dublin used to be a base for their fierce raids.
The National Museum of Natural History is small yet worth visiting for educational purposes. You’ll see there a great variety of species (presented as stuffed animals or in any other form) living in Ireland and showcasing different ecosystems and the characteristics of different mammals, birds, insects, etc.
There are also the Museum of Decorative Arts and History (in Dublin) and the Museum of Country Life in County Mayo.
11. Molly Malone statue
Dublin is well-known for its statues, and the Molly Malone statue located in the very centre of Dublin near the former St. Andrew’s Church and now Dublin Tourist Office is one of the most famous of them. This pretty lady selling fresh seafood is a character of one of the most famous songs about Dublin (which may actually not be rooted in Irish folklore; it was probably created by James Yorkston in the mid-19th century ) – and according to the song, she died of fever at a young age.
This statue was moved a couple of times since its creation in 1988 and landed on Suffolk Street only in 2014.
In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”
12. National Gallery of Ireland
Nation Gallery of Ireland opened in 1864, is a great, modern – think of the Millenium wing opened in 2002 – and convenient-to-visit (even with babies) space a minute’s walk from the National Museum of Natural History.
You’ll see there a collection starting with pieces of Italian religious paintings and old masters’ art up to the modern times, with a special collection dedicated to the 20th-century movement and, of course, numerous Irish artists.
Temporary compositions were held there as well. There’s also a pay area for kids, a large cafeteria and a nice shop, so make sure you pay this museum a visit!
13. Grafton street
Grafton Street, home to Brown Thomas department store and numerous other shops and cafes, is a prime destination for shopping, coffee breaks and dining options, from Chinese food to Butler’s chocolate.
It has nice festive illumination for the holidays, and you can also pop into the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre for some shopping (see above).
If you’re looking for some vies, go to the M&S cafe terrace. You can also buy some beautiful flowers on the stalls along Grafton Street as well as listen to local musicians: this area is known for that! Trinity College, the Molly Malone statue, and Dublin Castle are all located nearby.
14. Dawson Street
Dawson Street is one of the prettiest streets in central Dublin, going from Trinity College to St Stephen’s Green, and The Mansion House is where the Mayor of Dublin resides.
It has lots of restaurants (including my first-choice-to-go The Ivy), shops and the Saint Ann’s Church. Take advantage of a fantastic bookstore, Hodges Figgis, Irish Department of the Waterstones, dating back to 1768.
15. Henry Street
Henry Street is another place you should go during the festive period. It’s located in the Dublin 1 area very centrally.
It has lovely decorations with glittering bows all around, not to mention that it’s home to the Arnotts, the oldest department store in Ireland!
If you want to go around, don’t miss O’Connell Street and the Post Office (the very beginning of Henry Street), The Spire of Dublin, the Leprechaun Museum and the various monuments, including the one to James Joyce.
16. Guinness storehouse
In the Guinness Storehouse opened in 2020, you can learn about Arthur Guinness and the process of Guinness (and beer in general, which requires water, barley, hops, and yeast to undergo some processes under certain conditions) in detail, and visit the Gravity Bar, the highest bar in Dublin!
They have quite a few cafes as well, and we went for desserts with a Guinness twist.
By the way, it’s a super baby-friendly venue and just a few days ago, it was named as the world’s leading tourist attraction of 2023 at the World Travel Awards! Overall, I enjoyed our visit much more than I anticipated, and I’d highly recommend you pop in!
17. Dublin Zoo
Dublin Zoo, which opened in 1831, is the largest zoo in Ireland and a really nice attraction if you’re visiting Dublin with kids! Lions, elephants, red pandas, okapis, giraffes, penguins, snow leopards and many other animals are kept there, with many enclosures looking pretty modern and surrounded by nature.
During our visit around Christmas, Dublin Zoo had a light trail – however, we went for an ordinary visit as I didn’t know about the trail before our visit, and the tickets were all sold out.
18. Phoenix park
The Dublin Zoo is a part of the prettiest green space called the Phoenix Park. It used to be a royal hunting park back in the 17th century and was opened to the general public in 1747.
There are quite a few venues apart from the zoo, such as Victorian Flower Gardens, a Biodiversity Information Centre, and Phoenix Café and Tea Room, and you can spot the Wellington Monument there too: it’s a 62 metres tall obelisk dating to 1861, dedicated to the deeds of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, and one of the tallest obelisks in Europe. If you’re lucky, you can also encounter some deer there (just like in Richmond Park); however, we were not.
19. George’s Street arcade
George’s Street Arcade is another iconic shopping destination in Dublin and a home to independent businesses. It opened in 1881 under the name of the South City Markets and was initially perceived as a British place; however, after the fire of 1892, this attitude shifted, and the Dubliners gradually felt warmer to this place.
If you’re looking for something unique like jewellery, clothes, or souvenirs, George’s Street arcade is a destination for you!
20. Beckett bridge
Samuel Beckett Bridge is named after a worldwide famous Irish writer and Nobel prize laureate (I was even lucky to see Waiting for Godot in London performed by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart). It’s an impressive modern bridge a bit out of historical Dublin centre, however now it’s considered its modern landmark.
It was designed by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava – I admired his worlds in his home city, Valencia, and the Turning Torso in Malmö, Sweden – and opened in 2009. Walk there or spot it on your way to the airport!
Dublin has quite a few other museums to visit: Kilmainham Gaol, The Little Museum of Dublin, EPIC the Irish Emigration Museum, and Museum of Literature Ireland!
Where to stay in Dublin:
Last time we stayed at The College Green Hotel Dublin, Autograph Collection (Westin Dublin), and now we decided to change the location and spend our nights at The Shelbourne, gorgeous historical hotel with a great aesthetics and a high-end vibe.
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Merry Christmas from Dublin
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