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Some will argue that Dublin is a tourist trap, there’s not much to see or do there. I’d have to disagree. I start and end all of my trips to Ireland in the capital city, because I have so many friends there. My trips are as much about exploring as they are about maintaining friendships. So since I am going to go there whether it’s recommended or not, I’ll let you know about a few things you won’t want to miss. Many people just do a day in Dublin on the front or back end of a trip, or as part of an extended layover (that’s how my first trip to Ireland worked out).
I’ve had more than a few days to explore Dublin now, so I’ll share some of the highlights. An expert traveler might be able to fit ALL Of these activities into one jam packed day of touring the city, but I’d focus on the ones that really matter to you and spend a little time enjoying the activities you choose. I’ve done quite a few more things in Dublin than you’ll read about here, and I’ll be checking off a few more bucket list items this summer too!
Ireland has thousands of castles. There is no excuse for you to leave this country without seeing at least one of them. If you don’t have the time to venture outside of Dublin, you’ll meet this goal with a trip to Dublin Castle. The castle was built in 1204, and has been expanding ever since. On site you will find a few museums, cafes, tours of the state apartments, and a library. I arrived a bit late in the day and simply wandered around the grounds on my own. Notice I had the entire place to myself.
Ireland isn’t called the Emerald Isle for nothing. Take advantage of the beautiful gardens. Pack a book and stroll through some of their beautiful city gardens. You’ll find two at Dublin Castle or you can explore one of the many other city gardens, like Merrion Square surrounded by beautiful Georgian homes.
On my very first, very short trip to Ireland, one of the only things I had time to do was attend a church service with my travel companion. Sometimes when we travel, we stop to do things for those we love. Both those we are traveling with, and those at home. My grandmother is hard to please, and always sends me on extravagant treasure hunts to bring her a desired souvenir. On a previous trip to Turkey, she asked me to find a rosary for her. That proved rather challenging, but I thought a peak at the gift shop of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin was worth a try. Sure enough it was a success, and I saw a beautiful historic building in the process. Much better than scouring generic tourist shops for her gift. If you enjoy visiting churches or appreciate architecture, add this to your itinerary!
If you identify as more of a sinner than a saint, you might opt for a visit to the jail. If you can’t find a place to sleep for the night, it shouldn’t be too hard to earn yourself a free night in a Dublin holding cell. But for the less rowdy traveler, you might enjoy a tour of the Kilmainham Gaol. While there haven’t been any prisoners in the jail since 1920, you might be frightened by some of the tales you hear as you wander the ground of this historic facility. While you can explore on your own, I recommend the guided tour for this attraction.
Once you’ve seen the sights, you’re going to need some time to explore Irish booze. It’s famous for a reason. So what should you drink in Ireland, and where? You might prefer a more official experience in the breweries or distilleries, or a more laid back pub scene. That’s for you to decide! One thing is for sure though, you will have no shortage of things to imbibe. There were even whiskey carts by the gates in the airport, but after 10 days in Ireland, I couldn’t even look at whiskey the morning of my outbound flight!
Even if you don’t care for it, try one in Ireland. Made from the water that trickles down the mountain side, it is supposed to taste far superior to the guinness served in the states and other parts of the world. You can also check out the Guinness Storehouse, the observatory has a lovely view of the city where you can sip your Guinness after a tour of the museum.
Irish Whiskey is next. If you’re more of a whiskey girl or guy (like me), you’ll probably want to experience some Jameson in Ireland. I opted for the distillery tour in Cork, but if you’re only going to be in Dublin, you might want to check out the Old Jameson Distillery for a guided tour or Whiskey Master’s Class. There are several other Irish whiskies to explore. You can get Jameson anywhere, so if that’s your go to, try a specialty from the line, or go all out and have a pour of the Midleton Reserve. Powers and Paddy’s are two well known Irish whiskies that can be a little harder to find in the US. You might also be interested in Red Breast, Tullamore Dew, Knappogue Castleand Bushmills. Green Spot is another favorite I’ve discovered over the years. Just promise me you won’t drink ANY American whisky while in Ireland.
If you don’t have the time or interest in a distillery/brewery tour, head over to the Temple Bar area. Any bar with live music will provide the perfect setting to enjoy your Irish drinks of choice. Many will write Temple Bar off as the Times Square of Dublin. I’ve been to Times Square as a tourist and as New Yorker trying to simply get from point A to point B. They don’t compare. If you want to share a few drinks with locals and tourists over live music, it’s a fine way to end your day. If it isn’t your cup of tea (or whiskey), there are plenty of quieter pubs around to meet your needs. Fellow blogger Hannah Logan reviews some options here.
And if you won’t be heading to Galway, definitely buy yourself a hooker! (Ok, that is an unexpected turn). No, I am not supporting illegal sexual misconduct. Galway Hooker is a fun small batch craft beer available in Ireland. You cannot find it in the US or most parts of the world, so buy yourself and your friends a hooker, and enjoy the live music. I won’t lie…I had a few hookers on my trip.
Finally, once you’ve had yourself a few of these fine Irish beverages, you must dance and sing along. The live performers will be playing traditional Irish music (my favorite is Galway Girl) as well as some of your favorite songs by Irish musicians. And when you get pulled up on stage, give Irish dancing a chance. You might be better at it than you think!