For being Ireland’s capital, Dublin is a surprisingly small city. Which isn’t a bad thing – just makes it easier to get to everything with less walking and cabbing/bussing!
We got in to Dublin quite early, just as the sun was rising, and since our Airbnb wouldn’t be ready to check in to until later on, we had to find some way to pass the time. When in Ireland… head for a pub. Unfortunately for me, I am not a fan of whiskey, nor do I enjoy coffee, but if you do and you’re in Dublin, you can’t miss out on the experience of Irish coffee.
We chose to buy the Do Dublin card at the airport, which not only includes unlimited travel on all public buses, including the hop on hop off bus tour and the Airlink express from the airport to city centre, but a booklet with many coupons and discounts as well. I don’t usually care to purchase tickets for hop on hop off tours, but this one seemed to be a good deal, and all of the drivers of our buses told great stories and jokes, so just sitting on the bus to get around the city and hear some fun facts and jokes was entertaining.
There’s tonnes of touristy things to do in Dublin, with one of the main attractions being the Guinness Storehouse. Even if you’re not a big fan of the black stuff, the giant pint-shaped brewery is interesting. You can learn how to pour the perfect pint, and the rooftop Gravity Bar is an ideal place to sit and enjoy the freshest pint of Guinness you can get – there’s 360 degree views of Dublin from up there. Plus the whole experience is just €18.50 and includes the pint of Guinness.
You can take the tour at your own pace, and with 5 floors to visit, there’s quite a bit to take in. But it’s interesting to hear the story of how Guinness came to be and it’s pretty amazing how much there is to know about what goes in to just one pint of Guinness. Also, if you’ve ever heard that Guinness tastes better in Dublin, I can personally say that that statement is true. It’s fresher in Ireland, and they take the ‘perfect pour’ method pretty seriously there, so it’s not just psychological!
We also made a visit to the Kilmainham Gaol – the prison in Dublin where many of Ireland’s political prisoners were held, tortured, and executed. The building itself is very well preserved for opening in 1796 – even the graffiti from inmates is still there – and it’s quite fascinating to learn the history of Ireland, including the 1916 uprising of the Republic of Ireland against the British tyranny. It’s a bit haunting in a way, and quite an insight as to just how awful and harsh prisons were 200 years ago.
Our tour guide had so much knowledge about all of the history and so many facts, it was difficult to absorb everything during the one hour tour. But she was quite engaging, and to hear the terrible stories (like a seven year old girl sentenced to years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread during the potato famine) really makes you appreciate living in this century.
The Victorian wing is surprisingly lovely, considering the awful conditions of the cells and the rest of the prison. It’s even been shown in quite a few movies including The Italian Job (1969).
The Irish Whiskey Museum was a great little interactive tour – our guide was very entertaining, poking jokes at the Scots and their whiskey, and telling us lots of fun facts about the production of the spirit. He was quite enthusiastic and made the tour fly by.
At the very end of the tour, you get to do a whiskey tasting where he shows you how to properly taste whiskey… Which is great, if you like straight whiskey. Which I don’t. But our Do Dublin booklet included a coupon for a free upgrade to a VIP ticket, so we got an extra glass to taste and we got one of these cute little glasses as a souvenir.
After essentially doing four shots of whiskey in less than 15 minutes, you can either go back to the little pub in the museum, or you can head back down the twisty, winding, narrow staircase to get out. So, may I suggest you sit for a while after?
Our Airbnb was very close to the Ha’penny bridge, so a very convenient location. It was close to the Temple Bar area, but far enough away to not get all of the noise from the partying. The Temple Bar area is famous for its live music, and cobbled pedestrian streets. It’s very busy in this part of town, so we only went in to the original Temple Bar for about five minutes as it was just so, so crowded.
While the Temple Bar itself was super packed, there’s lots and lots of pubs all around here to enjoy, some like Ned O’Shea’s or O’Donughues with free live music. Or you may even stumble upon a random band playing right on the street like we did; I can’t remember what they were playing but I know everyone was sure enjoying the free entertainment.
One of our other many stops included a visit to Dublin Castle, which dates back to the year 1204, and was the seat of British power in Ireland up until the civil war in the 1920’s. It’s nice enough to see, with state rooms and two museums, but I’ve been to quite a few castles since moving over here, and it’s not the best one I’ve been to… I mean, there’s no personal connection to Nova Scotia like the Cardiff Castle 😉 . Plus they were hosting a bunch of school tours that day, so we didn’t get a chance to see all of the State Apartments, Chapel Royal, or the Viking Excavation.
That said, self-guided tours are just €8, and I’ve read that the guided tours are worth the price of admission, so if you get the chance to go, you might as well check it out.
Just behind the castle are the Castle Gardens, which are home to the original ‘Dubh Linn’, or ‘black pool’ – the site where the Vikings harboured their ships and set up their trading base. This pool is where the city got its name, Dublin, and is just a nice, peaceful place to stop and take a break.
The Chester Beatty Library is just beside these gardens, but unfortunately, was closed when we were there. So although we didn’t get to check it out, it’s home to many artifacts, including more than 20,000 manuscripts, rare books, and lots of other historical objects from Chester Beatty’s collection of treasures. There’s free tours at certain times on certain days of the week.
Phoenix Park is just outside of the city centre – roughly a 15 minute walk – and is home to the President of Ireland’s residence as well as the American Ambassador’s residence, Dublin Zoo, free roaming deer, and approximately 1800 acres – one of the biggest parks in a capital city in Europe. We didn’t go into the park, just on the hop on hop off bus as it made its stop there, but many people say it’s a lovely spot for a picnic lunch and a stroll.
One of my favourite things in Dublin was Trinity College. While it’s free to walk around the grounds, there’s a fee to see the library. I loved the old architecture mixed with the new, and it was quite relaxing to just wander around the tranquil courtyard. And for those Game of Thrones fans, this is where Joffrey went to college.
Trinity College Library Dublin has had the right to claim a free copy of all British and Irish publications since 1801, and thus, has a stock of nearly three million volumes housed in eight buildings. The grand library here is home to the illuminated Book of Kells – written on calf skin paper, showing illustrations of Christian Gospels dating from 800AD. Pictures aren’t allowed, but it’s quite something to see the intricately written and colourful pages of the book.
The Long Room is home to some 200 000 of the library’s oldest books, organized by length and weight, many of which haven’t been touched in 150 years. It’s absolutely beautiful to look at this library, and well worth a visit. Admission is €13, or you can pay an extra euro for the guided walking tour around the campus, which I would say was worthwhile. Our guide was a current student of the university, telling us about the history of the college and comparing it to its state these days. And it meant we got to skip the line for the Book of Kells and the Long Room!
The Long Room also displays Ireland’s oldest surviving harp, probably dating back to the 15th century. This is the harp which appears on Irish coins, was the model for the insignia of Ireland, and is made from oak and willow with brass strings.
Dublin is such a fun little city, I’d happily go back just for a night out and a pint of fresh Guinness. The people are fantastic, friendly and fun, the food is delicious, and the atmosphere is just great – you somehow feel comfortable in a place you’ve never been as soon as you arrive. There’s so much to see and do; we didn’t get to many of the museums there, like the National Archaeological Museum of Ireland with dug up mummified bodies from Irish peat bogs, or the “number one museum in Ireland”, the Little Museum of Dublin set in an old house.
Honestly, the only thing in Dublin I didn’t like was the English mustard at one of the pubs we went to… If you’re Canadian like me, or American… It’s not like mustard at home. It tastes more like mustard mixed with turpentine, and if you can manage to eat it without gagging, your taste buds must not be functioning. But, I can’t even fault the Irish for it, it’s an English thing! And Lord knows, the Brits eat some awful strange things.
Until next time, ‘wherever you go, whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you!’