Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland, is on Ireland’s east coast at the mouth of the River Liffey. Its historic buildings include Dublin Castle, dating to the 13th century, and imposing St Patrick’s Cathedral, founded in 1191. City parks include landscaped St Stephen’s Green and huge Phoenix Park, containing Dublin Zoo. The National Museum of Ireland explores Irish heritage and culture.
Trinity College and College Green
Trinity College is probably the best spot to kick off your Dublin tour. It’s at the heart of the capital, packed full of incredible history, and it’s the oldest university in Ireland having been founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I. Occupying an enviable 40-acre site, Trinity retains some of its ancient seclusion of cobbled squares, gardens, and parks and is famed throughout the world for its collection of great treasures. These include, on permanent exhibition, the 9th century illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells, the Books of Durrow and Armagh, and an ancient Irish harp. The priceless artefacts are displayed in the Treasury and the awe-inspiring 18th-century Long Room, which houses more than 200,000 of Trinity’s oldest books and hosts regular literary exhibitions.
A short southerly stroll from Trinity College takes you down towards Dublin’s premier shopping location, Grafton Street. A statue of Molly Malone sits at the bottom of the street, so it’s impossible to miss. This eclectic stretch buzzes morning, noon, and night and is a magnet for buskers, from classical quartets to traditional fiddle players and singer-songwriters. Many famed bands and musicians have given impromptu performances here, including Bono of U2. Aside from buskers, you will find a broad range of boutiques, jewelers, and department stores including upmarket Brown Thomas. Many would say that the jewel in the crown is Bewley’s Oriental Café, a Dublin institution at this location since 1927. If on a shopping spree it’s well worth taking a slight diversion to the arty Powerscourt Townhouse Centre with its designer shops and trendy places to eat.
St. Stephens Green
After eating your fill at Bewley’s Oriental Café, an easy stroll to the top of Grafton Street brings you to Fusilier’s Arch, the main entrance to St. Stephen’s Green. Georgian buildings surround ‘the Green’ (as it’s known locally), although some sadly fell by the wayside during redevelopment, mainly in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. The 22-acre park is a Dublin gem and an oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle of downtown city life. When weather permits, you should do as the locals do and stretch out on the grass for some rest and relaxation, or grab a picnic lunch. Immaculate flowerbeds fringe the lawns. Also in the park is an ornate fountain at its center, a bridge over a duck pond, and a children’s playground. Incidentally, the park was the scene of bitter combat during the 1916 Uprising, however it was agreed by both sides that hostilities should cease while the park-keeper fed the ducks.
The National Gallery of Ireland
A right turn at the end of Kildare Street will bring you to the National Gallery of Ireland with entrances on Clare Street and Merrion Square West. Housing the finest collection of Irish art in the world alongside an outstanding collection of European art from the Middle Ages to the present day, this is a must-see while in the capital. The gallery opened in 1864 with wings being added in 1903, 1968, and most recently, 2002. Collections include the Yeats Museum, seven rooms devoted to Irish art, Italian Painters, the Shaw Room, and Baroque Room. The gallery, which is spread over four levels, regularly hosts impressive temporary exhibitions, and there’s an excellent café popular with locals and visitors alike.
The GPO (General Post Office)
O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, is home to the iconic GPO (General Post Office) built in 1814. The failed 1916 Uprising began here and bullet holes still dot the neo-classical portico. Inside, the An Post Museum houses the Letters, Lives & Liberty exhibition featuring a 1916 Uprising installation and a copy of the Proclamation of Independence.
National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History (Collins Barracks)
Originally an army barracks, the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History opened in 1997. The collections include silver, ceramics, jewelry, furniture, Irish haute couture fashion, and exhibitions exploring Irish military history. There are several other permanent exhibitions including a retrospective of modernist designer Eileen Gray, Irish Silver dating from the 17th to 20th centuries, Asian Art, Irish Country Furniture, and Soldiers and Chiefs, which displays historic military artefacts and uniforms.
Phoenix Park and Dublin Zoo
An 18-minute walk from Collins Barracks is Dublin Zoo in Phoenix Park. This is the largest enclosed urban park in Europe, some 1,750 acres, which is surprising given that Dublin is a relatively small capital city. Hundreds of deer roam the parkland, the President of Ireland’s official residence (Áras an Uachtaráin) is here along with Deerfield, a beautiful 18th-century property home to the American Ambassador to Ireland. There’s a Visitors Centre located close to a 17th-century tower house, Ashtown Castle, for those wishing to find out more about the park and its environs. At the far Castleknock Gate end and on some 78 acres stands stately Farmleigh House dating from the 1800s and purchased by the Irish state from the Guinness family in 1999.
The forbidding gaol (jail), dating from 1789, truly is a notorious site in the history of Irish nationalism. It was here that the leaders of the 1916 rebels were first incarcerated and then executed for what was seen as an act of high treason. The exhibition in a modern hall gives a taste of what conditions were like and outlines the struggle for Irish independence. There are excellent guided tours throughout the rest of the jail, which cover Irish history from 1796-1924. The Stonebreaker’s Yard is sure to send shivers up the spine, as this is the spot where the leaders of the uprising met their grisly fate.
Christ Church Cathedral
Restored in the 19th century and dominating the surrounding area, Christ Church Cathedral is built on the site of Dublin’s first church, which was founded in 1028 and made of timber. The Great Nave has magnificent early gothic arches, and here you can see the 14th-century replica of the tomb of legendary Norman conqueror Strongbow, who is buried elsewhere in the cathedral. The fragment that lies alongside is said to be part of the original tomb and has the nickname, ‘Strongbow’s son.’ Parts of the vast crypt, which runs the length of the building, date from the 13th century.
A must see and, surprisingly, just a 25-minute southbound trip on a DART (Dublin’s light rail network) from the city-center is Dalkey and one stop further along, Killiney, although both areas can easily be explored from Dalkey town. It’s recommended to disembark at the earlier stop as there’s an excellent visitor center at Dalkey Castle, which includes information about the area, historic and cultural exhibitions, and best of all, live theater performances as part of a fun guided tour, which scales the heights of the castle ramparts. Dalkey was once the main trading post on Dublin’s east coast, and the harbor at Coliemore Road was the place where medieval cargo ships could off-load their wares. Opposite the harbor is breathtaking Dalkey island, and an uphill stroll of around 15 minutes brings you to Vico Road with stunning views out over Killiney Bay. For more panoramic vistas, continue up to the top of Killiney Hill, a public park that is home to many species of wildlife and birds.