During a long weekend in June 2018, we decided to tick another country off our list and visited the neighbourly Republic of Ireland. Dublin, in particular, with its fun vibrant atmosphere, rich history and ancient buildings, seemed like the ideal city to explore. We didn’t find any leprechauns (apart from a man dressed as one), but we did have some Irish luck as the weather gods beamed joyfully upon us and gave us 3 full days of warm sunshine and clear blue skies.
Accommodation & Travel
We took a Thursday night Ryan Air flight from Glasgow to Dublin, and a return Aer Lingus flight on Sunday evening, which gave us almost 3 full days of exploring this fun Irish city. Dublin is a pretty expensive city to visit – both in terms of hotel accommodation and general expenses. We chose a hotel slightly further away from the city center due to the costs, and decided to stay at the Hilton Kilmainham, which was around a 10 minute drive or a 20 minute bus ride from the center.
A taxi from Dublin Airport to the hotel cost us over €25! (it would be slightly less expensive if heading towards the city center). It would be cheaper to catch a local bus from the airport to your hotel if you look this up in advance.
We bought a 48 hour hop on hop off sightseeing bus ticket, which we used to see the sights as well as travel around the city. If you buy a ticket online, and in advance, you can get a discount. If you’re going to use the sightseeing bus to get around the city, it’s worth remembering that the buses only run until a certain time in the evening. On one of the nights, we took the local bus back to the hotel, which cost €2.85 for a single ticket. Another travel option is the Luas, which is Dublin’s tram service.
This is one of the Georgian squares in the center of Dublin. It has a famous Oscar Wilde memorial sculpture in the corner of the square, which are covered with quotes from Mr Wilde. Apparently the expression on Oscar’s face was designed as a smile on one half, and a frown on the other, to reflect the shades of his life – which we thought actually looks like a sneer when you’re looking up at him.
The park is full of interesting sculptures, which are detailed in a leaflet that can be picked up at the entrance to the park. This includes the pyramid shaped war memorial for the Defense Forces, and a wooden ‘Joker’s Chair’ – a memorial for the actor Dermot Morgan, well known for playing Father Ted.
Across the road from this sculpture is the house Oscar Wilde used to live in. It is now the American College Dublin.
St Stephen’s Green Park
If you want to learn about the history of Dublin, and take a stroll in a beautiful Victorian park at the same time, you need to head to St Stephen’s Green Park.
During Easter week of 1916, there was an uprising by Irish republicans to end the British rule in Ireland, while the rest of the UK was busy with the 1st World War. During this Easter Rising a group of 200-250 took up siege within St Stephen’s Green, taking people’s vehicles and furniture to set up blockades around the park.
As you walk around the park, hand in hand with your loved one, you come across plaques, that gives you gory details about the uprising and how certain parts of the park you’re walking through, played a part. It’s really quite interesting and we would recommend you do this!
Apart from the history you will learn, this park is a beautiful oasis within the bustling center of Dublin, just steps away from the shopping area of Grafton Street and St Stephen’s Shopping Center. Pack a picnic basket and take a seat near a fountain or the lake, where you can watch the swans, or people, if that’s more your thing!
The Fusilier’s Arch is a monument which forms the entrance to the park from Grafton Street. It was erected in dedication to the people who formed the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who fought and died in the Second Boer War 1899-1902.
Stephen’s Green Shopping Center
Just across the road from the park, is this delightful looking shopping center. Although it hosts the usual high street stores you would find in any shopping area, it also has a variety of eclectic, alternative stores for those quirkier shoppers. However, it is worth visiting to admire the interior architecture. Of note, is the huge double-faced clock. If you’re feeling peckish by this point (which we were) stop off for lunch at the food court upstairs, which gives you nice views of St Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street.
Recently made famous by lyrics in Ed Sheeran’s song ‘Galway Gal’, Grafton Street is one of the main shopping areas in Dublin. It has all your usual high street stores, as well as restaurants, bars, cafes and performing street artists. Keep an eye out for some of the little side streets that go off Grafton Street. Peer along them, and you might see a church entrance flanked by busy pubs.
Umbrella streets have become a feature in cities across the world. Tucked away in one of these side streets called Anne’s Lane, next to Zozimus Bar, is this colourful little installation of umbrellas. You couldn’t pick a better place to have a drink outside when it’s pouring it down!
George’s St Arcade
If you keep walking along Grafton Street, turn down Johnson’s Court and keep going, you will come across another hidden gem in the center of Dublin – George’s Street Arcade.
George’s Street Arcade was opened in 1876 and is Ireland’s and one of Europe’s oldest shopping centers. It was Dublin’s first purpose built Victorian shopping centers. It hosts around 40 independent retailers, in a charming red bricked building.
One of the most popular areas in Dublin, Temple Bar has built up a reputation for being a lively, fun filled spot for nightlife and live music. Drinks here are rumored to cost €10 for a pint.
Molly Malone Statue
Molly Malone is a popular song, set in Dublin, about a woman of that name. It’s so popular, that there’s now a statue of this fictional, apparently busty woman, in front of the Tourism Information Office on Suffolk Street. The statue’s bosoms have been groped so many times by tourists, that the bronze has started to wear off on this part of her body.
Trinity College & Old Library
We started the second day by exploring the campus of Trinity College. Founded in 1592, it is Ireland’s oldest university and one of the 7 ancient universities of Britain and Ireland. Notable alumni are Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker – the author of Dracula.
Trinity College has a beautiful old library, also called ‘Old Library’, which has the famous Book of Kells exhibit. The Book of Kells is Gospel manuscript book containing 4 gospels from the New Testament and is believed to have been written in the year 800. It is famous due to its lavish decoration and artistry that can be seen in its text, drawings and imagery.
At the end of the Book of Kells, is the Long Room of the Old Library. The Long Room was built by 1732, but by the 1850s it had to be expanded because somebody thought it was a good idea to give permission to the library, to only go and obtain a copy of every single book published in Ireland AND Britain! So they (literally!) raised the roof of the bookish party to build an upper gallery.
You need to buy tickets to see both the Book of Kells and Old Library – make sure to book your tickets online and in advance (rather than buying at the college), so you are able to join the fast track queue.
In front of the Berkeley Library of Trinity College, you’ll come across a sculpture of a golden orb. It’s called Sphere Within Sphere and is the work of an Italian artist called Arnaldo Pomodora. The interesting thing is that there are versions of this sculpture in locations around the world including the Vatican Museums and the UN HQ in New York – prominent religious, intellectual and political buildings. The sculpture was recently fixed so that it can be spun again.
Dublin Castle has stood on the site of a Viking settlement since the early 13th century. It is pretty interesting in that it doesn’t really look like a castle, but rather a mixture of odd buildings. You need to buy an admission ticket in order to get a guided tour of the interiors – we decided to skip this and instead explored the surrounding Dublin Gardens for free.
St Patrick’s Cathedral & Park
Founded in 1191, this is Ireland’s largest cathedral, and also tallest, thanks to its 43 meter spire. Admission tickets cost €7 per adult, and is worth it for admiring the extravagant and lavish interiors.
Right next to the cathedral is St Patrick’s park, where you can see the site of the well used by Saint Patrick to baptise the first Irish Christians over 1500 years ago. It’s also a great spot for a picnic when the sun is shining.
If you are a fan of libraries and bookshops (as we are), don’t miss the historic Marsh’s Library, which is hidden away up some stairs, in a lane near St Patrick’s Cathedral. This is a well-preserved library which was opened in 1707, and has some of the world’s oldest and rarest books. One of the unique features in the library are 3 ‘cages’, which were built in the 1770s to stop thefts from the library.
Currently the library has a ‘Sole Survivors: The Rarest Books in the World’ exhibit, which is running till the end of the year. 32 exceptionally rare items, which means only one copy of it still exists in the world, are currently on display in the exhibit.
It is open daily except Tuesdays and Sundays, and has a small entrance fee of €3.
O’Connell Street and Spire of Dublin
O’Connell Street is one of Dublin’s main streets, and where you can find along the length of it, shops, restaurants, bars and pubs. The O’Connell Monument stands as memorial to Daniel O’Connell, the 19th century nationalist leader.
Down the street from him, is the Spire of Dublin, or Monument of Light, or as the Irish call it, ‘The Stiffy by the Liffey’. At 120 meters (390 feet), it is apparently the world’s tallest sculpture.
This is the oldest Georgian street in Dublin and has been used to film period movies and TV shows including Foyle’s War. The street was laid out in the 1720s and was initially home to a small number of wealthy residents. However, in he 19th century it fell into disrepair and the houses were used as tenements for families living in poverty.
The building pictured here is the Law Library of King’s Inn – Ireland’s oldest law school, and faces onto Henrietta Street. We liked how the pointy unicorn horn has managed to stay intact!
Ha’Penny Bridge (Liffey Bridge)
The ferries that used to cross the River Liffey were in such a bad condition, the man that operated them was told he either had to fix them or build a bridge. He chose the latter.
When the bridge was built in 1816, they charged a half penny charge to cross it, to match the charge for a ferry crossing. That’s how this bridge got its unofficial name. Don’t worry, we’ve not had to pay a toll to cross it since 1919!
With that much going on in Temple Bar, we spent another evening exploring the streets in this area and watching all the shenanigans occurring.
Dr Steeven’s Hospital
Opposite Heuston station, is probably the most delightful and colourful hospital building we’ve ever seen. It was one of Dublin’s most distinguished 18th century hospitals. It was founded under the terms of the will of Dr Steevans, who was an eminent physician. It now functions as an administrative center for the Health Service.
When in Dublin, it would be a shame not to visit Ireland’s most famous beer’s brewery. On this occasion, we missed out on a tour as we couldn’t fit it in, but we did manage to see the site of the brewery and the surrounding lanes from the sightseeing bus.
For the rest of the day, until we had to get back to the airport for our return flight, we decided to explore the world’s biggest enclosed public park – Phoenix Park. Apparently, this park is SO big, you can fit New York’s Central Park in it TWICE, and London’s Hyde Park SIX times.
Chesterfield Avenue is the main road that leads up from the main entrance into the park. The park also houses the Wellington Monument, Irish White House and Dublin Zoo. If you’re lucky, you can even see a herd of deer frolicking in the fields.
At 62 meters (203 feet), the Wellington Monument is the world’s 2nd largest obelisk, after the Washington Monument which is 169 metres (554 feet), which also means it’s the tallest obelisk in Europe. It was built to commemorate the victories of the 1st Duke of Wellington. It was going to be taller, but as with many other things in life, they ran out of money!
The Irish White House (also known as Áras an Uachtaráin) is the official residence and main workplace of the President of Ireland. So if you’re in Europe, you don’t have to go all the way to Washington to see a White House, just pitch up in Dublin.
Hope you enjoyed this whistle stop tour of Dublin! Let us know if this has inspired you to take a trip to Ireland!