Dublin is a city with an irrepressible spirit. It’s historic and modern at the same time, with all the benefits of a rich past, a thriving present, and a few inebriated folks thrown in to keep you on your toes (6 Nations Rugby games were happening in Dublin during our visit).
We had two days to visit attractions in Dublin at the end of our travels around Ireland. Dublin is a highly walkable city, so we got to see a lot in a short time. Here are some of the places we explored during our time in the capital city.
Trinity College and the Book of Kells
I’m not usually impressed by ancient Christian artifacts, but the craftsmanship of the Book of Kells is remarkable in its artistry. The illuminated manuscript created on vellum (lamb skin) is over 1200 years old, and the fact that it’s in such good condition is amazing. The book is definitely worth seeing, even for a brief appreciation of the time commitment that went in to producing it. If you’re not there in peak season (we weren’t), the wait is quite manageable. In the summer, some advanced planning might be required.
Despite the large group of crazy Welsh rugby fans, our tour of Kilmainham Gaol (jail) was excellent. Built in 1796, Kilmainham is now a museum with moving exhibits featuring glimpses into the lives of people who were imprisoned there. The jail was decommissioned in 1924 after it housed and then became the execution site for some of the key figures in the Easter Rising of 1916, a rebellion against British rule.
Now a small cross in a courtyard marks the spot of these historic executions, the circumstances of which are elegantly described by the guides. The architecture, including original jail cells, and the stories of the prisoners were fascinating, making Kilmainham one the top sites from our whole trip and our favorite place in Dublin.
General Post Office & Garden of Remembrance
The political history of Ireland is palpable in certain key attractions in Dublin like the General Post Office. The General Post Office was the location of the beginning of the Easter Rising and the headquarters for its leaders. It was mostly destroyed by fire in the fighting but was rebuilt by the late 1920s. In the museum on-site, there is an original copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
The General Post Office is an important symbol of Irish nationalism and a quick stop on any trip through downtown. We mailed postcards to our families before continuing up O’Connell Street to the Garden of Remembrance, a site “dedicated to all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom.”
We’re not huge beer people at all. If we do have an occasional pint, it’s probably something light or even the not-quite-beer that many Irish also love — hard cider. Even though we’re not the Guinness target audience, we couldn’t bypass the opportunity to visit the brewery.
The tour (19.50 euro) allows visitors a view into the brewing process but was not particularly unique compared to some of the other breweries we’ve visited. To be fair, I don’t imagine brewing beer changes too drastically from place to place. But for the price, we were hoping for something a little different.
The best feature of the tour was the final stop at the Gravity Bar on the top floor, which offers expansive views of Dublin and a free pint! Although it wasn’t really our thing, we have plenty of friends who point to the Guinness tour as one of their top experiences in Dublin.
After dinner on the first night, we walked all the way down to Bridge Street and the Brazen Head Pub. The Brazen Head claims its spot in history as Ireland’s oldest pub, dating back to 1198.
We had hoped to catch some live music. We were able to hear the musicians a little, but the pub was packed with rugby fans from Wales and they were pretty piss drunk. When one guy climbed on a table and knocked a tower of 7 or 8 pint glasses over that shattered on the ground, we figured we’d had enough. The Brazen Head was nice and I’m glad to say that we’ve seen Ireland’s oldest, but we had found other pubs on our trip that were far more enjoyable. Maybe we’ll give it another shot on a return trip.
Dublin Writer’s Museum
Established to promote interest in Irish literature, the Dublin Writer’s Museum is located in a house off Parnell Square, so it’s pretty small for a museum. Despite its size, the museum presents a lot of well-curated information on the lives and works of Ireland’s most prominent writers, including Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and Seamus Heaney. It wasn’t my thing, but Laura really enjoys literature, and she absolutely loved it.
In a previous life, I may or may not have been a little obsessed with U2, so a stop at Windmill Lane, the former home of the U2 studios (and many more Irish bands), was more than necessary. It’s one of the more modern attractions in Dublin. Most of the glory is gone from Windmill Lane now as U2 hasn’t recorded there in years and it’s generally quieter than it once was, but the famous graffiti walls outside are still going strong as a reminder of the history of the place.
Merrion Square, south of the Dublin city center, has existed in some form since 1762.
Partially surrounded by redbrick townhouses, it includes a public park, pond, lots of open space and a quirky statue of Oscar Wilde, who sometimes sports inappropriate graffiti on key body parts. It’s a great place to take a break on nice weather, allowing you to enjoy the beauty of the park in the midst of the activity of the city, a lot like New York’s Central Park.