In recent times, and partly driven by the need to ‘find things to do’ for friends visiting Dublin, we’ve begun to explore the city a lot more ourselves and to discover things and places that are easy to do/visit, and in many cases free or with a very modest charge. Of course, not wanting to look silly having sent someone on what ‘we heard’ was an interesting outing, we’ve done these things ourselves first as a sort of acid test. The question being ‘would we do these things ourselves, and are they really going to give a visitor a sense of what Dublin is all about? All of the items listed below tick those boxes and more.
Most of the ‘big ticket’ Dublin tourist attractions are not on this summary – they’re already well known and probably over-subscribed. I also did not include any hot links to websites in this post, but if you type the name of most of the below into Google, you’ll find them easily enough. There’s a premium on history, and what this exploration has revealed – in most cases via the well-informed and articulate guides who staff these outings – is that there is a rich and multi-faceted interlocking historic theme to many of these outings. But relax, it’s not the stones and buildings that engage, it’s the stories of the people that moved through them. It’s not that I have anything against Trinity College (for example) but more that everyone knows about it. The items below are a bit less obvious.
It’s important to offer a huge compliment to the Irish Office of Public Works (OPW for short). The more we visited the places below, the more we appreciated the great work they do in restoring, maintaining and promoting many of the places on the list. Plus in most places, they have incredibly well informed, articulate, friendly and engaging guides to enrich the experience and answer any questions, however bizarre. Sometimes from me. So in deference to them, the only websites I’m listing are theirs, below.
- National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge. Designed by Luytens, beautiful tree-lined memorial to Irish participants in WW1 – ‘down by the Liffey’ and with a great riverside walk and rowers gliding by.
- Kilmainham Gaol. Refurbished and renovated and where the leaders of the 1916 rebellion were executed. Very evocative
- Richmond Barracks. A (long) stone’s throw from Kilmainham and once the biggest British Army barracks in Dublin. Where the 1916 captives were held, also adjacent to historic Goldenbridge cemetery. Hard enough to locate (use Google maps).
- Phoenix Park Visitor Centre/Walled Garden/Coffee Shop. Lovely historic house, cool walled garden and engaging coffee shop and restaurant. Smack in the middle of the Phoenix park. Beloved by dog walkers and child minders alike. But you don’t have to have either with you in order to be served.
- Tour of Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park. Starts in Visitor Centre above (Fri & Sun only) and participants are bused over to the ‘under renovation’ former ammunition holding point. Amazing views of the city, the Liffey below, and back up toward the Papal Cross/15 acres.
- Farmleigh House. Top end of the Phoenix Park, near Castlenock. Well restored house and gardens, cute donkeys and a great café on the lake. Should be combined with walk in Phoenix park to see the fallow deer who roam around.
- Grangegorman Military Cemetery (WW1 servicemen). Just outside the park boundary in Blackhorse avenue and many of the graves are from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Close to the Hole in the Wall pub if refreshments are needed.
- Little Museum of Dublin (and the Green Mile St Stephens Green tour). Quirky, fun, comprehensive little (doh) Museum at top of Dawson Street, City centre. The tour with the added Stephens Green element (Saturdays) is absolutely the best value around for an informed and fascinating whistle-stop tour of Dublin/Irish history.
- The 1916 Walking tour (starts Wicklow Street). Specifically about the 1916 Easter rising but a magic introduction to Dublin/Irish history, delivered by passionate, informed, opinionated guides prepared to debate ‘the meaning’ of it all. Great.
- Marsh’s Library. Close to St Patrick’s Cathedral but a quirky and rewarding add-on to its bigger and more famous neighbour. A very old library, seriously antique books and a wonderful snapshot of its time.
- Glasnevin Cemetery (Daniel O’Connell, Michael Collins ++). Basically a who’s-who of Irish history. They’re all buried here. Not a short visit but a very rewarding one and again a great primer into Irish history. Check out Kavanagh’s pub (the gravediggers).
- City Hall. Top of Parliament Street, beside Dublin Castle. Great architecture, great view from front steps, beautiful building. Well worth a look.
- Walk the South Bull wall from Ringsend or the equivalent on Bull Island West end. Get a sense of the city, looking back West. See the ferries coming in. Approach any seagulls with caution. Dublin seagulls have ‘attitude’.
- Arbour Hill cemetery and the graves of the 1916 leaders. Hard to find, up behind Collins Barracks. Evocative site though, and interesting (and very old) gravestones propped against the wall – this was an old British army barracks originally.
15. EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum – it’s in one of the older wharves in Dublin and just on the N side of the Liffey. Basically it’s an extended history of Irish emigration, and what we did when we arrived wherever we went to. Good for a rainy day (not that it rains in Ireland…).
And if you have any other favourites worth adding to this list, let me know…