Things to do in Dublin

We recently visited Dublin for three days thinking this would give us ample time to explore the capital. Wow were we wrong! There are so many things to do in Dublin that the trip left us wanting more.

The reason we chose to go to Dublin in the first place was really just convenience. From Manchester airport, the flight is very short at around 30 minutes. This means no jet-lag eating into precious away time. Our aim, whilst we are still working in more traditional 9-5 roles, is to see as much of the world as possible – starting with all the major European cities. Last year we went to Paris (loved it by the way!) and next year we are looking at London.

First impressions

We didn’t have much chance to take in the sights on the drive from the airport to our guesthouse – it was a dark, fast and sleepy journey. Once we reached Temple Bar it was another story altogether. The area was teeming with people just like it was the middle of the day. There was a band playing U2 in the street (this is not a joke!) and a general hubbub of merriment coming from the pubs and restaurants. The atmosphere was electric and instantly I felt revitalized and excited – despite the long day we’d had.

Temple Bar Dublin
Temple Bar, Dublin

Accommodations

We stayed in a guest house called the Merchant House in Temple Bar. When we booked our stay, we actually thought it was a hotel. When we realized our error, at first we were a little disappointed. When we got there, explored our room and met our host we knew we had made the right choice. It was more like renting an apartment rather than sharing a room in someone’s house. We felt like we had a more genuine experience than had we stayed in a hotel or B&B. The Merchant House was homely, welcoming and above all we felt very safe there. Staying right in the middle of the city also meant that we could make the most of each day by getting straight out in the morning and spending all day sightseeing. I loved Paris but we did spend a lot of time on the Metro because our hotel was much further out of the city center.

Dublin Attractions Itinerary

Day 1

  • Dublin Castle – grounds
  • Chester Beatty Library
  • Coach house – design exhibition
  • Trinity College grounds
  • Grafton Street
  • General Post Office and O’Connell Street
  • St Stephens Green

Day 2

  • Chester Beatty Library (again)
  • Dublin Zoo

Day 3

  • Dublin Castle tour
  • The Long Room and the Book of Kells at Trinity College
  • Little Museum of Dublin and a Christy exhibition
  • St Stephens Green

Dublin Castle

My first thought when I looked at Dublin Castle was ‘Where is the castle?‘ But after finding out how the current structure came to be, I realized Dublin Castle is the most fascinating building I have ever been to.

Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle has been continuously re-invented to meet the needs of its occupiers. The castle started life as long ago as the 930s, as a Danish Viking Fortress. During the 1170s, the castle was fortified by the Normans with wood and stone. Recognizing the importance of the site, in 1204 King John of England ordered a stronger castle to be erected for the defense of the city, to administer justice and to guard the royal treasure. These works were completed in 1230 and after this time the castle was the center of English colonial administration for centuries. Part of the castle, known as the Record Tower, was used as a prison and is now the last medieval tower standing in Dublin.

Sadly, much of the castle was destroyed after a fire in 1684, during which certain areas were blown up to prevent the fire spreading. The majority of the current building dates from the Georgian era. By the 19th century, the castle was used by government departments, the army, and the police, and also for lavish celebrations. During the first world war, the castle housed a red cross military hospital, which also took in casualties from the Easter Risings in 1916.

Today when you look at Dublin castle, you see what looks to me like a huge Georgian mansion in a horse-shoe shape overlooked by statues of fortitude and justice. Yet there are remnants of an older time – the Record Tower, the Chapel Royal and the Coach House in particular. The state apartments, within the Georgian parts of the building, are now used for presidential inaugurations and state functions.

What is there to do there?

I highly recommend the guided tour of the castle and grounds. You can visit Chester Beatty Library, the Coach House and wander around the grounds for free. However, the tour takes you into parts you don’t want to miss:

  1. The state apartments – where you can see, among other things, a throne room with a throne that was apparently made smaller for Queen Victoria but still looks like it would easily seat a giant.
  2. The undercroft – which is on the lower ground floor where you can see what remains of the River Poddle, the butt of the Gunpowder Tower (originally 5 stories high) and part of the 10th-century Viking town defense bank.
  3. The chapel royal – a beautiful gothic revival building.

For me, the knowledgeable and friendly tour guides brought the castle and its extensive history to life. Had we not gone on the tour I would not have realized the importance of the building. I loved going underneath the castle – seeing the ruins and the River Poddle. What really sticks in mind from the visit though is standing in the room in which James Connolly (one of the leaders of the Easter Rising rebellion) said goodbye to his family before being executed. There is so much history in Dublin Castle I’m surprised it is not bursting at the seams!

Trinity College

Trinity College is Ireland’s first university. Formerly a priory, Trinity College was founded in 1592. The university now has around 17,000 students and is spread across 47 acres. Right in the center of Dublin city – although you wouldn’t know that on campus. There was a fairly serene atmosphere within the grounds.

Trinity College dublin
Trinity College, Dublin Ireland

What is there to do there?

Trinity College houses the largest library in Ireland. The library has been part of the university since 1592 and has built up around 6 million printed volumes over the last 423 years.

One of the Library’s most famous manuscripts is the Book of Kells – a text containing the four gospels written on calfskin dating back to the year 800, it is estimated. Other than its historical and religious importance, the book is known for its lavish decoration.here.

The main chamber of the Library is called The Long Room, which is filled with around 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. The Long Room is staggeringly beautiful and cannot really be appreciated through a photograph. The ceiling is 65 meters high and there are books pretty much from floor to ceiling.

You might be able to tell but exploring the Long Room in the Old Library was my favorite thing to do at Trinity College. Have you ever been into a room and felt the history of it before? Well, that is how I felt in the Long Room. Whilst we were there, there was an exhibition in the Long Room about myths in children’s literature. Trinity College Library has 150,000 children’s books in Trinity College Library and it was fascinating to read about the changing approaches to children’s literature over the years and the current research which is ongoing.

Were we sad to be leaving Dublin? 

Everyone we met was very friendly and welcoming. Dublin is a beautiful city with a rich culture, heritage, and history. We would love to go back and explore more of Dublin and the surrounding areas. There were so many things to do in Dublin that we easily filled three days and would have loved to have stayed longer.

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