When my husband and I flew into Dublin to spend ten blissful days exploring the country of Ireland, we knew we were in for an incredible experience. And I couldn’t have been happier that our journey started near the capitol, so that we would get the chance to spend a day in Dublin before we headed off across the country.
Our castle hotel was in the Dalkey region and on our first day, we napped to get over our jetlag and then spent the rest of the day wandering through the picturesque spot. The quaint shops, ocean view and towering Dalkey Castle had us falling in love with Ireland immediately. But we were even more excited to dive into the heart of Dublin the next day, and we planned our excursion carefully so that we’d be able to make the most of our visit.
Even though we had a rental car, we were informed at once that driving in downtown Dublin is not a great idea. The streets are just too crowded, and parking is minimal. Instead, we took the DART to the downtown station and then got passes for the Dublin Hop on Hop off Bus Tour. This tour travels to over twenty different spots, visiting all the most popular landmarks in the city. And, as an added bonus, the bus features a tour guide that shares facts about the city and its top attractions along the way.
We also planned to do quite a bit of walking. Downtown Dublin is actually a pretty reasonable size and since we both like walking, we wore comfortable shoes and had a big breakfast so that we’d be ready to hike a few blocks from place to place any time we wanted. By planning what we most wanted to see in different areas, we were always ready to walk to different sights in each area of town before hopping back on the bus.
Seeing the Sights
Since it was just a fifteen minute walk from the train station, we decided our first stop would be the Christ Church Cathedral, a beautiful church that is believed to have been built around 1030. The church is now associated with the Anglican religion and continues to hold services. Because of that, it has an aura of peace surrounding it that’s instantly soothing when walking through the door.
The church itself features some absolutely breathtaking architecture, but what I loved most about it was its medieval crypt. The ancient stone tunnels aren’t just a home to the dead, but also house displays of ancient silver and Ireland’s first copy of the Magna Carta.
We visited during the week, when the daily prayer was being held, but on the weekends the church offers another unique experience for visitors. At certain times on Saturday and Sunday, the Christ Church Cathedral hosts guided tours that allow participants to ring the church’s world-famous 19 bells.
After we left the church, we saw that the site of the first performance of Handel’s Messiah was marked on the map and decided to set off on a journey to find it. We asked locals for directions, but the surprising response was that they weren’t sure exactly what we were talking about. When we finally found the spot, we couldn’t help but laugh. Nothing but a simple black and white drawing on a nearby restaurant marked the location!
Literature and Art
Next, we hopped on the bus to visit the Oscar Wilde House. This former residence of the famed playwright is in a beautiful park featuring a variety of statues, play equipment for children and gorgeous greenery. I especially loved the statue of Oscar Wilde lounging on a large rock with a stone columns featuring quotes from the writer beside it; both the sculpture itself and the quotes seemed to sum up for me just who the man was.
Just across the street from the park was the National Gallery of Ireland, and since my husband and I are both art fans, we decided to stop in. The gallery features about 14,000 works of art, including pieces by Rembrandt, Monet and Picasso. There is a strong focus on Irish art and I loved getting the chance to compare traditional Irish works to better-known classic artists.
Then, we hopped back on the bus and traveled to Dublin Castle. While we were content to stroll the grounds, the castle does offer an audio tour through the interior for those that are interested. Instead of doing that, I was determined to visit the Chester Beatty Library. I had heard it was a hidden treasure in Dublin and as voracious reader, it was a spot I didn’t want to miss.
The library was everything I had hoped it would be and probably my favourite spot in the city. More museum than library, it contains a stunning collection of ancient books and literature dating back as early as 2300 BC. Created by private collector, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, this spot is a book lover’s dream come true.
Some of the highlights of the collection include ancient copies of the Bible and the Qur’an, Egyptian papyrus texts and Japanese picture books. The assembled works are breathtaking and it’s easy to see why the library won acclaim as the European Museum of the Year.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was just a short walk from the castle and library. The cathedral is a must-see when in Dublin as the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. On the site of the church, St. Patrick once baptised people into Christianity 1500 years ago. The church also still holds services and is full of information about Ireland’s history.
What I loved most about this church was how dedicated it was to being a fun and educational spot for visitors of all ages. While it was full of facts about Dublin, Ireland and the cathedral itself, it also had plenty of unique hands-on activities for kids. I couldn’t resist trying my hand at making a rubbing, and I loved the story of the two families that had once feuded through the cathedral door, leading to the origin of the phrase “to chance your arm.”
Getting a Taste of Ireland
Of course, in addition to its rich history, Dublin is also home to some of the world’s most beloved beverages…Guinness Beer and Irish Whiskey! Touring around Dublin had taken us to mid-afternoon and helped us work up a bit of a thirst, so we decided it was time to head to the Guinness Storehouse and take the famed tour. The fact that it ended with a pint of Guinness made it a must!
On our way there, however, we happened to spot the Teeling Distillery. While the Jameson Distillery is the better-known tour spot for visitors, it was closed for refurbishing when we visited. Instead, the new Teeling Distillery was being promoted to visitors and when we popped in, we were able to sign up for the next guided tour.
This distillery is a unique treasure in Dublin, being the only new distillery in the city for over 125 years. The tour takes visitors through the entire process of distilling and is full of fun facts. We learned that, in the endless competition between Scotland and Ireland, it had been decided that Scotch was aged for three years, while Irish Whiskey was aged for three years and a day. We saw the shockingly expensive copper stills and learned about how aging had to be done offsite because of fire risk.
At the end of the tour, we were treated to a sampling of Teeling Distillery products. First, we were able to put our newfound knowledge of the whiskey-making process to use as we sipped a sample of Teeling Irish Whiskey. And we were also introduced to the versatility of the alcohol when we were treated to a tasty whiskey cocktail!
With a warmth in our bodies and a new appreciation for the art of Irish Whiskey, we finally made our way to the Guinness Storehouse. We had been told by many people we’d met that the tour was a must, if only because every person we told about our trip would ask if we had done it.
The tour is self-guided and journeys through seven floors of Guinness knowledge and history. My personal favourite spot was the level that contained all the highlights of the old advertising campaigns that Guinness had run throughout the years. The creativity and style that went into each campaign was phenomenal, and the life-sized zoo animals created by famed advertising artist John Gilroy were so much fun.
The Tasting Room was another highlight and while there’s generally a bit of a wait (we stood in line for about 15 minutes), it’s well worth it. Learning just how to properly appreciate the flavour of a perfectly poured Guinness is quite the experience, and even people that don’t normally enjoy stouts will find themselves appreciating the beer a little more.
The tour ends on the top floor, in the stunning glass Gravity Bar that offers a 360-degree view of Dublin. I loved the way that famous landmarks were identified on the glass and had a lot of fun finding all the places we’d visited earlier in the day. And of course, Jeremy and I both enjoyed every sip of the pint of beer that was our reward for reaching the top of the building!
With evening fast approaching, we had just one final stop we wanted to make before heading back to Dalkey for the night. I had read in a magazine on the plane that Dublin was home to Ireland’s oldest pub, The Brazen Head. While shopping for exclusive Guinness goodies after the tour, we learned the pub was just a short walk away. (Though the cashier did let us know that the pub’s claim might be a touch exaggerated.)
Even so, we couldn’t resist the chance to see it for ourselves. The Brazen Head may not actually be the oldest pub in Ireland, but it certainly looks like it is! The tiny spot was packed with people and had both a covered outdoor patio and a little interior. Of course, after our tour, we both ordered a Guinness, then stood at a tiny table to enjoy the drink and the atmosphere.
And with that, our day in Dublin came to an end. We made the quick walk back to the DART station, browsing shops along the way, and then went back to our hotel to freshen up before finding a good spot for dinner. And while I was completely satisfied with our day in Dublin, there was so much more that we could have seen! From unique museums to entertaining shows, the city really offers something for everyone.
Tips and Advice
If you’re planning your own day in Dublin, a few tips will have you ready to pack the most into your day. First, look at the map of the city and decide which places you absolutely have to see. Whether the Leprechaun Museum is a must, or the Famine Statues are a favourite, planning your top spots gives you a chance to select other sights in the same area to maximize your time in the city.
Also, if your must-see attractions have admission fees and/or if you plan on using the Hop on Hop off Bus Tour, see if the Dublin City Pass might save you some money. This pass grants admission to 28 top attractions as well as discounts at select restaurants and retailers. My husband and I bought passes that paid for themselves after visiting just three spots. In fact, every attraction we visited was either paid for with our Dublin City Pass or was free of charge.
The city of Dublin really is too much to see in just one day, but if a day is all you have, these top attractions are a great way to see the best that the city has to offer. From ancient architecture to modern distilleries, Dublin is a city that combines constant innovation with a rich appreciation of its past. And if you’re making a trip to Ireland, there’s no better place to start your adventure.