Travel

The Dublin Guide

Dublin pulls people in. The Vikings, the Normans, the British—they’ve all left their mark on this capital. But millennia of conflict, brutality, fierce independence, and stoic resolve have forged a Dublin that belongs to Dubliners.

Thousands of Irish, forced to leave during the financial crisis of 2008, are returning home. And they’re bringing with them new ideas, new optimism, and new recipes. Tech giants have claimed an entire corner of the city as their own, and the rest of Europe is finally warming to the charms of this small Celtic capital. Always a political town, Dublin has been transformed by the roar of the left-leaning youthquake. Art, shopping, and a changed cultural fabric have all followed. And Irish cuisine, once something of an oxymoron, is as exciting and impressive as the city’s new breed of chefs, all dedicated to showcasing the country’s bounty from field and farm. But despite the city’s surge into the future, this is still Ireland. The after-work pint will always be deified, the local pub will always be as much about lifestyle as location, pride in cultural institutions will always be genetic, and a reverence for the literary will always prevail.

The city center—a walkable panoply of Georgian terraces and open green spaces stretching loosely from Portobello to Parnell Square—is locally referred to as just “town.” A metropolis Dublin is not and, according to goop editor and Dublin native Rachael McKeon, should never be. McKeon narrows down where to eat and what to do in a city with too many good options.

Chester Beatty Library

Chester Beatty Library

Dublin Castle, City Center | 353.1.407.0750

The Chester Beatty, founded initially to hold the collections of mining magnate Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, has expanded its collections, exhibit schedule, and educational offerings to encourage cultural and religious understanding. Within the labyrinth of Dublin Castle, the museum is one of Dublin’s most serene spaces—quiet, dark, set off with lush tapestries, ancient manuscripts, and small pieces of art. The museum, like most of Dublin’s cultural institutions, seeks to be a living, breathing space for city dwellers and visitors alike. Aside from the 6,000 culturally significant works on display—love poems from 1160 B.C., Egyptian Books of the Dead, the earliest papyrus sources of the Bible—the Chester Beatty hosts regular drop-in-and-draw sessions, interactive art tours for those suffering from dementia, Qigong on the rooftop, and family-friendly film screenings.

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

Christchurch Pl., City Center | 353.1.677.8099

A major Dublin Landmark, Christ Church Cathedral has been rooted in the city center since 1028. Originally a Viking church, the cathedral has of course changed hands in line with Ireland's successive waves of invaders. Today it appears fairly Victorian, with a mix of Gothic and Romanesque features, like flying buttresses. Inside you’ll find not only a fully functioning Anglican church with regular services and a stellar choir (stop in for Evensong) but a thousand years' worth of ancient manuscripts and artifacts, including Ireland’s first copy of the Magna Carta. Walk down to the country’s oldest medieval crypt and be sure to stop at the burial tomb of Strongbow, the Welsh warlord who brought the Anglo-Norman invasion to Ireland in the 12th century.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

Dame St., City Center

A historic landmark as well as a major government complex, Dublin Castle was built in the 13th century on the site of a Viking settlement (remnants of which can still be seen today). Until 1922, the castle was the British headquarters in Ireland. The structure is a Georgian palace with the requisite grand reception hall and palatial apartments, a Gothic Revival chapel, and several museums. Today it is used to inaugurate presidents and host state dinners, and it has been used to entertain everyone from Nelson Mandela to John F. Kennedy. In addition to the Chester Beatty, there is a second museum that houses paintings, sculpture, and textiles spanning ages.

Dublin Writer’s Museum

Dublin Writer’s Museum

18 Parnell Square N., Parnell Square | 353.1.872.2077

The Irish know how to write—this is after all the country that gave us Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, and so many others. This museum documents and celebrates the history and achievements of Ireland’s literary talent, past and present. In an 18th-century mansion, amid the Georgian grandeur of Parnell Square, the windows of the museum look over the Garden of Remembrance, a memorial that commemorates a struggle often referenced in Irish literature (brush up on your W.B. Yeats poetry, "Easter 1916" in particular, if you want to know more). The museum is a lovely resource for visitors and city residents looking to learn more about Ireland's great writers and poets. It's an interactive space with regular exhibits, lunchtime theater, readings, and a special room dedicated to children’s literature.

The Garden of Remembrance

The Garden of Remembrance

Parnell Square E., Parnell Square | 353.1.821.3021

A small, almost discreet garden at the top of one of Dublin’s most imposing boulevards, the Garden of Remembrance is dedicated to all those who gave their lives in pursuit of Irish freedom. The memorial is nestled into one of the many Georgian squares that dot the city (this one is aptly named for the nationalist statesman Charles Stewart Parnell). A sunken stream cuts through the length of the garden, leading the eye up to a fleet of steps topped with a moving sculpture of the Children of Lir (an Irish mythological tale) and a monument inscribed with a poem commemorating the six uprisings across seven generations that led to Ireland's emancipation. Despite being in the center of the city, the garden has a quiet calm—and gravitas.

The Guinness Storehouse

The Guinness Storehouse

St. James's Gate, Ushers | 353.1.408.4800

The Guinness Storehouse is the most popular tourist attraction in Dublin for good reason. It's so much more than just a place to sample a few pints where it all began: Guinness has created a full interactive experience that immerses you in the world of hops and wheat. Arthur Guinness himself signed a 9,000-year lease on this exact spot in 1759, so we can all rest assured the brewery won’t be moving anytime soon. Fresh water is pumped in directly from the Wicklow Mountains—which is evident in the cascading waterfall held within the structure—and barley is literally growing out of the walls. In the tasting room, futuristic pods pump out the different aromas that make the perfect pint. All of this sensory overload leads you through the building up to the end game: a pint of Guinness enjoyed at the greenhouse-style gravity bar while you take in the panorama of the city.

Irish Museum of Modern Art

Irish Museum of Modern Art

Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Military Rd., Kilmainham | 353.1.612.9900

The Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Ireland’s premier contemporary museum space is imaginatively, if somewhat ironically, housed in the country’s oldest classical building, the Royal Kilmainham Hospital. It was founded in 1684 as a home for retired soldiers and very much based on Les Invalides in Paris. IMMA’s mission is to merge modern Irish life with contemporary art exhibits, live performances, and educational initiatives that are open and participatory. A recent coup for the museum is securing 50 of Lucien Freud’s greatest works on loan for the next five years. This has spurred a deep dive into the world of Freud with the exhibit itself, a lunchtime lecture series, and a special Freud Project residency (won by Irish artist Bridget O’Gorman and artist, writer, and researcher Sue Rainsford). After a wander through the airy galleries, pick up a hot coffee from the pretty little café and wander aimlessly through the surrounding gardens.

National Botanic Gardens

National Botanic Gardens

Glasnevin | 353.1.804.0300

Hop on the bus or take a taxi to Glasnevin, just outside the city center, to the tropical oasis—yes, tropical oasis—that is the National Botanic Gardens. The gardens were initially founded in 1795 to promote the scientific study of agriculture and were later used for further botanical studies and research, which led to—luckily, for Dubliners—the arrival of thousands of tropical plants from around the world. While you walk around, take note of the beautifully constructed greenhouses that reflect the rolling clouds (and, less frequently, the sun). Check out the orchid collection, the cactus house, the herbarium, and, of course, the rose garden. The café serves great coffee and baked treats. It’s really a perfect respite for visitors with little kids or anyone who craves the calm and peace of a big garden while in a big city.

The Little Museum of Dublin

The Little Museum of Dublin

15 St. Stephen's Green, City Center | 353.1.661.1000

A small but mighty gem of a museum that does its best to untangle the messy web that is Dublin's history through a series of rooms in a Georgian residence right on St. Stephen's Green. Each room traces different threads of the city's fabric including some of its more famous occupants (there's an entire room dedicated to born and bred Dubliners U2). For an informative but fun cultural activity with kids and teens, the guides are excellent raconteurs and bring 1,000 years of history to life with humor and insight. Afterward, walking down an extra flight of steps to the basement restaurant Hatch & Sons for some stellar Irish fare is never a bad idea.

National Gallery of Ireland

National Gallery of Ireland

Merrion Square West, Clare St., CityCenter | 353.1.661.5133

Considering Dublin’s small size, the National Gallery is a testament to the central position it allows art and culture. A mix of old and new, the original building on Leinster Lawn has been in place since the 1800s, while the newer hyper-modern Millennium Wing opened in 2002. A huge campus-like space, the gallery has quite the collection of European art, with Velazquez, Rembrandt, Titian, and Van Gogh represented as well as a sizable collection of Irish works. The gallery’s crowning glory, however, is Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, a long-lost work incredibly rediscovered in the '90s hanging in a Jesuit dining room in Ireland. Booking a tour or reserving tickets is not necessary; you can simply wander in and admire the art at your own pace. For those looking for more structure, the gallery runs a series of educational outreach programs and workshops for adults and kids alike.

Phoenix Park

Phoenix Park

Phoenix Park, City Center | 353.1.820.5800

The single largest enclosed park in any city in Europe, Phoenix Park is basically a 1,752-acre backyard to Dublin. The grounds were initially used as a royal hunting ground in the 1600s and have evolved to include hundreds of trails, historic monuments (like the Papal Cross and the Wellington Testimonial), Victorian gardens, and the Dublin Zoo, as well as Áras an Uachtaráin, the president's official residence (one he shares with hundreds of deer). Walking, biking, or even driving through the park early in the morning as the sun rises or at dusk is one of Dublin's great pleasures.

The Hugh Lane

The Hugh Lane

Charlemont House, Parnell Square | 353.1.222.5550

The Hugh Lane is the world’s first known modern art gallery, housed in a classically designed Georgian townhouse overlooking the Garden of Remembrance. Small and intimate, this well-curated space features a sizable collection by modern Irish artists, like Louis Le Brocquy, Jack B. Yeats, and Sean Scully, alongside Impressionist masterpieces by Manet, Degas, and Monet. This gallery’s biggest draw is the complete installation of Francis Bacon’s studio, meticulously re-created in all its chaotic brilliance. You can see this installation from all angles thanks to glass panels. It also provides a complete computerized archive—the first of its kind in the world. Browse through the well-appointed bookstore, then step out into the heart of Parnell Square, one of Georgian Dublin’s oldest neighborhoods.

Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin

College Green, City Center

Smack in the middle of Dublin is the walled campus of Trinity College. Inside the walls: beautifully maintained Georgian buildings built around three squares and playing fields dotted with sculptures by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and other artistic heavyweights. Alongside several thousand students, most of Dublin uses the campus (built by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592) to cut across the city, partially because it’s a shortcut but mainly because it’s beautiful. The walkway between the cricket and rugby pitches is lined with cherry trees. The front square, with its campanile and imposing columned buildings, is an architectural feat, and the many manicured green spaces are ideal lunch spots. The Georgian buildings contain historical treasures, like the Book of Kells (a ninth-century illustrated manuscript of the four gospels and life of Jesus), and the old library and long room are filled with an impressive 200,000 books and lined with marble busts of great Western philosophers and writers.