National Gallery of Ireland
Merrion Square West, Clare St., CityCenter
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.
Christ Church Cathedral
Christchurch Pl., City Center
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.
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.
Phoenix Park, City Center
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.
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.
Chester Beatty Library
Dublin Castle, City Center
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.
33 Harcourt St., City Center
Dublin's answer to Brooklyn, the Dean has been heartily embraced by Dubliners as a place for staycations, eating, drinking, and late-night anything-ing. The hotel is in the heart of the city's concentrated nightlife scene—fantastic if you love noise and action, not so much if you're looking for quiet (although each room does come equipped with headphones). Rooms are on the small side but smartly done with chevron wood floors, a muted palette, and big windows looking out on the rooftops. Each comes tooled up with a mini Smeg fridge, a Nespresso machine, a record player, and Netflix. The Dean is a great option for someone who wants to be in the heart of the urban mix, appreciates smart design, and is looking to take in the whole cityscape with their drink. And to those, may we recommend the glass-walled rooftop bar Sophie's.
Merrion Street Upper, City Center
The grande dame of Dublin’s hotels comprises four beautifully maintained Georgian houses, each decorated in the style of the period with walls covered in 19th- and 20th-century art. The Merrion is small and feels more intimate than the city’s other hotels. Each of its elegant, stately rooms are done up in a Paul Henry–inspired neutral palette (the painting hangs in the hotel’s front hall), with 400-thread-count sheets, large marble bathrooms, and generous windows to take in the Georgian rooftops. Fireside afternoon tea in the drawing room (with scones covered in clotted cream) never disappoints, particularly on a cold, wet Irish day. The spa has a tempting treatment menu and infinity pool, and nearby, the two-Michelin-star restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and lively cellar bar make leaving the hotel a hard sell. But walk a few steps from the lobby and you’ll find St. Stephen’s Green, a dozen of the city’s best restaurants, and the National Gallery.
27 St. Stephen's Green, City Center
There is no better hotel in Dublin than the Shelbourne. Not only is the centuries-old building majestic inside and out, but the location on St. Stephen's Green means you can walk everywhere. The whole operation—the service, the amenities, the restaurants—is five star. Walking into the marble lobby, you have the buzzing No. 27 bar on your left and sumptuous Lord Mayors Lounge on your right with a roaring fire and classic afternoon tea. The rooms reflect the Georgian character and are outfitted with antique furniture, generous bathrooms, and the softest beds you could imagine. The suites feel akin to stepping back in time to a luxurious period residence, each window overlooking the park. The Shelbourne has borne witness to many of the more significant events in Irish history—the first constitution was drafted here by Michael Collins—and the famous Horseshoe bar is perennially packed with politicians and journalists sparring over pints of Guinness.
Balfe St., City Center
Sometimes hotels become part of a city’s social fabric—and the Westbury is just such a hotel. The upstairs gallery, with its Art Deco touches, open fireplaces, and sink-into sofas, encourages long, lazy afternoons working your way through afternoon tea or, depending on the kind of day you’ve had, moving onto a martini at the bar. The hotel knows how to set the mood— the music is never too loud; walls are clad with art by John Lavery and Louis Le Brocquy—but it’s at Christmas that the design really comes alive. That’s when the communal areas truly shine with the Art Deco glitz, while the guest rooms with their huge soft beds and neutral palette are pleasingly calm. There’s no spa, but the location, steps away from Grafton Street, is unbeatable.
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