Things to Do in Dublin
The National Museum of Ireland is dedicated to showcasing items of Irish art, culture, and natural history. Of the three branches the collections are divided amongst, the archaeology section, located on Kildare Street, holds the best known and most impressive of all of the exhibits.
Its collection of medieval metalwork is known as the Treasury and is home to the world's most complete collection of Celtic metal artifacts, dating back from Ireland's Iron and Bronze Ages. Highlights of the collection include the Ardaugh Chalice, considered the finest piece of Celtic art found, and the Tara Brooch, an intricate piece of jewelry crafted in the 8th century. Other artifacts are grouped into "hoards", of which the Mooghaun and Broighter hoards are the most notable. The museum also displays an extensive collection of prehistoric goldwork as well as artifacts that document the settlement of Ireland from 7,000 BC all the way up to 500 BC.
Dublin is known for its inclement weather, and if a chilly drizzle starts raining down from the city’s notoriously gray skies, one of the best places to escape the rain is at the National Gallery of Ireland. This renowned national gallery of art began in 1864 with only 112 pieces, and has grown over 150 years to feature over 15,000 different pieces of Irish and European art. All sorts of mediums from painting to sculpture are on permanent public display, and pieces from the 13th-20th century are exquisitely represented. In addition to the world’s most comprehensive collection of original Irish art, standout pieces include those of Caravaggio, Monet, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh. There is a rotating schedule of various tours through different sections of the museum, with one of the most popular being the tour that features the work of William Turner—the English Romanticist landscape painter—whose 31 watercolors are only displayed in January since the light’s at its lowest level.
Housed in a Georgian townhouse on St. Stephen's Green, the quirky Little Museum of Dublin tells the story of the city through the years 1900 to 2000. Opening its doors in 2011, the museum was made possible by the Dubliners who donated thousands of artefacts to the nonprofit — 5,000 of which you can see in the vast display collection.
There are three museum floors to see, with exhibitions covering everything from the 1916 Easter Rising to JFK's visit to Dublin. There's even an exhibit dedicated solely to the success of the Irish rock band U2.
Nominated for the European Museum of the Year Award in 2012, a visit to the Little Museum of Dublin gives a feel for how it would have been to live on St Stephen's Green a century ago, and the museum's also home to the acclaimed cafe Hatch & Sons Irish Kitchen.
Packed with Celtic crosses and one gigantic round tower, Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery was founded in 1832 as a resting place for people of all faiths—remarkable at a time when Catholics were banned from burial in Protestant graveyards.
Over 1.5 million people have been buried here, including Daniel O’Connell, the political leader who founded the cemetery, and Michael Collins—an Irish revolutionary who still gets flowers on his grave nearly 100 years after his death.
Next to the National Botanic Gardens and affectionately known as Croak Park to Dubliners, there are regular 90-minute tours of the graveyard, which is home to an award-winning museum that gives an insight into Ireland’s social and political history through the stories of the people who have been buried here. Explore the museum’s Milestone Gallery, an interactive, digital timeline that gives an account of some of Glasnevin Cemetery’s most famous residents.
As one of the four branches of the National Museum of Ireland, the Decorative Arts & History Branch offers visitors the chance to view antique crafts from Ireland and around the globe. The rare collection is wonderfully eclectic, and features everything from rare, Chinese porcelain that dates back to the 13th century, to a ceremonial, Japanese bell that’s over 2,000 years old. There’s a large collection of Irish silver as well as clothing from the 17th century, and an impressive medieval coin collection that showcases over 1,000 years of currency that’s changed hands during Ireland’s history. Also, if you don’t have time to make it to the countryside, the collection of traditional Irish furniture not only mimics a rural home, but also exhibits the exceptional skill of Irish woodworkers and craftsmen.
Dividing Dublin into north and south, the River Liffey is the subject of stories and songs by everyone from James Joyce to Radiohead. Entwined in Dublin's cultural identity, let's just say that some of the stories surrounding the Liffey are more than a little mythical: so if any Dubliners tell you that the capital’s Guinness tastes so good because the water comes from the Liffey, let them know that Guinness water is actually piped from the Wicklow mountains.
A popular spot for a river cruise or for a spot of canoeing, in recent years, the Liffey has had its riverbanks' developed so that you can stroll the overhanging boardwalks and visit the riverside parks which run alongside many parts of the river. Most Dublin attractions are near the river, and there are plenty of bridges to help you get from side to side, including the famous Ha'penny Bridge, built in 1816, and the modern Samuel Beckett bridge which is shaped like a harp.
Known as one of Ireland's national treasures, the Book of Kells is a sacred and important historical text dating from around 800 A.D., making it one of the oldest books in the world. The book gets its name from the Abbey of Kells, which was its original home until the continuous plundering of the Vikings proved to be too great of a threat. Since the 15th century it has been at Trinity College for safekeeping.
The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks that depicts the 4 gospels of the New Testament as well as other texts. Written in Latin, the book has been translated and found to have a few mistakes. But these are overlooked as the manuscript was made to serve a more decorative and ceremonial purpose than one of utility. In fact, it is its illuminations (illustrations) that make the Book of Kells so remarkable.
Medieval Dublin was a disease-riddled era of slavery, Vikings, and torture, where Bubonic Plague and bloody warfare were parts of everyday life. Though Dublin isn’t often equated with Vikings, the conquering seafarers played an important role in Dublin’s Medieval past, and at the popular Dublinia heritage center, this grisly period is on entertaining display with their interactive exhibits. Take a walk down a street from the days of Medieval Dublin, smelling the aromas of streetside merchants and hearing their tales of woe. Wrap yourself in the heavy chains of a hapless Irish slave, and walk through the dark, smoky interior of an authentic Viking household. Learn about the savage and primitive weaponry that Vikings would use in battle, and board a replica Viking warship to experience conditions at sea.
The only museum in Ireland to win “European Museum of the Year,” Dublin's Chester Beatty Library holds a huge and diverse arts collection featuring ancient Egyptian manuscripts and Old Masters paintings, carved Chinese snuff bottles and miniature paintings, one of the world's largest collections of papyri, rare and ancient copies of the Qu'ran and the Bible, among other rare artefacts.
Works are displayed in two collections: "Sacred Traditions" and "Artistic Traditions." Some works in the collection date back nearly 5,000 years, and on a visit you'll see the first illustrated Life of the Prophet and the Gospel of Mani. The Chester Beatty Library also hosts regular temporary exhibitions. Opened in 1950 to house the grand collection of mining magnate Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, since 2000, the library has been housed in the grounds of Dublin Castle — a move that was made in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Beatty's birth.
More Things to Do in Dublin
Since James Joyce was one of Ireland’s most beloved novelists and poets, it only makes sense that an entire center is dedicated to his life and work. Though Joyce never lived in this Georgian-era house not far from Parnell Square, it’s very similar to the one where he was raised, and was actually the home of Denis Maginni—the dance instructor who is prominently mentioned in Joyce’s famous Ulysses. The center contains pieces of Joyce’s furniture that were moved from his studio in Paris, and also has the door of 7 Eccles Street—the home of Leopold and Molly Bloom that also appears in Ulysses. Though the number of period artifacts is thin, Joyce fans will enjoy the interactive displays that include documentaries and computer programs explaining his life and works. In addition to touring the center itself, the James Joyce Centre also hosts walking tours around the streets of Dublin.
Built in the late 18th century, Dublin City Hall is a classic Georgian building that was designed by renowned architect Thomas Cooley. Originally intended as the Royal Exchange for prosperous Dublin's large merchant population, inside it's all fluted columns and grand pillars, and as you enter you'll notice the beautiful rotunda.
Then head to the vaults to visit the "Dublin City Hall, The Story of the Capital," exhibition. Through multimedia displays you'll get to trace the story of Dublin from Viking times before the Anglo-Norman invasion back in 1170, through to tales of the buzzing Irish capital today. Downstairs in the gallery, Dublin City Hall is also home to Tir na nÓg Caife, which serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and snacks.
At this laidback, small-scale gallery in Dublin’s happening city center, visitors can browse over 2,000 pieces of modern and contemporary art. “The Hugh Lane,” as locals call it, holds the work of well-known artistic greats such as Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Manet, and also hosts a revolving array of temporary exhibits. Perhaps most fascinating is the studio of Francis Bacon—an Irish born painter who won international acclaim for his emotional and moving pieces. Here in the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, his entire studio was recreated in the exact, eccentric, and extremely messy state that he kept it while he was alive. Historians have lauded the Hugh Lane Gallery for the impeccable attention to detail, and a visit today is a look into the life of one Ireland’s most legendary painters. If visiting on a Sunday, show up in the morning and stay until Noon for the weekly Sunday concert series that takes place in the sculpture hall.
The Dublin Writers Museum features unique works and memorabilia from famous writers heralding from this city. Letters and personal items from such icons as Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett allow visitors to connect with their favorite Irish authors on a more personal level while also admiring their works, which are also on display. Over 300 years of historical memorabilia and literature are displayed in this charming Georgian house-turned-museum, complete with a library, gallery and lecture rooms. There are also an adjoining bookshop and cafe as well as a basement restaurant that all follow the literary theme.
Built as a centre to honor past Irish literary figures, the museum has also become a place for young aspiring writers to gain perspective and inspiration for their own works. The headquarters for these authors, the Irish Writers' Centre, is conveniently located next door to the museum, providing them a respite to work and share ideas.
Built in the 18th century on the north bank of the River Liffey, Custom House is one of the grandest neoclassical buildings in Dublin. Designed as part of a city-wide plan to enhance the streets and public buildings of the Irish capital, it took over a decade to build: all the city's masons got roped in, and altogether Custom House cost £200,000 to construct; a princely sum for the time. Originally the headquarters of the Commissioners of Custom and Excise; by the beginning of the 20th century, the role of Custom House was to house the offices of local government, and today it's home to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.Designed by the English architect Thomas Cooley, during the Irish Revolution, Custom House was seen as a symbol of British power in Ireland, and so on May 25, 1921, the Dublin Brigade of the IRA set fire to the building, destroying the grand dome and entire interior.
At Custom House Quay in the Dublin Docklands, the Famine Sculpture was commissioned by the City of Dublin in 1997 as a way of remembering the victims of the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1849, when over a million Irish men, women, and children died as a result of the problems exacerbated by the potato blight.
The bronze sculptures were designed by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie. Portraying a group of starving figures trying to reach Dublin port and a chance of escape to the New World, a visit to the docklands is a time for reflection and remembrance for those who died just 150 years ago. Some of the text accompanying the Famine Sculpture reads, “A procession fraught with most striking and most melancholy interest, wending its painful and mournful way along the whole line of the river to where the beautiful pile of the Custom house is distinguishable in the far distance...”
The Georgian Period was a regal time, when many of Dublin’s most well to do residents resided in lavish homes. One of those stunning historical abodes is Number Twenty Nine, a Georgian townhome from the late 18th century that’s now a public museum. Tour every corner of this extravagant home, from a basement that holds an authentic collection of Georgian era furniture, to an attic that has carpets, curtains, and artifacts that have been preserved for hundreds of years. In addition to the intriguing period pieces, informative storyboards help to educate visitors on the life of a wealthy homeowner. Similarly, there’s also info on the daily lives of residents who weren’t so well off—particularly the servants who kept the home in such a reputable and high-class state. Wandering through Number Twenty Nine takes the better part of an hour, and seeing as it’s only a short walk from Grafton Street and the city center, it’s an educational and insightful stop on a walking tour of Dublin.
Dublin residents are passionate about sport, and the Aviva stadium is the pulsing epicenter of Rugby Union and football (soccer). This 51,700-person stadium holds Ireland’s largest sporting events and concerts, and tours are available on days that don’t have a concert or large-scale event. Aside from being a popular venue, Aviva Stadium also holds a bit of Dublin history, as back in 1873, this was the site of one of the world’s first international sporting contests. Rugby matches were held on the grounds between regional teams in Ireland, and the Lansdowne grounds held international contests in 1878. Originally built as a multi-purpose venue for cricket, rugby, and athletics, Aviva Stadium is best known today as the site of Irish football. It’s also the site of superstar concerts, with big name acts such as Rihanna, Neil Diamond, and Michael Jackson having performed at Aviva’s grounds.
Giant's Causeway is a cluster of approximately 40,000 basalt columns rising out of the sea on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. These rock formations get their name from an old legend stating that Irish warrior Finn McCool built the path across the sea to face his Scottish rival, Benandonner.
On his way back to Scotland, Benandonner tears up the path behind him, leaving just what exists today on the Northern Irish coast and the Scottish island of Staffa, which has similar rock formations.
While the legend makes for an interesting story, geologists have a different explanation for the creation of the Giant's Causeway: volcanic activity. Now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thousands of tourists visit Giant's Causeway each year to marvel at and photograph this natural wonder.
The Irish landscape, normally so gentle and well-behaved, reaches for a dramatic flourish as it meets the Atlantic coast. The seaboard offers no greater sight than County Clare’s mighty Cliffs of Moher, which tower above the raging ocean below along a 5-mile (8-kilometer) stretch.
The viewing platform on top of crenellated O’Brien’s Tower provides the best vistas, stretching west to the Aran Islands and north to Galway Bay. To find out more about the natural and historical significance of the cliffs, explore the visitors’ center which is discreetly embedded in a hillside.
Despite being one of Ireland’s most important historical sites, it’s Tara’s otherworldly views and fascinating archaeological finds that make it such a popular day trip from Dublin. The Hill of Tara, known as Temair in Gaelic, is located in County Meath and was once the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland – a series of grassy landscaped mounds presiding over the surrounding land. Ancient Irish mythology tells that 142 kings reigned from this mount in prehistoric times and Temair was renowned as the ‘sacred place of dwelling for the gods’. Legend dictates that Saint Patrick, patron Saint of Ireland, also visited the Hill, and a statue of him still reigns proud at the top.
Entry to the site is free but the rough terrain means you’ll need to scramble over ditches and up slippery grass mounds, so don’t forget your hiking boots!
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