Dublin is the capital and largest city in Ireland with a population of 1.2 million. It’s rich in history and culture and there is plenty to stimulate all the senses in this vibrant, cosmopolitan city. From its grand architecture and museums to its delightful gardens and cosy pubs there is much to capture your attention. The inner city is easy to explore on foot. I recommend wearing comfortable shoes and setting out to visit these 5 places. It’s also important to allow some free time to just wander and spontaneously discover Dublin, allowing for that element of surprise. A detour could uncover some unique, hidden gem which is off the beaten track but will live on in your memory of this interesting city e.g. Iveagh Gardens, sometimes referred to as Dublin’s secret garden. There are also guided tours available if you prefer a more in-depth experience and have particular interests, such as Irish history, literature, food or pub culture.
1. Visit St Stephen’s Green
St Stephen’s Green is a historic and beautiful public park in the city centre. If you’re travelling on a budget, it’s the perfect place to have a picnic lunch. Marks & Spencer do tasty takeaway food and it’s where a lot of the office workers and uni students congregate to escape their desks. There are lovers, mothers and children, other tourists and people simply passing through.
We visited in April 2019 and enjoyed soaking up the sunshine, wandering through the flower gardens and watching the ducks being fed. The sun in Brisbane, Australia is so hot that we hesitate to be outside between 10am and 2pm, in the hottest months, so it was really nice to just be able to relax in the milder Irish sunshine. The park is a rectangular shape and contains two significant sized ponds. There is quite a lot of seating around although it was very busy during the lunch break period. It’s not a huge park so is easy to walk all the way around and through the middle to really enjoy the seasonal flower beds and water features.
2. Visit The Little Museum of Dublin
The Little Museum of Dublin is a delight, an absolute gem. It opened relatively recently in October, 2011 and is located at 15 St Stephen’s Green in downtown Dublin. It’s a small, intimate museum in an old Georgian townhouse and you truly feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The museum tells the story of the city of Dublin over the last century, with an emphasis on society, culture and everyday life, through artifacts donated by the public. The walls are adorned with an impressive and vast array of memorabilia from the Vikings to the Irish Womens Liberation Movement to U2.
The first room is dedicated to the 1900s-1920s, the next room to the 1930s-1990s and the final section was from the Celtic Tiger period, the late 1980s to 1990s when Ireland’s economy boomed. The extreme wealth seemed to contrast the Irish spirit.
The museum provided a brilliant introduction to the city for us, helping us to understand some of it’s more recent history and to hear just how much it’s changed, even in our lifetimes.
It’s inexpensive for a guided tour and it’s money very well spent. An adult ticket is €10.00. Our guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about Irish history and our tour lasted a bit over 30 mins. There were quite a few laughs to be had as well and this museum would definitely appeal to visitors and locals alike. It’s no surprise that it’s been voted the number one museum in Ireland on TripAdvisor and the Irish Times describes it as “Dublin’s best museum experience.” I will certainly return for another visit when I’m next in Dublin.
3. Wander through the downtown of Dublin
From its interesting buildings to its statues to its graffiti, downtown Dublin is colourful and fun to explore. If you weary of wandering you can always stop off for a pint in Temple Bar. For an Irish shopping experience visit Grafton Street (a pedestrian only street) which runs through the downtown of Dublin and is a vibrant retail precinct complete with buskers, flower stalls and of course Butlers, if you’d rather stop for coffee and chocolate. We are spoilt in Australia when it comes to great coffee however I was impressed that the Irish make a decent flat white too.
Further down Grafton Street, you will come across Marks and Spencer and the Molly Malone statue. We also stumbled upon some colourful street art in the Temple Bar District. As a visitor to Dublin there is plenty to be happy about so it really resonated with us!
4. Visit The Book of Kells Exhibition in Trinity College
Trinity College is located in the heart of Dublin. According to the website ‘The Book of Kells Exhibition displays the Book of Kells, a 9th century manuscript that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. The Book of Kells is Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and the world’s most famous medieval manuscript.”
“The exhibition also features access to the Long Room, one of the world’s most beautiful libraries, that houses 250,000 of Trinity College’s oldest books. The exhibition is open 7 days a week and tickets can be purchased online or at the ticket desk within the Exhibition.”
5. Visit EPIC – the Irish Emigration Museum
EPIC, the Irish Emigration museum is the world’s first fully digital museum and opened in 2016. It was recommended to us by one of the friendly team working at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire. EPIC’s founder, Neville Isdell, former Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola and an Irish emigrant himself, believed that the story of Irish People around the world was one worth telling. As they say, “I left Ireland but Ireland never left me.” It is estimated that around 10 million Irish left their homeland in search of better lives abroad. The museum tells the stories of triumph, adventure and sacrifice of approximately 300 emigrants. Some ambitious Irish left in search of better prospects abroad in terms of work or marriage. Others left out of desperation.
I felt this passage from an EPIC display titled Hunger, Work and Community really captured the essence of why so many Irish have emigrated:
We emigrate because we cannot stay, because we want to go, or a mixture of both. Three elements are strong in the Irish story of emigration: Hunger, Work and Community. Hunger is a powerfully emotional subject in Ireland, where waves of dispossession have pushed people off the land they relied on to feed themselves. When Ireland went through periods of intense poverty, the need to travel to survive and find work was pressing, in particular during the Great Famine of 1845-1849. At other times, it may have simply been that more interesting or better paid opportunities beckoned elsewhere. Even community can push or pull migrants. Many Irish people would travel to particular areas where others from their home town had settled, or women might travel in hope of meeting a husband; but others left under pressure from families, often in disgrace.
I did wonder why is the museum called EPIC? The name, EPIC is not an acronym. According to the Museum’s curator, Jessica Traynor, ‘We have joked that it stands for ‘Every Person Is Connected. But it’s really an acknowledgement of the EPIC journeys Irish emigrants have made.’
The museum is new age and contains digital, interactive technology which makes it a perfect attraction for the whole family. It’s located in the Docklands area of Dublin, which is symbolic and appropriate, as many Irish emigrants throughout history would have sailed away to explore new horizons from this area. An adult ticket is €16.50. The museum is open 7 days per week and is a 10 minute walk from the city centre.