The Republic of Ireland‘s capital city, Dublin is steeped in rich culture and history. Around every twist and turn of the city’s narrow streets is something new to discover. Even with this being my third trip to Dublin, I’ve still found new things to do while also visiting some of the classic tourist destinations:
For years, the Guinness Storehouse has held the title of Ireland’s Most Popular Tourist Attraction. We visited the Storehouse on our first night in town for a Georgia Tech dinner. The building is shaped like a giant Guinness pint glass, making it the biggest pint in the world. The tour winds up seven floors of interactive displays of Guinness’s brewing history intertwined with the history of Ireland. During the tour, you’ll learn how to pour the perfect pint, and you’ll even get to try your hand at it yourself. At the top, the Gravity Bar offers panoramic views of the city where you can sip a pint and relax.
Oscar Wilde House
When you travel with me, you get to go on all kinds of Literary Pilgrimages. Last time I was in Dublin, I didn’t have time to hunt down Oscar Wilde’s house, so I dragged my family along with me on this trip. Number 1 Merrion Square is the former childhood home of Oscar Wilde. Wilde dipped his toe in many forms of writing, becoming a famous playwright, novelist, essayist, and poet.
The son of a nationalist, poetic mother and a famous eye surgeon, antiquarian, and philanthropic father, Oscar Wilde was well off in society living on the fashionable side of Merrion Square. And as many fashionable families, the Wilde’s were not without scandal. In 1867, the Wilde’s 10 year old daughter, Isolda, died. In 1871, the two illegitimate daughters of Oscar’s father Sir William were burned to death when their crinoline gowns caught fire during a ball. Then Sir William came under allegations of rape by a patient with whom he had become involved romantically, momentarily ruining his reputation and severely damaged his practice. In 1876, Sir William died and left Lady Wilde heavily in debt. She then moved their family to London, where Oscar was imprisoned on accusations for homosexuality.
Number 1 fell upon hard times, along with other Georgian homes in the area. The house is now owned and was restored by American College Dublin, which uses the home as a classroom for its students studying abroad.
Trinity College: Book of Kells and the Library
Trinity College Dublin is Ireland’s oldest university, founded in 1592 and modeled after Oxford and Cambridge. If you’re not here to study, you’re here for the Book of Kells. The Book is housed in the Library of Trinity College, the largest research library in Ireland. As a legal deposit library, the Library has legal right to claim a free copy of all British and Irish publications, and it holds the largest collection of manuscripts and printed books in Ireland. All these books total nearly 3 million volumes spanning a total of 8 buildings. The most famous is of course the Book of Kells.
The Book of Kells is a lavishly illustrated Latin manuscript containing the four gospels of the New Testiment written by the monks of Iona. The Book was probably produced in the 9th century partially at Iona and partially at Kells where the monks moved after Iona was attacked in a Viking raid. The Library displays two manuscripts at a time, one open to an illustrated page and one open to a page of text.
After viewing the Book of Kells, you will walk through the Long Room of the Old Library. The room has a high, rounded ceiling covering thousands of rare and very early volumes. The shelves are accented by marble busts of great writers, philosophers, and thinkers. At the front of the room is one of the dozen remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic that signaled the start of the Easter Rising. This room also contains an oak harp from the 15th century, the oldest surviving harp in Ireland and often attributed to Brian Boru, high king of Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
This has been a site of worship for centuries, though the present building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral dates from 1220. It is believed that St. Patrick used a well on the site of the Cathedral to baptize people into Christianity 1500 years ago. The Cathedral has survived wars and family feuds, revolutions and reformations. The Cathedral is the national cathedral of Ireland. It became and Anglican cathedral after the English Reformation, only briefly being converted to back to Catholicism during the Williamite Wars. The Cathedral’s most famous dean was writer Jonathan Swift, appointed in 1713. The Cathedral displays early drafts of some of his writing as well as casts of his death mask and skull. In his later years Swift was troubled by imbalance and noises in his ears, which led many to declare him mad. Ninety years after his death, Sir William Wilde exhumed and examined his body, finding that Swift had a loose bone in his inner ear and had suffered from ‘Ménière’s disease’.
King John of England ordered the construction of Dublin Castle in 1204. Until 1922, the Castle was the seat of the UK government in Ireland. In January 1922, Dublin Castle was handed over to Michael Collins, and Collins became the first leader of the newly independent Irish Free State. The Castle is now the meeting place for official State visits as well as foreign affair engagements and Government policy launches.
Originally a defensive fortification for the Norman city of Dublin, Dublin Castle later evolved into a royal residence where the Viceroy of Ireland resided. The south-east Record Tower is the last intact tower of Dublin Castle and of the walled medieval town of Dublin itself.
The State Apartments are open for tours, both guided and self-guided. The lavishly decorated rooms include St. Patrick’s Hall, the grand room used for presidential inaugurations; the Throne Room, containing the throne build for King George IV’s visit to Ireland in 1821; the State Dining Room, the oldest room in the Castle that retains most of its original decoration; and the State Bedrooms, with the last dignitary staying the night there being Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
Temple Bar is an area on the south bank of the River Liffey, bordered by the river, Dame Street, Westmoreland Street, and Fishamble Street. The area has gotten a bad rap in the past years, but it is really just a concentrated area of lively entertainment and Dublin culture. The Irish Photography Centre, Irish Film Institute, the Project Arts Centre, and the Gaiety School of Acting call this neighborhood home. At night, the area is a major center for nightlife, with many tourist-focused nightclubs, restaurants, and bars, including the popular red-walled Temple Bar Pub.
O’Connell Street is Dublin’s main thoroughfare named in honor of the nationalist leader of the early 19th century, Daniel O’Connell. O’Connell Street was largely rebuilt in the early 20th century following extensive destruction in the struggle for Irish independence and subsequent civil war. Sites along this street include the General Post Office, where the Easter Rising took place, the statue of Daniel O’Connell, and the Spire, the world’s tallest public art. The Spire stands 398 feet high, and it is located on the site of the former Nelson’s Pillar that was destroyed in 1966 by republican activists.
The city of Dublin is currently undertaking efforts to extend the Luas tram system through O’Connell Street, which is expected to be operable in 2017.
Grafton Street is Ireland’s famous shopping street that runs from Trinity College south to St. Stephen’s Green. The street is pedestrian-only and features upscale and high-end retail stores and cafes housed in beautiful historic buildings. But the street has more to offer than just shops; while you walk and shop you’ll be able to stop and listen to a variety of different street performers. You never know who may go from busking Grafton Street one day to a record deal the next!
What’s your favorite thing to do in Dublin? Let me know in the comments!