Dublin: explore the city like a local!

The cosmopolitan city of Dublin is a modern hive of buzz and activity, packed full of not-to-be-missed shops, restaurants, bars and cafés. Over the years the city has had its fair share of visitors; some welcome, others not so much!

Nonetheless, invaders like the Vikings and Normans left their mark, moulding the city into the thriving capital it is today. Walking the city is the best way to experience all that it has to offer, and to get a glimpse of Dublin’s colourful and storied past…

The National Committee recommends starting off ‘northside’ around Parnell Square where you’ll see fine examples of Georgian architecture in the area’s colourful buildings, as well as the adjacent Rotunda Hospital. In the tranquil Garden of Remembrance, there’s a commemorative sculpture dedicated to all those who gave their lives in the name of Irish freedom.

Walking down one of Dublin’s main thoroughfares, O’Connell Street, is a must. Home to the historic General Post Office (otherwise known as the GPO; find out more on the Rebellion trail), majestic Daniel O’Connell statue and the striking Spire, this bustling street has many tales to tell.

Next, you’ll cross the River Liffey (or ‘Anna Livia’ as it’s also known, thanks to iconic Dublin scribe James Joyce) to the ‘southside’. You’ll learn how the city flourished around this body of water, before visiting Trinity College – home to the Book of Kells – and the original Irish parliament on College Green.

Just nearby you can explore Dublin’s Creative Quarter. In this bustling district of shops, cafes, galleries and creative businesses you’ll find the Powerscourt Townhouse, a stunning Georgian building that dates back to 1774. Today this elegant space is home to boutique fashion houses, antique stores and Irish design shops, and is well worth a visit. It is also close to Dublin’s main shopping quarter, Grafton Street, and St Stephen’s Green, an oasis of green space and calm in the heart of the city.

Further up Dame Street you’ll find two more important locations, City Hall and Dublin Castle – both are positively steeped in history and well worth a visit. City Hall was once the Royal Exchange for the city’s merchant class, while the gorgeous gardens at Dublin Castle cover the original ‘black pool’ from which the city gets its name. Dubh in Irish means black, while linn translates as pool, giving us Dubhlinn, or Dublin. Dublin Castle was also the seat of British rule in Ireland for over 800 years, and if you follow one of the self-guided walking tours from Dublin Discovery Tours then you’ll follow in the footsteps of three Irish prisoners who made a bold and daring escape from its gaol (jail) down Ship Street during the icy winter of 1591.

Dublin has some truly iconic churches to explore nearby. Majestic Christ Church Cathedral pretty much spans the city’s entire timeline, having been founded around 1062 by the Viking King Sitric. In the 1180s, the Normans funded a rebuilding of what was then a wooden structure, expanding it into the stunning building it is today. Be sure to visit its atmospheric crypt, the largest cathedral crypt in Ireland and the UK. There you’ll find the famous cat and rat; unfortunate creatures who were mummified mid-chase after becoming trapped in the organ pipes back in the 1850s!

St. Werburgh’s Church meanwhile dates back to the 12th century and boasts a very famous christening. Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift was baptised there in 1667. You’ll also see pieces of the original foreboding wall that enclosed the inner core of the early Viking settlement, and as you move down towards the River Liffey, you’ll be shown where, in the 1970s, archaeologists uncovered a large Viking town buried beneath the city. Buildings, quays, fragments of the first wall and thousands of artefacts were found, all dating back to the initial Viking settlement in the ninth century. You can see many of them for yourself in the National Museum of Ireland on Merrion Street. If you’re exploring the west of the city then you must take a stroll through the Liberties, a real authentic slice of ‘old Dublin’ that has to be seen to be believed! A centre of public trade and enterprise dating back to the 13th century, today you’ll find lively Dublin street traders in the Liberty Market, selling everything from clothes and cosmetics to toys and bric-a-brac. Or, if you’d like to treat yourself or someone at home to a really special piece of art, jewellery or furniture, Francis Street is the place to go. Since the 18th century, this area has been known as the Antiques Quarter, and there you’ll find a wealth of unique stores and galleries selling finely-crafted antique pieces that are truly one-of-a-kind. You’ll happily while away an afternoon browsing this veritable treasure trove and chatting to the friendly characters who’ve helped make this area so special.

Close by you can also visit the National College of Art & Design, and James’ Street Church (the starting point for the Camino de Santiago). There’s some striking and unique art on show at IMMA (the Irish Museum of Modern Art) – afterwards, be sure to explore its tranquil gardens. Finally, you’ll finish up at Kilmainham Gaol and Courthouse, an atmospheric former prison which once detained many important figures in Irish history. The famous Guinness family can also be found nearby; as well as visiting the iconic Guinness Storehouse at St. James’ Gate, you can see the Iveagh Trust Buildings, a red brick housing scheme funded by the Guinness family at the end of the 19th century. Adjacent is the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral, built on the site at which the patron saint of Ireland is believed to have performed baptisms in the fifth century. A true hidden gem awaits around its corner too – pass through an ornate gate, climb a winding stone stair and you’ll find yourself in atmospheric Marsh’s Library, which has essentially remained unchanged for an astonishing three centuries.
A few minutes’ walk away is one of the best museums in Europe as hailed by Lonely Planet. The Chester Beatty houses the incredible collections of Irish-American mining mogul Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. Having travelled extensively during his lifetime, gathering manuscripts, paintings, rare books and artefacts from Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, Beatty finally settled in Dublin. Upon his death, he donated many of his wares to the State, who chose to showcase them as exhibitions in this bespoke Library on the grounds of Dublin Castle. And as if you need another reason to drop in, entrance to the museum is free!
Finally, why not finish in Temple Bar, the cultural quarter of Dublin. As you stroll along its cobbled, bohemian streets, gaze up at its many merchant houses. Their pretty façades date back to a time when Temple Bar was the city’s centre of trade, with ships coming right up the Liffey to sell their goods. Today you’ll find galleries, vintage shops, restaurants, bars and markets.

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