Before we went to Dublin, I had mixed feelings about what to expect. On the one hand, everyone seemed to love it. On the other hand, I was hard pressed to identify one major historical, cultural or sporting site that compelled people to flock to the city. For example, Paris has the Eiffel Tour, the Louvre, Museum D’Orsay (and more); London has Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Big Ben (and more); and Rome has the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican (technically a separate country, but close enough).
So, I began to research. Apart from the Book of Kells and the Old Library in Trinity College, my initial impression was accurate. This is not a city filled to the brim with historically preserved buildings or monuments. Your list of things to do in Dublin is not going to be filled with internationally recognized buildings or museums. Instead, why you should visit Dublin and what you should do is a lot more unique and subtle.
You should go to Dublin because the Irish are some of the best story tellers and musicians in the world. Moreover, you can discover this firsthand at two Dublin attractions – the Dublin free walking tour (offered by SANDEMANs) and a musical pub crawl (offered by Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl). In this article, I will highlight why I’d recommend both of them and which other Dublin attractions, in my opinion, missed the mark.
Recommended Dublin Attractions – Dublin Free Walking Tour and Musical Pub Crawl
1. Dublin Free Walking Tour
The first Dublin attraction that we did was a 3 hour Dublin free walking tour offered by SANDEMANs. This was absolutely fantastic. As many of you already know, the premise to any free walking tour is that you pay nothing up front and only decide if and how much you are going to “tip” the guide at the end of the tour. If you don’t like the tour, or the tour guide is awful or boring, then you may pay nothing or very little. However, on the flip side, if your free walking tour is fantastic, then you should tip your guide generously.
We visited Dublin with three teenagers aged 18, 16 and 14 years old. A 3 hour walking tour, free or otherwise, had better be good or the complaining would last not only for the tour, but for the whole trip.
Our teenagers loved the Dublin free walking tour
Phew! It’s true. Our teenagers loved it. Our guide was funny and insightful. He weaved the history of Ireland (a couple thousand years no less) effortlessly into current events and brought it alive in such a way that we all wanted more. We toured the streets of Dublin and learned about its important sites, and laughed most of the way. I would highly recommend the Dublin free walking tour, especially at the outset of your Dublin stay.
Details of the Dublin free walking tour
Notwithstanding you do not need to pay for the Dublin free walking tour (SANDEMANs), you still need to register online and secure your spot. It lasts at least 3 hours (ours went beyond it) and you do walk and stand a lot. Accordingly, wear comfortable shoes. Since it is Ireland, make sure that you have an umbrella or waterproof jacket on hand. No matter how nice it is when you start your tour, you will most likely have lots of weather changes throughout the tour.
2. Musical Pub Crawl
If you ask our teenagers (or my husband for that matter), what their favourite experience was while on our 9 day road trip around Ireland, they will all tell you that they had two. In addition to the Dublin free walking tour, they adored the musical pub crawl.
Our musical pub crawl
The musical pub crawl begins in the Temple Bar district and is hosted every night by two exceptionally talented musicians and storytellers. On our night, we were entertained and hosted by Eamon Galldubh and Eugene Quinn, and visited three pubs on either side of the Liffey River. In each one, we sat in private cosy rooms with our own bar and bartender. The musicians told stories, made jokes, and played traditional Irish music. I don’t think any show is the same. Incredibly, between the two of them, they played around 8 instruments, many of which I had never seen or heard before and are unique to Ireland.
After 2 1/2 hours, the musical pub crawl ended. Boy, did time fly! Funnily, we spent the rest of our Ireland road trip trying to find more storytelling and traditional Irish music in local pubs equal to our musical pub crawl in Dublin. I know that it exists, but we were unlucky and did not stumble upon any. To avoid the same, I would highly recommend experiencing this unique and highly enjoyable night as one of your Dublin attractions.
Details of the musical pub crawl
Tickets can be purchased in advance and online for $18 USD for adults and $16 USD for students. Kids are welcome. However, if you have young children, I’d suggest emailing the musical pub tour to confirm if there are any age restrictions. I’d recommend comfortable walking shoes. Nevertheless, we only walked about 30 minutes in total so any footwear would likely work. Bring a warm jacket and an umbrella. You walk regardless of the weather.
Other Dublin Attractions
I know that my comments for these next Dublin attractions may be controversial, but I was less impressed by them.
3. Guinness Storehouse
The Guinness Storehouse is an enormous modern, multi-sensory and interactive museum that tells the story of Ireland’s famous beer, with tastings and a rooftop bar with breathtaking views of Dublin. For the cost of a ticket, you gain entrance to the museum and the exhibits, access to the tasting rooms, and a free pint of Guinness at the rooftop bar at the end. According to TripAdvisor, it is the number one Dublin attraction. Sounds pretty good? Kind of…
It’s not the musical pub crawl!
This Dublin attraction is completely over the top. They have turned a two paragraph story about the history of Guinness and how it is made into a multi-level museum and store. It is bright and flashy, and it is definitely easy to get caught up in all of that. However, when you strip it away, and ask yourself exactly what you got for your $20-$28 USD per ticket, it comes down to this – an overview about how they make Guinness (only slightly different to any other beer), a pint of beer (or glass of juice if you prefer) and a beautiful view.
We had a timed pre-purchased ticket, but arrived to an absolutely swarming place. The rooftop bar was packed with nowhere to sit. As far as beer goes, even if you are a beer drinker – like myself and my husband – Guinness is definitely a specialized and acquired taste. The rooftop bar was literally littered with full glasses of Guinness abandoned everywhere. Notwithstanding the museum is several stories, we walked through it within 45 minutes. All in all, in my opinion, one of the very expensive and underwhelming Dublin attractions.
So how can this be and still be considered by TripAdvisor as one of the best Dublin attractions. I must be wrong, right??? I think the reason lies not in how good or interesting the Guinness Storehouse is, but a reflection on the lack of interesting and diverse Dublin attractions from which to choose.
4. The Book of Kells and Old Library in Trinity College
The Book of Kells is displayed in Trinity College in the centre of Dublin. It is a 9th century manuscript that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of others in extravagance and complexity.I t is considered Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and the world’s most famous medieval manuscript.
Tickets to see the Book of Kells also include access to the Long Room, one of the world’s most beautiful libraries. It houses 200,000 of Trinity College’s oldest books.
This sounds fantastic, right? Well…
What I did not like
The exhibition is mostly comprised of enormous posters displaying key pages of the Book of Kells with descriptions and explanations. In other words, I could have gotten the same, or arguably, more from a book from the library. There is only one page from the actual Book of Kells revealed under a glass display. You are, of course, not allowed to touch it. It is difficult to appreciate anything significant from seeing it in this fashion.
In addition, like the Guinness Storehouse, we purchased tickets online and in advance for a timed entry. Nevertheless, the exhibition was packed with people and it was nearly impossible to get close enough to the boards to look at or read them. It was hot and crowded. Immediately upon entry, all I wanted to do was get out and away from the jostling crowds.
The Long Room is a truly beautiful and majestic library. However, it also was busy and extremely warm (although the weather was cool outside). Apart from walking down one aisle and up the other, there wasn’t anything else to do in this room but stand and gaze at it for a few minutes.
The tickets cost around $15 USD per person for access to both and we spent a grand total of 10 minutes in the Book of Kells exhibition and the Long Room.
5. Temple Bar
Temple Bar is a busy riverside neighbourhood spread over cobbled pedestrian lanes in central Dublin. Although there is actually a pub called the Temple Bar in the Temple Bar district, more times than not, when people talk about Dublin and Temple Bar, they are talking about the district and not the bar. Crowded pubs host live folk music and DJ sets, and diners pack restaurants serving Asian, American and Irish cuisine. In addition, quirky boutiques stock clothes and crafts by local designers.
Temple Bar does not have a long or interesting history. In the 1980s, while the area was awaiting redevelopment as a transportation hub, small shops, artists and galleries popped up. By the early 1990s, once the redevelopment was ready to begin, the area had regenerated into Dublin’s cultural quarter. The redevelopment was cancelled and so continued the growth in the area of bars, pubs and restaurants.
Without question, this is a fun, exciting, and happening area. However, it is fundamentally visited by tourists. Apart from employees and musicians, you are hard pressed to find any locals in most of the pubs and restaurants. Everything is a little more expensive than other areas in Dublin.
If you are looking for authentic Irish pub experiences or even authentic traditional Irish music, you should go elsewhere.
6. Kilmainham Gaol Museum
Kilmainham gaol was the county jail from 1796 to 1924. It held thousands of ordinary men, women and children whose crimes ranged from petty offences such as stealing food to more serious crimes such as murder or rape. Convicts from many parts of Ireland were held here for long periods before being transported to Australia.
Kilmainham Gaol is more famously known for holding and sometimes executing political prisoners from the half dozen failed revolutions during its 128 year history.
Details of Kilmainham Gaol Museum
Access to Kilmainham gaol is only by guided tour which is included in the cost of a ticket. Tickets cost around $9 USD per person, less for children, students and seniors. It is a popular Dublin attraction so advanced ticket purchases are strongly recommended. The tour lasts for approximately 90 minutes. Kilmainham Goal is located a good distance from most of the main Dublin attractions and was a long walk without much interesting things to see.
What I liked about Kilmainham Gaol Museum
This was an interesting place. With the right tour guide, you should be lured into an entertaining and educational tour about the history, the prisoners and escapades that took place while there. The cells are still in tact and they were chilling to see. Th old ones were damp, dark and intentionally cold whereas the “new” ones, built in 1860, were revolutionary. There were 96 cells and every one was visible from a central platform. Many movies, such as In the Name Of The Father, have been filmed there.
What I didn’t like about our tour of Kilmainham Gaol Museum
Our tour guide was awful. Most of the history that he covered was about the failed 1916 revolution against the British and the political prisoners that ended up incarcerated or executed thereafter. Unfortunately, much of what he described had already been highlighted during our free Dublin walking tour, and in a much more interesting and compelling fashion. He barely covered anything else notwithstanding the 128 year history of Kilmainham Goal. Further, apart from the cells and the chapel, most rooms were empty and uninteresting so without an enthusiastic guide, it was difficult to stay engaged.
Ireland is truly lovely. The people are some of the kindest people that I have ever met. Dublin isn’t any different. We met loads of delightful Irish people and shared many laughs while there. We absolutely loved two Dublin attractions – the Dublin free walking tour and the musical pub crawl – for the story telling and/or the wonderful traditional Irish music. For most people in my family, they will tell you that these two experiences were their favourites from our whole 9 day Ireland road trip. As for the other very popular Dublin attractions, such as the Guinness Storehouse, Book of Kells, Temple Bar and Kilmainham Goal, I was less convinced about their value. If you are trying to figure out how best to manage your time and your budget while in Dublin, I would recommend giving these Dublin attractions a pass.
For you are interested in hearing more about our 9 day road trip to Ireland, please refer to the following:
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