You’ll never be hard-pressed to find things to do in Dublin. Visiting the Irish capital is always a treat and I arrived for my first visit five-and-a-half years ago during my first European trip – which, incidentally, was less of a European trip and more a trip around the island of Ireland. I’ve always been intrigued by its history, both those chapters of tragedy and triumph. Though I do have Irish ancestry, I came in search of something different rather than exploring my roots. Dublin, indeed, introduced me to what I now appreciate most in Europe over any other part of the globe – the urban planning.
I appreciate chaos, serendipity, and spontaneity as much as the next traveler, but when it comes to cities, I want things planned out. Because when they’re planned out, they generally cater to pedestrians primarily. In Dublin, you have one of the most pleasurable cities for a pedestrian and seeing the city by foot over a day or two is not only possible but indescribably enjoyable.
Things to do in Dublin: Breakfast and Trinity College
Whereas in most well-traveled tourist cities you have to push and shove your way through crowds to see the highlights, Dublin makes seeing the sights an easy task during a city-wide stroll. I proved this point by navigating my wife – a first-time traveler to Dublin – through the main sights after a bit of avocado toast and pour over coffee for breakfast at 3fe.
From 3fe it’s a scenic 15-minute or so walk to Trinity College. This is where most tourists come for viewing the Book of Kells, but rather than pay some euros to look at a book through a glass container, we strolled about the historic, cobblestoned campus and further north past Parliament Square and made way for the River Liffey.
Easter Rising and Tolerating Temple Bar
The bridge crossing over the River Liffey into central Dublin is quite possibly the most crowded point of the walk. That said, it’s worth it to pay one’s respects to the revolutionaries of the 1916 Easter Rising who stoked Ireland’s successful run for true independence at the post office in central Dublin. Bullet holes can still be seen in the giant columns and a museum is attached to the post office, if you’re so inclined. (I for one preferred viewing the films Michael Collins, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, and the mini-series Revolution.)
Near Here: J.W. Sweetman, a multi-level brewery with their own craft beer selection alongside guests and typical favorites, like Guinness. Go at night for live music amplified throughout each level.
Cross over the pedestrian-only Ha’penny Bridge to get back to the southern side of the River Liffey and pop into the (in)famous Temple Bar neighborhood. This is where you might hear more American accents than Irish. To be fair, it is a gorgeous part of town. Narrow cobblestoned streets cut between modest, informal pubs painted in bright reds, greens, and shining black with a wave of signs promising the likes of Guinness, O’Hara’s, and Smithwicks. It’s certainly worth cutting through – just make sure you make the Temple Bar Square part of the route in case you can catch a book market or something going on. If you fancy a drink, pop into The Norseman, which the local experts over at Lovin Dublin proclaimed as the only “proper pub in Temple Bar!”
Dublin Castle and Chorizo at St. George’s Market
Continue south of here to Dublin Castle. I’ll admit I was more impressed with the castle during my first visit when it was the only European castle I had seen in person. (Germany has truly spoiled me.) Still, I’ve walked around the inner courtyard three times now and I still find myself snapping pictures. This is also where Michael Collins took control from the British Empire in 1922. You can see the scene dramatized in the film Michael Collins with Liam Neeson’s character tells a whiny British officer, chastising him for being late to the ceremony, “You’ve kept us waiting 700 years. You can have your seven minutes.” Bad. Ass.
Now when you’re done with Dublin Castle, you have some options for refueling. Looking for a quick fix of caffeine? Go to Kaph where the small size of the place will encourage you to grab your drink and keep moving. Though you’d be wise to come to this area hungry, so you can stop at the Market Bar in George’s Street Arcade. Get the nachos and potato-stuffed croquettes for an appetizer then split the chicken and chorizo skewers. They must have a Spaniard in that kitchen because it takes like you’re in the heart of the Iberian peninsula.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Teeling Whiskey Distillery
Your next stop is further west at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. You’d think this area would be swamped with tourists and entrepreneurial locals hocking kitschy merchandise of a red-bearded St. Patrick bashing a stuffed snake. To the contrary, it’s as pleasant a park as any other in Dublin with the tall, impressive church surrounded by a lovely little fountain and some gardens.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is nice and all, but I must confess that the main reason I’m sending you west is to get to the Teeling Whiskey Distillery. I’d argue that there’s no reason to visit the Guinness Storehouse, Jameson headquarters, and Teeling. Make one stop, and if you make one, why not make it something that isn’t quite as obvious?
Teeling sits in an industrial corner of Dublin with refurbished (and some still abandoned) factory buildings that draw comparisons to the American Rust Belt. I swear I thought I was back in Pittsburgh’s Market District for a moment.
If Teeling likes brand-spankin’-new, that’s because it is. Having opened in 2015, the Teeling Distillery became the first new whiskey distillery to open in Dublin in over 125 years. An ancestor of co-founders Jack and Stephen Teeling had established a distillery as well on Marrowbone Lane — back in 1782. Their phoenix logo symbolizes the return of the Teeling whiskey brand.
Tours of the distillery are available, but if you’re just coming for a drink, you can head right upstairs and straight to the bar. Unless you came in with something else in mind, go for the Old Fashioned – quite possibly one of the best I’ve ever had in my long (and proud) drinking career.
Craft Beer, Speakeasy Cocktails, and St. Stephen’s Green
That about covers the main tourist sites of Dublin. If you do this exact walk or something similar, then you’ll actually spend most of your time having a look at the city than you will at the sites themselves – which is a fantastic thing and why Dublin ranks high on my list of favorite pedestrian cities. Plus with that sightseeing out of the way, you can make time for more eating and drinking. Here’s what I recommend.
Have a beer at Against The Grain for a no-frills bar that feels like it could just as easily be in some gentrifying neighborhood of the U.S. If you feel like you’ve been standing for too long, get a glass of Galway Bay Brewing Company’s Double IPA, Of Foam and Fury – it’ll knock you right on your ass.
Assuming you’re sticking with cocktails after stopping at the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, then you can head over to The Blind Pig Speakeasy. You need to make a reservation in advance (easily done online) and follow their instructions. I won’t ruin the fun, but it’s hidden inside an Italian restaurant and behind a sliding door that when closed looks like a nondescript cabinet. Once you’re inside it’s all well-dressed servers ready to walk you through their specialties underneath arched, stone ceilings, and of course, dim – the coppers might come at any moment! – lighting. The jazzy soundtrack makes you feel like you’re in the opening credits of a Woody Allen film – just lacking the obvious moral conundrum of great director versus marrying the stepdaughter.
I’ve obviously left a few things out, but this should get you started on some things to do in Dublin and what to see. My final recommendation is to end it all with a walk around St. Stephen’s Green. Grab a bench with a view of one of the small lakes or flower beds and allow the city of James Joyce to fuel your imminent pondering and inspire the forthcoming scribbles of your pen.