What to Do in Dublin

(Ireland, not Georgia)

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What to Do in Dublin

A lot comes to mind when one thinks of Ireland: rowdy pubs with flowing Guinness, joyful music punctuated by flutes and fiddles, cheerful, free-spirited locals, and of course, the bright spectrum of emeralds smothering the entire country. The capital city of Dublin has all of the above, alongside rich history, walkability, and proximity to some of that legendary Irish countryside. Check out these highlights the next time you’re in this European gem.

Phibsborough and Stoneybatter

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The Dublin airport lies north of the city, so if you need a solid place to base your trip, consider the excellent northern suburb of Phibsborough. While Dublin has undergone gentrification in recent times, Phibsborough has a reputation for maintaining its old, authentic Irish charms. Before you arrive in the neighborhood, start your Ireland trip the right way by grabbing a pint at John Kavanagh’s, also known as The Gravediggers, getting its name from being the former haunt for workers from the adjoining Glasnevin Cemetery. In Phibsborough proper, the idyllic scenery of Blessington Basin practically lies hidden, awaiting calm respites in nature next to its pastoral pond with a morning coffee and good book in hand. Go for a drink at divey McGowans, or have the craic (an Irish word roughly translated as good times with pleasant company) during Naughty Brunch at the fantastic Bernard Shaw. Stick around in the evening, as the eccentric community space also boasts a music venue, bar, karaoke room, recording studio, restaurant, market, and bustling outdoor area. In the spring, the adorably named Phizzfest takes over, showcasing Irish creativity and humor through the district’s myriad colorful art installations, music, and community events. Head a little south into hip Stoneybatter and step into The Elbowroom, an inviting wellness center offering regular yoga classes, workshops, and a reputation for accessibility. If you’re hungry, try a Scotch egg and imbibe whiskey from the endearing L. Mulligan’s grocer. Finally, if you need a taste of the famous Irish greenery, the massive Phoenix Park to the west has you covered. See if you can spot the wild deer grazing within the enormous 707 hectares comprising the largest enclosed park in Europe. If your trip is between late October and early January, don’t miss when the dazzling Wild Lights flood the park’s Dublin Zoo in a deluge of wild animal lanterns and stunning colors.


Smithfield

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Lying on the north shore of the River Liffey that bisects Dublin, the St. Michan’s Church houses a macabre secret near the boundary of Smithfield. Heading down an austere set of stone stairs to the basement reveals dusty mummified remains dating back over eight centuries. Hilariously, one of the mummies (known as the “Crusader”) famously has an arm extended as if awaiting a hand to shake. Consider a night at Generator Hostel, an offbeat lodging hosting frequent parties for guests and a great place to make new friends. Catch a film at the Lighthouse independent cinema across the street, or head up the road to the Cobblestone for an evening of “trad” (short for traditional Irish music). Wash down a pint of inviting Guinness in this unique pub featuring a rotating roster of merry musicians filling the room with the cheerful sounds of flutes, drums, and violins. No trip to Ireland would be complete without a tasty full Irish breakfast, where the Lemon Jelly Cafe has you covered all day. Give yourself plenty of time to adjust after you finish—a “full Irish” is quite heavy, as it was historically eaten at dawn to prepare for a full day’s work on the farm. Finally, head south to the River Liffey and stop by the Ha’penny Bridge for unbeatable people-watching. As the oldest pedestrian crossing in the city, the span offers a picturesque place for adorable photos over the serene river, frequently accented with green lights in the later hours as the area fills with the joyous foot traffic of the evening.


Temple Bar and Trinity

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Temple Bar is admittedly touristy, but there are still a few cool spots to experience. Grab a drink from Riot, a dive bar plastered with posters for cult films and neon signs with fun sayings like “fuck what people think.” Grab some ‘90s threads from Dublin Vintage Factory, catch some stand-up comedy within the extravagantly colored walls of The Workman’s Club, or get your dance on at Izakaya, a cozily lit Japanese restaurant whose downstairs doubles as a wild nightclub. Temple Bar is otherwise practically exploding with live music. Listen to the intermingling sounds of the pubs fade in and out of perception while exploring the festive streets at night, or join in the music of inspired passersby while encountering Temple Bar’s many buskers. A short walk south lies Dublin Castle, offering a dose of history inside decorated halls filled with historical art. Movie lovers should also stop by the Irish Film Institute, offering frequent screenings of films along with a cute bookshop, cafe, and quirky bits of Irish film memorabilia. Finally, literature fans should head east towards Trinity College and get lost in the Long Room Library. Wander through the massive, imposing hall filled with 200,000 endless tomes covering the entirety of Irish literary history. Sweny’s, the pharmacy from James Joyce’s Ulysses, is just around the corner, as is the home of celebrated Irish author and humorist Oscar Wilde.


The Liberties and Kilmainham

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While Dublin is home to many pubs, only one can claim the title of oldest in the city. Just south of the Liffey in Usher’s Quay lies the ancient Brazen Head dating back to 1198. A diverse space with frequent live music, outdoor seating, and flowing beer within its comfy, weathered walls, the pub has also been an important meeting place for Irish rebels and literary figures over the centuries. Towards the west in The Liberties, explore the Irish history of the Vikings inside the museum of Dublinia, pay a visit to the preserved, 800-year-old, and recently stolen-but-recovered heart of St. Laurence O’Toole at neighboring Christ Church Cathedral, and then walk nearby to St. Audoen’s Gate. An enchanting stone structure covered in vegetation ripe for Instagram moments, the archway is one of the few surviving remnants of the city’s medieval past and was previously one of several entry points through the old 13th century wall that once surrounded Dublin. Head south to find the cathedral of the titular St. Patrick—yes, that St. Patrick—dating back to 1120. Be sure to admire the gorgeous stained glass allowing colored light to filter into the quiet, tranquil stone halls, or take the guided tour and learn about the fascinating and occasionally hilarious contributions to Irish history by famed Irish playwright Jonathan Swift. As you approach Kilmainham to the west, stop by the renowned Guinness brewery, and then keep going to find the haunted halls of Kilmainham Gaol. A former old prison for Irish revolutionaries, the site now exists as a macabre museum. Have a fresh, locally-grown meal at the nearby Irish Food Co-Op, which also offers classes on sustainability. Finally, art lovers should visit the Irish Museum of Modern Art, offering workshops and a wealth of indoor and outdoor contemporary art pieces housed inside an ornate former hospital dating back to the late 1600s.


Portobello

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Further south in the heart of the hip Dublin 8 section of town lies Portobello, a vibrant neighborhood rich with bars and animated nightlife. Wellness enthusiasts should check out Little Bird Coffee + Yoga in the morning for a wake-up jolt followed by a sweaty, liberating vinyasa flow. A delicious brunch awaits you at The Fumbally, a charming local grocery offering coffee and tasty meals with ingredients fresh from the store’s nearby garden. Head to the edge of the lush St. Stephen’s Green park and explore the Little Museum of Dublin, an eclectic collection of random objects donated by the city’s residents that paint a memorable picture of life in the Irish capital over the years. Consider a stay at the Dean Hotel, offering hip-ultra stylish rooms filled with funky art and good eats at Sophie’s, the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant, or try the Jackson Court Hotel, which comes with a wild secret in the basement. After checking in and settling down, head downstairs at night to find yourself in the legendary Copper Face Jacks nightclub. Get lost dancing within the cozy bricks and stimulating LED displays enclosing the massive, brilliantly lit dance floor. In the evening, the sounds of the ubiquitous pubs, restaurants, and nightclubs on Camden, Wexford, Aungier, and Harcourt Streets begin to dominate Portobello’s soundscape. The Landmark offers three stories of incredible dance rooms housed within a rustic old inn. Finally, visit Opium, a multi-level restaurant offering Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine and a couple of surprises. Walk through the lush, skylit botanical garden, and don’t miss the incredible nightclub on the rooftop. An intimate space covered in a sea of energetic lights filled with the pulsing sounds of DJs, the mesmerizing club also contains a glamorous patio for gazing over the Dublin skyline between groove sessions.


Howth

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Some would say that Ireland is perhaps best experienced in the countryside, and for a taste of that in the city limits, hop on the DART train for a short ride northeast to Howth. A tranquil peninsular community on the city’s edge, Howth offers unbeatable coastal views alongside a quaint seaside village filled with cute art galleries, bucolic seafood restaurants, and lively pubs. Marvel at the exquisite stone terraces of Howth Castle, dating back over eight centuries, or hike to the top of Howth Head Peak for an incredible view of the Irish Sea. Rent a bike and head towards the spectacular cliffside trails, offering a smorgasbord of color with bright yellow flowers juxtaposed with the beautiful blue water and the ever-present Irish emerald hues during the warmer months. See if you can spot the Baily Lighthouse in the distance for a perfect photo opportunity or make new friends enjoying the waves at the hidden beaches scattered around the peninsula.


Wicklow Mountains

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If you absolutely have to immerse yourself in the rural side of Ireland, Dublin conveniently has an entire mountain range just south of town. While it is a long hike, consider taking the Glenmalure Loop to Lugnaquilla, the tallest mountain in the park, and watch the rolling emerald hills taper off into the horizon from the summit. Since the 12th century the mountains have famously been home to bands of resistance fighters opposing English rule. See if you can find one of the still-standing passage tombs as you hike the many trails. If you have access to a car, catch the park’s highlights on the Great Military Road scenic drive, or enjoy the misty cascades of Powerscourt Waterfall, the tallest in Ireland. On the way back to Dublin, don’t miss Montpelier Hill. In addition to many lovely trails and captivating views of Dublin, be sure to visit the summit’s ruins, otherwise known as the Hellfire Club. As a former meeting place for occult gatherings dating back to the 1700s, the site has become infamous for its legends of hauntings and tales of debauchery.



John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based out of Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram at @sizemoves. In his downtime, John likes to learn foreign languages and get immersed in other worlds, particularly those of music, film, games, and books in addition to exploring the world.