Dublin glows with warm smiles, passionate prose, boisterous banter, and creamy dark stout.
Victorian-era Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said he could resist everything except temptation; visitors to the Emerald Isle’s capital will quickly appreciate his dilemma. This is a destination of endless possibilities and opportunities, not to mention culinary and liquid indulgences.
For centuries, Dublin challenged the stuffiest of British edicts with national sentiments first banned, then fought for, eventually accepted, and now much admired. Dubliners lead from the heart and you’ll love every moment of your time to this intriguing city.
Here are ten top things to do in Dublin on a first visit.
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Dublin’s city streets are a fascinating historical attraction in themselves, and simply absorbing the layers of history on display around you is a must-do. To learn more about Ireland’s struggle for independence, much of which was played out on these thoroughfares, book a guided walking tour with Historical Walking Tours of Dublin. It’s an absorbing two hours that touches on many chapters of the Irish story.
2. Explore Dublin Castle
One of the city’s most recognisable landmarks is Dublin Castle, which dates back to the 13th century (the Record Tower is the oldest surviving section) and was the seat of British power until 1922. The castle is open to the public daily and will take you three or four hours to cover in modest detail.
3. Visit the National Museum of Ireland
In contrast to the castle’s grand proportions, you’ll need to duck to enter the Little Museum — a quaint Georgian home brimming with heirlooms from Dublin’s past century. To head further back in time, set aside at least half a day to check out the National Museum of Ireland. With two million artefacts in its collection, there’s plenty to see!
4. Admire the Book of Kells
Even if you’re not a person of faith, seeing the Book of Kells at Trinity College shouldn’t be missed during your stay in Dublin. Created in the 9th century, the illuminated manuscript is an incredible example of medieval Christian art and is recognised as one of the world’s most important religious documents.
5. Marvel at the proportions of Casino Marino
The luck of the Irish may be world-renowned, but relax; you’re not at odds of losing your shirt at Casino Marino. This is actually a pleasure (or summer) house, and one of the finest examples of 18th century neo-classical architecture in Europe. The TARDIS-esque building cleverly conceals 16 rooms on three floors, masked as a single space from outside. It’s open from May to October and can only be visited on a guided tour.
6. Do a food tour
Dodge the overpriced tourist food traps around town by palling up with award-winning Fab Food Trails. Their Dublin Tasting Tour will see you sampling cheeses, smallgoods, and pastries loved by locals and often overlooked by visitors.
Estimates vary, but there’s thought to be anywhere from 50 to 100 venues in Dublin’s lively Temple Bar entertainment precinct. Each one will offer a selection of Irish whiskeys — one of the oldest distilled beverages in Europe. The famous Jameson Distillery on the northern side of the River Liffey is well worth a visit. While production ceased here in 1971, a guided tour will give you the lowdown on this renowned drop.
8. Learn how to pour a great Guinness
If you prefer a brewed beverage, head for the popular Guinness Storehouse and master the art of pouring a pint of the world’s most famous stout. Should hunger strike while you’re there, Arthur’s Bar has a relaxed vibe and serves Guinness-flavoured hot dogs!
9. Tackle the Irish classics
Dublin-born William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was one of the great writers of the 20th century, and many of his manuscripts and personal effects are on display at the National Library of Ireland. Look for his quill and inkwell, accompanied by that timeless adage: ‘There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met’.
The heritage of other great Irish writers like Joyce and Wilde will loom large over your visit to Dublin and may inspire you to turn a few pages of Irish literature. Lean on the learned staff at Books Upstairs for their recommendations, and hear emerging writers read from a recently published text or perform poetry.
10. Tee off at the Royal
Whatever your handicap, the Royal Dublin Golf Club offers globetrotting golfers plenty of picturesque challenges. The course sits within a UNESCO World Heritage-recognised biosphere teeming with wildlife, including egrets, hedgehogs, hares, and even seals. Golfing greats have been tackling the 65-hectare links since 1885.
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Do you have any tips for top things to do in Dublin on a first visit? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Barry Johnson is a freelance travel writer living in Sydney, but with previous homes in Europe, North America, Asia, and the Middle East. His love of adventure led to getting lost in a Californian forest a week after The Blair Witch Project went viral, building a giant Buddha on a Cambodian mountain, camel racing in an Egyptian desert, and teaching English to Peruvian children as they taught him Quechuan — the language of the Incas.