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The Essential Guide To Dublin

By Jon Fletcher


Dublin is one of those ports I always look forward to on any British Isles Cruise.  The Irish Republic’s capital city has so much to offer the cruise guest.  So it is essential to decide what you want to see and do ahead of time and plan your day to get the best out of the city.  

The first thing to know is that the port is about half an hour outside of the city and is a busy commercial port so if you want to explore the city independently then you will need to make use of the cruise line’s shuttle service.  

One of the first places most visitors head is the Tourist Information centres either in O’Connell Street and Grafton Street.  These are amazing places with really friendly helpful staff with local knowledge and great inside knowledge.  If nothing else it is worth popping in to get a really helpful street map.

Another great thing to do is to take a hop on hop off bus tour round the city.  Like many cities it is worth doing the full circuit to get your bearings and decide where you may like to explore in greater detail.  There are 3 competing hop on hop off Bus Tours, City Sightseeing (The Red Buses), Do Dublin (The Green Buses) and The Big Bus (Burgundy and Cream).  The City Sightseeing Bus has a recorded commentary in 8 languages and over 25 stops.  It also includes a free guided walking tour that leaves from 37 College Green at 10.30 daily.  The Do Dublin bus tour has a live commentary and recorded commentaries in several languages.  The tour has over 30 stops and includes a free walking tour with the well known Dublin historian Pat Liddy.  You can also enjoy a free Guinness in Peadar Brown’s Irish Bar in Merchant’s Quay and a free whiskey in O’Shea’s Irish Bar in Talbot Street.

The Guinness Storehouse in St James Gate, is probably one of the most popular tourist attractions in Dublin and really is a celebration of all things Guinness.  Whilst it is based within the Guinness Brewery campus it is a celebration of the heritage of Dublin’s iconic drink.  Anyone expecting a brewery tour will be sadly disappointed, but if you are interested in all things Guinness then it is worth a visit.  There can be long queues to get in, so it is worth visiting as early as you can to avoid the queues.  The two big highlights of a visit to the Storehouse have to be learning how to pull your own pint of the Black stuff (Did you know Guinness is not really black but is really red?). The other is the amazing view from the Gravity Bar while sipping a Guinness.  

It is important to note that if you do decide to visit the Storehouse it is likely to take at least 3 to 4 hours so I would suggest visiting early morning rather than later in the day.

If you do want to see how Guinness is brewed then there is a brewery tour you can do that can be booked via the Guinness Storehouse website.

Tickets are €95 per person for the 3-hour walking tour and include:

Guided access to St. James’s Gate including the Roast House, Brewhouse 4, the underground passenger tunnel and more

An exclusive beer sampling of limited-edition brews in the Guinness Open Gate Brewery

A guided beer and food tasting

Adult admission to the Guinness Storehouse

A Guinness-branded parting gift

If you are a movie buff and ever watched a film with a prison scene, then the chances are if it was a British or Irish film then it is likely to have been filmed at Kilmainham Gaol because it is a fine example of what many people think of as a Victorian jail.  In fact it was opened in 1796 and it closed its doors in 1924.  After a history that spanned the nationalist rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848,1867 and 1916 and detained the leaders of these rebellions such as Henry Joy McCracken, Robert Emmet, Anne Devlin, Charles Stewart Parnell among others.  Some of them were executed in the prison yard.  But the wonderful guides will also tell you about some of the thousands of ordinary men, women and children who fell foul of the British justice system in Ireland and found themselves detained.  Visitors to the jail are advised to precook their visit.  This is another place you should visit early in the day to ensure you see everything.

Within walking distance of Kilmainham Gaol is the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, which was built in 1680 by royal command, 2 years before its sister establishment the Royal Hospital Chelsea.  The hospital has over its long history served many purposes, including as a Garda headquarters and more recently as a modern art museum, hence the sculptures to be found around the grounds.  

One of the more unusual places many visitors love is Glasnevin Cemetery, it is situated in the Finglas Road on the outskirts of the city.  It is the final resting place for some of the best known founding fathers and mothers of the Irish Free State and Republic as well as some of the famous and infamous Dubliners.  The cemetery has a fascinating museum that charts the history of both the cemetery and some of those laid to rest there.  One of the best ways to make the most of your time and see the monuments is with one of the guided tours.  If you are feeling particularly energetic there is a walking trail between the city centre and the cemetery which will introduce you to some of those laid to rest in Glasnevin.  

Another macabre place to visit is St Michan’s Church near Arran Quay, this is not a church that people visit for its beauty or fine architecture.  Most visitors head straight for the crypt where they will find mummified bodies spilling out of coffins. Some of the mummified bodies are up to 800 years old.  They are preserved by the atmospheric conditions of the crypt.

Dublin is unusual in that it has 3 cathedrals.  The oldest of the cathedrals is Christ Church; this is a cathedral that is in a fairly unique situation in that both the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin both claim it as their rightful seat.  However officially the cathedral has been a Church of Ireland cathedral since the Reformation.  The Cathedral is the oldest of the Cathedrals in the city and is easily found next to Dublinia a great attraction that charts the early history of the city and the Viking community.  The Cathedral does charge an entrance fee to sightseers but if you visit Dublinia the admission to the Cathedral is included in the Dublinia admission price.  The other medieval cathedral in Dublin is the much grander St Patrick’s Cathedral that whilst it is designated the National Cathedral it is actually not the seat of a bishop.  Legend has it that St Patrick preached by a well that can be found in the grounds of the Cathedral.  Jonathan Swift the author of Gulliver’s Travels was a Dean of the Cathedral.  The 3rd is the Roman Catholic Provo Cathedral.

Dublin is a city with a rich literary heritage and one of my favourite literary spots in the city is St Stephen’s Green, a beautiful small park that is a little oasis.  In the Merrion square corner of this beautiful neighborhood park is a memorial to one of Dublin’s most famous literary son’s, Oscar Wilde.  It is an interesting piece of art by the English sculptor Danny Osborne.  It consists of a colorful sculpture of Oscar lying on a rock, and two smaller adjacent sculptures on plinths covered with his quotes.  One is of his wife and the other is the torso of one of his lovers.

Trinity College Dublin, is the Irish equivalent of Oxford and Cambridge, it is the premier university in the country and has had many famous students.  It was also used as the location for Willy Russell’s iconic film Educating Rita, starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine.  It’s library is home to some very valuable and rare books, none more so than the beautiful Book of Kells.  The book has a fascinating history of monks, Vikings and Scotland.  

A short walk from Trinity College and St Stephens Green is Grafton Street, which is one of the main shopping streets in Dublin, here you will find department stores like the upmarket and rather swanky Brown Thomas, which is a bit like a Dublin version of Harrods or Harvey Nichols.  If you crave a good cup of tea or coffee and a bun then don’t miss out on Bewley's Oriental Café that has been refreshing the good people of Dublin since it opened in 1927.  But many tourists flock to the street to get a picture with Dublin’s most famous statue Molly Malone.  

Another of Dublin’s main shopping streets is O’Connell Street which was the Centre of one of the bloodiest battles in the 1916 Easter Uprisings.  Which started at the iconic GPO (General Post Office).  It is said you can still see bullet holes in the walls.  Today you can find a fascinating museum exhibition that charts the events of the Easter Rising and birth of the Republic.  Nearby in the centre of the street you cannot miss the spire.  A tall needle-like structure.  

Phoenix Park is sometimes known as the lungs of the City and is the largest of the City’s Parks.  There is plenty to do in Phoenix Park and you can easily spend a day exploring it.  Two things worth seeing in the Park are Dublin Zoo and the home of the President.  The zoo is the second oldest zoo in Europe and claims it once was the home of the original MGM lion.  Close by is the official residence of the President and it is a tradition that every night a candlelight is placed in a window to welcome home the people who emigrated from Ireland and their descendants.

If you want to learn more about the stories of those who left Ireland throughout history then you should visit Epic, an exhibition that explores the history of the Irish Diasporas.  It can be found on Custom House Quay.

The River Liffey flows through the very heart of the city and a walk along its banks will give you a fantastic way to experience the city and see its bridges, the most iconic among these is the Ha’penny Bridge, named because it used to cost a ha’penny to cross.  Today it is free!

Most tourists to Dublin will tell you that you cannot come to Dublin and not sample it’s two most famous products, Guinness and an Irish whiskey.  I discussed the black stuff earlier but I would be remiss if I did not discuss Whiskey.  Did you know that whiskey comes from the Gaelic word for the elixir of life?  Probably the most famous brand is Jameson’s and you can visit their old distillery for a tour and tasting.  They no longer distil on this site and there can be long queues at popular times.  So I would recommend buying your ticket in advance.  However if you want to learn more about the spirit then a visit to the Irish Whiskey Museum in Grafton Street might be a better experience for you.

But in my opinion the best way to enjoy these is to head down to Temple Bar and enjoy a Guinness and chaser in one of the many pubs.  Somehow it tastes all the better with the atmosphere of a traditional Dublin Pub.  But beware it is easy to lose track of time in the Temple Bar.

These are just some of the many things you can do on a visit to Dublin.  One thing is for sure you can never see it all in one day or one visit.  

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