How To Spend A Weekend In Dublin

How To Spend A Weekend In Dublin
A beautiful red facaded pub The Temple Bar
Dublin is home to the very best craic. Image: Matheus Câmara da Silva via Unsplash

Dublin. A small-but-mighty metropolis flanked by fairy tale landscapes — verdant mountains, fauna-filled farmland, and rugged coastline — and bisected by the River Liffey. But don't let its picturesque environs fool you: this is a distinctly cosmopolitan city, with a formidable nightlife scene and cultural heritage to rival any other capital. And, obviously, it's got the very best craic. What more could you ask for from a weekend away?

Getting to Dublin from London

The fastest and easiest way to get to the Irish capital from London is by plane. Some obscenely cheap flights are available from Stansted (ours cost just £8 each way), so long as you avoid seasonal peaks like Christmas. If you're a British citizen you don't even need a passport — just photo ID. Dublin Airport is around 10km from the city centre. Get there by bus or coach (staff can help you figure out the right route), or hail a taxi.

If you're not a fan of flying, another option is to get the train from London Euston to Holyhead in Wales, then take the ferry over to Dublin. Fair warning, this can be expensive and will eat up an entire day, so it's only really recommended if you're a) an extreme aerophobe or b) channelling Greta Thunberg.

Dublin Castle. Image by @nico._grigo

Dublin need to know

Getting around Dublin: Central Dublin is flat and surprisingly compact for a capital city so, if you're able-bodied, you can explore the tourist hotspots on foot with relative ease. For cyclists, there's Dublin Bike, a hire scheme similar to London's Santander Cycles.

But if the weather's bad (this city gets more than its fair share of rain) or you just fancy resting your feet, there are buses, trams, and — for longer journeys — the electric train system DART. Invest in a Leap Travel Card (similar to Oyster) if you're going to be using public transport regularly.

Dublin's famous Ha'penny Bridge

Accommodation in Dublin: On our last trip, we stayed at the StayCity aparthotel on Mark Street, close to Trinity College and about five minutes from the River Liffey. Each room at this smart four-star offering includes a kitchenette — handy if you can't afford to eat out for every meal.

If you're after something a bit more opulent, there's The Merrion and The Shelbourne for old-world glamour, or The Mayson for industrial-chic flavoured luxury.  Other options include Aloft Dublin City, which offers unbeatable city views and a cool, contemporary aesthetic, or revellers' paradise The Dean with its rooftop bar and in-house DJ.

The James Joyce statue, just off O'Connell Street

City of literature: Oscar Wilde. James Joyce. W.B. Yeats. Samuel Beckett. Sally Rooney — just a few of the many illustrious writers that have lived and worked in Dublin over the years. Its cultural pedigree is so great that it's been named one of just 42 UNESCO Cities of Literature. There are plenty of literary landmarks to look out for, from museums and libraries to statues and bridges.  

City of pubs: In Ulysses, protagonist Leopold Bloom muses that a "good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub". Such a feat remains as challenging today as it would've been over a century ago: the Irish capital is absolutely teeming with places to raise a jar, many of them excellent.

Day 1

To Trinity, and beyond!

The Old Library at Trinity College (the stuff #DarkAcademia dreams are made of). Image by @nico._grigo

Making a university campus your first port of call isn't going to earn you much street cred, but Trinity College Dublin does offer a pretty spectacular introduction to the Irish capital.

Ireland's oldest uni is conveniently located in the city centre, in what's dubbed the Georgian Quarter. It contains some lovely 18th and 19th century buildings — from the ornate, Palazzo-style Museum Building, to its Tudor-Gothic chapel and the iconic Campanile. But the jewel in its crown has got to be The Old Library, an imposing building that conceals multiple treasures.

Inside, visitors will first encounter The Book of Kells: a beautifully preserved illuminated manuscript crafted by Irish monks in the 9th century that's widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Celtic art ever created. Then, you'll climb the stairs to The Long Room, as beautiful a treasure trove of tomes as you'll ever encounter, with its dramatic barrel-vaulted ceiling, cast iron spiral staircases, and over 200,000 rare and precious books. It also houses the medieval harp that inspired the Irish coat of arms (though Brits may be more familiar with it as the Guinness logo...)

Dating back to 1200 AD, St Patrick's Cathedral is steeped in history. Image by @nico._grigo

Just in case you haven't had your fill of historic buildings, know that Dublin Castle is just a nine-minute walk away. From there it's only 10 minutes on to the majestic St Patrick's Cathedral, Ireland's national cathedral, where you can peep at the tomb of former dean and Gulliver's Travels author Jonathan Swift.

Museums and galleries in Dublin

National Museum of Archaeology

There are tons of fantastic museums and galleries in Dublin — too many to cover in one weekend, so you're going to have some tough decisions to make. On a budget? The National Museum of Ireland is free entry. It's split across four sites, with its decorative arts, natural history and archaeology based in Dublin. The latter is particularly noteworthy for its collection of Irish bog bodies (not one for the squeamish), among other prehistoric artefacts.

Also free to visit is the National Gallery of Ireland. Here you'll find works by eminent Irish artists such as James Barry, William John Leech, and Jack Butler Yeats — plus a few Dutch Masters, Baroque paintings, and even a Picasso. The Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) is similarly admission free, with new contemporary artworks added every year.

Insta-ops aplenty at The Leprechaun Museum

If you'd like to learn more about Ireland's history and people, there's The Little Museum of Dublin (honestly, this one's a particular treat, in which no two tours are the same) and EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Jail-turned-museum Kilmainham Gaol is also well worth a visit if you're interested in the fight for Irish independence and don't mind heading out of the city centre.

Got kids? Take them to The National Leprechaun Museum of Ireland! This interactive adventure through Irish folklore offers a fun introduction to the country's oral storytelling tradition, with plenty of photo ops and interactive elements built in.

Lunch and dinner in Dublin

Opt for dinner at The Winding Stair

Traditional Irish cuisine is hearty, comforting and generous in the carbs department. You'll find it served up in many of Dublin's pubs (handy if you're looking to segue straight into evening revelry), with Madigan's, O'Neill's and The Brazen Head (the city's oldest pub) among those doing it particularly well. Plump for a Guinness-laced beef stew, creamy seafood chowder, or smoked salmon served with freshly-baked soda bread.

For a slightly more upmarket take on traditional cuisine, head to The Winding Stair just opposite the Ha'penny Bridge overlooking the Liffey. Named after a Yeats poem, this place was a popular bookshop/cafe during the 1970s, before getting a new lease of life as a charming restaurant that champions seasonal, locally-sourced produce. Enjoy dishes like potted crab with soda bread, Black Angus Irish striploin, and sticky pear and ginger cake with sea salt ice cream, as you gaze out over the twinkling river.

Of course, other cuisines are available. On our last trip, particular standouts were Bonobo (Smithfield) for pizza and craft beer, and Kimchi Hophouse for Korean. Both casual, reasonably-priced haunts.

Looking for fine dining? The double Michelin-starred Chapter One is a must (if you can get a table), and tasting menu-based Liath attracts plenty of fanfare, too.

Dublin nightlife

If you're new to Dublin, chances are you'll grab at least one jar in Temple Bar. This rowdy district boasts an extensive collection of pubs, with live music (mostly folksy renditions of open mic classics) performed from morning to night. It's undoubtedly a tourist trap — all souvenir shops, horse-drawn carriage tours, and extremely inebriated Brits holidaymakers — but it can be quite a fun one, in a lads-on-tour sort of way. For something a bit different, try Mary's on Wicklow Street, a pub-meets-hardware store, in which you can order an IPA and a lightbulb at the same time. The burgers are good too. The Temple Bar Whiskey Tasting Room offers a bit of respite from the surrounding chaos and well worth a visit if you're into the strong stuff.

Now, onto party spots less maligned by the locals. There's Whelan's, which is dubbed "Dublin's original live music venue" and does indie club nights, as does The Grand Social. Wigwam and Pygmalion are other city centre venues that offer decent late night cocktails and craic. For hardcore ravers, options include Index, The Academy and late night shows at The Sound House.

Day 2

Breakfast and brunch in Dublin

Getting a caffeine fix at Jay Kay's Cafe

Bit of a sore head after your big night out? Jay Kay's Cafe does brilliant hangover-busting breakfasts and brunch — think Full Irishs, shakshuka, and breakfast omelettes. For a top tier caffeine hit, there's Coffeeangel, which has several locations around Dublin, while if it's sweet treats you're after, you'd be hard-pressed to beat Bread 41's decadent pastries — its range of "cruffins" (croissant-muffin hybrids) are especially tempting.

Shopping in Dublin

Powerscourt Centre

Whether you're hunting for an extra special souvenir or just fancy a bit of window shopping, the upmarket Powerscourt Centre is well worth a visit. Set in one of Dublin's finest Georgian townhouses, you'll find designer fashion, quirky homeware, antiques aplenty and some very special jewellery (home-grown jewellers Chupi has their flagship here), with boutiques set around a foliage-strewn central courtyard.

St Mark's Arcade

For more budget-friendly browsing, nearby George's Street Arcade is a great choice, with its smart Victorian architecture and bohemian vibe — it's home to range of vintage shops and stalls selling all manner of handicrafts. If you're a keen reader who likes to buy second-hand, the Temple Bar Book Market — open every Saturday — is a must-visit, as is city institution Chapters Bookstore. For new books, it's got to be Hodges Figgis, which is Ireland's oldest bookshop and boasts the largest stock of books relating to Ireland in the world.

A jar or a dram

Irish coffees in the Long Hall. Image by @nico._grigo

Before you leave Dublin, you'll want to make time for a farewell drink. The Long Hall is one of Ireland's oldest pubs and arguably one of its most beautiful, too, with an interior that's remained unchanged since 1881. Bruce Springsteen's a fan and, even if you're a non-drinker, it's well worth a visit to admire its ornate partitions, antique décor, and cosy crimson colour scheme (though if you do partake, we can think of few better ways to round off your trip than watching the world go by over an Irish coffee, at one of the much-coveted window stools).

The Guinness Storehouse. Image by @nico._grigo.

Alternatively, if you'd prefer to combine your last tipple with some tourist-y fun, there's always the Guinness Storehouse or the Irish Whisky Museum. Tickets for both experiences include multiple samples, so proceed with caution, especially if you have a flight to catch!

On the list for next time

Last Updated 20 December 2023

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