What are the five best things to see and do in Dublin?

Jennifer Wholey

With 1.2 million inhabitants, Dublin has more to see and do than many cities twice its size. Choice sightseeing and shopping abound. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best things to see and do in Dublin.

1. Visit the Guinness Storehouse. No trip to Dublin would be complete without paying a call to the top tourist attraction in all of Ireland. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the history of Arthur Guinness’ “black stuff,” then learn about the art of brewing, and of course, tasting. Sip the best pint of your life (free with the price of admission) from atop the Gravity Bar, which boasts unparalleled panoramic views of the city, or learn to pull your own in the Perfect Pint Bar.

2. See the Book of Kells. Trinity College’s medieval campus is stunning in its own right, but this iconic 9th-century gospel manuscript is truly in a league of its own. A standing exhibition tells the story of how the book came to be and details the fascinating and painstaking process of illumination. Upstairs, the Long Room remains one of the most magnificent libraries in the world, holding 200,000 old and precious volumes.

3. Tour Kilmainham Gaol. Empty of occupants since 1924, the gaol provides a poignant point of entry to Ireland’s tumultuous history. The gaol once held some of Ireland’s most famous political and military prisoners, including many of the Republic’s founding fathers. Now, the gaol’s exhibition and guided tour provide invaluable insight to Irish risings and revolutions from the 18th through the 20th century.

4. Explore Temple Bar. The area from Dame Street north to the River Liffey is undoubtedly a tourist hot spot, yet Temple Bar remains one of the most reliable places to catch traditional music, grab some pub grub and find the nightlife. Sidle up to the always-packed Oliver St. John Gogarty’s for an earful and then head over to Gallagher’s Boxty House to fill your belly. If you venture further west, the cobbled streets morph into an arts district.

5. Stroll Georgian Dublin. For architecture buffs, the South Side of Dublin holds a special treat. Brightly painted doors with brass fittings pop with color amidst rows of posh brick houses and state buildings. Wander Dawson Street down to Stephens Green to see the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House, and pay a visit to Oscar Wilde’s birthplace (and his cheeky statue) in Merrion Square.

  • On July 5, 2012
    Jennifer Wholey answered the question: Jennifer Wholey

    What are the best day trips from Dublin?

    With new highways linking most major cities in Ireland, it’s now easier than ever to day trip from Dublin. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ top picks for sightseeing spots less than an hour away:

    1. Head to Howth. Hop on the DART heading north from the City Centre for an afternoon by the bay. At the West Pier, seals often bob just past the harbor wall. If you love seafood, you’ll have no shortage of options while you watch fisherman at work. Dublin Bay prawns, oysters and chowder are all on offer, but make sure to save room for Beshoff restaurant for a proper fish and chips. Take the circle route along the cliff that loops the peninsula for stunning sea views including all of Dublin Bay, the Wicklow Mountains in the distance and Ireland’s Eye (a short boat ride away). If you can tear yourself away from the coast, venture inland for a look at the 15th century ruins of Howth Castle.

    2. Wander Wicklow. You’ll need to rent a car to most easily access scenic County Wicklow, known as the Garden of Ireland. A scenic drive through the Wicklow Gap will wind through dramatic valleys and boglands travelling west. You may spot livestock grazing on the scrubby brush; keep a weather eye open for precious Dutch paintings purportedly hidden amidst the peat by gangsters. End your journey in the picturesque town of Glendalough, where many would-be hikers depart for the 82-mile trek through the mountains that is the Wicklow Way. If you’d rather stay grounded, round towers, ruined churches and impressive stone crosses mark out the medieval monastery nestled in the cemetery.

    3. Meander Meath. The Boyne Valley in County Meath is home to Newgrange, a remarkable megalithic passage tomb older than Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza. On the winter solstice, lucky lottery winners can huddle inside to await the dawn, when the sun lines up with the roof box, illuminating the chamber within. Take the Mary Gibbons bus tour for a complete history lesson from the Stone Age through the Battle of the Boyne. Stops also include the Hill of Tara, the seat of the Irish High Kings of old, and panoramic views of 23 counties on a clear day.
  • On July 5, 2012
    Jennifer Wholey answered the question: Jennifer Wholey

    What is the best thing to bring home from Dublin?

    To bring a little Dublin home with you, save room in your suitcase for the best in authentic Irish craftsmanship. Chunky cable-knitwear made from Aran wool is a sure bet to keep you toasty on your travels. These iconic sweaters are crafted off the west coast of Ireland in the Gaeilge-speaking Aran Islands, and are traditionally white or cream in color. With shops all over Ireland, Blarney Woollen Mills has the greatest variety by far. (Their flagship store in Blarney is billed as the largest source of Irish souvenirs in the world.)

    If you’d rather keep the chill away with a dram, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive selection than at the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street. With representatives from all the major Irish whiskey houses, including Jameson and Bushmills, you can also find liqueurs to recreate some killer coffee back home. If you’re feeling adventurous, grab a bottle of poitín, or farmers’ moonshine, finally available through legal means. For a bit of a break, wait until the airport to browse Duty-Free before your departure.

    Housewares more your thing? Belleek china, Waterford crystal and Newbridge silverware are all excellent choices to grace your table back home. All three have visitors’ centers within a few hours drive of Dublin if you’d like to venture farther afield, but Kilkenny on Nassau Street is an accessible hub of Irish design located just across from Trinity College.
  • On July 5, 2012
    Jennifer Wholey answered the question: Jennifer Wholey

    What are the five best Dublin food experiences?

    When it comes to comfort food in Dublin, no one does it better than the Irish. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ five favorite Dublin food experiences, from pub grub to farm-fresh:

    1. An Irish breakfast. As ubiquitous as the color green, it’s difficult to not spot some form of Irish breakfast on a menu. Complete with fried eggs, sausage, black pudding and white pudding, bacon rashers, toast and sometimes fried tomatoes and mushrooms, a full Irish is not for the faint of heart. The Kingfisher on Parnell Street is a fortifying favorite after one too many pints the night before.

    2. Milk, butter and cheese. Farms positively cover Ireland, so the dairy could hardly be fresher. Most cows graze outside on grass, which lends richness to their milk; even bargain dairy brands are a step up from what you may be used to. For a real treat, pack yourself a hamper at Sheridans Cheesemongers on S. Anne Street full of tart Cashel Blue, smooth and creamy Cooleeney Farmhouse Cheese and oakwood-smoked Knockanore.

    3. Seafood. On an island in the Atlantic, it should come as no surprise that seafood reigns supreme. Any pub worth its salt will have homemade chowder, chock-full of salmon, cockles and mussels and served with a slice of brown bread. You may be stunned at the low price of smoked fish compared to back home, so get it while you can. Visit a chipper for smoked haddock and chips or for lighter pub fare, grab some smoked salmon.

    4. Baked goods. Irish sweet-makers are liberal with their butter, so be sure to make room for afternoon tea. Tea brack, similar to fruitcake, is studded with raisins and spices. Dublin has a love affair with scones, spread with butter and jam as a morning essential. If you’ve been especially good, sample a caramel square. Bewley’s Grafton Street Café, KC Peaches adjacent to Trinity College and Lollys and Cooks’ stall in S. Great George’s Street Arcade will help you get your fix.

    5. Pub grub. Many foods often dubbed as “Irish” in American pubs actually hail from the United Kingdom. Keep things local with a Dublin coddle, a slow-cooked dish of Irish sausages and potatoes; Irish stew, made with tender roast lamb and often doused liberally with Guinness; or bacon and cabbage. (You won’t see corned beef.) Word to the wise: “Bacon” in bacon and cabbage is most similar to American ham, whereas rashers more closely resemble Canadian bacon.
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  • On July 5, 2012
    Jennifer Wholey answered the question: Jennifer Wholey

    Where is the best nightlife in Dublin?

    You’re never far from good nightlife in rollicking Dublin. Even though buses stop running at 11:30 p.m., Dubliners don’t seem to mind. Pubs close earlier than you might expect for a city so renowned for drink, but there are no shortage of after-hours bars and clubs to keep you occupied until sun up.

    While tourists gravitate toward heady Temple Bar, Dubliners for the most part prefer the pubs south of Dame Street and west of Parliament Street. For a proper pint, our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend The Stag’s Head. It’s located on Dame Court, a hub of seriously good bars at the intersection of Dame and S. Great George’s Street. One of the best-preserved Victorian style-pubs, this multi-storied bar is often packed to the gills on each level, with Irish music downstairs on weekends and Powers whiskey from cask available on the ground floor.

    The Porterhouse Brewing Co. is another favorite among Trinity students. With two locations, one adjacent to Grafton Street and another on Parliament, there’s enough room to chat and be heard. Bonus: In addition to daily drink specials, they also brew their own beer. The Chocolate Truffle Stout is to die for.

    If you’d rather dance the night away, The Globe on S. Great George’s Street might be more your style. The Globe has many faces: café by day, pub by night and, when most bars are closing, Ri-Ra, The Globe’s basement dance club, is just getting started. DJs spin until 2:30 a.m., shying away from Euro-pop and electronica in favor of funky dance tunes. Another good bet is Pygmalion, whose labyrinthine interior can best be described as controlled chaos. A perfect mix of solid drinks and eminently danceable pounding bass until 3 a.m., the warren-like setup of ‘the Pyg’ is part of the appeal.

    Dublin also has a strong alternative scene. Fibbers on the Quay is a quintessential rock bar, where classic rock rules and Top 40 never stands a chance. For live bands, check out Sweeney’s for jazz and blues bands downstairs.
  • On July 5, 2012
    Jennifer Wholey answered the question: Jennifer Wholey

    What is the best way to see Dublin in one day?

    If you only have one day in Dublin, our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend a circle route of the City Centre to help you tick off the must-sees and dos. A Hop On-Hop Off bus tour is a good guide to start, but walking will be your secret weapon to see Dublin at its best. Grab a scone and start off with a quick jaunt down O’Connell Street, passing the Spire of Dublin, a towering silver needle seen for miles around. Have a look at the facade of the National Post Office, an impressive building in its own right, but more remarkable for its involvement in the 1916 East Rising; prominent bullet holes can still be seen in the columns.
     
    Head south toward the River Liffey and walk right along the quay until you reach Ha’penny Bridge, the whimsical pedestrian bridge serving as the entrance to Temple Bar, Dublin’s cultural quarter. Stroll the cobbled streets at your leisure; watch some buskers in Meeting House Square before heading away from the river toward Dame Street. Make your way to Trinity College on your left. Go through the College’s Great Gate toward the Book of Kells and the Long Room; soak in one of the world’s most magnificent illuminated manuscripts and a stunning library straight out of a fairy tale.
     
    Exit Trinity at Grafton Street and take your picture with the statue of Molly Malone (and possibly a leprechaun or two) before browsing your way south down the pedestrian shopping hub. Grab a bite at Bewley’s Grafton Street Cafe; try and snag a seat on the mezzanine near the window for prime people watching and save some room for a slice of cake from the dessert case or a banana and Nutella pancake. Walk off your meal around St. Stephen’s Green; stroll through the park and admire the Georgian buildings at its perimeter.
     
    Head back toward Dublin Castle on Dame Street, a 10-minute stroll by way of S. Great George’s Street. Poke your head into the courtyard for a look at the sole surviving original turret and pop into the souvenir store to pick up some VAT-tax-free goodies. Continue on toward Christ Church Cathedral to explore the atmospheric crypt, the oldest original structure in Dublin. From there, it’s a 15-minute walk to the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’s Gate where you can learn the history of the iconic beverage, pull your own pint and view the sunset from atop the Gravity Bar. End your day with pub grub and traditional music at The Brazen Head, ostensibly established in 1198.
  • On July 5, 2012
    Jennifer Wholey answered the question: Jennifer Wholey

    Where is the best shopping in Dublin?

    From high-end fashion houses in the Powerscourt Centre and Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, to the myriad mom-and-pop shops littering the winding back alleyways, great shopping is all around you in Dublin.
    Pedestrian-only Grafton Street is the beating heart of City Centre shopping. If you prefer books to clothing, consider venturing to neighboring Dawson Street, where a trifecta of booksellers — Eason, Hodges Figgis and Waterstones — all hold court.

    For Irish-designed housewares and souvenirs, try Nassau Street opposite Trinity College. Trinity Sweaters and Kevin & Howlin are mere steps away from one another and carry Aran wool sweaters and Donegal tweeds, respectively. Several heraldry shops on the same row will have just about anything emblazoned with your family’s coat of arms, while Kilkenny is a one-stop shop for traditional gifts, Waterford crystal and china.

    A more eclectic shopping experience can be found at the S. Great George’s Street Arcade. From vintage pinup-style clothing at Retro to traditional Indian clothes and jewelry, the arcade is teeming with stalls catering to every taste. Several delicious cafés and sweet shops line the walls with particular attention to natural, from-scratch sandwiches and treats.

    A visit to Dublin would not be complete without a trip to the crowded Penneys on O’Connell Street, home of ridiculously low prices. Forgot to pack a bathing suit? Pick one up for a fiver. Mustard on your shirt? Get a new one for €2.50. For higher-end shopping, cross the street to Clery & Co., an Irish institution.

    Honorable mention: If you’re willing to venture farther afield, take the Luas tram to the suburbs for one of the largest shopping centers in all of Europe. Dundrum Town Centre features more than 100 high-end retailers, 38 restaurants, a theatre, a cinema and even a nightclub.
  • On July 5, 2012
    Jennifer Wholey answered the question: Jennifer Wholey

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Dublin?

    Despite being the land of plenty of pints, touring Dublin with kids in tow is still a cinch. These five picks from Forbes Travel Guide editors are sure to keep kids entertained:

    1. Pillage away by land and sea. Board a World War II-era amphibious vehicle for a rollicking comedic history tour with Viking Splash Tours. Although there are no shortages of bus tours offering sightseeing with a historical bent, this is the only one that starts on land and also floats down the Grand Canal (and provides horned helmets). The vehicles all have Norse mythology-themed names, like Loki and Odin, and passengers are encouraged to let loose a battle cry at unsuspecting passerby.

    2. Get medieval. If your children are a little more hands-on (or they might not sit still for a history tour), Dublinia (in Dublin City Centre) offers a kid-sized window to the world of medieval Dublin, bringing history to life with interactive exhibits. Younger ones can try on Viking clothes and play medieval games with costumed actors, while older kids will enjoy medieval artifacts from the National Museum of Ireland and learning about archaeology in the Time Detectives lab.

    3. Try your hand at hurling. Head to Croke Park to learn about the history of Gaelic games at the Gaelic Athletic Association Museum. Children can try their hand at hurling, similar to field hockey, known as the quickest game in the world. How fast can you hit a sliotar ball? If you’d rather take a stadium tour by yourself, bring the little ones to the museum’s Cú Chulainn's Den for sports-themed activities.

    4. Explore Phoenix Park. One of the largest urban parks in Europe, Phoenix Park covers 1,752 acres in northwest Dublin. Created as a royal deer park in the 1600s, the park now is home to miles and miles of walking and biking trails, playgrounds and Victorian gardens. Start at the Visitor’s Centre for historic and nature exhibits, and pop by neighboring Ashtown Castle, a Renaissance guard tower. Next, head to the Dublin Zoo for the newly constructed Kaziranga Forest Trail, an Asian elephants’ habitat.

    5. Find fairies and folklore. Have your wee ones get in touch with Irish mythology at the National Leprechaun Museum in Smithfield. Going beyond the myths of pots of gold, each of twelve themed rooms explores mythic Ireland and creatures of the otherworld. Children can clamber through a fairy hill or tunnel beneath Giant’s Causeway and feel what it’s like to be leprechaun-sized.
  • On July 5, 2012
    Jennifer Wholey answered the question: Jennifer Wholey

    What are the five best things to see and do in Dublin?

    With 1.2 million inhabitants, Dublin has more to see and do than many cities twice its size. Choice sightseeing and shopping abound. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best things to see and do in Dublin.

    1. Visit the Guinness Storehouse. No trip to Dublin would be complete without paying a call to the top tourist attraction in all of Ireland. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the history of Arthur Guinness’ “black stuff,” then learn about the art of brewing, and of course, tasting. Sip the best pint of your life (free with the price of admission) from atop the Gravity Bar, which boasts unparalleled panoramic views of the city, or learn to pull your own in the Perfect Pint Bar.

    2. See the Book of Kells. Trinity College’s medieval campus is stunning in its own right, but this iconic 9th-century gospel manuscript is truly in a league of its own. A standing exhibition tells the story of how the book came to be and details the fascinating and painstaking process of illumination. Upstairs, the Long Room remains one of the most magnificent libraries in the world, holding 200,000 old and precious volumes.

    3. Tour Kilmainham Gaol. Empty of occupants since 1924, the gaol provides a poignant point of entry to Ireland’s tumultuous history. The gaol once held some of Ireland’s most famous political and military prisoners, including many of the Republic’s founding fathers. Now, the gaol’s exhibition and guided tour provide invaluable insight to Irish risings and revolutions from the 18th through the 20th century.

    4. Explore Temple Bar. The area from Dame Street north to the River Liffey is undoubtedly a tourist hot spot, yet Temple Bar remains one of the most reliable places to catch traditional music, grab some pub grub and find the nightlife. Sidle up to the always-packed Oliver St. John Gogarty’s for an earful and then head over to Gallagher’s Boxty House to fill your belly. If you venture further west, the cobbled streets morph into an arts district.

    5. Stroll Georgian Dublin. For architecture buffs, the South Side of Dublin holds a special treat. Brightly painted doors with brass fittings pop with color amidst rows of posh brick houses and state buildings. Wander Dawson Street down to Stephens Green to see the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House, and pay a visit to Oscar Wilde’s birthplace (and his cheeky statue) in Merrion Square.
  • On July 3, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to eat in Dublin?

    If you thought Irish food was bland and boiled, best hidden by a pint of Guinness, think again. The food culture in Ireland has bloomed in recent years, influenced by an influx of immigrants from all over Europe and inspired by farm-to-table movements such as Darina and Rachel Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery School. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ top five favorite places to eat in Dublin:

    1. Yamamori Noodles. Consistently a Dublin favorite, Yamamori’s three locations are easily some of the most popular stops in the city for locals. In their original location on S. Great George’s Street, diners sit at long wooden benches slurping wok-fried noodles and ramen soups. Their Ormond Quay location specializes in sushi, and their newest venture, Yamamori Izakaya, feels like a Japanese drinking house, with small plates and a chic urban vibe. Can’t decide? Try a bento box special for a little bit of everything.

    2. Cornucopia. Despite popular misconceptions, vegetarians in Dublin need not fear. Nestled in the maze of streets south of Dame Street packed with restaurants, this whole foods-focused mainstay was recently voted Best Restaurant of the Year at the 2011 Dublin Living Awards. Casual dining at its coziest, grab a tray and chat about the day’s rotating menu with the friendly servers behind the counter at the salad and hot bars. Don’t forget to snag a glass of organic wine and something decadent from the dessert case. Keep an eye out for their killer vegan cashew “cheesecake.”

    3. Trocadero. Part-Italian and part-eclectic European and all parts fine dining, “the Troc” on St. Andrews Street is a favorite among theater-goers for its early-bird specials and as a popular locale for drinks once the curtain falls. À la carte or prix fixe, it’s hard to resist the charms of each of five Georgian rooms decked out in demure lighting and plush red velvet upholstery. Call ahead to score a table on “The Stage,” its raised seating open to the dining room on three sides to celebrity-spot and best watch the bustle unfold. Italian favorites like pea and pancetta risotto and fresh-rolled cannelloni are mainstays, but stick to the set dinner menu for the most top-notch three-course meal south of Dame Street.

    4. O’Neill’s. The very definition of “craic agus ceol” (good times and music), this may be the perfect Dublin pub. For casual dining, O’Neill’s is hard to beat. With Irish breakfasts, carvery lunches and traditional Irish grub served counter-style and prepared to order, you may want to find your own nook amongst the scores of snug alcoves and stick around all day. Sip a classic pint or discover a new favorite from the Irish craft beers on tap. Live music sessions nightly will keep your toes tapping, and we enjoyed the new rooftop beer garden. Fish and chips on your plate and a Guinness in hand, real Dublin doesn’t get much better than this.

    5. The Winding Stair. If you’d rather have a quiet night, Winding Stair on Ormond Quay is upscale Irish with a twist. This restaurant and bookshop has been a popular haunt among writers since the 1970s. With views across the Liffey by Ha’penny Bridge, the upstairs dining room serves up simple, rich dishes with a farm-fresh, organic bent. Traditional Irish foods get an indulgent makeover, like seafood chowder with chorizo and treacle bread, and artisanal, hand-smoked fish. Be sure to budget extra time before dinner to browse through the bookshop’s selection of new and used books.
  • On July 3, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to stay in Dublin?

    From gorgeous Georgian luxury resorts to charming boutique hotels, you’ll be spoiled for choice when looking for a place to stay in Dublin. Forbes Travel Guide editors have done the footwork for you and narrowed it down to the best five:


    1. The Shelbourne Hotel. In Dublin’s fair city, it doesn’t get much prettier than this luxurious gateway to St. Stephen’s Green and prime shopping on Grafton Street. The Shelbourne Hotel, now a Renaissance property, was built in 1824. A museum in the lobby commemorates notable historic events, including the drafting of the Irish constitution in 1922. Take advantage of the hotel’s Genealogy Butler, who can help you track down your family’s Irish roots in under an hour in the comfort of silk-covered walls and chandeliers.

    2. The Westbury. If you’re looking for a luxe place to stay with modern design and amenities in central Dublin, you’ve found your spot. The 205-room resort is just off Grafton Street, smack dab between Trinity College and the Temple Bar nightlife. After the hotel’s recent renovations, rooms come decked out with Lissadell bed linens, Sealy beds and Aromatherapy Associates bath products. Head to the hotel’s restaurant Wilde for a bite to eat or spend some time in The Gallery for afternoon tea and a jaw-dropping view of Grafton Street.

    3. The Merrion Hotel. This impeccably stylish hotel is Georgian Dublin at its finest. Just steps away from The National Gallery and The National Museum of Ireland, The Merrion comprises four connected Georgian townhouses. Consisting of 123 rooms and 19 suites, the interior design utilizes Irish antiques and fabrics to complement the original architecture. The hotel houses one of the city’s best private collections of 19th- and 20th-century art, which you can admire over afternoon tea. If you’d prefer to relax outside, the choice is yours between its two landscaped period gardens. P.S.: President Obama stayed here.

    4. Dylan Hotel. For a chic, boutique Dublin experience, check out the 44-room Dylan Hotel in Dublin’s City Centre. The rooms are stocked with modern amenities such as Frette linens on Seventh Heaven beds, Etro bath products, Bang & Olufsen phones, Bose iPod docking stations and Philips LCD televisions. But the décor is from the past— take note of the Murano glass chandeliers and custom antique-style furnishings throughout. After soaking up the new-meets-old style, head to Dylan’s hip pewter bar for their signature cocktail — a mix of vanilla vodka, Galliano, dark crème de cacao and crème de banane topped with pineapple and grapefruit.

    5. Four Seasons Hotel Dublin. Tucked in the chic residential neighborhood of Ballsbridge (home to most of Ireland’s embassies and consulates), the Four Seasons Hotel Dublin is a traditional hotel that’s a favorite with groups and business travelers. But with its spacious rooms, full-service spa, reliably polished service and traditional offerings like afternoon tea in the attractive antique-filled Lobby Lounge (if you’re more of a modernist, try a cocktail in the contemporary ICE bar), this full-service hotel is a good choice for any kind of traveler.