One of the first real conversations I had with the (middle-aged, male) college professor who accompanied my student group to Ireland concerned the Molly Malone statue at the end of Grafton St. in Dublin, a feature of our daily walk to class. My professor was the one who brought it up:
“I mean, it’s borderline pornographic! Those breasts! It’s a fetishization of poverty!” he said.
I decided the academic route was the best approach to the professorial situation at hand, and so we had a conversation including the words: “fetishization,” “socioeconomic status,” and “sexualized persona.” Probably better than a conversation about the statue’s breasts.
(Hi, Professor! Had a great time with you in Dublin!)
So, the Molly Malone statue is overrated - at least for the heterosexual female. But what else to see in Dublin? We tried many of the tourist traps, and decided which were worth seeing and which weren’t. Particular favourites are italicized.
Another tip - don’t just go to Ireland to see Dublin. Take day trips, or longer trips, to find the most beautiful countryside I, at least, have ever seen (also listed here). And finally, if you want to really learn about Ireland, find some friendly people (perhaps at a pub)and strike up a conversation.
Temple Bar -
Everyone will ask if you’ve been here. This is a district of expensive pubs that cater to tourists, and older men who want to meet tourists. If you feel like a visit, try the eponymous Temple Bar pub itself.
Dublin Castle -
The best part of the Dublin Castle tour is seeing the foundations of the city wall from the Norman period. That said, I didn’t go on the tour until over halfway through my stay in Dublin; it’s not essential to getting a feel for the place.
Walk around off the beaten path. Literally, walk through the fields. Also it plays host to Dublin’s excellent zoo, with playful orangutans.
If you’re short on time, you can live without the tours and just sample some of the good stuff in any pub. But the tours are classic features of a Dublin visit.
National Museum of Ireland (Archaeology) -
Go see the Iron Age bog bodies.
If you’re a literature buff, check out the WB Yeats exhibit.
Trinity College - Old Library and Book of Kells -
To our disappointment, students can’t study in the Old Library, but it’s still one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever seen. If you make friends with a Trinity student, they can take you in for free.
Once you’ve done that, take some time to wander around campus. The buildings are lovely - except for the Arts bloc and the Berkeley-Lecky-Ussher library, which look like a Stalinist prison. It’s difficult to find photos of the Arts bloc, probably because no one wants to look at it for too long.
General Post Office -
Look for bullet marks at the GPO (O’Connell St), left over from the 1916 Easter Rising.
Read up on your history before you go.
Abbey Theatre, Gate Theatre, Gaiety Theatre -
Go see a play at one of these historic theatres. If you visit in the Fall, take advantage of the Dublin Theatre Festival, during which I saw two of the best plays I’ve ever seen.
Day Trips -
County Wicklow - Grab a tourist bus and visit the Avoca headquarters, or take Dublin bus to Enniskerry and explore the Powerscourt House grounds. No need to pay the admission fee to walk the beautiful park approach to the house.
The Wicklow Way trail runs from Marlay Park in Dublin to Clonegal, a week-long hike divisible into shorter sections.
See Wicklow Way Bus for a shuttle service to facilitate a day-hike.
You might want to make a longer trip to Killarney, but if you take a train early and come back late, you could do Killarney as a day trip.
Go biking in the national park- it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Bike rental shops are along the main street, and they’ll explain your route options. Don’t miss Ross Castle!
Longer Trips -
Sligo - Yeats county, beautiful and wild. Might be difficult to get around without a car or a tour bus. Also visit the Neolithic tombs.
The Aran Islands - You need at least an overnight stay if you’re coming from Dublin; ferries leave Galway in the morning and come back in the evening, so you have to start in Galway the morning of your trip.
Hostels are cheap, and you can easily explore Galway the evening you arrive. On the Aran Islands, rent bikes and ride around.
This is the stereotypical Ireland you’ve fantasized about, and one of the most solid bastions of the Irish language. The other most beautiful place I saw in Ireland (the first is Killarney). The cliffs off the island of Inis Mór compare well with the Cliffs of Moher, so although the tourism gods might curse you, I think you should skip the Cliffs of Moher and just do the Aran Islands if you only have time for one. On Inis Mór, definitely hike up to the prehistoric fort Dún Aonghasa, and definitely send your mom a knitting pattern from the island; the famous Irish clan patterns originated in the Aran Islands, although whether the clan patterns are authentic is in doubt.
Photo Gallery and Additional Commentary here:
PHOTOS - An American student's guide to the best tourist spots in Dublin slideshow