Dublin is a small city. But in a place so literally colorful and also rich with character and history, boredom becomes nearly impossible.
I’m sure you’ve heard thrilling accounts of days at the Guinness factory or nights out in Temple Bar, but in my opinion it’d be wise to check off Dublin’s special staples without getting too caught up in tourist traps so you don’t become overwhelmed. Grab a friend or go it alone; you’ll get to know the city in no time.
(Full Irish) Breakfast:
You’ll need an early start and a belly full of fried Irish food to begin. The Full Irish breakfast consists of two fried eggs, thick bacon rashers, Irish sausage, black pudding, white pudding, beans, sautéed mushrooms, half a fried tomato and a piece of buttered toast. You’ll be full for a while.
You can grab the Full Irish at any pub, café or restaurant, but Kingfisher on O’Connell Street and Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street are famous for their fry-ups, both of which are on the city center’s main drags, so you can look into all the shops on your way in and out. If you’re on O’Connell Street, get some history in early – check out the bullet holes on the General Post Office left from the Easter Rising in 1916. And right across from the GPO is the Spire of Dublin, a 400-foot pin-like monument of stainless steel, which people often use as a meeting point.
If you want a lighter breakfast, I recommend a bakery nearby on Dame Street called Queen of Tarts. Good food, delicious baked goods, healthy options, a friendly staff and a charming atmosphere.
Saint Stephen’s Green:
If you want to digest a bit before you get some of the heavy duty exploring in, I recommend a stroll through the lovely Saint Stephen’s Green by Grafton Street. The 22-acre park is one of Dublin city’s Georgian garden squares, and is a relaxing area. There are many historically relevant statues, and lots of tributes to Ireland’s legendary writers: the Yeats garden, a statue of Henry Moore, a bust of Oscar Wilde and many more monuments and historical sculptures to pose with. There is also a garden for the blind with signs in braille and aromatic plants that can be handled. Take a look in the Saint Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre right next to it, too – lots of good shops and a generally beautiful structure.
Trinity College Dublin:
The university is like a giant museum in itself. In the exact geographical center of Dublin, the TCD campus is a little world all its own. Once you enter through the gates it’s suddenly quiet: somehow the hustle and bustle disappears and you can look up at the beautiful stone buildings with their thick columns, the cobble grounds and more sculptures. If you ask any of the students they’ll tell you about some of the funny superstitions that go along with the structure—like if anyone walks under the bell tower as it tolls, they’ll fail all their exams.
This alma mater of Wilde, Berkeley, Swift and more intellectual legends is home to the most magical library in existence – I’d say it surpasses J.K. Rowling proportions. You can take a tour of the long room and have a look at many historical texts behind glass, most notably of course The Book of Kells, for which you may have to wait on a short line to see. They turn a page each night, so stick around if you can read Latin.
While you’re at Trinity, if weather permits, stop by The Pav—the campus pub. It has a huge grassy meadow in front for you to lie under the sun and enjoy a snack or pint. This may be a good time to have your first real Guinness. A life-changing ordeal!
Chicken Fillet Roll on the Liffey:
Right outside of Trinity there’s a small hole-in-the-wall convenience store called Maguires that happens to have the best chicken fillet roll around. Now that’s fillet pronounced ‘fillit.’ You can’t leave Dublin without having one. It’s as simple as a breaded chicken fillet on a long roll with either butter or mayonnaise and toppings of your choice. Somehow they’re unimaginably addicting. You can also easily split it with your travel buddy – they’re really big!
Now I know a lot of the things I’m suggesting seem sort of lazy, but for me, the spirit of Dublin lies in its characters and general surroundings – I would prefer just walking around and seeing things for myself rather than taking a huge informational tour.
Walk over to the River Liffey and you can enjoy your lunch on one of the benches. Each of the bridges connecting north and south Dublin has its own name and story, and there are plenty of characters and shops all around. Take a look at all of the colorful houses and Georgian doors with numbers and knobs that are a little off kilter. Truly stunning. Right in the area are a couple of great flea markets and crafts stands as well – Temple Bar has a bunch, and there’s a great music venue by the river called the Grand Social that has a killer flea market by day.
You’ll find the Jameson distillery on the north side – it’s not as kitschy or touristy as the Guinness factory, and it should make for a good lesson about the prized drink. You’ll learn all about its Triple Distillation and go on a thorough guided tour which culminate in a complimentary glass of Jameson and a “Qualified Irish Whiskey Taster” certificate.
You’d be very lucky if you could snag a couple of tickets to a GAA match at Croke Park, within walking distance of the distillery. Now hopefully the Garth Brooks fiasco hasn’t forever tainted the name of the arena, because it’s a perfect place to ease into the rowdier spirit of Dublin before you head out on your nighttime adventures.
I realize that I’ve been suggesting lots of heavy, unhealthy foods, but on a short visit Dublin, why not get a quick chipper for dinner!
Stationed all over the city, chippers are Dublin’s traditional version of a fast food joint. They sell battered everything: sausages, mushrooms, burgers, etc. Dublin’s famous Leo Burdock on Werburgh Street has been around since 1913 and is a true staple. They have their special fish and chips, which you should probably try, though the batter is a little intensely thick. Say yes when they ask if you want salt and vinegar on your chips, and if you order onion rings, prepare to have them be the size of your face. My favorite chipper was a tiny one on Pearse Street called the Lido – there was always a line out the door with a huge range of people from gaggles of teenage girls to serious looking businessmen.
Dublin nightlife, like anywhere else, can be whatever you want it to be. You can always chill out in an understated pub and have a chat with the bartender, drink a perfect pint and soak it all in. My favorite one was The Ginger Man on Fenian Street. You’ll have no problem striking up a conversation with anyone. And just by keeping your ears open you can surely find a bar with live music, traditional Irish or otherwise.
If you don’t want to skip out on the party, there’s no shortage of fun clubs to check out. The Workman’s Club (known as Workman’s) on Wellington Quay has a young crowd, and is a great place to start. Lots of University students hang out there and have the craic over a few drinks in the heated back area. Concerts happen downstairs a lot as well. I love Workman’s because it’s everything you want out of a club without the cheesy music – you’ll find a more ‘alternative’ crowd there, dancing about to Paul Simon or the Arctic Monkeys.
Head over to Pygmalion on William Street South—another interesting club. There’s always a flock outside on and around comfy chairs, and inside you’ll find more lounge-like seating, chill club music, a huge bar and a smaller dance floor room. I feel like I could always go to Pygmalion and find someone I knew there.
The last two stops often come in a pair. By now I think you’ll be getting pretty hyped up to go dancing (or, at least I would be), so head over to Flannery’s on Camden Street Lower. It’s quite loud in here and very high energy – it’s also a good mixture between a bar and a club. Lots of sports fans cheering at the TVs, lots of people dancing, and of course an amazing outside back area. You’ll find so many different types of people here, all ready to scoop you up and share stories and dance with you all the way to … Copper’s.
Yes, I went there.
You have to go to Copper’s! I’m preparing to get some flak for this one. It has quite the laughable reputation for being the seediest place in town where people go to “get the shift.” But in all honesty, if you go with a group of friends, you can shamelessly shout and dance to cheesy music all night without a care in the world, plus it’s one of the only places around that’s open super late. I wouldn’t recommend being recognized as a regular here, but it’s surely an experience to be had. And right before closing at 4:30 am, they put on ‘Shipping up to Boston’ by the Dropkick Murphys and then something magical happens. People stop whatever they’re doing to flock to the center of the room and jump, stomp and dance, and there will surely be some Irish dancing showoffs, however sloppy. You’ve got to love it.
After I studied abroad in Dublin, I decided to stay three extra months through the summer. I was never actually ready to leave – you won’t find a more uniquely comforting atmosphere that has constant excitement at the same time. These few stops are just the beginning, but a great introduction to the glorious city.
Have you spent time in Dublin as a student? What are your cant-miss activities or attractions?