Dublin is home to the most museums in all of Ireland, with nearly 40 spread across the city. 

The Irish capital boasts many of the country’s most notable “national” collections – the National Gallery (for art), the National Museum (for archeology), the National Library (for rare books) – and each of them very much merit a visit. Yet the best museums to really understand the character of the city and indeed the country range farther afield, offering exhibits covering such topics as emigration, the Viking era, the Easter Rising and a famous literary genius. 

Here are our picks of the best museums in Dublin.

Anyone with Irish roots will love EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

With some 10 million having left the island since 1800, the Irish form one of the world’s great diasporas – and it’s worth spending some time to contemplate how this story of emigration has shaped both the wider world and Ireland itself. EPIC showcases the stories, successes and struggles this vast community has faced, and proves that emigration is not always about what people leave behind, but rather what they bring from their native country to new frontiers. 

Set in the vaults of the splendid Custom House building, this interactive, award-winning museum has 20 interconnecting galleries detailing different migration-related themes from throughout Ireland’s history, including up to the present day. Visitors will learn about more than 300 of the country’s proudest exports, and their achievements across entertainment, sports, politics, literature, art, fashion and science. Ever wondered about your own Irish heritage? Visitors can trace their family ancestry at the Irish Family History Centre located within the museum: book one-to-one appointments in-person, or even schedule a video conference call from home. 

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

Dublinia vividly evokes the city’s ancient past

This fun museum lets visitors travel back to the city’s literal foundations, to the time of the Vikings and their medieval descendants. Today’s modern metropolis was originally a Viking settlement known as Dubh Linn (which loosely translates to “black pool”) built on the banks of the what we today call the River Liffey. Explore what life was like on board a Viking warship, marvel at these warriors’ weaponry and even try on their clothing as you immerse yourself in the myths and mysteries, sights, sounds and even smells of Viking and medieval Dublin.

A special combination ticket (only available for purchase at Dublinia’s on-site ticket desk) grants additional access to Christ Church Cathedral and its incredible medieval crypt via a striking neo-Gothic archway connecting the two spaces. And don’t leave Dublinia without climbing the 96 steps of the original medieval tower for a spectacular view of the city.

After your visit, we recommend going across the road afterward to order some proper chips at Leo Burdock’s, followed by a pint at The Lord Edward next door.

The Chester Beatty Library, which celebrates the arts of world cultures, in Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland
The Chester Beatty Library at Dublin Castle exhibits art and artifacts of cultures from around the world © noel bennett / Getty Images

Many cultures come to life at the Chester Beatty Library

Set within the historic grounds of Dublin Castle, the Chester Beatty Library promotes the understanding and appreciation of world cultures and religions. Philanthropist Alfred Chester Beatty bequeathed his private collection of more than 20,000 objects to the Irish State in 1968; today, the galleries here open with an overview of the collector’s life before showcasing masterpieces from Mughal India, Persia, the Ottoman Empire, Japan and China. On the second floor, visitors can learn about the rites, rituals and sacred texts of major world religions through exquisite objects, including ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls and one of Europe’s finest collection of Qurans. 

You’re sure to encounter memorable pieces wandering around by yourself – though free, informal, hour-long guided tours for small groups are available on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. (These must be booked in advance.) A visit isn’t complete without making your way to the Silk Road Café in the library’s atrium, which was built as a clock tower in the 18th century. True to its name, the cafe offers a menu with heavy Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences, with many vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. 

The GPO Witness History Museum tells the story of Irish independence

The 1916 Easter Rising set in motion the chain of events that led to the creation of the Republic of Ireland. Located on O’Connell Street, the Northside’s main thoroughfare, the General Post Office (GPO) was the key bastion and command center for this seminal rebellion. Today, it’s a place of commemoration and a symbol of Irish freedom – while still functioning as the headquarters of the country’s postal service.

The GPO Witness History Museum opened in 2016 to coincide with the Rising’s centenary. The hour-long, self-guided exhibition brings this fascinating history to life through testimonials and memorabilia from ordinary and notable Dubliners of the era. The centerpiece screening, which puts visitors at the heart of the action, is not to be missed.

Two people at the entrance to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin
The Hugh Lane Gallery exhibits modern and contemporary art in a beautiful 18th-century Georgian mansion © yykkaa / Shutterstock

Exciting contemporary art and a one-of-a-kind studio installation await at Hugh Lane Gallery

Opened in 1908 by Cork-born gallerist Hugh Lane in a beautiful mid-18th century Georgian mansion on Parnell Square North, this groundbreaking museum is the world’s oldest public gallery for modern art. Over the last century, both the space and collection have been continually enhanced, updated and expanded.

The highlight here is the Francis Bacon Studio, an assemblage of more than 7000 of the artist’s objects that exactly recreates the artist’s chaotic workspace in London. The gallery also displays the gift of eight abstract paintings by acclaimed Irish artist Sean Scully, as well as Harry Clarke’s resplendent stained-glass depiction of The Eve of St Agnes. Exploring Dublin on a Sunday afternoon? Pop in for one of the free public tours led by a team of art historians.

Ordinary Dubliners are the curators at the Little Museum of Dublin 

With an enviable location right on St Stephen’s Green, one of Dublin’s smallest museums has a big heart and buckets of personality. Set in a handsome 18th-century Georgian townhouse, this award-winning attraction is made up of diverse donations from the public, which together tell the story of the city through the 20th century. 

A somewhat chaotic mishmash of memorabilia has been carefully curated to reflect the vibrant, multicultural city Dublin has become. The popular, hourly guided tours are always entertaining and add more context and depth to your encounter with the collection. What’s more, every day at 11:30am the museum expands outdoors, with a Green Mile Walking Tour of St Stephen’s Green.

Deer graze on a lawn in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, in front of the Irish President’s residence, Áras an Uachtaráin
Visitors can enjoy tours of Áras an Uachtaráin, the Irish president’s residence – and the deer who reside in the Phoenix Park, just outside © Fotoaray / Shutterstock

Áras an Uachtaráin offers a glimpse into the halls of power

Even many Dubliners aren’t aware that there are weekly tours inside the president of Ireland’s official residence. Though not as palatial as certain of its European counterparts, the Áras an Uachtaráin (“house of the President”) is remarkably for its subtle architecture and superb setting: on Chesterfield Ave within the Phoenix Park, one of Europe’s largest enclosed city parks. 

Dating back to the middle of the 18th century, the building has been used as both the presidential office and private residence by every president of Ireland since 1938. The 75-minute guided tour offers a unique chance to experience the main reception and state rooms. Free of charge, the tours run several times most Saturdays, but are strictly offered on a first-come-first-served basis. Take your chances turning up at the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre and you may get lucky; always check ahead to ensure they’re running that day.

If you miss out on a space, take advantage of the other options on offer in the expansive Phoenix Park: take a trip to Dublin Zoo; admire the largest obelisk in Europe, the 62m-tall Wellington Monument; or spot some of the herd of wild fallow deer (originally the space was used as a royal hunting park). On a sunny day, the Phoenix Park is also perfect for an impromptu picnic.

The Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) is perfect to visit on Bloomsday (or any day)

An essential stop for fans of James Joyce, this museum’s permanent collection centers on different aspects of the modernist master’s work and includes “Copy No. 1” of Ulysses. Other groundbreaking authors get a spotlight in the temporary exhibitions, which recently included shows on Samuel Beckett and Nuala O’Faolain. 

Why, you might wonder, is the lowercase “o” included in the abbreviation of the name of the museum? Well, instead of just abbreviating to MLI, MoLI pays a fitting homage to a certain Molly Bloom.

You might also like:
Where to find 'read' traditional Irish music in Dublin
Best places to eat in Dublin in 2022
The top 25 things to do in Dublin

Explore related stories

Woman Photographing at Smerwick Harbor during a wonderful sunrise.


10 unmissable places to visit in Ireland

Mar 5, 2024 • 9 min read