Wherever you walk in Dublin, there's some kind of story to be found. And in the city's sculpted Georgian squares and sprawling green spaces you'll learn a lot about its people. Dubliners love any excuse to gather outdoors, especially when the sun is shining. So when you've peeled yourself away from the museums, galleries, restaurants and distilleries, find a park to relax in and watch the stories unfold from the comfort of your picnic blanket.
Best park for families, cycling and wildlife
Measuring 709 glorious hectares, Phoenix Park is one of the world’s largest city parks; you’ll find joggers, grannies pushing buggies, ladies walking poodles, gardens, lakes, a sporting oval and 300 fallow deer. In summer, grab a spot amid the crowds of people in the grass by the Papal Cross, Waterloo Monument, Magazine Fort or Farmleigh. There are cricket and polo grounds, a motor-racing track, a Victorian tea room and some fine 18th-century residences in the Phoenix Park, including those of the Irish president and the US ambassador. It's also home to Dublin Zoo.
St Stephen's Green
Best park for picnics
Dublin's most popular city park is located on the southside of the city center, beside the Grafton St shopping district. The gloriously-green Victorian park boasts tree-lined paths, a cornucopia of floral delights and a lake that's home to mallard ducks, swans, moorhens and a variety of birds. The perimeter of the park is densely planted with trees to shelter it from the noise of the city, making it a peaceful place for a stroll. Several sculptures can be found in St Stephen's Green including the James Joyce Memorial Sculpture. Other highlights include a scented garden for people with visual impairments, the children's playground and the Bandstand. As a city center park it's intensely lived-in, especially on a sunny day but if you want to get to know Dublin, this is a lovely place to start.
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National Botanic Gardens
Best park for nature lovers
Founded in 1795, these 19.5-hectare botanic gardens are home to a series of curvilinear glasshouses, dating from 1843 to 1869 and created by Richard Turner, who was also responsible for the glasshouse at Belfast Botanic Gardens and the Palm House in London's Kew Gardens. Within these Victorian masterpieces, you will find the latest in botanical technology, including a series of computer-controlled climates reproducing environments from different parts of the world.
Best tranquil city park
These beautiful gardens may not have the sculpted elegance of the other city parks, but they never get too crowded and the warden won't bark at you if you walk on the grass. They were designed by Ninian Niven in 1863 as the private grounds of Iveagh House and include a rustic grotto, a cascade, a fountain, a maze and a rosarium. In summer, the park hosts concerts and comedy and food festivals.
Best park for a date
The grounds of Trinity College are open to the public and on a sunny day you’ll find bodies sprawled out at the edge of the cricket grounds, on the grass beside the Pavilion Bar (The Pav) on the south-eastern corner of the campus. The bar is the clubhouse of the college, a bright and airy space that’s open to anyone who wants a drink or a bite of food. When the weather is good, most people take their drinks and snacks to the cricket grounds, transforming them into Dublin’s biggest unofficial beer garden.
Best park for toddlers
Merrion Square is the most prestigious and, arguably, the most elegant of Dublin's Georgian squares. Its well-kept lawns and tended flower beds are flanked on three sides by gorgeous Georgian houses with colorful doors, peacock fanlights, ornate door knockers and, occasionally, foot-scrapers, used to remove mud from shoes. Over the past two centuries, they've been used by some notable residents. The square, laid out in 1762, is bordered on its fourth side by the National Gallery and Leinster House. Just inside the northwestern corner of the square is a colorful statue of Oscar Wilde. The playground here doesn't get as busy as the one in nearby St Stephen's Green so it's a good spot for toddlers.
Killiney Hill Park
Best park for hiking
This is another park outside the city center but we couldn’t resist sneaking it in because the views here are spectacular. It takes about 30 minutes to reach Killiney Hill Park by train or bus from the city center. Comprising Killiney Hill and Dalkey Hill, this postcard-perfect park is a popular spot for hikers and overlooks the affluent villages of Killiney and Dalkey. On a clear day, you’ll be treated to views of Dublin and Bray Head and, if you’re really lucky, across the Irish Sea to Wales.
Read more: How to get around in Dublin
The People's Park
Best park for food markets
This park is outside the city in the seaside suburb of Dun Laoghaire but is well worth the train journey there. It hosts a popular Sunday food market where you’ll find organic vegetables, local seafood and Irish fruit and farm cheeses among other tasty artisan produce. There are usually street performers or musicians on hand to entertain visitors. Grab a slice of Neapolitan pizza or a wine and cheese board and enjoy a day of people-watching before hitting the promenade or pier for a sunset stroll.
The Castle Gardens
Best park for reading a book
Just off Dame St in Dublin's city center, this small and well-maintained park on the grounds of Dublin Castle is a great place to stop and and relax after visiting the castle or the nearby Chester Beatty Library. The main Dubh Linn garden is on the site of the original Black Pool where Dublin got its name; Dubh meaning black and Linn meaning pool in Irish. The garden is flanked by the medieval castle walls and surrounded by smaller memorial gardens.
Irish National War Memorial Gardens
Best park to escape the crowds
Hardly anyone ever ventures this far west, but they're missing a lovely bit of landscaping in the shape of the War Memorial Gardens – by our reckoning as pleasant a patch of greenery as any you'll find in the heart of the Georgian center. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial commemorates the 49,400 Irish soldiers who died during WWI – their names are inscribed in the two huge granite bookrooms that stand at one end.
Best park for dogs
A gorgeous swathe of green lawns, ponds and flower beds near the Royal Dublin Society Showground. Sandwiched between leafy Ballsbridge and Donnybrook, the park runs along the River Dodder and is a great spot for dog walkers. There are tennis, boules and croquet courts and a kids’ playground here too. Herbert Park is also Dublin’s prime cherry blossom destination, boasting the highest number of cherry trees in the capital. It's close to the Aviva Stadium, home to Ireland's national rugby and football (soccer) teams, making it a great place for a stroll after before or after a match.
St Patrick's Park
Best park for lunch with a view
At the edge of the historic Liberties district, St Patrick’s Park is a lovely place to rest your feet on the walk back to the city center from the Guinness Storehouse or one of the whiskey distilleries in the Liberties. Stop here for a takeaway lunch from one of the many cafes nearby and find a spot by the medieval St Patrick’s Cathedral. It's believed that on the park grounds St Patrick baptized the first Christians in Ireland more than 1500 years ago. Now the park features landscaped gardens, a children’s playground and a Literary Parade – bronze plaques that commemorate the work of Irish authors including Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, WB Yeats, Jonathan Swift and more.
Blessington Street Basin
Best hidden gem
Dublin’s ‘secret garden’, this charming little park is just a 15-minute walk from O’Connell Street in Phibsborough, one of Dublin’s trendiest suburbs. Referenced in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the park is home to a former reservoir turned “duck pond” where you’ll find swans, Mandarin ducks, moorhens, wood ducks, grey herons and some surprise visitors. Three of the best places in Dublin for a coffee are all within walking distance: Two Boys Brew, Clement & Pekoe and Bang Bang. Grab a cup and sit on a picnic bench to watch the ducks at feeding time or take a stroll through the additional parks at the opposite end of the main entrance.
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