Ireland’s capital and largest city by far, Dublin is one of those places that you either get straight away or spend a lifetime trying to figure out. It’s not the prettiest city, but Dubliners will remind you that pretty things are as easy to like as they are to forget…before showing you the showstopper Georgian bits to prove that Dublin has a fine line in sophisticated elegance.

There’s a collection of museums as fine as you’ll find in any European capital and one of the world’s most beautiful university campuses. There’s incredible food and a collection of authentic pubs that have spawned imitators from Miami to Mongolia.

There’s whiskey and old prisons, ancient books and beautiful monuments. In Dublin, you’ll find something that will tickle your fancy. And when you’re done, there’s always the world’s greatest beer, brewed right here for the last 300 years.  

Whether it’s your first visit to Dublin or your 20th, this is a city that keeps on giving. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Spend some time in a traditional Dublin pub

In all likelihood, you don’t need us to tell you that the pub is a quintessential Dublin experience, but here we are. It’s where you’ll meet Dubliners at their convivial, easy-going best and get a sense of what makes this city tick. There are few Dublin institutions so fawned over and written about as the traditional pub – probably because so many of the city’s best-known writers were regulars in them.

In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom muses that 'a good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub,' to which the only logical answer is that it can be done…by going into everyone you see. Given that there are around 800 of them spread about the city it’s probably not the wisest thing to do if liver function is important to you, but there are a bunch of them that will make your Dublin stay all the more memorable. One of my favorites is John Mulligan of Poolbeg Street, which was also a favorite of Leopold Bloom’s creator, James Joyce.  

Trinity College, Dublin
Walk in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett at Trinity College  © David Soanes Photography / Getty Images

2. Walk the cobbles of Trinity College

Since its foundation in 1592, Trinity College has become one of the world’s most famous universities; it's the alma mater of Swift, Wilde and Beckett; it's where you'll find the most beautiful library in the whole country and the home of the world’s most famous illuminated Gospel, the Book of Kells. The library’s 200,000 books have been removed as part of a landmark restoration project, but the consolation prize is an enhanced digital experience that tells the story of the Book of Kells in dramatic, impressive detail. Trinity’s 16 hectares are an oasis of aesthetic elegance, its cobbled quadrangles lined with handsome neoclassical buildings that lend an air of magisterial calm to the campus, evident as soon as you walk through Front Arch.

Local tip: If you’re visiting during the summer – ie outside of term time – you can stay in student accommodation for a fraction of the cost of a hotel on the other side of the walls. See

3. Peruse modern art and messy studios at the Dublin City Gallery – the Hugh Lane

Hanging on the walls of a magnificent Georgian pile is arguably the city’s finest collection of modern and contemporary art, which runs the gamut from impressionist masterpieces (Degas, Monet, Manet et al) to Irish artists such as Dorothy Cross and Sean Scully as well as a collection of stained-glass windows by Harry Clarke. The Dublin City Gallery (aka the Hugh Lane, after its founder)’s most visited installation, however, is Dublin-born Francis Bacon’s actual London studio, brought over piece by piece and painstakingly reassembled in all its glorious mess – you can't step inside it but you can observe exactly how the artist lived and worked, down to the minute details.

Check out these budget-friendly tips for Dublin.

Entrance to the Irish Whiskey Museum, Dublin
Taste a wee dram or two at the Irish Whiskey Museum © Piotr Koscielniak / Getty Images

4. Dive into Dublin’s distilleries

Did you know that Dublin was once the epicenter of the global whiskey industry? The industry went kaput throughout the 20th century, but it’s slowly making a major resurgence, not least in the Liberties, once known as the Golden Triangle for the number of distilleries in operation there. Today, there are four: Teeling Distillery, the first new producer in the city for 125 years; Pearse Lyons Distillery, in an old church; the Dublin Liberties Distillery in a 400-year-old former mill and tannery; and the return of Roe & Co, which was once the world’s largest producer of whiskey, inside the old Guinness Power Station. On the other side of the Liffey, the old Jameson Distillery is now one of the city’s most popular attractions, while if you want to do some pretty serious tastings, there’s the Irish Whiskey Museum near Trinity College.

5. Explore the exquisite collection at the Chester Beatty

Alfred Chester Beatty was a mining magnate with exceedingly good taste, and the fruit of his aesthetic sensibility is gathered in this remarkable museum. Books, manuscripts and scrolls were his particular love, and his collection includes the world's second-oldest biblical fragment and a collection of Qurans from the 9th to the 19th centuries that is considered among the best example of illuminated Islamic texts in the world. Other treasures include ancient Egyptian texts on papyrus, intricately designed little medicine boxes and perhaps the finest selection of Chinese jade books on the planet. Keep an eye on the calendar of events – it regularly runs qigong workshops on the rooftop garden, as well as sound baths and meditation sessions.

6. Drink a Guinness where it’s made

You didn’t think we’d ignore arguably the world’s most famous brewery and the number one tourist attraction in the city, did you? Guinness is more than a beer, and you’ll get a pretty good sense of how much more it is during a visit to the seven-story Guinness Storehouse. Along the way you’ll learn how the beer is made (there are a couple of add-on, hands-on experiences to really deepen that knowledge), the role of the company in Dublin’s fortunes and how it became the global brand it is today.  The top floor is an atrium bar, where you put the theory to the test and drink a pint; just below it is an excellent spot for lunch.

Local tip: The Guinness in the atrium bar is excellent, but the best Guinness comes with atmosphere; you’ll find the best of it in a traditional bar (see above).

Empty interior of Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
A tour of Kilmainham Gaol brings to life the story of the struggle for Irish Independence © Rodrigo Garrido / Shutterstock

7. Go to prison to uncover Ireland’s struggles

Ireland’s struggle for independence was a bloody and tempestuous journey, and this forbidding prison on the western edge of the city played a role in it for nearly 150 years, as the forced temporary home of many a rebel and revolutionary. Unoccupied since 1924, Kilmainham Gaol is now a museum with an enthralling exhibit on the history of Irish nationalism. The guided tour of its grim cells and corridors is highly memorable and it finishes in the yard where the leaders of the failed 1916 Easter Rising were executed.

Planning tip: Book your tickets online to avoid being disappointed by sold-out tours; also best to book for an early morning tour as you’ll be waiting for less time.

8. Learn the history of Dublin…from Dubliners

With a collection donated entirely by the general public, the award-winning Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen’s Green is a surprising blockbuster. The memorabilia is quirky enough – it includes a lectern used by JFK during his visit in 1963 and the fateful letter given to the Irish delegation during the negotiations that ended Ireland’s War of Independence in 1921 (and whose inherent contradictions led indirectly to the Civil War the next year) – but it’s a brilliant way of getting a potted history of the city. There’s even a whole floor dedicated to U2. Visits are by guided tour only, but they’re great fun.  

Planning tip: The museum runs great tours beyond its walls, including a daily walking tour of St Stephen's Green, as well as a themed weekly tour telling the story of Ireland's influential women.

Dinosaur bones and taxidermied animals on display inside the National Museum of Ireland.
The Victorian-era Natural History Museum is free and fun for all the family © BOULENGER Xavier / Shutterstock

9. Immerse yourself in culture at the National Museum of Ireland

Ireland’s most important cultural institution is the National Museum of Ireland, which has four branches nationwide – three of which are in Dublin. The National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology on Kildare Street is the most significant, with an extraordinary collection of Celtic and early Christian gold as well as the macabre ‘bog bodies’ – four Iron Age figures in various states of preservation. On the other side of the Liffey, just off the quays, is the Decorative Arts & History branch, housed in a beautiful 18th century barracks. On Merrion Square is the Natural History Museum, affectionately known as the ‘Dead Zoo.’  

10. Eat your fill and go back for more in Dublin’s dining scene

The choice of restaurants in Dublin has never been better. Every cuisine and every trend – from doughnuts on the run to kale with absolutely everything – is catered for, as the city seeks to satisfy the discerning taste buds of its diners. From Neapolitan style pizza at Sano to Michelin-starred feasts at Chapter One, you’ll find something for every mood and budget. One of the more popular trends in 2024 was for KFC – no, not that kind, but Korean Fried Chicken – with a bunch of authentic spots opening up all over town. One of my favorites is White Rabbit on Capel St, not-so-hidden in the back of a Korean grocery store.  

Planning tip: It can be pretty tough to get a table at the trendiest spots in town, so book well in advance – two weeks if possible, but months if you’re looking for a Michelin-starred meal.

Fishing boats docked in Howth Harbour, Dublin
Go beyond the urban center to see a different side of Dublin © Getty Images / iStockphoto

11. Get thee to Howth

Dublin is on the sea, and some of the city’s loveliest neighbourhoods are standalone villages worth exploring, not least the fishing village of Howth, at the end of the DART train line to the north. The village itself is gorgeous, built around a busy pier and packed with restaurants serving the freshest of fresh catch, but the real treat is the Howth Cliff Path Walk, a 6km (3.7 mile) loop that takes you over the headland for gorgeous views over the grassy slopes to the sea. If you want to do a proper hike, there are longer routes that lead to the Baily Lighthouse and back over rough, mountainous terrain.

Local tip: On weekends and bank holidays, the Howth Market sells a huge selection of organic produce and baked goods as well as handicrafts.

Navigate like a local with these tips for getting around.

12. Time travel at Marsh’s Library

OK, so the Book of Kells and the Old Library are way more famous, and way more visited, but that makes Marsh’s Library – on a side street by St Patrick’s Cathedral, all the more worthwhile. The magnificently preserved scholars' library founded by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh in 1701 has barely changed a jot since then: atop its ancient stairs are beautiful dark-oak bookcases filled with 25,000 books from the 16th century to the early 18th century, as well as maps, manuscripts (including one in Latin dating from 1400) and a collection of incunabula (books printed before 1500).

Local tip: When you walk from the first hall into the second, strike up a conversation with the resident librarians. They can tell you their personal theories (or experiences) of the resident ghost and show you the spines of the books bearing bullet holes from the 1916 Easter Rising.

This article was first published Apr 18, 2018 and updated Apr 10, 2024.

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