In this series, Lonely Planet's team of writers and editors answers your travel problems and provides tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. A question about where to find authentic and traditional pubs in Dublin that locals love has prompted Dublin-based Digital Editor, Sasha Brady, to weigh in.

Question: I'm traveling to Dublin for St Patrick's Day and will be there for a week doing some sightseeing. I'd love to add old-school and traditional pubs to my itinerary, places that look and feel like an Irish pub, not modern bars, and, most importantly, places that locals love. Some people have recommended pubs in the Temple Bar area, but I've also heard it's not a great place to meet locals.

Answer: Dublin is full of fantastic pubs with lots of character. You can find many local hangouts that also have that classic Irish pub vibe, places where the smell of beer and turf welcomes you as soon as you walk through the door, where the walls are adorned with vintage memorabilia – ranging from old matchboxes and faded postcards to glass bottles draped in melted candle wax – and ceramic pots and pans hang from the ceiling. 

A collage of images featuring traditional interiors from classic Irish pubs
L: Inside one of the dining rooms in Johnnie Fox's; M: Looking out of the Palace bar on a sunny day; R: Sitting by the fire in Johnnie Fox's © Sasha Brady / Lonely Planet

This might sound like a stereotype, but you really can find pubs like that in Dublin, maybe not with all those elements, but certainly with most of them. A prime example is Johnnie Fox's in the Dublin Mountains, which holds the (much disputed) title of Ireland's highest pub. It's been around since 1798 and is crammed with bric-a-brac and artifacts, like Edwardian costumes and Revolution-era posters. It definitely caters heavily to tourists, and everyone from Brad Pitt to the King of Spain has visited, but Dubliners love it too. It looks and feels distinctly Irish, so you'll get great photos here. Because of its layout, you'll quickly get talking to people, whether it's a family sitting down to Sunday dinner with live music or people returning from a hike.

Laid-back Victorian pubs

In the city center, you're spoiled for choice. One of my favorites is McDaid's, a subdued Victorian bar on Harry St with stained-glass windows and dark wood interiors. It used to be one of Irish writer Brendan Behan's favorite pubs, and interestingly, it was once the city morgue, adding to its moody ambiance. I also love Bowe's on Fleet St, which is all wood and brass with an excellent whiskey selection. It can be quiet during the day when you'll hear nothing but the rustling of a newspaper, but if you sit at the bar, you'll likely end up chatting with someone within minutes.

Another excellent Victorian-era recommendation is the Oval near the GPO, which my co-worker Ru Ogata loves. "When there are no sports on [the TV], it's usually nice and quiet, and I always get a seat, unlike a lot of the old Victorian-style pubs," she says. If you're looking for a pub with a similar relaxed vibe, where you can sit and chat without the roar of music, she also recommends Sheehan's near the Westbury Hotel because it's cozy and "never seems to be too busy," and Hartigan's, an inviting spot near St Stephen's Green and the Museum of Literature Ireland that describes itself as a "country pub in the city" and where the decor seemingly hasn't changed in years. The Long Hall on South Great George's St is a must-visit too, but aim for a weekday (you absolutely will not get a seat here at the weekend) when there's nobody around so you can appreciate how beautiful the interior is, which has been pretty much the same since the late 1800s.

Exterior of Grogans pub in Dublin with people gathered on the sunny front terrace
Grogans is a great place to chat to locals on a sunny day © Sasha Brady / Lonely Planet

Lively traditional city-center pubs

Just off Grafton St, you'll find Kehoes, a place everyone loves. This means it's often crowded, but the atmosphere is buzzy, and the staff are "nothing-is-too-much-trouble" friendly, even when the place is rammed. The interiors are weathered but well-kept, with faded couches that you'll easily sink into in the parlour room upstairs and a dusty piano that I've never seen in use. It's reputed to serve the best Guinness in town. Grogans receives similar praise for the quality of its stout. Known for its well-worn charm, many Dubliners claim there's no better spot than its front terrace on a sunny day. Dubs say this about many places, but I'll say this is true about Grogans. My colleague Alex Butler refers to it as "the people's living room," saying, "it attracts all sorts and is the one pub where I always end up chatting with strangers. It's great at any hour of the day, any time of the year."

The Stag's Head and the International are also incredibly lively and beloved local spots. You'll meet all sorts of interesting characters in both. The last time I was in the International, I met an older man who told me he had played piano for Barry Manilow and proceeded to show me stacks of sheet music for music he'd performed for other artists. In hindsight, I don't think any of his stories were true, surely Barry Manilow plays his own piano, but the tales were interesting enough at the time that I stayed and listened. That's the sort of vibe you can expect.

At some point, you might find yourself in Temple Bar, perhaps visiting well-known spots like the Temple Bar pub or Gogarty's. Although these places are fine, besides their exorbitant prices, they're not where you'll typically meet locals. Instead, consider heading to the Palace. My friend Josh calls it "the only authentic pub in Temple Bar." It's known for its literary history, having been a favorite of writers such as Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney, and Flann O'Brien. Head straight to the back room, which is a great people-watching spot. Or wander down the road to McNeill's on Capel Street. This is a tiny place with tight corners and narrow aisles so you'll likely have little choice but to spark conversation with the people shimmying up beside you. It started off as a music shop, about 200 years ago, and the music tradition is still strong with regular live trad sessions.

People gather in front of John Kavanagh's aka Gravediggers pub, in Dublin on a winter day
No matter the weather, you'll always find people gathered outside John Kavanagh's "The Gravediggers" pub© Sasha Brady / Lonely Planet

Cozy pubs that are worth the walk

Just outside the city center in Stoneybatter, about a five-minute walk from the Jameson Distillery, is Walshs. The pub is a favorite of the Lonely Planet Dublin office staff and we frequently take visitors there. Amy Lynch, the Destination Editor for Ireland, calls it her favorite pub in Dublin, noting, "great Guinness, always a good atmosphere and good tunes a few nights a week." However, when Walshs becomes too crowded to be fun, a short walk around the corner leads to Delaney's. My colleague Dan Bolger recommends this no-frills, traditional pub for its "laid-back atmosphere and a good mix of locals and students, comfortable seating, and excellent beer garden."

Not far from there is the Cobblestone, which most Dubliners consider one of the city's best traditional music pubs. Here, you can enjoy a drink while listening to the sounds of fiddles and bodhráns every night of the week — and it's easy to bond with the people around you when you're all wrapped up in the music playing in front of you. 

When you're on that side of the city, you should also call out to John Kavanagh's (about 15 minutes on the bus from the city center). Better known as the Gravediggers, this pub is built into the walls of Glasnevin Cemetery and close to the Botanic Gardens. It's always busy with regulars whom staff in the family-run pub know by name. Visitors to Dublin love it too and on a sunny day, people spill out on the front terrace in groups, making friends with strangers. I've spent some lovely Sunday afternoons there in deep conversation with tourists. It's equally inviting on a rainy day – the decor is the epitome of old-school Ireland, with rickety stools and swinging doors that open into traditional snugs, often with a fire burning and a dog to pet. 

Across the river, the Old Royal Oak, near Kilmainham Gaol and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, offers a similarly inviting and traditional "country-pub" ambiance in the city. In our guidebook to Ireland, we mention that "locals are fiercely protective of this gorgeous traditional pub," and even though it's on the tourist trail, it's still sort of hidden away down a country-style lane, which adds to the allure. Amy Lynch loves this one, too, because "it's cozy, friendly, with a gorgeous nook that's perfect for reading on a Sunday afternoon." 

Explore related stories

Musicians performing at The Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland.


12 of the best things to do in Dublin

Apr 10, 2024 • 10 min read