Lonely Planet editor and Dublin-dweller AnneMarie McCarthy loves a good party. Which is why she so strongly prefers Pride to St Patrick’s Day in her city.
Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Dublin sounds like the kind of unforgettable experience everyone should do once in their life, akin to Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng Lantern Festival.
Every year, more than 100,000 people flock to the Irish capital to don green, see the parade and drink on crowded streets surrounded by thousands of others with the same idea. And it certainly is a communal experience; you’ll undoubtedly have tipsy conversations with people from around the world, sharing your impressions and following each other on social media forever more.
But if you’re looking for the city’s best party weekend, you should look elsewhere.
What to skip: celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Dublin
It’s tough to find any Dubliner who says St Patrick’s Day (or Paddy’s Day) is their favorite occasion of the year. Especially if it coincides with a long weekend (as it does this year), lots of people will be tempted to skip town altogether, cheerfully buying seats on the outbound planes you’ll be taking to get here – and away from the crowds you’ll be joining.
Plenty of locals, especially families, will go to the parade – but afterwards many filter back home again, perhaps going for a few peaceful drinks in their local suburban haunt, away from central streets thronged with tipsy revelers. Big-name acts and some cultural events might bring music lovers back into the city at night – but overall, if you’re going to party in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day, you’ll be partying with thousands of other tourists.
The multi-day St Patrick’s Day Festival has done a good job of creating unique events throughout the weekend to offer options with more cultural heft. But alas: for far too many visitors, the experience will be spilling their overpriced pints in Temple Bar, and frequently leaving slightly deflated. Was that it?
What you should do instead: party at Dublin Pride
So you want to go to a real party? Dance in the streets, meet plenty of locals and come home feeling you’ve had an uplifting and joyous experience that was worth the hangover? Better change your flights and visit Dublin for the Pride festival in June.
The St Patrick’s Parade is fun to watch, yes – but unless you’re a member of a marching band, you’re just going to be a spectator (and probably a cold one; it can snow in March). At the Dublin Pride Parade and March, the separation between parade and crowd is much less rigid. If you hear a float with banging tunes, that’s your invitation to follow along, jumping right in and dancing along to the finish line.
Alternatively, get behind one of the community organizations to offer your support with a loud voice, as you remember that this is both a celebration and a protest. While I’m focusing more on the celebration aspect here, both have equal importance. We do have a lot to celebrate here – not least the world’s first legalization of same-sex marriage via popular vote and a long-established Gender Recognition Act – but that doesn’t mean discrimination and violence have magically disappeared.
My favorite part of the route is right in the middle, when it passes through Lombard St. It’s the only section of the parade which is largely residential, with old-school red-brick houses and more-modern apartments. On this stretch, a lovely cross section of Dubliners line up to wave at the parade: expect to see elderly ladies fanning themselves in the garden with a rainbow fan and kids from all backgrounds bopping along to the passing disco music. It’s a community microcosm of Dublin old and new.
After the parade, lounge around the family-friendly Pride Village in Merrion Sq (be sure to visit the rakish statue of Oscar Wilde, which will be inevitably decked out in rainbow flags) and on to any of your about-to-become-favorite pubs. Most of the city establishments will be decked out in Pride flags all month, and on a sunny day you can expect the party to spill out into the streets. Here’s where you can meet a new best friend for the night, swap anecdotes you can dine out on for a year or start a love affair to last a lifetime (or at least the weekend).
Queer-friendly club night Mother is the spiritual home to some of the city’s best DJs, with a focus on synth and disco – and whatever you do, don’t miss the annual Mother Pride Block Party, which now takes place in the cobblestoned squares of Collins Barracks. Though the site was turned over to the National Museum in 1997, it still feels wonderfully subversive to dance, flirt and celebrate the LGBTIQ+ community in the stately neoclassical squares of what was the oldest continuously occupied army base in the world. (Side note: this year, Mother is popping up in Collins Barracks on March 16 for the St Patrick’s Day festival. Tickets are scarce, though, and even if you score one you’ll be in tents for the evening. Enjoying the grounds for an alfresco day party means Pride still wins out.)
This brings us neatly to another point: the weather is always better at Pride. “Better” is a little subjective here – it’s still an Irish summer and the sun can be hit-or-miss. But just about every St Patrick’s Day is cold, especially if you are standing outside – and you’ll be doing a lot of that, whether it’s at the parade or because there’s no room inside the pub. By contrast, in recent years the weather gods have been good to Pride (but don’t hold me to that).
In some ways, Dublin’s Pride isn’t that different from any other Pride celebration I’ve had the privilege of attending. There’s always a celebratory and welcoming atmosphere. The parties are great. And it’s easy to feel not just part of a city, but part of something bigger than yourself. For better or worse (depending on your perspective), you will spot the same corporate floats getting in on the parade action.
But maybe because of the summer weather, our love of a party or just because Dublin is small and it feels like the entire city is celebrating, our Pride feels special. Either way, St Patrick’s Day feels like it’s for others. Pride feels like it’s ours, whether you’re a member or an ally of the LGBTIQ+ community.
Whoever you are, we’d love you to join our party, too.
How to make it happen
Dublin Pride Festival 2023 takes place from June 16 to 25, with the parade and the big events on Saturday June 24. You don’t need to book ahead for the big public events such as the parade and Pride Village. But be sure to score tickets for other marquee events as soon as they’re released – especially the big Mother Pride Block Party.