Leopold Bloom mused in James Joyce's Ulysses that a good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub. The most fun solution is to not pass any of them and instead go for a drink in as many as possible. Temple Bar may be famous for its pubs, but it’s just the start: leave its well-trodden streets behind to discover some of Dublin’s best-loved drinking holes.
Get arty at the Bernard Shaw
Home to one of Dublin’s most popular beer gardens, the Bernard Shaw also houses a cafe and a big blue bus which whips up freshly-made pizza out back. If it looks kind of thrown together, it acts like it too, hosting everything from flea markets to regular pub quizzes, gigs, paint jams (to refresh the colourful graffiti) and even the world’s first coffee-throwing championship. If you want to explore this area further, head south across the bridge and you'll find yourself in the trendy Rathmines neighbourhood.
Pet dogs, eat spuds at MVP
Strong, original cocktails – ever heard of a Poitin Colada? – and fresh baked potatoes to protect you from said cocktails come together at MVP in vibrant Portobello to make a winning combination. A stone’s throw away from the beautiful, tree-lined Grand Canal (the childhood home of Leopold Bloom), this place is also one of the few dog-friendly watering holes in Dublin, so you might make some furry friends here too. Keep an ear out for the regular Sing Along Socials where you can screech your heart out to your favourite songs without being judged.
Make yourself at home in House
Located across two former upper-class residences, House is decorated in an eclectic Georgian style that manages to be both elegant and welcoming. Choose to cozy up beside the fire in the library, enjoy the sunlight through the bright windows of the conservatory or perch on a stool in the pantry. Surrounded by historical townhouses on charming, residential Leeson St, it has one of the nicest beer gardens in the city, with a cover that can withstand the temperamental weather. Open late Monday to Saturday and attracting an older, affluent crowd, it’s a peaceful place to have a gin and tonic in the evening while enjoying the boppy swing soundtrack and sampling a cheese board.
Sing along in the Cobblestone
Simply the best place to catch some Irish traditional music in Dublin city centre, the Cobblestone describes itself as a ‘drinking pub with a music problem’. It’s popular with Dubliners and tourists in equal measure, and everyone is welcome to join the free nightly music sessions. If you want to sit near the musicians, you’ll have to be quiet and respectful – head to the back of the bar for a chat. Use your visit as an excuse to explore the Smithfield area, packed full of restaurants, cafes and the Old Jameson Distillery.
For some traditional Irish music head to the Cobblestone © Doug McKinlay / Lonely Planet
Get inspired at Toners
Popular with Dublin’s after-work crowd, Toners is the perfect place for a Guinness after visiting the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology or taking a stroll around Merrion Square. A deceptively snug interior lined with dark wood leads out to Toners Yard, an incredibly spacious outside area where you can enjoy relaxed table service. Personally recommended by literary giants Patrick Kavanagh and WB Yeats, it doesn’t get more Dublin than this.
Enjoy the beautiful architecture in one of Dublin's prettiest squares before enjoying a pint in Toners © librarygirl85 / Budget Travel
Challenge your friends at Token
Retro video games are packed into every corner of Token and you’ll find something here to suit every taste, including shoot-em-ups, superhero stories and an extensive pinball lounge in the basement. At busy times you may need to wait to play but the bar has plenty of craft beer and cocktail choices to keep you occupied. Bookings aren’t necessary if you just want to drink and play games but the food – including extensive vegan options – is worth staying on for.
Brush up on your history at the Confession Box
Stuffed full of memorabilia, the Confession Box flaunts its historical connections. In a previous incarnation, this was a favourite haunt of Michael Collins, one of the most prominent leaders in Ireland’s fight for independence, who used it as a safe haven. The name, so the story goes, comes from the fact that he would call in to get communion and confession from local priests sympathetic to the cause. A minute’s walk from O’Connell St’s Spire, it’s always packed with regulars and was awarded the best Guinness in Dublin prize two years in a row.
Confession Box's striking exterior advertises its history with pride © AnneMarie McCarthy / Lonely Planet
Head east to Izakaya
Bypass the sushi restaurant on the ground floor and take the stairs down to cellar bar Izakaya where large wooden tables dominate the low-lit room while TVs play kung fu movies and Popeye cartoons. Izakaya is a Japanese word for casual after-work drinking establishments and this fits the bill nicely, serving up small dishes with Japanese beer and whiskey. Later on, DJs spin anything from acid house to 80s ballads and, though the dancefloor is a small one, everyone boogies on until the early hours. If you’re up for exploring, this is one of the first bars on the Camden Mile, a stretch of road with over 25 pubs to choose from.
Step back in time at the Long Hall
Celebrating more than 250 years in business, the Long Hall's current incarnation dates from the Victorian era and is filled with polished dark wood, stained glass and patterned carpets. Behind the gleaming bar there’s an enormous selection of whiskeys to sample. Despite being surrounded by more fashionable pubs, it remains a firm favourite with both local and travelling barflies.
The Long Hall is centuries old and still going strong © AnneMarie McCarthy / Lonely Planet
Cosy up to P.Macs
P.Macs is stuffed with cosy, private snugs where you can kick back and listen to the best alternative rock playlist in Dublin while playing Cluedo or Connect Four. There’s a huge selection of craft beers to choose from and if you simply can’t choose, the friendly staff will help you out. Their pub grub comes in huge portions but that won’t stop you from heroically finishing it anyway. It can be difficult to get a table so reserve ahead via Facebook. It's located in the heart of the Creative Quarter: pop in after exploring the best of independent Irish design and boutiques.
This article was first published in October 2016 and updated in July 2018.