Best attractions in Dublin
An evocative way to bring Ireland’s history to life, Kilmainham Gaol makes for an ideal start to a Dublin trip – everything from street names to the Irish diaspora will make more sense afterwards. Presented with both darkness and light, the 90-minute tour shows where Irish rebels like Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett were locked up and executed, and on another note, where ‘The Italian Job’ was filmed.
As Ireland’s most-visited attraction for years on end, there’s no escaping the might of the Guinness Storehouse. Make no mistake, it’s a seven-storey exhibition rather than a working brewery (that’s nearby but off-limits). Linger in the advertising section, which looks at its famous vintage posters and creative television ads, and leave plenty of time for the finale: a pint of the black stuff in the Gravity Bar, with sweeping views across Dublin.
IMMA is a work of art in itself: it’s set in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, a former military hospital styled on Les Invalides in Paris, and surrounded by serene fields and a manicured formal garden. Its collection is dwarfed by MoMA to its west and the Tate Modern to its east, but go on a quick ramble and you’ll find works from Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud and Sean Scully, and often the temporary exhibitions steal the show.
In the fast-developing Liberties area you’ll find the Teeling Distillery, which oozes cool in everything from its super-friendly tattooed staff to a buzzing café that serves artisanal drinks and snacks. Visitors can learn all about the distilling process and there’s a generous tasting at the end of each tour.
The statue of Molly Malone may get all the attention, but set back in the north-west corner of Merrion Square, you’ll find Dublin-born Oscar Wilde nonchalantly lounging on a rock, looking dapper in his smoking jacket made of British Columbian jade. Next to it, two pillars are inscribed with his writings, one topped by a figure of his pregnant wife, Constance Lloyd, and another, the muscly torso of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy. Guess which one catches his eye.
Annexed to Trinity College, the Science Gallery focuses on how science affects everyday life, making for great pub ammo later. Recent exhibitions include ‘Sound Check’, about recent music inventions, and ‘Lifelogging’, on analysing data for societal insights. They’re always free, and while some won’t take long to explore, you can certainly while away some time in its café and shop.
The largest park in any capital city in Europe seems within walking distance of the centre, but it’s best to get public transport and save your steps for inside. There’s an abundance of quaint sights, and even a few residents, from the wild deer to the President of Ireland, who lives in the impressive Áras an Uachtaráin. In need of a pitstop? Try Hole in the Wall, a cosy pub and restaurant on the park’s perimeter.
Tucked inside a Georgian townhouse on St Stephen’s Green, the Little Museum of Dublin feels like a hoarder’s house. Featuring a wealth of cultural paraphernalia, from vintage posters to U2 memorabilia to a cardboard cut-out of Mrs Brown. Entry is through a guided tour only, which is just as well: the characterful staff have great fun telling the stories behind their favourite items.
If the programme of thought-provoking shows at Smock Alley Theatre doesn’t appeal, the guided tours will. They uncover this long-running theatre’s time as a brothel, the story of how its bell began the route to Catholic Emancipation, and the Kelly Riots, a successful protest for the decent treatment of female actors. Round off the tour with lunch in the grand Banquet Hall.
As documented in award-winning film ‘One Million Dubliners’, a trip to Glasnevin Cemetery is far from simply morbid. Instead you can treat it as a prism through which to view Ireland’s history. It helps, of course, that Glasnevin is the final resting place of prominent figures like Éamon de Valera, James Larkin and Michael Collins, and home to mass graves for Dublin’s poor. To really get under its surface, so to speak, guided tours are highly recommended.
Dublin often has a conservative attitude towards street art, so it’s extra-special to see a 360-degree view of tags and murals impressive in both size and detail. Scrawled on the buildings surrounding the Tivoli Theatre car park, the art here changes on a regular basis, which provides all the more reason to keep returning.
Presented without fanfare, the gaunt faces and desperate eyes of Rowan Gillespie’s seven bronze figures serve as a startling reminder of the Great Irish Famine of 1840s. As landlords took their fill of other crops, the potato blight caused the population to fall by a quarter as a million died and others emigrated – like these characters on Custom House Quay where the ‘Perseverence’ began its historic journey to New York. A small but fitting tribute to this scar on Irish history.