If you’re wondering what to do in Dublin on an upcoming visit, you’ll be pleased to hear that there is absolutely no shortage of historical, cultural, natural, or, uh, alcohol-related activities to more than occupy every second of your days. Wander through the incredible Long Room Library, sample Guinness and Jameson on tasting tours, explore the bustling Temple Bar district or enjoy day tours out to the towering Cliffs of Moher, the otherworldly Giant’s Causeway, or the scenic Wicklow Mountains— whatever you enjoy doing, here are 12 amazing activities in and around Dublin to ensure that you get the most out of your time in Ireland’s energetic capital.
Explore Trinity College & the Long Room Library
One of the most popular things to do in Dublin is visit Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest and most prestigious university, and although you might be asking yourself what could possibly be so interesting at a college, there’s actually heaps to see! Aside from the beautiful architecture, which you can wander around and enjoy all on your own, the students of the college run a tour for €14 (buy your ticket on the spot) that will explain more of the history, as well as provide access into what I consider to be the best reason for visiting: the Long Room Library.
There’s a small, permanent exhibition of the Book of Kells, a decorative rendering of the bible, but beyond this is an enormous, two-story room that houses over 200,000 leather-bound books, arranged on shelves by weight. This is still only a fraction of the books held across the university’s other libraries, as Trinity was granted “copyright library” status in 1801, meaning that they receive a free copy of every book published in Ireland and Britain, but it is by far the most impressive. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the Long Room Library is one of the best libraries in the world, and it is well-worth the €14 ticket just to be surrounded by that much knowledge.
Read more: WELCOME TO IRELAND: EXPLORING DUBLIN & BRAY
Take a day-trip out to the Cliffs of Moher
Arguably Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction, these 200m cliffs along the Wild Atlantic Way are truly stunning, and a gateway to many other adventures on the nearby Aran Islands. Walk along the entire 8km stretch or just sit down and enjoy the view, it’s not hard to see why everyone raves about the epic Cliffs of Moher.
A bit of a drive from Dublin, it’s easiest to join a day tour and relax while you’re whizzed all the way to the opposite coast—I went with Wild Rover Tours for €60, and after having taken trips with 3 other companies in Ireland, I can say that these guys were definitely my favourite for all the history and information provided along the way.
Hang out in Temple Bar
The so-called “cultural heart of Dublin”, the Temple Bar district occupies a small but bustling square on the south bank of the River Liffey and is overflowing with pubs, restaurants, cafes, and boutique shops. The cobbled laneways seem always to be filled with people, but it lends an excited energy to the area rather than any feelings of crowding.
This is the go-to place for food and drinks in Dublin— I won’t bother giving any pub recommendations, as there are just way too many and I liked every single one I visited, but definitely check out Bubble Waffle Factory for an amazing desert or the Gourmet Burger Kitchen for an inexpensive and delicious lunch. You can also visit The Temple Bar, probably Dublin’s best-known pub (although not the best pub), but expect the drinks to be overpriced and the enormous interior to be packed at pretty much all hours by tourists.
Ride the DART out to the beach in Bray
From Tara Street Station in the centre of Dublin, it’s only a 20 minute ride on the DART (the trainline) to reach the seaside in Bray, where scenic headlands and beautiful (but very chilly) beaches seem a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Explore some of the magical Irish coastline on a walk between Bray and Greystones, visit the harbour, and then enjoy dinner and drinks at the incredible Butler & Barry.
Return tickets can be purchased directly from the station for €6.95, or you can buy a Leap card from most news agency or off-licence shops to get unlimited travel on all public transport for €10 (24hrs), €19.50 (3 days), or €40 (7 days)—either way, this is an inexpensive and super easy DIY daytrip from Dublin that doesn’t require much planning or even a car.
Read more: WELCOME TO IRELAND: EXPLORING DUBLIN & BRAY
Sample Dublin’s finest at the Guinness Storehouse
No visit to Dublin would be complete without sampling some of the legendary “Black Stuff” and learning all about the brewing and fermentation process at the Guinness Storehouse. Tours of the facility are self-guided and involve walking around several lower levels to learn about the history of the Guinness family, how Guinness was created, and how it is made today. On the upper levels, you’ll enjoy tasters while smelling some of the main ingredients (hops, malted barley, etc) before making it to the Gravity Bar for your free pint of Guinness. Not only is it an excellent way to sample the country’s signature drink, but the information is incredibly well-presented and I thoroughly enjoyed just walking through the Storehouse and learning about the long legacy of this ruby red beer (just one of the many fun facts I learned on the tour).
Don’t shy away from the experience just because you “don’t like Guinness”— I thought the same thing, but it’s actually made differently in Ireland than it is for export (using nitrogen rather than carbon dioxide, among other things), so you may well like it here! And even if it doesn’t win you over in the end, my friend gave both her sample and her pint to me (2L of beer at 10am is the very definition of an Irish holiday) and she’d still recommend the tour to anyone.
Tickets to the Guinness Storehouse run €18.50-22 (depending on time of day) and can be booked on the half-hour from 9am to 6pm every day of the week. I would highly recommend going in the morning, as we pretty much had the place to ourselves and were able to enjoy our free pint in the Gravity Bar in front of beautiful views rather than hordes of people. To get to the Storehouse, catch the red LUAS (tram) line to the Fatima stop and then walk about 5min (should cost €2.85 from most places in the city).
Join a free walking tour of the city
Probably the very first thing you should do upon arrival in Dublin is join a free walking tour to get your bearings and learn about the long and fascinating history of this city. The tour runs about 3-3.5 hours, including a break for lunch/shopping in Temple Bar, and takes in the Dublin Castle, Dubh Linn Gardens, Christ Church Cathedral, the Temple Bar area, the River Liffey, and Trinity College, among other things. Obviously it’s a lot to cover in just a few hours, so it’s best to think of it as a sampling of the city, to see what there is and then come back to a few points of interest for a more in-depth look.
Walking tours depart every day from out front of the Abbey Court Hostel (around 10.45am and 2.15pm) or 15min later from 35 Liffey Street Lower, on the north side of the Ha’penny Bridge. You can reserve your spot online, but it’s also fine to just show up and join the group. Just note that, although it is a free walking tour, it’s customary to tip the guide in these situations— most people gave around €5, and I honestly felt that it was worth that much and more for all the information our history-degree leader provided us.
Read more: WELCOME TO IRELAND: EXPLORING DUBLIN & BRAY
Take a tour of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland
Make time in your schedule to head up to Northern Ireland and see the incredible Giant’s Causeway, a network of nearly 50,000 interlocking basalt columns formed 60 million years ago by volcanic activity in the area. The Irish legends surrounding this World Heritage Site are every bit as interesting as the science, so be sure to check out the Visitors’ Centre to learn all about Finn McCool, the cheeky Irish giant who is said to have created this amazing natural wonder.
Unless you’re hiring a car and braving the narrow country roads, the best way to get to the Causeway is as a daytrip from Dublin on any of several tour buses operating out of the city. I would recommend Wild Rover Tours, who will take you to several stops in Northern Ireland with all entrance tickets included and return you back to the city about 13 hours later for €70.
Visit Dublin Castle
Located at the city’s highest point in an area previously inhabited by Vikings, Dublin Castle was built in the 1200s, partially burnt to the ground in the 1600s, and was the offical seat of British rule in Ireland all the way up until the 1900s. The Castle is decidedly steeped in history (including a pretty epic escape by a prisoner who tunnelled out through the sewage system and found himself some 30km away in the Wicklow Mountains), but only the Chapel Royal on one side of the complex is what I’d consider traditionally “castle-y”.
Stroll through town and check it out— it’s free to explore the outside of the castle, or you can join a guided tour for €10 and see more of this fascinating landmark.
Cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
A popular stop when visiting Northern Ireland, the Carrick-a-Rede rope extends from the mainland out to a little island of the same name and can be crossed for €10. Although I was sceptical of what I thought would be a tourist trap, this ended up being my absolute favourite stop in Ireland, not just for the bridge, but for the breathtaking coastal scenery and the brilliantly turquoise water that gives the whole area a very Mediterranean vibe.
In sunny weather, you’d struggle to find a better way to spend the afternoon than walking along the coast and crossing the bridge out to the little Carrick-a-Rede island. This is included in many day tours of Northern Ireland departing from Dublin, including Wild Rover Tours and Paddywagon Tours.
Tour the Jameson Distillery
Another classic Irish drink, Jameson operates a distillery on Bow Street that offers amazing and highly interactive tours to learn about the legacy of John Jameson & Sons and the elaborate distillation process that has made it the top-selling Irish Whiskey all around the world. After a bit of a history lesson, you’ll be guided through a sensory experience, smelling and tasting different barleys, smelling the difference between different distillations and different barrels, and observing how the whiskey changes through the ageing process, before sampling Jameson next to Scotch Whiskey and American Whiskey in a guided tasting. Finish the tour with a complimentary drinks (whiskey and dry with lime) or upgrade to a signature cocktail for €5.
Even if you already visited the Guinness Storehouse and think that’s enough for one trip to Dublin, I’d highly recommend this distillery tour as a different experience, one that is far more interactive and possibly more delicious if you aren’t much of a beer fan. Guided tours run every 30 minutes from 10am-midday and then every 15 minutes until close at 6pm. Tickets can be purchased online at a discounted rate (€17) for visits before 12.45pm or €20 for later time-slots, although I’d definitely recommend coming mid-morning as there are far fewer people.
Go for a walk in the Wicklow Mountains
Ireland’s largest national park is situated just south of Dublin, making for an quick and easy escape into nature— you can actually see the Wicklow Mountains rising behind the city on a clear day. There are a number of forested walking paths and country roads to explore, as well as the popular tourist site “PS. I Love You Bridge” (which I don’t really care about, but was actually quite pretty), the incredible Lough Tay, and the charming monastic village Glendalough.
With so much to see and do in the Wicklow Mountains, it’s best to allow at least a full day to explore. There really isn’t any public transport to get out here, so unless you’ve hired a car, considering joining a tour. I would recommend Hilltop Treks, who offer small group visits to all of the places described above in a single, scenery-packed day for €35.
Read more: GETTING OUTDOORS IN THE WICKLOW MOUNTAINS
Witness the original Riverdance
Is there anything more Irish than traditional Riverdance!? This is the only entry on the list that I didn’t get to experience myself, and I am honestly still devastated about it, having compulsively watched the VHS tapes throughout my entire childhood. Learn from my mistakes and set aside an evening in advance so you don’t miss out on this incredible cultural experience.
Tickets for Riverdance can be purchased online for €30-60, with shows running in Dublin at the Gaiety Theatre Tuesday-Sunday nights at 7.30pm (7pm on Sundays and additional 3.30pm on Saturdays). I can only imagine what the live show would have been like, but here are some photos from the official Riverdance website to give you an idea.