What to see in Dublin—top tips from a local tour guide
There can't be many people who know the city of Dublin better than Garvan Rushe.
If you arrive in the Irish capital and book a personal walking tour with Dublin Tour Guide (and we recommend that you do), chances are you'll be spending time with this man.
As one of the company's all-knowing guides, it's his job to introduce you to the city's major and minor sites, taking in history, culture, architecture and literature along the way.
What this man doesn't know about Dublin simply isn't worth knowing. So before you head off on your next Dublin city break, read on to find out what a true Dubliner recommends in the city...
The best thing about living in Dublin is the history and culture. It marks my way through the city in such a way that I could almost be Leopold Bloom from James Joyce’s Ulysses—but on my own odyssey, every day.
Trinity College will be familiar to anyone who does even the shallowest of dives into Dublin’s tourism. Most of the campus, however, is not explored by tourists. Walking to one of the many green squares or just looking out over the cricket pitch—or better yet, plonking yourself down there on a sunny day—is a great way to feel calm and centred. Bonus points for reading the work of one of the university’s famous literary alumni—Wilde, Beckett, Stoker or Swift.
For a city of 1.9m people (metropolitan, 2017), Dublin feels and acts more like a town. Locals even refer to it as a town. The buildings are low, giving the city not only a brighter feel but also a more humble, human feel.
The thing that surprises most visitors about this city is the people. By far, Ireland’s greatest asset is her people. And although the accepted reputation is that rural folk are more friendly than city folk, Dublin sets itself apart from most western cities. All Irish people are rural in spirit, and we have a reputation for being the friendliest in Europe, if not the world.
Don’t believe me? Then come to Dublin, stand looking lost on a street corner, and within 30 seconds, if not 10, a local will come up and bend over backwards to help you. Don’t be surprised if they end up walking you to your destination!
When I need to escape from everything, I either go somewhere natural, like a park, or somewhere traditional/literary like an old pub on a quiet mid-week afternoon. St Stephen’s Green is the default choice for Dubliners as it’s right in the city centre. It’s our Central Park, but it’s better: it’s large enough to get some freshly made oxygen and be surrounded by greenery and it’s small enough so that you can find your way out! Besides, this is Ireland, so it’s green all year round.
The biggest misconception about Dublin is that it rains all the time. Although I would advise everyone coming to Ireland to prepare for windy, wet and cold weather—bring layers and either a good umbrella or hooded waterproof coat—the reality is that Dublin is more often dry than it is wet. In fact, Dublin is the driest part of the island. Well, nearly. Ironically, the driest part of the island is Lough Neagh, the biggest lake in Ireland and Britain. And if you want some more irony, consider coming to Dublin in April, our driest month!
Something that many people miss when they come to Dublin, but shouldn’t, is the National Museum of Archaeology. The collections are vast—my tip is to pop in and focus on the Treasury and Kingship & Sacrifice exhibitions. While you’re in the area, stop by at the National Library to view the impressive reading room and give yourself a quick tour of the permanent exhibition on WB Yeats, Ireland’s greatest poet. Even the restrooms are worth a visit!
Around the corner is the National Gallery, which has just re-opened fully after a 6-year refurbishment. Plan to be there for one of their scheduled tours of the highlights. There’s a great day for ya, and you haven’t even spent a cent, as all of these sites are free!
Coffee coinnosseurs should head for Dublin Barista School (pictured below) on South Anne St, where I tasted the greatest espresso I ever had and where I did a barista course just for the hell of it.
If you’re looking for the other black stuff, best to stay as far away from the Temple Bar area as you can. Locals never go there. And if you’re really looking for the locals, I’d advise taking a short walk down to Wexford/Camden St. That’s where the locals go. There’s a pub/bar/club there for every persuasion pretty much. So whether you’re 19, 29, 39, or 49-99, you’ll find your pub.
Dublin's best Guinness is served at McDaids. There are many places that could claim to have the best Guinness—in the city centre, Long Hall, Mulligan's, The Duke and Kehoe's are all renowned by owners of frequently stout-saturated moustaches as a great place for a pint of plain. But for me, McDaids is the one.
My favourite restaurant right now is The Woollen Mills, which has something for the traditional and the adventurous diner alike. They have soups, sandwiches and burgers, but they’re not your typical combinations (beef cheek burger, for example). All dishes showcase the gloriously rich quality of Irish ingredients. Try the bacon ribs or the Dublin coddle for something truly local.
If you’ve only got one day in Dublin… well, obviously I’d advise you to book a private tour so you can see, learn and experience as much of the city as efficiently as possible. If you’re going by yourself, here’s my recommendation for the perfect day:
- Book of Kells at Trinity College in the morning
- Coffee/lunch in either Dublin Barista School or Kilkenny Design nearby
- EPIC—the Irish Emigration Museum
- Taxi to Kilmainham Gaol (book beforehand)
- Dinner at The Woollen Mills, with a great view of the Ha’penny Bridge
- Gravedigger Bus Tour —a much easier and enjoyable way to see the rest of the city’s sites and learn the wonderfully dark history of Dublin. We did produce Bram Stoker, after all!
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Garvan Rushe works for Dublin Tour Guide, who offer a range of tours in the city, including 2-, 3- and 5-hour options, plus a Pub Crawl Tour.