When my daughter Katie and I start talking about travel, reservations are usually not far behind. This was the case when we decided to take a quick, one-week trip to Ireland while my husband and fellow Boomer Paul stayed home with our geriatric kitty Sammy. Katie and Paul had been to Ireland several years ago for a short time, but this would be my first visit to the Emerald Isle. We spent two days in Dublin, one at the beginning of the trip and the other at the end. It was a good amount of time for what we wanted to see given our short overall visit. See also our articles on Killarney and the Ring of Kerry and Galway and the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren.
Over the two days, this is what we visited:
St. Stephens Green
Molly Malone statue
Christ Church Cathedral
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Trinity College (the Book of Kells and the Long Room)
Dublin General Post Office and Museum
The Temple Bar area
Central Dublin is easily walkable, so two days will give you a good feel for the city. Of course, the longer you're there, the more you'll be able to see and do.
We arrived at our hotel mid-morning after the overnight flight from the US and we hit the ground running. We were fortunate to have wonderful, mostly warm weather (not a drop of rain) during the entire week in March, so walking was easy and enjoyable. This is what we did:
Saint Stephen's Green
Located less than a half mile south of the River Liffey which cuts Dublin in half north and south, this is a 22-acre slice of tranquility in an otherwise bustling city. The park dates to the latter half of the 17th century and has experienced many evolutions in its 300+ year history. It's a wonderful place to enjoy a warm, sunny Dublin day.
Molly Malone Statue
Molly is a fictional character thought to be a fishmonger by day and prostitute by night. She's made famous by the song "Cockles and Mussels". We were lucky to happen upon her as this man in the video below was singing.
There were originally ferries across the River Liffey transporting both people and goods from one side to the other. By the early 1800's the ferries had seen better days, so a pedestrian bridge was built and those who crossed it were charged half a penny, or a "ha'penny" and the name remains to this day.
A Tale of Two Cathedrals; Christ Church and St. Patrick's
Christ Church is the older of the two, built in the latter half of the 11th century and is designated as the local cathedral of the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.
Christ Church has the largest cathedral crypt in the UK. The mummified cat and rat are its most famous residents. They were found inside the organ when the cathedral was being renovated in the latter half of the 19th century. It's thought that they got stuck while the cat was chasing the rat and were naturally preserved due to the lack of oxygen in the organ case. You can't see it from the photo below, but if you visit in person, you can even see the cat's whiskers.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Founded about a century after Christ Church, it's said that residents of Dublin weren't happy with the religious order associated with Christ Church and therefore established St. Patrick's as a secular cathedral. Today it's the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland. As you can see, the grounds are lovely. The cathedrals are located less than half a mile apart.
Notice how similar the two pulpits are.
Both charge a fee to visit outside of the times of regular services, but they're both beautiful, interesting and worth the small cost.
Trinity College Dublin
Founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592, Trinity College Dublin is considered one of Europe's most elite universities. Its current undergraduate and post graduate enrollment is about 18,000. Graduates include six British prime ministers and Sir Isaac Newton among many other well-known names in history. Students were taking advantage of the warm, sunny day to be outside on the green when we visited.
The Long Room
This was the highlight of our two days in Dublin for me. The Long Room of the Old Library was built between 1712 and 1732. It is 213 feet in length and houses 750,000 of the library's oldest books. It's impressive and humbling.
The Book of Kells
Probably the most famous book housed in the Trinity Library is the Book of Kells. It is an illustrated manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament. Scholars believe it was created around 800 AD and it takes its name from the Abbey of Kells, a former monastery north of Dublin where it resided until the mid-17th century. The original is housed under glass by itself in a room in the Library. Photographs aren't permitted of the original, but a facsimile, pictured below, is located in the Long Room.
That wrapped up Day 1 for us. Having gotten only a few hours' sleep on the plane, we were ready for dinner and bed!
We arrived back in Dublin at the end of our week by train from Galway. Because we wanted to make the most of the day, we took the 7:30 direct train which arrived at 9:50. We took a taxi from the train station, dropped our bags off at the hotel and again set off on foot.
The castle was built in the early part of the 13th century and served as the home of British rule in Ireland until 1922 when Ireland became independent. Nowadays a number of state ceremonies take place in the Castle and visitors can take an audio tour of the State Apartments.
General Post Office and Museum
The largest building on Dublin's iconic O'Connell Street on the north side of the river, the GPO played a major role in the Easter Rising when it was was taken over as a communications hub by Irish rebels fighting for independence during Easter week, 1916. The building was destroyed as a result of the Rising but was reopened in 1929. The small Museum is jam-packed with exhibits that effectively tell the story of the Rising and the social, economic and political environment leading up to it.
This poster below gives a high-level description of the social conditions in Dublin leading to the Rising.
As passionate as the Rebels were, they were outnumbered by the British forces and the Rising was unsuccessful. It did, however, set into motion events which led to Ireland's eventual independence.
Bullet holes from the Rising are still very evident on the six columns of the GPO.
This was another highlight of our two days in Dublin.
The Gaol opened in 1796 and throughout its history housed common criminals in addition to political prisoners, including those involved in the 1916 Easter Rising, and debtors, some of whom were housed with their entire family. It was fitting that the day we visited was the only day on our trip that was cold and damp which helped us imagine the terrible living conditions prisoners had to endure. All tours are guided.
The hallways give you a sense of the miserable conditions.
These windows are a relatively new addition to the gaol. Prior to their addition, the outside air circulated throughout the prison. It was thought that the circulation of fresh air was beneficial to keep disease at a minimum, but it also meant very cold conditions for much of the year.
The cells were, not surprisingly, very basic.
This is a painting done by one of the female inmates as seen through a cutout in the door of the cell.
This area below is called the Central Hall and contains 96 cells, all of which could be monitored at one time.
Stonebreaker's Yard where executions by firing squad took place.
The Gaol was closed in 1924 but a group of dedicated volunteers spearheaded its restoration and it was reopened as a national monument in the 1960's. Like the Long Room at Trinity College, the Kilmainham Gaol is a "must-see" when you're in Dublin.
Temple Bar is an area which hugs the river to the south. Once a marshy No Man's land, today it's a trendy district filled with shops, pubs and hotels. The Temple Bar pub is a well-known tourist attraction. Katie and I had an excellent lunch there on our last day. Touristy? Yes, but heck, that's what we were!
The Dublin airport is easy to navigate and well-signed. We took a taxi each way. Coming into town the first morning cost about 35 Euros as we were battling traffic. The trip back to the airport cost about 25 Euros. There are other transportation options which are less expensive.
Dublin is one of the few cities in the world where US citizens clear all US entry controls (immigration, customs and agriculture) prior to departure. This means that you arrive at a domestic gate in the US. We flew in and out of JFK, so it was nice not to have to stand in line at JFK after a long trans-Atlantic flight. We have Global Entry which I highly recommend if you travel internationally. It makes the entry process so much quicker and painless which is especially nice after a long flight. In Dublin it took less than two minutes to clear US customs.
Tickets to Attractions
We bought tickets to the Long Room and the Gaol online before we left the US (Gaol tickets were almost sold out weeks before we arrived in Ireland), but we bought all the other tickets as we arrived at the sights.
Our Dublin Hotels
Since we were in Dublin on two different ends of the week, I wanted to stay in different areas of the city. We spent our first night at the Mespil Hotel which is located just south of St. Stephen's Green. It's not as central as others, but Dublin is small and nothing is too far. We loved everything about it and I would stay there in a heartbeat again. And if you get "pubbed out", Milano is half a block away. It's a casual, excellent Italian restaurant with several locations in Dublin and around Ireland. This one is on the lovely canal which runs through that part of town.
On our last night we stayed at the Temple Bar Inn on Fleet Street in the heart of the Temple Bar district. It wasn't quite as upscale as the Mespil, but it was just fine and right in the middle of the action of the district.
A Word About Dublin
The population of greater Dublin is about 1.2 million. I agree with Katie's description of it as a working-class city with a lot of character. It doesn't have the beautiful Haussmannian and Art Nouveau architecture of Paris or the ruins scattered around Rome, but it's got its own lively vibe. And the Dubliners (as well as everyone else in Ireland) are some of the nicest people I've ever met; truly exceptional. We weren't able to visit the National Museum of Ireland or the Guinness Storehouse, but I felt we nevertheless got a good taste of Dublin in those two days.
A few parting shots of Dublin...
➜ Top Tips
If you visit outside the summer months, wear layers and take an umbrella or a good rain jacket. We went in March, but we were very lucky to have the weather we did.
Trains (The Irish Rail System) are a great way to get around the country. They're easy to book, comfortable, on time and not expensive. Remember, driving is on the left.
Be prepared to be blown away by the genuine friendliness of the people!
If you go during the busy tourist season, make sure to buy tickets in advance for the more popular sights.