Dublin offers much more than stereotypical Ireland. True, Dublin’s known as the home of fiddle music and St. Patrick’s Day. True, it rains more than a third of the year. True, bartenders pour more pints of Guinness than any other drink. But you can also listen to tin whistle performances on Grafton Street, watch rugby or Gaelic football (the highlight of Irish sports), or boat under Dublin’s bridges on the River Liffey.
So, skip the whirlwind, hop-on, hop-off tour bus, and check out our 5 must-sees in Dublin that mix food with music, and the touristy with the not-so-touristy.
Grafton Street might be one of Dublin’s priciest shopping streets, but it’s also the one of the liveliest. The O’Connell Bridge, which spans the River Liffey just to the north, makes Grafton Street a popular cross-city walkway, and by default, a prime stage for street performers. On this primarily pedestrian street (with the exception of a section from Nassau Street to College Green), you can often see tin whistlers, fiddlers and full-string Irish bands. The red-brick street runs north to south, ending at the public park St. Stephen’s Green in central Dublin. If you head to the north end of Grafton Street, you’ll end up in Temple Bar -- a popular place to grab a bump (pint) at the pub.
Dublin Castle isn't like a typical Irish castle; there’s no drawbridge, no moat, and it’s still in pretty good shape. But with just 24 hours of time, skip it (and avoid the nearly $6entrance fee). Instead, check out the Dubh Linn Gardens tucked right behind the castle. City planners landscaped the garden over what was once a large pool -- Dublin derives from “Dubh Linn,” meaning “black pool”. Now, you can stroll around to different modern sculptures, relax on a wooden bench, or walk the main gravel path that etches a large Celtic design into the earth. Dubh Linn Gardens provides a mid-day break from the city buzz. It’s also the perfect sipping spot for a hot cup of to-go Irish breakfast tea from the Chester Beatty Library outside the gardens.
The Book of Kells sits under glass in the dimly lit Treasury room, inside the Old Library at Trinity College, one of Dublin’s oldest universities, founded in 1592. Ninth-century monks wrote the ornate Gospel manuscript in Latin and illustrated it in color. To see the manuscript and visit the Old Library, walk across the center quad of Trinity’s tranquil campus and enter the Treasury via the library shop. You’ll see the Book of Kells “Turning Darkness into Light" exhibition. It’s on display 7 days a week. Trinity College staff monitor the exhibition and turn the pages every so often so as not to let light ruin the fragile paper. Don’t miss the upstairs’ Long Room, which holds 200,000 of Trinity’s oldest books in massive oak bookcases. During summer visits, you can take a 30-minute guided tour with one of Trinity’s students.
Sure it’s buried in touristy Temple Bar, but Dublin’s oldest micro brewpub (circa 1996) mostly pulls pints of its own beer. It also sells Ireland’s largest selection of world beers, but opt for an in-house brew and you won’t regret it. Sit down at one of the thick wooden tables below the wood- paneled ceiling, or a wooden stool along the bar. Porterhouse brews its stouts, lagers and ales in small batches without added chemicals, producing Dublin’s best fresh, local, unpasteurized beer. For lighter beer, try the mild Chiller lager, or for darker beer, try the bittersweet Wrasslers XXXX stout. Porterhouse also has live music 7 nights a week, and Temple Bar’s best Irish stew on the stove.
Instead of hopping aboard a sightseeing bus, check out Dublin’s architecture from a 48-passenger boat on the River Liffey. For less than $20 a ticket, a guide walks you through Dublin’s history from the first arrival of the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago, to Dublin’s expansion and decline (between the 18th to 20th centuries), to modern-day developments of Dublin’s docklands. Tours typically last 45 to 60 minutes. Note the story of Dublin’s Royal Canal, see where Oliver Cromwell landed in 1649, and float past the Monument of Light (dubbed the Spire of Dublin), which was part of central Dublin’s O'Connell Street redesign in 1999. If you book a cruise online, you’ll save 10% on adult fare.