When visiting Dublin, Ireland, one of the things that should definitely be on your itinerary is visiting Trinity College. We would definitely recommend getting tickets to see the Book of Kells exhibition at the Old Library, which displays two of the four books at all times. A popular myth is that there is a ceremony to turn the pages of the books daily, but that doesn’t actually occur. The Book of Kells contains the Four Gospels of the New Testament and was believed to have been written around the 8th century. The book gets its name from the Abby of Kells in Kells, Ireland where the book was kept for centuries. The illustrations in the Book of Kells are considered to be the most intricate, complex, and interesting of any version of the Gospels that have ever been created.
The ticket to the Book of Kells exhibit also includes access to the Long Room in the Old Library. Seeing the hundreds of historic books on the bookshelves in the library is truly amazing. At the ends of each row of bookshelves are busts of famous literary geniuses. We found the Long Room to be as interesting as the Book of Kells itself. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photographs of the Book of Kells, but it is certainly worth seeing when visiting Dublin. Standing in the Long Room of the Old Library is almost overwhelming to think of how many historic books are located in a single place.
Dublin is definitely one of the friendliest cities that we have visited and there are several things that you should do if you decide to visit. There are certainly more than five things to do in Dublin, but these were some of the ones that we found particularly interesting. As with most places that we visit, one key is not to put yourself on a tight schedule. If you take the time to sit and talk to the locals, you will enjoy the experience even more. In fact, there is even a tour company that is called ToursByLocals, which uses locals to show you around their wonderful country and give you their local perspective. We didn’t use them to tour Dublin itself, but we did use them on our tours outside of the city. In no particular order, here are some of our favorite things to do in Dublin.
Temple Bar District and the Viking Medieval Area – These two areas sit adjacent to one another in the heart of Dublin along the River Liffy. Our hotel was directly across the river from these areas and we enjoyed spending time walking these narrow historic streets. To be clear, there is a specific bar called Temple Bar, but we are referring to the general area that is considered the Temple Bar District. If you are wanting to do some souvenir shopping or listen to authentic Irish folk music, then this area is the place for you. If you decide to go at night, expect it to be very crowded as the area is quite popular and the bars can get very rowdy.
Christ Church – This is the oldest medieval cathedral in Dublin and is certainly worth taking the time to visit. The exterior of the church is quite stunning and there are several features such as the statue of the Sleeping Jesus on a bench as well as the Armenian Genocide Memorial. The real highlight of touring the inside of the church is going to the tombs in the basement. Some of them are quite interesting, but the mummified cat and rat that were found together in one of the organ pipes is actually a little creepy.
Trinity College, the Book of Kells, and the Old Library – Although you can schedule your time to see a page turned in the Book of Kells, we just visited during another time of the day as we weren’t that interested in the ceremonial act. The book is fascinating to see, but we enjoyed the library even more. The end of each of the stacks of books has a bust of famous philosophers or other person of historical significance. Not only is it beautiful, but it is a working library for the students of the university. Even if you don’t decide to pay to tour the library and Book of Kells, the campus grounds are well worth taking the time to wander.
Kilmainham Gaol – This prison turned museum is famous for having housed the prisoners of the Irish rebellions. Because of its distinct architecture in the general prison ward, it has also served as the set for several famous movies. It is important to understand that the prison is more of a symbol of national pride than anything else and taking the tour is about learning about the uprisings and the people who led them. The tours sell out well in advance, so be sure to buy tickets ahead of time if you are planning on visiting.
Create Your Own Pub Crawl – If you are going to go to Dublin, you are going to have plenty of opportunities to sample alcohol. It isn’t just about the pubs, though. There is also the Guinness Storehouse where you can get a perfectly poured pint, the Irish Whiskey Museum where you can get a delicious Irish Coffee or simply sample some local whiskies, and the Teeling Whiskey Distillery. Any pub crawl has to include The Brazen Head, which is the oldest pub in Ireland and is also a restaurant serving traditional Irish food. We enjoyed sitting by the fireplace, having a couple of beers and talking about the wonderful time that we were having in Dublin. There are also a couple of unique pubs, such as a converted bank and a converted church that has a self-guided tour of the remaining church features.
Like many cities, Dublin also has a Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour that is actually quite good and is an excellent way to see the sites around the city. As it can rain quite often in Dublin, it also provides a convenient way to get around while still staying dry. Dublin is such a wonderful city with so much to see, but these were some of the things that we truly enjoyed. Whatever you do, though, don’t just stay in the city. The countryside of Ireland, with its unforgettably green grass and herds of sheep, will let you know why it is called the Emerald Isle.
Almost everyone we spoke to about what to do during our visit to Dublin recommended us taking a tour of Kilmainham Gaol. Kilmainham Gaol is a former prison in Dublin that has been converted into a prison museum. It has been used as a set for many movies including In the Name of the Father and Michael Collins as well as many others. The tour was very interesting and provided a lot of detail about the prison and prisoners, especially the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. The prison held almost every leader of the Irish revolutionary groups until it was shut down in 1924 by the Irish Free State.
We almost weren’t able to take the tour of the prison as we didn’t purchase tickets in advance and the tours sell out several days, if not weeks, ahead of time. Since the tours were sold out, the hotel recommended that we go to the prison about an hour before the first tour time and there would be a chance that we could get last minute tickets. We weren’t the only people who didn’t have tickets and the staff did their best to accommodate everyone who waited in the cold, wet morning air. Purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended.
The tour starts off by taking you through the oldest part of the prison, which dates back to 1796. This is where many of the leaders of the uprising were held by the British, who ran the prison. One of the things that was interesting was that they didn’t segregate the prisoners, so men, women, and even children were all locked in cells that held up to 5 people. Also, there was no lighting or heating in the prison, so the prisoners were given a single candle per cell for light and a little warmth. One of the highlights of the tour is when you enter the more modern section of the prison with its large common area. Everyone on the tour has the opportunity to enter one of the cells and get a closer look at the cramped conditions.
Originally, there were many hangings outside of the prison, although later the leaders of the rebellions were executed by firing squad inside of the prison square. It seems odd at first that a site of such suffering and oppression could become a popular tourist attraction. Understanding the sense of national pride that the people of Ireland have for all of the leaders who fought for independence and were imprisoned and lost their lives in the prison, makes the experience of touring the prison much more impressive.
We thoroughly enjoyed taking the time to visit the prison and were certainly glad that we did, but we’re not sure that Kilmainham Gaol is the top tourist attraction in Dublin. It is definitely something that anyone who visits Dublin should take the time to see, but we would recommend reading some information on the history of the prison and the various uprisings prior to taking the tour as it will enhance your experience.