So much about Dublin surprised me: it’s a small city packed with music, history, parties and great places to hang out. It’s the perfect location for a weekend adventure, as you can walk everywhere and see it all in a couple of days, or the starting point for your adventure around Ireland. There is so much to see, do and experience, so here are my recommendations for the most fabulous things to do in Dublin.
Go on a journey with Irish activist and historian Tonie Walsh as he takes you on a tour through Dublin’s queer history. Over the course of 3 hours, this walking tour will take you to a variety of iconic spots in central Dublin, including Trinity College and the Oscar Wilde statue. All money from the tour (€25 per person) goes to GAZE International LGBT+ Film Festival Dublin. Currently, the tour only runs about once a month so book well in advance.
2. Feel floral at the National Botanic Gardens
Even on a cold day, Ireland’s National Botanic Gardens in the north of Dublin make for an interesting excursion. There are a couple of beautiful Victorian glasshouses that are home to a variety of palm trees, orchids, cacti and more. Make sure you stop off for brunch at Two Boys Brew (see below) on your way there. It actually surprised me how much I enjoyed my trip here – you can read my blog about the gardens here.
3. Wander around colourful Temple Bar
So Temple Bar is kind of like Covent Garden in London: it’s an area that was once interesting but is purely for tourists now. So I don’t recommend spending an entire day (or night) around here as it is filled with all the group tours and selfie sticks you probably want to avoid. However, it is worth a wander around to see some of the colourful shopfront and street art. I particularly liked the exterior of the Blooms Hotel, which has these incredible Art Nouveau depictions of characters from James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses. Plus the shopfronts on Crown Alley. See more pictures on my colourful Dublin blog here.
4. Pay your respects at the Oscar Wilde Memorial
Situated directly across the road from Wilde’s childhood home, at No. 1 Merrion Square, this statue is both fancy and a little odd. Fancy because his clothes are made out of a number of colourful minerals (lush nephrite jade, bright pink Norwegian thulite, shiny blue pearl and black granite) and odd because the statues feels a little too high off the ground to be easily viewable (ok, I’m a shorty) and Wilde has a weird look on his face. Apparently, this is because the sculptor wanted to capture the duality of Wilde nature – both tragic and comic. Either way, I always feel the need to pay my respects when I’m in the vicinity of a memorial to this great man and you should too.
5. Saturday shopping at the Bernard Shaw Flea Market
Held twice a month on Saturdays, the large beer garden at the Bernard Shaw becomes a great way to spend the day no matter what the weather. The first Saturday of the month is always clothes, whilst a Saturday later in the month is always themed (sci-fi, comics and art are some upcoming themes. Expect Dublin’s more brightly coloured crew to gather here. Grab a pint from inside or a pizza from the bus in the beer garden if you’re hungry.
6. Line-up the perfect shot at The Long Room Library
If you fancy spending 14 Euros capturing Dublin’s most Instagrammable spot, then this place is for you. Housed in the Trinity College’s Old Library, the incredible barrel ceiling in the room is one of the most photographed spots in the city. What you don’t realise through all the Instagram snaps is that this is home to the oldest books in Trinity College’s collection. We’re talking The Book of Kells, a rare copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the harp that was the model for the emblem of Ireland (yes, that one on all your Guinness cans).
7. Listen to traditional Irish music at The Cobblestone
In lots of pubs across Ireland, you’ll walk in to discover a group of people jamming to traditional music for everyone’s entertainment. Going for a pint to listen to the locals’ play is a pretty popular tourist thing to do so choose your pub wisely. The Cobblestone on Smithfield Square is a great option on the edge of central Dublin. The beers are cheap, the music is good and the locals are really friendly.
8. Find your salve at Sweny’s Pharmacy
Round the corner from Oscar Wilde’s statue is this former pharmacy that appeared in the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. You’ll find a lot of references to this book around the city. If you’re brave enough to crack the spine on this iconic 730-page modernist tome, then be warned that it’s a notoriously difficult novel to read. Anyway, this shop operated as an apothecary right up until 2009 and now acts as a bookshop, tourist gift shop and Ulysses pilgrimage hotspot. It’s a wonderfully odd spot and well worth a visit.
9. Discover your Irish roots
Apparently, 80 million people around the globe claim to be of Irish descent – not bad for a country that currently has a population of just under 5 million. So how have the waves of Irish emigration shaped the world? If you have any interest in the history of this country and its diaspora, then this interactive museum is a must-visit for you.
10. Enjoy free art at the National Gallery of Ireland
Yes, Dublin’s biggest art museum has always been free and definitely worth spending an afternoon wandering around. Located right across the road from the Oscar Wilde statue, the main gallery flows through a number of different spaces (some grand, some small) as you explore this grand collection of European art spanning the 14th to the 20th-century.
Day trips from Dublin
11. Pack a picnic and head to Glendalough
If you’re craving a bit more of the Emerald Isle with your trip to Dublin, then I recommend heading to Glendalough on the nicest day of your trip. Only 90 minutes outside of the city, this beautiful slice of County Wicklow has two lakes to swim in, a medieval monastery to explore and many hiking trails if you’re feeling particularly active. You can pack a picnic and spend a whole day there or explore it as part of a day tour of the area. You can find links to all these options in my Dublin day tour review here.
Fabulous places to eat in Dublin
12. Brunch: Two Boys Brew
Although you’ll hear Brother Hubbard’s two cafes praised for being the best brunch in Dublin, I’m going out on a limb here to say that they are very worthy second to this north Dublin establishment. Don’t take my word for it – go and order the mushrooms to see for yourself. You can thanks me later. It’s a great morning stop-off on your way to the nearby Botanic Gardens. Read my full review here.
13. Lunch: Umi Falafel
Dublin isn’t a cheap city, so finding a tasty place to sit down and feast on something great for only 5 euros is worth noting. This delicious Lebanese chain has 3 stores in central Dublin and is a great budget spot for lunch or dinner. Plus, their menu is almost entirely vegan and gluten-free so it works for everyone. Check out my full review for their Georges Street Arcade branch here.
14. Dinner: Klaw Poké
Fancy a little Hawaiian sushi for dinner? If you’ve yet to sample the latest foodie trend that is poké, then you should give a whirl in Dublin as this restaurant has all the things you need: amazing food, amazing atmosphere and amazing prices. 10 euros for a main is really good value in this city and my Mauna Kea bowl was spot on. Check out my full review for this tasty restaurant here.
Fabulous places to drink in Dublin
15. Street 66
This place has great post-work vibes, making it an excellent option for kick-starting a night out, rather than ending one. Although, the DJ did start pumping out the disco tunes from around 8pm the night I was here.
Named after its owner, Ireland’s most famous drag queen Panti Bliss, the PantiBar is an eye-catching gay bar/club on Capel St. It’s a fun spot for a drink and dance any night of the week. Make sure you head there early in the evening as it closes just after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
17. The George
Undoubtedly Dublin’s most iconic gay bar, The George has been around since 1985 (eight years before homosexuality was legalised in Ireland). It’s the first places everyone recommended to me when I said I coming to Dublin, so you know you’re in for a treat any night of the week here, including bingo on Sundays with Shirley Temple Bar.
18. Mother Club
Describing itself as “a sub-terrain queer club in the heart of Dublin”, Mother serves up healthy portions of electro and disco at The Hub on Eustace St every Saturday night from 11pm. Previous guest DJs have included the lovely JD Samson from Le Tigre so you know you’re in safe alt/queer/cool hands with this night. Entry is €10 but keep an eye on their Facebook events for info on the reduced entry list.
19. After parties
So all the parties have to stop at 3am by law, which means you better make friends with some locals before then so you can find out where the real parties are happening: the après-party! Held in all manner of random venues (secret basements, closed restaurants), these parties are a well-known secret throughout the city. Expect to pay entry on the door (usually €10) and everything to be cash inside. These parties are illegal and usually don’t run for more than a couple of hours, but they’ve become an iconic element of the Dublin party scene.
If you’re not from the Emerald Isle, then you probably haven’t heard of a spice bag before. This late night Irish phenomenon consists of chips, chicken and mystery blend of spices and vegetables that is meant ease your drunken cravings. This should help you understand what this variety show/party of the same name is all about. It’s a night for every letter in the LGBT+ acronym, with performances and dancing. Held at the City of Dublin’s Working Men’s Club – not the one on the Quays but the one around the corner from the Pantibar
Popping up every couple of months at Jigsaw in the north of Dublin, Glitter Hole is queer feminist performance night with a very DIY edge. Think progressive drag shows, stand-up comedy and BYO drinks.
22. Taboo Dublin
If you’re a millennial looks queen, then this is the party for you. Taking its name from Leigh Bowery’s iconic 80s Londo party, Taboo is held every couple of months at the Turks Head in Dublin. It’s very much a club kids party, so dress to be photographed.
Held annually on the anniversary of Ireland saying YES to marriage equality, Yestival is a wonderful celebration of the new, progressive Ireland. Presented by the people behind Mother, this year’s festival is next weekend, 19th May, at the Tivoli Theatre on Frances St and features Sophie Ellis Bextor and a whole range of queer performers for a night of fun.
24. Dublin Pride
Like most major European cities, Dublin holds a 10 day LGBTQ pride festival every summer that culminates in parade day. This year’s festival takes place from 21st-30th June and is themed ‘We Are Family’ after the Catholic congress taking place in Dublin this August, the World Meeting of Families, recently removed images of same-sex couples from its pamphlets. In a country where almost 80% of the population identifies as Catholic, it’s a timely reminder as to why Pride events and LGBT+ activism is still so necessary.
25. Dublin Fringe Festival
September is all about the Fringe Festival in Dublin, and this year’s one is a real corker! The one and only Peaches will be performing the entire rock opera/musical Jesus Christ Superstar. On her own. With just a piano. Powerful stuff. There’ll also be a host of other amazing performers and shows filling the three-week festival from 8th-3rd September.
26. GAZE International LGBT Film Festival Dublin
This film festival has been running since 1992, which is incredible when you consider that that homosexuality was decriminalised until the following year. Aside from Dublin Pride, it is the biggest LGBT event in Ireland. This year’s festival takes place from 2nd-6th August.
27. Dublin Gay Theatre Festival
This two-week theatre festival was launched in 2004 to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Dublin’s own Oscar Wilde. Although the festival is based in the city, most of the work is from around the world, with new work from gay playwrights or plays with gay characters or themes from across Europe, UK, North America, Africa and Australia. This year’s festival is on right now, from 7th-20th May.
My friends recommend
28. Female Hemingway recommends: a literary tour of Dublin
29. Rexy Edventures recommends: the Guinness Store House
As I can’t drink Guinness, I didn’t add this top tourist spot to my itinerary for this trip. However, my friend Ed feels it is not to be missed – an opinion backed-up by many locals who recommended it to me as well (so if the locals love it, it must be good)! Read more at Rexy Edventures blog here.