What comes to mind when someone says “Dublin”? Guinness, St. Patrick’s Day, pubs? Literary legends like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde? Maybe one more Guinness? Ireland’s capital definitely has all of the above (and then some), but there’s so much more to this city that teeters on the edge of Europe.
Here are 9 things I wish I knew before visiting Dublin.
1. You need to get out of the city.
This might seem like a strange tip to start with, but compared to some of its neighboring capital cities like London or Berlin, Dublin is small. All of the major sights are within walking distance — after two days or so, you’ll have some time on your hands. Less than an hour away from the city center are the Wicklow Mountains, fishing villages like Howth, and historic mansions like Powerscourt House, all of which are unmissable. Get out there and explore!
2. You won’t be partying all night.
Despite Ireland’s reputation of being a country that’s fond of a drink (or three), Dublin is not a city that never sleeps. On weeknights, pubs close their doors at 11:30 PM. On weekends, it’s 2:30 AM. It’s against the law for supermarkets and off-licenses (liquor stores) to sell alcohol after 10 PM, too. If you really want to keep the party going try some of the city’s big nightclubs — Coppers or Diceys are always popular spots and stay open until at least 3:30 AM.
3. But you will make friends easily.
Even in the bustling capital city of Ireland, the locals still make time to smile and say hi. If you’re a solo traveler, you won’t be flying solo for long in Dublin. Take a seat at any bar and someone will start up a friendly conversation before you’ve finished your first drink. If you’re waiting for a bus or in a queue, same deal. Dubliners love to chat. Guaranteed conversation starters include the weather, Bono’s ego, and pretty much everything in between! Also, people from Dublin are overly protective of tourists. If you are told to avoid a certain part of the city because it’s unsafe etc, take heed.
4. Museums are free and fantastic.
In plenty of other European capitals, visitors pay through the nose for their culture hit. Not so in Dublin. The city has some seriously superb museums that are completely free, seven days a week. The National Gallery has works by Monet, Vermeer, and Picasso; The National Museum has 3,000-year-old bog bodies and exquisite Celtic jewelry collections (among plenty of other treasures), and the Chester Beatty Library is consistently rated as one of the best museums in Europe and holds free workshops. See it all without spending a penny.
5. Don’t go near Temple Bar.
With cobblestone streets, brightly painted pubs, and on-street traditional music sessions, Temple Bar is often at the top of visitors’ “must see” lists for Dublin. In reality, this cultural quarter is probably the least authentic part of the city. Apart from a select few establishments, Temple Bar is considered tourist territory by Dubliners, who stay away from its overpriced pints and souvenir shops. If that’s your kind of thing, great. But if you want to mingle with the locals, head elsewhere. Also if you are visiting on St. Patrick’s day, this holiday, for locals, is not about binge drinking on the streets or at the parade, it’s a day for chilling out with family and friends.
6. Come prepared to eat well.
Dublin’s food scene is the city’s most underrated attraction. A far cry from bacon and cabbage (although you can get that, too), the streets are teeming with really great restaurants. Sushi bars such as Yamamori Izakaya, falafel at Umi, the best burger joint in town — Bunsen — debunks the myth and Ireland’s food is dull.
7. Getting around can be… interesting.
Dublin was built by medieval Vikings in the 10th century. They didn’t exactly plan for a population of over one million people, or for, you know, vehicles. Many of the city center’s streets are narrow and are usually lined with double-decker buses, taxis, trams, and cyclists. Public transport can be a challenge, too — buses take exact change only and timetables are sometimes mere guidelines. Avoid it all by walking, or pedal your way around with the Dublin Bikes bike sharing scheme.
8. Heading to the Guinness Storehouse? Go, but go early!
The Guinness Storehouse is the home of Ireland’s most famous drink and is also the number one tourist attraction in the entire country. It welcomed over 1.7 million visitors in 2017 and regularly sees thousands of people pass through its doors every day. You know what that means? Queues. At popular times of the year like St. Patrick’s Day, waiting in line for at least an hour is a given. It is worth visiting — not only for a pint with a view but for some background history on the city. Also, there are no tall buildings in the city center to get a really good view — except here. Come early and even better, book your ticket in advance and jump to the top.
9. Do not underestimate the weather.
Some cities get monsoon season. Most get a light sprinkle of rain every now and again. And others skip rain completely and get snow instead. In Dublin, you can have all of the above in a single weekend. The weather here can change dramatically in a matter of hours, and sometimes even minutes! Dress in layers, stash a waterproof jacket in your backpack, and bring a tough pair of shoes that can handle it all.