By Jim Ferri
Ireland is a favorite place for many travelers. That’s not just because the island is so varied and beautiful; it’s because the Irish themselves are so wonderful. They are witty, down to earth, fun-loving people who welcome everyone as one of their own. That’s as true in the capital of Dublin as it is anywhere in the country.
Dublin is a wonderful city, one of the most popular capitals of Europe. And it’s incredibly varied, so much, in fact, that every time you return you discover something new.
It’s a city steeped in history – with everything from Viking remains to medieval cathedrals to wonderful Georgian squares. But it’s also a wonderful city of music, literature, and theater that has produced an extraordinary number of literary greats. And, of course, there’s Ireland’s “pub culture,” a unique facet of Irish life that’s alive and well in the Irish capital.
If you haven’t yet visited Dublin here’s a list of the top 10 most popular places in the city – in no particular order—that lure travelers back time and again. If you haven’t yet visited this wonderful city, these are good places to start your visit; if you’re a seasoned Dublin visitor, sit back and reminisce.
Dating back to the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth I founded it, Trinity College is most famously known by travelers for its spectacular Book of Kells, the beautifully decorated manuscript that is one of Dublin’s, and Ireland’s, most treasured possessions. But there’s much more to this institution (which, by the way, has produced many noted alumni including Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Oliver Goldsmith and many more) than only this beautiful illuminated manuscript. Walk through the Long Room of the Old Library whose antique bookcases hold more than 200,000 volumes. Also visit Library Square, the Douglas Hyde Gallery or just wander around the beautiful campus.
The National Museum of Ireland
This famous Dublin museum is divided into three buildings in different areas of the city. You can learn about the Viking age in Ireland and see pieces of ancient gold jewelry found throughout Ireland, among many other things, in the Archaeology section on Kildare Street. View Decorative Arts and History in the museum’s Collins Barracks site, a former military barracks. Its Natural History Museum, which contains specimens of animals from around the world, is located on Merrion Street.
The National Gallery of Ireland
As you would likely expect, this superb museum houses the most important collection of Irish art in the world. Its superb collection goes well beyond the Irish though, and includes pieces from the British School, an Italian collection that dates to the Renaissance, as well as selections of French works (Monet and others dating from the 17th-19th centuries), Spanish (including Goya, Velazquez and Picasso, the latter representing the modern era), and Flemish, Dutch and German paintings (Peter Paul Rubens, Pieter Brueghel the Younger). Entry is free.
Built by King John in the 13th century Dublin Castle remained a symbol of British rule over Ireland for more than 700 years. Built atop a ninth century Viking village, this formidable fortress is used mostly for ceremonial purposes today. Its most famous feature is the Chester Beatty Library and Gallery, containing one of the finest collections of Oriental art in the world.
When people talk about Temple Bar, they’re referring to an area of pubs, restaurants, galleries, shops and theaters on the banks of the River Liffey. (There is, however, a pub named “The Temple Bar” in Temple Bar). At nighttime, its cobbled streets are alive with tourists and locals, making it one of the livelier and colorful areas in Dublin. It also makes it one of the most dangerous areas. The area was named for its owner, Sir William Temple, who back in the 1600’s bought the land that included a path, or “bar.”
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
In the capital city of the country so predominantly Catholic, one would expect St. Patrick’s Cathedral to be a Roman Catholic church. In reality, though, it is the National Cathedral of the Protestant Church of Ireland and is commonly known as the “People’s Cathedral.” Located on the spot where it’s said Saint Patrick baptized converts in A.D. 450, it’s a beautiful building that contains the grave of Jonathan Swift and his wife, one of the most visited places in the edifice. During the 17th century Civil War, Cromwell used the Cathedral as a stable for his horses.
The Guinness Storehouse
If there’s any place in the world that is said to have a shrine to its national beverage, this is it. It’s also a quite fascinating place. Covering an area of more than 50 acres at St. James’s Gate, this fascinating place will teach you quite a bit about brewing and a little bit about Irish history, as well. The building, formerly opened by Bill Clinton some years back, was designed in the shape of a giant pint glass, which if filled would hold 14.3 million pints. The popular Gravity Bar at the top (where you’ll receive a free pint) provides great views of Dublin.
St. Stephen’s Green
27-acre St. Stephen’s Green is a wonderful oasis in central Dublin, open daily from sunrise to sunset. It’s a great place to relax as evidenced by Dubliners you’ll see strolling about or relaxing while reading a book. Wander about and you’ll see memorials to many Irish greats including James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, and Henry Moore. Once a site for public punishment, it was purchased by Sir Arthur Guinness and transformed into a park. Grab a takeaway lunch from a local shop and go relax on a park bench.
Built in the late 18th century, Kilmainham Gaol, is famous for its brutal treatment of prisoners and remains one of the most foreboding places in Dublin. In addition to revolutionaries, during the time of British rule prominent Irish politicians were also jailed here, and it was here that the leaders of the 1916 rebellion were executed. A tour of the place will give you an idea of what the gruesome conditions were like for those who had to spend part of their lives here. It’s located west of central Dublin near Phoenix Park.
In spite of Dublin being a rather small city by European standards, this park is the largest enclosed urban park in all of Europe. It is also the home of the official residence of the Irish president as well as that of the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. The 1700+-acre park, by comparison more than double the size of New York’s Central Park, is landscaped in the tradition of a large English park, complete with hundreds of deer roaming the area. It is also home to Dublin Zoo, the second oldest in Europe, and Farmleigh House, a large Edwardian estate and working farm. Relatively close to the center of the city, it’s an ideal place to relax.
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