Spending some quality time with James Joyce in Dublin
If you are headed to Ireland, chances are you will be landing in Dublin. And while you are there, I highly recommend you stay a few days and enjoy this remarkable, colorful, historical, delightful city.
You will likely visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral, enjoy a pint in the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse, tour Dublin Castle, and walk shoulder to shoulder through cobbled streets in lively Temple Bar. I highly endorse each one of these activities!
But you may want to dive a little deeper and explore some more options. The following are just a few of our recommendations. If you would like suggestions specific to you, your plans and your travel companions, let us help you out with a custom itinerary, or allow us to provide personal recommendations through our coaching service.
Unusual Things to Do in Dublin
Dublin is a unique and unusual city, and not just on St. Patrick’s Day. The language is colorful, the culture is rich, the history runs deeps and the people are as nice as they come, especially if you can understand their fabulous accent! So, in this exceptional city, it feels right to see all the items on your “must do” list, as well as enjoy a few treasures that are unique to this Irish capital.
Dublin Hidden Gems
Literary Pub Crawl
Ireland has produced some real giants in the literary world, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, CS Lewis, George Bernard Shaw and many more. Why not celebrate some of this genius while you are in Dublin? It’s an experience that can add to your understanding and appreciation of Ireland and all it has contributed to the world stage.
A memorial to Samuel Beckett near where he used to live and write.
Why is Irish literature so good? The country has an incredibly deep cultural heritage. Over the centuries, the Irish have been dominated by many different invaders from the Celts to the Vikings. The English added their oppression as well, and this has all produced a history has been intense and turbulent.
Somehow, the struggles faced by the Irish people have contributed to making them terrific storytellers. A drop or two of Guinness or Irish whisky hasn’t hurt either.
Celebrating the list of novelists, playwrights and poets in Dublin can be an amazing experience that not every visitor takes advantage of. On the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, actors take you on a “quirky, book-themed pub tour following famous writers’ footsteps through Dublin’s cobbled streets.” It’s entertaining, informative, and fun – and you get to duck into some Irish pubs! What more could you ask for in this hidden gem?
Traditional Irish Music pub crawl
As Greg is a jazz musician, I thought he would know plenty about traditional Irish music. I was wrong! He really had to learn a lot when he brought students to Ireland to study this distinctive and wonderful form of music.
It’s an awesome experience to be in a pub when a session is going on. When we did a Workaway near Kilkenny last year, our host took us to a few pubs where she played the button accordion with her friends who she said were the “real musicians”. They were absolutely incredible. Watching them play and listening to the sounds they produced was mesmerizing. They really play for each other, not for the audience. They even face each other while they are playing. I can see why they say music is a universal language. The feeling produced by this musical storytelling can be deep and profound.
The first stop on the Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl
It seems like it would be easy to grab a pint, prop yourself by the bar, and just enjoy the music. I mean, it is easy – and you can do it all over Ireland; but just like most things, if you know a little bit about the subject, the experience becomes even better.
In Dublin, you can attend a Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl. Now you have to understand, Greg, being a musician, is rather picky about these kinds of things. He was a bit tentative about going on this activity the first time – he thought it would be too elementary or maybe the musicians wouldn’t be that good. But they are fantastic!! Even Greg was impressed!
An evening on this pub crawl is like joining a moving concert. You go to two different pubs, and the hosts tell stories, talk about Irish music and they sing and play! It is a really fun evening and we highly recommend it. It will make the rest of the sessions you attend all over Ireland, even more fun.
History and Guinness tour
When we were in Dublin recently, we stayed in an Airbnb, and received an offer for a discount on one of their “experiences.” We saw one called “History and Pints” and were intrigued. We have been to the Guinness Storehouse many times and it is a lot of fun – but unbelievably crowded, especially during the week before St. Patrick’s Day. But to honor “the black stuff” AND learn some more Irish history, we decided to give this experience a go.
It was fantastic! We loved it! Nils was our host – a young entrepreneur in his mid-twenties who does a similar tour in Berlin (with German beer, of course). The tour is now run by his friend and former classmate who is a history graduate of Trinity College and a Guinness connoisseur.
Our History and Pints Tour with Nils was fantastic! Oscar Wilde looks on in the background.
When we took our tour, it was a dreary, rainy day, but he kept us fully entertained as we walked through our Dublin history lesson and then ducked into a pub for a pint to learn about Guinness. It was an immersive experience. If you have a chance to take a History and Pints tour, do it. I think it really is a hidden gem in this great city.
Other non-touristy things to do in Dublin
Go see a show!
In a country with great artists, musicians and playwrights, you know there will be great theater. Of course, Dublin has venues with blockbuster musicals and great Riverdance performances, but why not try to also see something a little different than the mainstream? We recommend going to a production that is maybe a bit avant-garde. See a show that perhaps you’ve never even heard of before!
The Abbey Theatre is the national theatre of Ireland and regularly entertains audiences with first rate, innovative performances. The Smock Alley Theater is Dublin’s “oldest newest theatre” and is a lively center of art and creativity. Both are highly recommended.
Go to pub and watch a horse race
Molly Malone or “The Tart with the Cart” is now near O’Neil’s Pub.
On one of our trips to Ireland, our guide convinced us to bet on a horse. We didn’t know anything about it and wouldn’t have even considered such a bet. We didn’t know the horse or the odds, but the suggested bet was €1 each, so it wasn’t too big a risk. We went for it, along with the other members of our group.
We learned a little bit about horse racing in the time between placing the bet and the time of the race. We ended up going to O’Neil’s Pub in Dublin to watch. The place was packed! And it’s a big pub with all kinds of little nooks and crannies all over it. You could barely move in this place. I had no concept for how much Dubliners love a day at the races.
There were big screens in different rooms, (also used for other kinds of sporting events, of course), a fantastic buffet for those who were hungry and pints of Guinness everywhere. When our race finally came on the screen, it was a riot to literally have a horse in the race. And guess what – our horse won! Lord Windermere won the race! We loved the experience of watching “our” horse while we were surrounded by locals and tourists alike, most who seemed like they knew what was going on better than we did. It was such a fun experience.
Some important things to do (even though they may not be so unusual)
Visit Trinity Library and the Book of Kells
I love libraries, and Trinity Library is one of my all-time favorites. It is not off the beaten path. It really is a place you should not miss when you are in Dublin and lots of other people will be visiting with you.
Do some research on the Book of Kells before you go, as this will truly enhance your experience. If you’d like to see these sights for half price or free (prices start at €11 per adult), there are two ways to do it.
Visit 30 minutes before the library closes. The library usually closes at 5:00 pm, but there are some exceptions. You can visit the official website for the latest opening times.
You could also make friends with a student or an alumnus. Students and alumni receive lifetime access to the Old Library and the exhibition. They are allowed to take up to three friends with them. Maybe you’ll make a friend at the pub who can get you in for free!
Learn Some Important History and Perspective
The Great Famine, or The Great Hunger, occurred between 1845 – 1849. The vast majority of the Irish population was dependent on the potato at that time, and when the potato crop failed, there was mass starvation. During this period, 1/3 of the Irish population died, 1/3 emigrated, and 1/3 stayed in their homeland.
Part of the Famine Memorial in Dublin
The Jeanie Johnston is a replica of a famine ship where people hoping for something better sailed away from Ireland to the US and Canada. Visitors can learn about this dark time in Irish history when people were so desperate they had to risk their life on an overcrowded, under provisioned ship like this in order to escape death by starvation at home. The subject is treated with great sensitivity and respect.
But because so much of Ireland’s population emigrated, the Irish influence is literally all over the world! EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum tells this story. This immersive museum offers visitors a chance to get hands on with Irish culture and its past. Discover the politicians, poets, artists, musicians, athletes, scientists and other great achievers whose roots are from this great island.
So, when you are in Dublin, make sure to see all the famous spots you traveled so far to visit. But don’t miss the hidden gems. Go off the beaten track a bit and you will find even more to enjoy about Dublin.
Would you like to visit this vibrant city? Where do your travel dreams take you? We can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, the UK and all of Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips to European destinations. We also book European cruises! Feel free to reach out via email — We’re always available to talk about travel!
Betsy Ball – Betsy is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group trips to Europe. She is a passionate and culturally curious traveler who thoroughly enjoys sharing her love for exploring Europe with ETC clients. Prior to founding ETC, Betsy taught International Business at Tarleton State University in Texas (part of the A & M System) where she led study abroad trips to multiple European countries and other worldwide destinations. She retired from teaching two and a half years ago and now travels 9 months of the year in Europe. She has a degree in hotel, restaurant management from Michigan State University and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She also holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
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