Three days in Dublin, Ireland
Updated: Apr 11, 2021
Dublin is the largest city in Ireland, home to 1.2 million of the Irish population – the country’s population is 4.7 million, so a significant amount for sure. It may go without saying, but Dublin is also home to the country’s largest airport, and likely the one you will be arriving at on your trip to the Emerald Isle. It makes a great place for a weekend getaway or to orient yourself before heading out to explore the rest of the country.
The city has fantastic public transport, and both the bus and tram systems are straightforward and easy to figure out. If you’re not staying directly in the city center, it’s not a bad move to invest in either a 24 (€10) or 72 hour (€19.50) Visitor Leap Card, which covers unlimited transport in the Greater Dublin Area. Seeing as it also covers the express bus from the airport, which alone is €7, it’s a great deal. I’ve never invested in a visitor’s travel card before, but I’m glad we decided to do so in Dublin. You can either buy these at the airport or have them shipped to you (for free!!!) before you leave.
We arrived in Dublin at around 8 am, following the most sleep I’ve ever gotten on a plane, thanks to some Benadryl and a row to myself. Still, coffee was more than necessary, and after clearing immigration and hopping on a very crowded Airlink bus, we were off to Dublin city! Our first stop for the day was the EPIC Museum, which covers Irish immigration. This was a very strategic first stop, as it not only had luggage storage but was located in a building with a cafe, where we could fill our bellies and have our much-needed caffeine. The EPIC Museum is pretty new, which meant that most of the exhibits were very interactive and immersive. I like these types of museums much more than looking at some artifacts in glass cases. It goes deeper than just the typical story of Irish immigration and went on to discuss social movements which were supported by Irish immigrants. Definitely a cool place if you have Irish ancestors, or just to learn about the impact the Irish have had on society and the world!
We stayed the first night a little outside the city of Dublin, at the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, so we could have a quiet night to adjust to the time difference and get some sleep. The hotel was about an hour outside of Dublin (travel covered by our train passes!), and let us check in early, which was super nice! We spent the afternoon/evening in the town of Dun Laoghaire – if you are ever there, you need to eat at Sunshine Cafe. We stumbled upon it in our hungry state and crossed our fingers that it would be good. It ended up being more than just good. The baked sea bass I had was delicious, and everything else on the menu looked great. We did some shopping there, poking around the cute little shops and having a great time in the candy aisle of Tesco (my one true love). We also walked up the Killiney Hill, which had beautiful views over the water and into the Irish hills. Then it was back to the hotel for an early night so we could be ready for our first full day in Dublin.
Our night tonight was at a hotel in Dublin, so we were up early to check out and make the hour-long trek on the train to our next hotel. This one was the Maldron Hotel Smithfield, located near the Jameson Distillery on the more Western side of Dublin. It was a great location, close to the tram and bus, with tidy rooms – all we really needed! They also let us check in early – two for two on this trip! Then we grabbed some lunch from a nearby health food grocery store before heading into the center of Dublin. We started off at Merrion Square, home to all the famous Georgian houses, and walked through and around the park to look at all the artwork for sale. We also popped in the National Gallery of Ireland to check out some of the art – plus it was free! We have pretty similar taste and are always drawn to the impressionist era paintings.
We split up for our afternoon plans – Mom went to see the Book of Kells, and Allison and I headed to the Guinness Storehouse. Once we got there, we were really wishing we had prebooked tickets, as we ended up waiting for about an hour. Let that be a lesson to you all, pre-book your Guinness Storehouse tickets, especially in high season! The storehouse is a self-guided tour, which allows you to go at your own pace. Kind of nice, but I definitely would have preferred a guided tour because I feel like they’re more in-depth, and you learn more. It was really cool to learn about how Guinness is made, and especially how to properly taste the Guinness. At the end of the tour, you get a complimentary pint of Guinness to enjoy in their Gravity Bar, but good luck finding a seat! I joked to Allison that the Guinness Storehouse has the highest density of tourists in all of Dublin. Overall, I’m definitely glad that we went, but I wouldn’t say it’s a must-do while in Dublin, unless you’re a huge Guinness fan, or just want to do the super touristy things. I enjoyed the guided tour at the Jameson Distillery the last time I was in Ireland a bit more.
We finished our day with dinner at Fitzsimons; located right near the Ha’penny Bridge, it’s definitely on the more touristy side, but the lamb stew I had was so good, so I wasn’t really complaining! We were also very entertained by the stag (bachelor) party there, as well as some live music. Then it was back to the hotel for a relaxing bath and some Netflix before bed. Not a bad ending to a great day exploring Dublin!
After checking out and storing our bags at the hotel, we were off to keep exploring. After grabbing a coffee at the very cute Proper Order Coffee Co. near our hotel, and dragging Allison across the road to take some pictures by the river, we were off to the Kilmainham Gaol. Another lesson – this is also a popular tourist attraction, and even though we got there shortly after 10, the next available tickets weren’t until 12:15. We bought those and headed back into the city to check out the Christchurch Cathedral, which I would say is the second most well-known in Dublin after St. Patrick’s. I also happened to like it a bit better than St. Patrick’s. The interior is very beautiful, as many European cathedrals are, and they had some interesting artifacts down in the crypts, including a mummified cat and mouse which found trapped in an organ.
Soon it was time to head back to Kilmainham Gaol, also known as our favorite attraction in Dublin. All of the tours there were guided, which really helps you learn more about the history of a place, and boy, did we learn. Embarrassingly enough for my history major self, I didn’t know much about the history of Ireland before I visited, other than the famine and immigration. Luckily, our lovely tour guide, Rebecca, knew a lot more than I did, and was able to pass all that along to our group. The gaol (or jail) played a huge role in the Easter Rising and Irish War for Independence, housing many of those responsible for the Easter Rising, and ultimately becoming the place many were executed. We also learned about the story of Grace Gifford, who was allowed into the jail to marry her fiance the night before he was executed, and later was imprisoned there herself for her role in the independence movement. Her story is definitely the one that stuck with me the most – you have to commend someone who sticks up for what they believe in, even after knowing her husband was killed for it and then being imprisoned for it herself. Kilmainham Gaol was easily the highlight of our time in Dublin, and I could not recommend it enough to anyone who wants to see something that has played a key role in Ireland’s history.
Our final stop for the day was a late lunch at Mongolian Barbeque, which is located in the Temple Bar area. This is a little gem I had discovered the last time I was in Dublin, and I was dying to go back. Seriously, I would come back to Dublin just for Mongolian Barbeque. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s pretty much a build your own stirfry bowl, which they then cook right in front of you. Load up on the meat and veggies, because they bring some rice straight to the table for everyone. It’s a bargain at only €8, or €13 for all you can eat. I’m still thinking about how good it was, so good in fact, that I ate it all before even thinking about taking a picture… After lunch, we grabbed some tea and cake at Queen of Tarts (sadly, they were out of scones for the day), then made the rounds to grab snacks and our bags before our train left for Cork!
While Dublin isn’t one of my favorite cities in Europe, I love how much more ‘real’ it is. It doesn’t feel like a fairy-tale, or like you’ve walked into the 18th century. Instead, it feels like you’re in the middle of a working city. It’s not one that’s putting on a front. It’s just Dublin. The people are friendly, the food is good, and there’s something for everyone!