If you want to delve right into the heart of Dublin, the Liberties is the perfect place to go. Where else could you find medieval walls and 18th century libraries alongside modern cafés and antique shops?
Whether you want to learn all about the neighbourhood’s captivating history or explore a cool new gallery, there’s plenty to capture your imagination in the Liberties.
One of the oldest landmarks in the city, St Patrick’s Cathedral has been a part of Dublin’s tapestry for over 800 years. Walk beneath the vaulted ceiling of the nave and you’ll find a few interesting sights, from the spot where St Patrick baptised Christian converts to the final resting place of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. The world-famous choir performs daily in the cathedral and there are often performances from Dublin musicians as well. The surrounding park and gardens are a great spot for an al fresco coffee.
As you walk around the Liberties, you’ll discover many historic artefacts that give you a glimpse into the neighbourhood’s past. Turn the corner on Cornmarket and Lamb Alley and you’ll find one of the oldest remnants of Dublin’s city wall, which was built in the 12th century. Walk down Cook Street and you can trace one of the longest stretches of surviving wall.
Marsh’s Library has been around for over 300 years and during that time almost nothing has changed within its walls. The dark wooden shelves heave with leatherbound books, some of which even bear bullet holes from a misfire during the 1916 Rising. At the back of the library you’ll find ornate reading cages, where readers would be locked in to stop any rare books going walkabout. There are a few spooky tales to be told about the spirits said to haunt these walls, so be sure to ask one of the friendly librarians about any ghoulish happenings.
The antique shops that line Francis Street have been here for decades. Wander down the road and window shop at some of the longstanding favourites like O’Sullivan’s and Johnston Antiques, where you’ll find a beautiful selection of Georgian and Edwardian pieces from Dublin and around the world. If your budget is on the lower side then visit the Oxfam Home store, where you can often find first edition books and mid-century furniture.
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, this corner of Dublin was the epicentre of the world’s whiskey industry, with the Liberties home to almost 40 distilleries. While many closed their doors in the 20th century, the last few years have seen the return of independent whiskey distilleries in what is known as the Golden Triangle. Head to Roe & Co in the old Guinness power station for interesting insights into the history of the area. Tours of the Pearse Lyons Distillery take in the Church of St. James and includes food pairing options. Or pop in for a tour of the Teeling Distillery, one of the first of the newcomers to open up in the Liberties.
The Guinness Storehouse is synonymous with the city of Dublin and has been the unofficial face of the Liberties for donkey’s years. A visit will take you through the journey of the black stuff from grain to glass, as well as the evolution of the classic television adverts from decades past. The highlight for many is found at the end with a drink in the Gravity Bar, where you can take in a bird’s eye view of the Liberties while sipping one of the freshest pints you could ask for.
When it scooped a Michelin star just nine months after opening, Variety Jones secured its name as one of the finest restaurants in Dublin. But true to its roots, this spot is innovative and down to earth. Nab a table at this tiny restaurant on Thomas Street and you’ll enjoy a chef’s choice of inventive flavourful dishes, most of which are grilled up on an open hearth.
Dublinia doesn’t just tell the story of Dublin’s Viking and medieval history. It’s also located right on the foundations of the oldest part of the city, which you’ll learn about through a slick audio-visual installation telling the story of one medieval Dublin man. As the video plays, you’ll see how this corner of the city has changed over the years. When you finish the tour up in the medieval tower, you can look out at the cityscape and imagine how it would have looked all those years ago.
A favourite with locals, Two Pups is a Liberties landmark. Grab one of the oversized leather armchairs and tuck into a flat white and some French toast while people pop in to catch up with friends or read the paper in peace. As you might expect from the name, it’s a dog friendly spot, so you’ll likely see a visiting pup or two (sometimes even a pet bird).
Part café and part art gallery, Hen’s Teeth is one of the coolest spots in the Liberties. There are often installations on display from Dublin artists, as well as plenty of interesting prints and photography to browse. They have a great selection of vinyl and homewares, as well as an excellent grocery section where you’ll find locally made condiments and treats. The café has a small menu that changes every week but delivers punchy dishes with an Asian flavour.
Fancy visiting more of Dublin's distinct neighbourhoods? Check out our guide to the different 'villages' that make up the city.