15 quirky and unique things to do in Dublin

Media captionDiscover the unexpected in Dublin.
People at the Diving Bell in Dublin city
Media captionDiscover the unexpected in Dublin.

There’s never a shortage of things to see or visit in Dublin, from historic churches to fascinating museums.

But it’s also home to many unusual or hidden locations, and experiences which are a twist on your usual fare. These secret cafés, spooky crypts and remarkable historical objects can turn a city trip from great to unforgettable.

So, if you want to experience the more unusual side of Dublin on your visit, check out our favourite quirky highlights in the capital. 

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The Diving Bell

The incredible Diving Bell on Grand Canal Dock is a fascinating remnant of Dublin Port’s history. Designed by port engineer Bindon Blood Stoney (what a name!), it was used from 1871 during the construction of the quay walls and only went out of use in 1958. The huge orange contraption enabled people to work under water, though the conditions inside were said to be pretty uncomfortable. In the bell’s interpretative centre, you can learn more about the dock workers who did the difficult and essential work inside it. Afterwards, why not stop off at Bindon Blood Stoney Road around the corner and tip your hat to the wiley inventor.  

The Hungry Tree

A walk to the gorgeous Phoenix Park is a must-do when you visit Dublin’s northside, but on the way there’s a quirky spot and great photo opportunity to factor into your wander. Inside the King’s Inns grounds at Constitution Hill you’ll find the Hungry Tree. This stunning London plane tree (listed as one of the country’s Heritage Trees by the Tree Council of Ireland) was given its name as it’s been chomping away on a park bench over the decades. On the walk to Phoenix Park, take a detour to Constitution Hill and ask a friendly local for directions. Keep an eye out for the wrought iron gates at the entrance to King’s Inns – and then get your best smile ready for the camera.  

Media captionPay a visit to the Hungry Tree.
Media credit@teilzeitnomadin

Ye Olde Hurdy-Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio

Dublin has almost 30 Martello Towers dotted along the coast, built as lookouts in the very early 1800s ahead of an expected Napoleonic invasion. In the #2 tower on Howth’s East Pier, one man’s passion has seen the building turned into the quirky Ye Olde Hurdy-Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio. Inside is the collection of audiophile Pat Herbert, who began collecting radios and all things connected with communications in the 1950s, like gramophones, crystal sets, valve radios and even early Morse equipment, as well as early TVs, music boxes, photos and telegrams. Step inside this portal to the past and learn about how the tower was the site of the first successful ‘wireless’ transmissions between Howth and Holyhead (carried out by American Lee DeForest in 1903), as well as its links to the inventor Guglielmo Marconi. 

Fr Pat Noise's plaque

History fans will often take note of the various plaques around capital cities, but this one on Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge has quite the bizarre backstory. It looks like an ordinary plaque, celebrating a Fr Pat Noise who died “under suspicious circumstances when his carriage plunged into the Liffey on August 10th, 1919”. The plaque was installed in 2004, but it wasn’t until 2006 that a journalist called attention to it – and it was discovered it was a hoax. Even though the plaque was removed once, it was reinstalled by the two brothers who created it, and is still on O’Connell Bridge to this day.  

Media captionCheck out Fr Pat Noise's plaque.

The Church Bar

Sure, Dublin is home to many pubs and churches. But how about a location that combines both? The Church is a café, late bar and restaurant on Jervis Street, ideal for if you need a break after checking out the shops nearby on Henry St. The 17th century building hasn’t been used as a church since the 1960s and was later converted into a contemporary venue which opened in 2005. Eat lunch beneath stained-glass windows and near original wall tablets, spot an original organ built by Renatus Harris, and view the bust of Arthur Guinness, who was married in the church in 1761. You can also visit the burial crypts in the building. 

Settle in for some casual lunch or dinner between 12pm to 9pm – and if the weather is warm, the terrace is a great spot for people-watching.  

Media captionEnjoy a drink in the 17th century Church Bar on Jervis Street.

MV Cill Airne Boat

Dublin’s MV Cill Airne Boat, located at Quay 16, North Wall Quay, is a lovely spot to oversee the Docklands and grab some dinner with a maritime twist. The boat was built in the 1960s and was later fully restored after going out of use in 2003. Depending on the sort of meal you’d like, you can choose from the Captain’s table in Quay 16 Restaurant, the Blue River Bistro Bar on the upper deck, or have a casual drink in the White Bar on the main deck. No matter the season, you’ll feel like you’re away from the city buzz in this unique setting.

Mummies at St Michan's

If you’re of a spooky persuasion, then the crypt at St Michan’s Church is the stuff of dreams. This church has a fascinating history dating back to 1095 and is home to an organ on which Handel is said to have practiced his Messiah. But it’s below the church you’ll want to venture, to the five long burial vaults containing mummified remains said to belong to some of Dublin's most influential 17th to 19th century families. You'll also find the death mask of Wolfe Tone and the remains of the Sheares brothers who took part in the 1798 rebellion. 

There are different theories as to why the remains in the coffins became mummified, with most putting it down to the limestone walls. Whatever the reason, it means that as the coffins disintegrate, the bodies become more visible. (If this is all a bit grim for you, a stiff drink can be had afterwards in the nearby Jameson Distillery Bow St.

Media captionPay a visit to the mummies of St Michan's Church.

Mary's Bar and Hardware Shop

You could spend an entire Dublin break visiting the city's wealth of iconic and historic pubs – but this is one of the quirkier offerings. Mary’s Bar looks like an ordinary pub, but it doubles as a hardware store. You’ll feel very smug being tucked away from the busy shops on Grafton St while enjoying a drink. Plus, if you’ve some lingering DIY issues that need sorting, you can pick up everything from sandpaper to trowels to hard hats. The site was formerly the Wicklow Hotel, a regular meeting point for Michael Collins and members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. 

Skyview Tower Dublin

Smithfield is home to the Light House Cinema, Proper Order’s amazing coffee and pastries, excellent pubs and a plethora of cafés. But from Smithfield Square plaza, there's also a way of getting an amazing view of the entire city. The Skyview Tower used to be part of the nearby Jameson Distillery, and dates back to 1895. Today, you can get a 360-degree view of the capital from this former air traffic control tower. To get in (it’s open seven days a week) you’ll need to buy tickets from the Generator Hostel. Wear your walking shoes, as you’ll climb a 259-step spiral steel staircase to reach the top. 

Media captionHead to the Skyview Tower and spot the striking street art around Smithfield.

Napoleon Bonaparte's toothbrush

You may not associate the legendary French emperor Napoleon with Dublin, but the man had a small connection with Ireland you can visit today. The Heritage Centre at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) is home to Napoleon’s toothbrush (yes, seriously). While exiled on the island of St Helena, Napoleon was cared for by the Irish physician Dr Barry O’Meara. Later, he gifted the doctor his toothbrush – which has a gilt handle stamped with an ‘N’ – while on his deathbed. Find the heritage centre in the city, on Kildare St.  

Four Provinces pub and brewery

If you’re a big craft beer fan, you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the brewing process at the Four Provinces pub in Kimmage. Hidden in the back of the bar is their on-site brewery, where you can take a tour, test out a few cúpla focal with their bilingual staff, enjoy trad music (from Wednesday to Sunday) and imbibe their brews.

Media captionRequest a tour of Four Provinces pub and brewery.

St Patrick's footprint

Poor St Patrick didn’t have the easiest life, though he left quite an impression on Ireland. After being brought here as a youth by pirates in the 5th century, he eventually made a bid for escape. When he returned to Ireland it was as a missionary, and he built a church on an island near Skerries. Skerries is well suited to a day trip on the Dublin Coastal Trail, and while you’re there you can find something intriguing at its headland Red Island (a former island): what legend says is a footprint left by St Patrick. 

The story goes that after his precious goat was stolen by Skerries locals, St Patrick left his home on Red Island to rescue it. He took two big strides, leaving a large footprint behind. Sadly for St Patrick, the goat had already been eaten for dinner. Today, you can see the footprint he reputedly left, and some say you can make a wish by placing your hand into the water that’s pooled inside.  

Media captionSeek out St Patrick's footprint in Skerries.

The Lucky Stone at St Audoen's Church

The gorgeous medieval St Audoen’s Church, which dates back to the 12th century, is worth a visit as it is. But inside is a mysterious slab of granite called the 'Lucky Stone', engraved with a Greek cross. The stone dates to the 8th or 9th century and is thought to once have been a tombstone. Because of its alleged lucky properties, in 1309 the Mayor of Dublin donated a water fountain to the people of the city and put the stone against it – possibly to protect them from the notoriously unclean water of the era. 

The stone has been stolen multiple times, but on each attempt, something strange happened – like in 1826, when a group of thieves found it got heavier and heavier, forcing them to eventually abandon it. Today, you’ll find the stone just inside the church door – and it might bring you good luck on your visit. 

Media captionTouch the Lucky Stone at St Audoen's Church.

Druid's Judgment Chair

There are many special things to see on a walk in Killiney Hill on the Dublin Coastal Trail. While you’re in the area, take a short detour to a copse near Killiney Heath and find the seat of an ancient druid. Well, sort of. This special monument is made up of three slabs that were originally believed to be part of a series of Bronze Age cairns, or burial chambers, and it’s thought they were later joined together as part of a Victorian folly. Though they might be in an unusual location, once you step into the copse the area feels hidden away and timeless – some say it has a particularly spiritual feeling, too.  

Media captionTake a seat of an ancient druid and marvel at the view from Killiney Hill.

The Cake Café

Sometimes the best things take the most work to find. For years, The Cake Café has been one of Dublin’s best little secrets. To access it, you need to go through The Last Bookshop on Camden Street, which itself is a great place to browse if you want to pick up an unusual or rare book. Inside the café you’ll find pillowy, sugar-dusted cakes, great coffee, hearty sandwiches and a lovely bright oasis where you can recharge before heading back into the busy city. 

Plan your Dublin city break

If offbeat escapades are your thing, discover more things to see and do in Dublin.