Insider Tips

Things to Do in Dublin

By Fionn Davenport

14th November 2018

A couple of weeks ago, one of my best friends announced he was visiting Dublin from New York. He’s from North Cork originally but has lived in the US for nearly 25 years, emigrating barely out of his teens. He’s been to Dublin many times in the intervening years, but freely admits he doesn’t know the city very well – even if he’s long since let go of whatever Corkonian misgivings he had about the real capital of Ireland (no quotation marks around ‘real’ necessary).

“I expect an exciting weekend itinerary from my good friend the travel writer,” he texted, sort of in jest but really laying down a pretty specific challenge – the vague threat of acute disappointment hanging over me should I not provide him with a fabulous weekend in Dublin. He’s become more and more Americanised over the years, which means he doesn’t have a huge amount of time – and what little he has, he really wants to make the most of.
The good thing about Dublin is that there’s no need to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. We Dubliners may be largely inured to the city’s charms – and avoid more tourist-oriented experiences as a matter of course – but this small capital delivers a huge bang for the tourist buck.

Pedestrians strolling past the gate of the Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse

Day one

Obvious I know, but we’re going to start at the Guinness Storehouse.The converted grain storehouse of Ireland’s most famous brewer is the most popular museum in town, where thousands of eager-eyed visitors make their way up through the exhibits until they reach the Gravity Bar at the top – and the free glass of what the cognoscenti consider the best Guinness in the world. I’ll surprise my friend with the Connoisseur Experience, which goes through the history of the beer, its variants and – most importantly – samples of each.

Silver machinery at Teelings Distillery

Teeling Distillery

Along the way, I’ll take him to the newish Teeling Distillery in Newmarket, the first distillery to open in Dublin for 125 years. My friend expects the best, so it’s the Single Malt Reserve Tasting for him. As for me, I pick up a nice bottle – we’re going to need it later in the weekend.
A bit of history next, of the blood-and-guts kind, at Kilmainham Gaol, scene of some of the most important – and tragic – episodes of Irish history, including the imprisonment and execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising.  

Footpath and exterior of Kilmainham Gaol on a sunny day

Kilmainham Gaol

Back in the city, I decide to mix up the adventure a bit. My friend is pretty active, so I take him to Grand Canal Dock and book him in for a cable wakeboarding lesson at Wakedock. It’s a pretty new sport, basically like waterskiing, but instead of being towed by a boat, it’s a cable attached to an overhead frame. It’s a great way to wrap up the first day’s sightseeing – and we’re only steps away from the wonderful Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Daniel Libeskind’s gorgeous building that always has something decent on.

Wakeboarding at Grand Canal Dock

Wakeboarding at Grand Canal Dock

Day two

My friend is a proud Irish emigrant, so we kick off the day with a visit to the museum dedicated to the 70 million or so who left these shores in search of fortunes elsewhere. EPIC, in the CHQ Building on Custom House Quay, is a high-tech exploration of the emigrant experience, with 20 galleries full of touchscreens and motion-sensor exhibits that bring the story of the Irish diaspora to life.
One of Ireland’s most famous emigrants was James Joyce, who fled Dublin for the continent but never quite escaped his hometown, which remained a central character in all his works. The most famous of these is Ulysses, which begins in the Martello Tower in Sandycove, now a museum dedicated to the author and his writing. We get the DART out to it, with glimpses of the city’s stunning coastline on our left as we rumble through the southern suburbs. The city is lined with beaches – more than 13 miles’ worth – and over the last few years more and more water-based activities have looked to make the most of Dublin’s close relationship with the water.
You can go kayaking on the Liffey or the sea; kitesurf in Ringsend; do some paddleboarding or learn the basics of sailing with multiple operators up and down the coast. We make the short hop from Sandycove to Dún Laoghaire to Aboveboard activity centre, where we have the choice of several water sports – we opt to test our balance and our cores with some stand up paddleboarding.
Tired after an hour on the water, we make our way back to the city in pursuit of something a little less strenuous. A stroll around the National Gallery is an option, or a poke around the Natural History Museum – which hasn’t changed too much since it was opened by Dr Livingstone in 1857 – yes, he that was pursued by Henry Stanley into the African jungle a few years later.

Green sign for the Little Museum of Dublin

The Little Museum of Dublin

But this is a tour of Dublin, and my friend requested a proper insight into the city. So I take him to the Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen’s Green, which tells the capital’s story over the last 100 years through memorabilia, photos and artefacts almost exclusively donated by Dubliners themselves.

Bookshelves and ladder at Marsh's Library

Marsh's Library

Dublin is full of secret treasures, and nearby is one of my favourites. Next door to the majestic St Patrick’s Cathedral is Marsh’s Library, founded in 1701 and a historic trove of ancient books, manuscripts and incunabula, which is the name for books printed before 1500. Lovers of the written word should also be sure to visit the more well-known Trinity College Long Rooman impressive sight filled with 200,000 of the college's oldest books.
It’s dinner time. In a sea of choice I opt for a newer opening, Clanbrassil House. It’s one of the hottest spots in the Liberties, the traditional Dublin neighbourhood that is undergoing a renaissance in recent years – the oldest part of the city is now full of new restaurants and bars. After dinner, another little surprise: that bottle of Teeling whiskey I’ve been carrying around. I finally produce it at Drop Dead Twice, a cocktail bar with a difference. We provide the booze, and the expert bartender serves up gorgeous cocktails according to our specifications.

Cosy interior of an Irish pub

A cosy Dublin pub

Day three

What’s the best way to work off the night before? For this itinerary, the answer is in the mountains that ring the city’s southern edges. The bike trails at Ticknock in Ballinteer have something for riders of all levels – even the basic one-hour trail is a proper workout and gives you great views to boot. We rent bikes, protective gear and away we go – last night’s endeavours disappear in a vapour trail behind us.

Cyclists enjoying view of Dublin from mountain

Mountain biking

At lunchtime, it’s time for my friend to get his train to Cork, where he’ll spend a few days with his family before returning to New York. On our way to the station, I ask him if he’s enjoyed himself. “Even this stubborn Corkonian always knew Dublin was a great city,” he says, “but I didn’t expect it to surprise me as much as it did.” That sounds like a compliment, and for this travel writer, a job well done.

Fionn Davenport

Fionn Davenport | Travel Writer

A Lonely Planet author, award-winning travel journalist and radio presenter, Fionn Davenport is one of Ireland's best-known voices in travel writing.