Temple Bar in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit to Dublin

I have a pretty stupid confession to make. I don’t drink, and that’s why it took me so long to make my way to Dublin. From the seven-floor Guinness Storehouse to the number of pubs per capita, this is a place that knows how to put the “happy” in happy hour. So I couldn’t help but wonder if Dublin would be fun for someone who wasn’t going to imbibe. Well, it turns out Dublin has plenty to offer. If you’re planning your first trip to Dublin, here’s what you should add to your to-do list.

1.Find interesting ways to learn about Dublin

No amount of research can replace experiencing a new city firsthand, but it always helps to lay down a foundation once you’re there. There are many ways to learn about Dublin, but here are a couple of fun ways to go beyond the guidebook:

The Little Museum of Dublin

Interior of The Little Museum of Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

The Little Museum of Dublin is located in a charming Georgian townhouse on St. Stephen’s Green, almost making it the Dublin-est thing you could do. In a Hoarders-meets-History Channel sort of way, artifacts donated by the Irish people weave together a portrait of the city. From photographs to letters to a signed portrait of Maureen O’Hara, the guides highlight particular items and tell you the story behind them. My guide was particularly passionate about the role of women in Dublin’s history, and her tour reflected that. Her enthusiasm and humor made for a perfectly entertaining session.

Pro Tip: The guided tour is required and starts every hour on the hour, so time your visit accordingly. You’re free to roam through the exhibits on your own afterwards.

Vintage Tea Tours

Vintage Tea Tours Afternoon Tea setting with a view of the street via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Vintage Tea Tours makes multitasking fun by combining sightseeing with afternoon tea. The restored Routemaster double decker bus–which dates back to the 1960s–offers premium views of Dublin’s major sights like Merrion Square, Phoenix Park and O’Connell Bridge. Everything about this tour experience feels personal, from the cheeky-yet-informative tour to the cute guide book and tumbler illustrated by a local artist. Do you know the story behind Dublin’s colorful Georgian doors? Or all the nicknames for The Spire? In a short 80 minutes, you’ll learn those secrets and see most of Dublin’s treasures, all while noshing on finger sandwiches and sipping on tea.

Disclosure: Vintage Tea Tours provided me with a complimentary tour, but the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

2. Live out your bibliophile fantasies

Dublin produced such literary giants as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, so avid readers will have plenty to geek out on. Whether you want to join a literary walking tour or simply visit the same pub your favorite writer frequented, the options are endless. Here are a couple you shouldn’t miss:

The Book of Kells and the Long Room

The Long Room of the Trinity College Old Library in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

The Book of Kells dates back to the 9th century and is considered Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure. It’s housed in the Trinity College Old Library, where an accompanying exhibition explores the manuscript’s history and art of calligraphy. Explore the Long Room afterwards, where the smell of old books hits you the second you walk through the door. The high ceilings and rows of weathered tomes make it an Instagram favorite. Marble busts of great writers and philosophers line the room, so this is also a popular spot for that #ShakespeareSelfie.

Pro Tip: Off-Peak discounted tickets are available online only before 11:00 am and after 3:00 pm every day.

Chester Beatty Library

Interior of Chester Beatty Library in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

The Chester Beatty Library was easily one of my favorite stops in Dublin. Located on the grounds of Dublin Castle, it houses the private collection of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, a New Yorker who relocated to Dublin later in life. The mining magnate’s love for collecting started humbly with stamps, and continued to grow in tandem with his net worth. When he passed away in 1968, he left his entire collection to the Republic of Ireland. The library-museum hybrid contains several floors of precious manuscripts and rare artifacts, with many treasures from faiths and religions around the world.

3. Check out the local street art

Red Squirrel mural on Tara Street in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Colorful bird mural on Dame Street in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Colorful street art building on Tara Street in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Street art is something we’re always keen to check out, and Dublin has ample variety around Temple Bar, Dame Street and along River Liffey. One of my favorite finds was the giant 3D squirrel on Tara Street by Portuguese artist Artur Bordalo, who also goes by the moniker Bordalo II. The piece is part of the artist’s “Trash Animals” series, which aims to draw attention to environmental issues. The mural incorporates waste and recycled material collected locally in Dublin and highlights the plight of the red squirrel in Ireland.

Colorful traffic light box on Dublin street via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Also keep an eye out for decorated traffic light boxes courtesy of Dublin Canvas, a public art project with the goal of brightening up the city. Many of the boxes were designed and painted by Dublinites.

4. Stop for plenty of coffee breaks

Dublin is known for a different dark liquid, but no one should underestimate the amazing coffee scene here. From classic restaurants to trendy cafes, coffee lovers will have an easy time locating a good cup of joe. Here are some fabulous spots for a coffee break:

Love is Art atelier

Interior of Love is Art atelier and cafe in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Love is Art atelier has a cozy living room vibe, with mismatched furniture and vibrant pieces of art hanging on the walls. There’s an abundance of reading material on the shelves and the tables, inviting you to linger for as long as you please.

Two Pups

Interior of Two Pups cafe in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Two Pups has a distinct Brooklyn coffee house vibe, thanks to the light-colored wood bar and tables, chalkboard menu and hanging plants. It offers a light menu of baked goods and basics like–you guessed it–avocado toast. There’s a distinct sense that many of the patrons are locals, and the low-key vibe is in stark contrast to some of the touristy spots in other parts of town. Stroll along Francis St when you’re done, which is heavily populated by retail stores selling quirky antiques and vintage goods.

Cafe en Seine

Open, airy interior of Cafe en Seine in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Cafe en Seine has been referred to as Dublin’s first superpub, but a recent redesign combines its delightful deco legacy with a number of fresh updates. The giant space feels open and light, and its most talked about feature is the indoor-outdoor garden with a retractable roof meant to mimic the streets of Paris. If you’re looking to turn up the volume on your coffee break, this is the perfect place to do it.

Bewley’s

Harry Clarke stained glass windows interior of Bewley's Grafton Street via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Bewley’s has been a Dublin institution since 1840, and it’s located on the famous shopping mecca of Grafton Street. The beautiful restaurant has been around since 1927 but recently went through a multi-million dollar renovation. There are ample seats on its three floors, so you can choose to sit by the stunning Harry Clarke stained glass windows, near one of the many open fireplaces, or with a view overlooking Grafton Street. The space is classic in every way, but the menu is not. It features high-end French pastries, handmade ice cream and a number of dishes that accommodate dietary restrictions. And let’s not forget the coffee: it’s sustainably sourced and absolutely delicious.



Booking.com

5. Explore the diverse food scene

Sampling local delicacies is part of the joy of travel, but Dublin’s food scene is so diverse that “local delicacies” takes on a new meaning. Dublin has blossomed into a foodie haven, where you can find Michelin-starred restaurants as easily as great Thai food. Here are some fun ways to sample the great variety Dublin has to offer:

Traditional Irish food

Double Baked Eggs with Roast Tomato and Soda Bread at Hatch and Sons in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Traditional Irish food is filled with hearty staples like Irish Stew, Boxty and Colcannon. You can find samples all over town (though it might be wise to schedule a nap afterwards). At Hatch & Sons, I opted for the Double Baked Eggs served with Roast Tomato and a side of Soda Bread, but Porridge and Beef & Guinness Stew are also on the menu.

Seafood

Fish and chips at Fish Shop Benburb St in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Burren Smoke House Salmon and chive cream cheese at Pepper Pot Cafe in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

There is an abundance of locally sourced seafood in Dublin, making it easy to find oysters, lobster or some other catch of the day. Fish Shop on Queen St has received Michelin notice for its tasting menu, but they have a fish & chips shop on Benburb St that’s more accessible and still worth a visit. The focus on the fish is noticeable: they offered me three options. The adorable Pepper Pot Cafe in PowersCourt Town Centre is known for its in-house baked goods (including an amazing scone!), but the smoked salmon I had on my freshly baked bagel was the star of the show.

Trendy cafés

Blue Algae Latte and porridge in Pog Cafe in Dublin via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

When a girl is left to her own devices, she might succumb to the charms of Póg Cafe. Neon sign with a motivational saying? Check. Trendy Instagrammable lattes? Check. But honestly, Póg is the perfect place to grab a light bite, particularly when all you’re looking for is a salad or a bowl of porridge. There are plenty of healthy options, which might be just the thing you need if you’re trying to feel better about all those stops at the donut shops.

There’s nothing wrong with visiting Dublin for its rich drinking culture and history. But if you’re interested in delving deeper into this fun destination, perhaps sprinkling a few of these options into your itinerary will make that first (or return) visit more memorable.

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Pinterest pin of a street shot of the Temple Bar area of Dublin, Ireland with the text "5 Things You Must Do on Your First Visit to Dublin" via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

– L.

32 thoughts on “5 Things You Must Do On Your First Visit to Dublin”

  1. Bewleys is one of my favs to pop into when in Dublin! I like sitting by the window and people watching down Grafton street. And their strawberry mango tea is to die for.

    1. The coffee was so good it would be difficult for me not to have some, but I love the sound of that strawberry mango tea! I was in complete awe of the space, I sat by the giant stained glass windows downstairs but I walked around afterwards and was amazed at how big it was. And a theatre on the third floor… what?!

  2. OOPS! I just added Dublin to my list of must-go places! Books, Coffee, Art…what better combination? Your photos are awesome, would love to sit on that bench in the Long Room! Keep havin’ fun!

    1. Thank you so much, JAM, that’s the ultimate compliment! I really think you would enjoy Dublin for all those things you mentioned and more. I put it off for so long and now I can’t wait to go back 😉

  3. In this freezing weather, some hearty Irish food like their stews would go down very nicely indeed.
    Looks like you had a great time ( :

  4. Dublin looks vibrant and beautiful, Lynn. The thought of noshing on tea-time goodies while taking in the sights is a neat idea. Isn’t there something like that in NYC too? Or maybe it is just a tea party…hmm. And yes, I have my eyes on the Cafe en Seine. We have been thinking of Dublin for some time now but haven’t got around to it yet. When we do, I am gonna flaunt my knowhow of it thanks to you. xx

    1. Hi, Dippy! Thanks so much for the lovely comment. Vintage Tea Tours is definitely a fun way to see all the sights in Dublin, especially on a shorter trip. I would love it if there were something similar in NYC, it’d be such a fun way to spend an afternoon!

      Dublin kind of snuck up on me, really. I loved the art, the history, the music. And the giant, fluffy scones 😉 Now I’m dying to use it as a jumping off point to see more of Ireland!

  5. Vintage Tea Tours sounds so fun, especially since I like their china. I might ride around on that bus a lot. Though I’d have to do the “Dublin-est” thing and go to the Little Museum. Love libraries, and have always wanted to see the Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts. Great street art and coffeeshops you found. And the food, OF course! I’m having a hankering for soda bread right about now.

    1. I think you’d really enjoy Dublin, Cynthia! The libraries alone are worth the trip. I loved Vintage Tea Tours’ pretty china too, I wish we got to keep it! I did get to take the illustrated guide book and tumbler home, which is a pretty nice consolation prize 😉

      I had a long list of restaurants I wanted to visit and only made it to a handful of them, so I definitely have many reasons to return!

  6. I appreciate that you didn’t focus on pubs and drinks since I don’t drink either. I loved that you made it exciting and like I wouldn’t miss out because I don’t drink. Great post.

    1. Hi Trudy, I’m so glad to hear that! I actually feel pretty bad that I put Dublin off as long as I did for that reason. Justin made a trip on his own before we got together, and we really saw such different sides to Dublin on our individual visits. I think my experience was quite an eye-opener for him too 🙂

      It turns out Dublin is also really accessible for US travelers, so you should definitely move this one up your list!

  7. I confess that I react badly to being told what I must do, 😉 but I had to laugh at your opening. We’re going to the Netherlands, Belgium and northern Germany in April, and I keep reading about beer, beer, beer. Neither one of us drinks beer and Joe doesn’t drink at all. So you got my attention and a smile. And no surprise, your choices are great. They sound like just what I might like to do, or will do, if I ever get to Dublin. Happy weekend to you! (p.s. If you have any tips for Leiden, Ghent or Cologne, I’m all ears).

    1. Hi Lynn! Coming up with succinct titles is still a challenge, so you’ll have to forgive us for sounding bossy 😉

      We wrote a similar post for Amsterdam and got some wink-wink-nod-nod comments from folks who said “that’s not what we did on our first visit to Amsterdam!” I think it’s great that more people are traveling, and many of them at a younger age, but it’s really been interesting approaching these party-heavy destinations from a more subdued (read: older) perspective. Perhaps it’s not dissimilar to how New York City natives try to remind visitors that there’s so much more to the city than Times Square.

      I think your upcoming trip sounds amazing, and I’m sure you’ll manage to unearth some interesting things to see. I wish we contribute but we have yet to visit those cities, so we’ll be following closely for inspiration!

  8. Such a great travel piece on Dublin!
    Like I was saying on your Instagram page, the library and tea tours would be high on my list, if I went. Thanks for the tip about the discount tickets.
    I might also consider, the “Hoarders meets history” library. 🙂

    1. I think you would thoroughly enjoy Dublin, Tara! There’s such an abundance of creativity layered in with the history, which I believe you’ll really respond to. Frankly, the tea and delicious scones are worth the trip alone, in my humble opinion! 😉

  9. Wonderful to see Dublin through this post ! Vintage tours sounds like so much fun , lovely places for sight seeing and the Irish food looks so delicious

    1. Thanks so much, Nisha! Dublin was the gift that kept on giving 🙂 Vintage Tea Tours was such a great time, and I definitely wouldn’t say no to some yummy fish and chips right now!

  10. I have visited Ireland ten times and love Dublin. It’s such a fun city with so much to do. Adding to #2 your discussion on literary giants; Sweny’s Pharmacy at 1 Lincoln Place is a historical place of interest. Dating to 1847. It became famous when James Joyce wrote about the lemon-scented soap at Sweny’s Pharmacy in his well-known novel “Ulysses”. Today the pharmacy is a second-hand book store run by volunteers. You can still see remnants of the pharmacy and still buy the lemon-scented soap there. They hold literary readings at the pharmacy.

    1. Hi Jan, thank you so much for that tip! I absolutely adore repurposed spaces, and even more so ones with local historical ties. I’ll definitely be adding this to my list for a future trip (of which, I suspect, there’ll be many!).

  11. Enjoyed reading that. You guys are awesome at researching your destinations. Vintage tea tours and street art are things Ms B & I would do. Your post made me realise it’s been too long since our last visit (which was before 2009 meltdown). 🙂

    1. It took me a lifetime to make my first visit, but I hope my next one will be much sooner! 😉 I understand the plight, though – there are so many new places to visit that it takes us a while to make our way back someplace. But I do hope you’ll pop back there soon, from what I understand the incredibly eclectic food scene is a fairly recent development. I think you’ll enjoy the new options!

      I’d actually love to go back and see more of Ireland, I know it’s really beautiful. Dublin was a great introduction to the country 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by!

  12. Loved reading your take on a solo trip to Dublin! It is a great city! Can’t wait to come back! Definitely adding the Little Museum of Dublin and the Vintage Tea Tours to the list of activities! Photos are fantastic!

    1. Thanks so much, that really means the world to me! I feel the same way you do, I need to go back and spend a lot more time in Dublin 🙂 I definitely wouldn’t mind having another delicious scone!

  13. So—I have a confession too. I have been to Dublin once before, but I do drink and I was younger when I visited with a large group of friends. Therefore, your post was filled with new information for whenever my second trip to Dublin comes along! 🙂 Thanks for the excellent descriptions and photos. Great post!

    1. Interestingly enough, Justin said the same thing! He loves Dublin (and Guinness!), but was pretty surprised with much of my itinerary 😉 I actually love the idea of experiencing a place in a new way when you’re in a different stage of life. I hope you make it back, Kevin! I’m sure you’ll have a blast.

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