How can you possibly do Dublin in a day? The city has 1,300 years of history with well established arts and literary traditions and more pubs per square foot than, well, anywhere. Perhaps you are doing Dublin as a quick city break or you’re just pausing there briefly before touring the rest of Ireland. Either way, you’ll need to plan your Dublin visit carefully in order maximize your time.
What follows are two complete itineraries for spending one day in Dublin. One heavily features art and the other features history. Mix and match as you wish or better yet, stay the extra day and do both.
Your Dublin Planning Guide
For your larger tour of Ireland, check out this 2-day road trip itinerary from Galway to Connemara.
One Day in Dublin Focused on Art & Culture
Get Breakfast at Brother Hubbard
They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The truth is that the whole “most important” thing was a lobbying ploy by the Kellogg cereal company to get more people to eat their product. However, it is true that breakfast is the most delicious meal of the day and no where is that more true than at Brother Hubbard cafe. Their Mediterranean inspired egg dishes are creatively arranged and big enough to energize you for the day.
Pro Tip: The restaurant gets busy so go early.
Hugh Lane Gallery
The Hugh Lane Gallery specializes in modern and contemporary art. Hugh Lane himself was a man of humble beginnings who rose to become a major figure as an art dealer and collector. The gallery began as a repository for his own collection but has since evolved into a showcase for modern Irish art.
The centerpiece of the gallery is a painstaking reconstruction of Francis Bacon’s painting studio. It’s a hot mess of madness and creativity that offers a glimpse into his genius and creative process.
Visitation time: 1 to1-1/2 hours
Pro Tip: When you are finished in the gallery, be sure to visit the Parnell Square Garden of Remembrance across the street. It is a sobering memorial to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom.
“I cannot work in places that are too tidy. It’s much easier for me to paint in a place like this which is a mess”
—- Francis Bacon
Gallery of Photography
The center features contemporary photography, primarily from Irish photographers or on Irish topics. They have several rooms devoted to exhibits and also offer a tempting photography bookstore. The exhibits that I’ve seen there range from street to portraiture to experimental. When you visit, you aren’t sure what you are going to get and it’s always a pleasant surprise.
Visitation Time: 20 minutes
Pro Tip: If you visit on a Saturday, you can also get some lunch and local foodie delights at the Temple Bar food market. It’s located on the square right in front of the gallery and open from 10a-4pm.
The gallery’s cool bookstore is just one of many in Dublin. Go here for a curated guide to the best bookshops in Dublin.
The Chester Beatty
Beatty revered religious texts and he amassed a vast collection of works from a variety of cultures and religions. The museum houses one of the largest private collections of books and manuscripts to be found anywhere. They have Islamic texts with beautiful calligraphy and illustrations, ancient biblical papyri and manuscripts and a visual history of east Asian printmaking techniques. Even if you aren’t a religious person (I’m not), exploring the “art of the book” is as inspiring and illuminating as visiting a painting or photography gallery. The Chester Beatty is located right next to the Dublin Castle so you can double up your visit if you wish.
Visitation time: 1 to 1-1/2 hours
Pro Tip: Spend some time up on the rooftop garden.
Trinity College Library
Most people who only have one day in Dublin go to Trinity College…and for good reason. The Book of Kells is a masterwork of illuminations, It dates back to ~800 AD and it contains the four gospels of the New Testament. The library’s collection includes a display of the manuscripts and well-thought out exhibits regarding their artwork and history.
Once finished with the Book of Kells, you then flow into the Long Library. It was built in 1712 and comprises the main chamber of the library. It houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. The light streaming in from the windows illuminates row after row of books, all connected together by a beautiful curved ceiling. I’m a nut for libraries and this one is a stunner.
Cost: €10-13 for adults but they also have family and group discounts.
Visitation Time: 1-1/2 to 2 hours
Pro Tip: Save time by purchasing your tickets in advance and if you go very early or late, you may be able to avoid the worst of the crowds.
The Chester Beatty and Trinity Long Library are just two of many literary spots in the city. If you are a book nerd, then supplement your itinerary by sampling this epic list of literary points of interest in Dublin.
Bonus extra: The Library Project
At ground level, Temple Bar seems to be all about the bars, but there is also a well-established gallery and film culture in the neighborhood. The Library Project is a great example of a small, niche organization doing what they can to support local artists. They stock their store with art and photography books, many which are self-published by the artists. They also host semi-regular exhibitions of photography and prints and fundraising events.
Visitation Time: 20 minutes
Pro Tip: It’s just across Temple Bar street from the Gallery of Photography so you can pop in for a quick visit before heading to the Chester Beatty.
Have a Pint
Are you tired yet from your day trip to Dublin? Take a load off and pull a pint. However, don’t go to the “Temple Bar” bar- it doesn’t have the same long history as other pubs in town. Go instead to the Palace Bar.
The Palace was built in 1823 and has been owned by the Aherne family since 1936. The bar has a literary history and during the 40’s-60’s it was the local “office” for the journalist Bertie Smiley and his cronies. The reporters would hang out there, looking for leads and racking up large bar tabs. You can find the grandson of the family tending bar and telling stories like it’s still 1936.
Dublin in a Day for History Lovers
Get Breakfast at Queen of Tarts
No, the Queen of Tarts isn’t a brothel, although its Temple Bar neighborhood was indeed the center of prostitution in the 18th century. Rather, the Queen of Tarts is a cozy tea shop with a mean bakery case. They also serve up a full breakfast menu and when I was there, I had the full Irish AND a muffin. Eat whatever you like, you’ll be doing a lot of walking during your day in Dublin and you’ll work it off.
Museum of Archaeology
The National Museum of Archaeology was established in 1890 and is housed in a building made specifically for the museum. One sixth of Ireland’s landscape is covered in bog. These swamps take whatever’s thrown into them and preserve it with a creepy anaerobic efficiency. The museum’s collection is well stocked with the bog’s offerings of preserved bodies, clothing and artifacts. It also houses early Christian artifacts, prehistoric gold pieces and manly weapons from the Viking era.
Visitation time: 1 hour
Pro Tip: This is just down the street from Trinity College so if you are doing the mix/match itinerary, you can pair them up.
Little Museum of Dublin
This goofy little museum offers a bric a brac collection that chronicles the history of Dublin in the 20th century. They also have a permanent exhibit on U2’s rise to stardom. The museum usually doesn’t make anyone’s “must do” for what to see in Dublin in a day. However, I’m including it here because I firmly believe that anytime you visit a new place, you need to do something goofy or weird. The Little Museum of Dublin will fit that bill very nicely.
Visitation time: The guided tour lasts about 1/2 hour.
Pro Tip: Their website says to book ahead for the tour. I didn’t and they let me in anyway.
The Killmainham Gaol was the gruesome repository for two hundred years worth of independence seekers and human rights advocates that the British deemed troublesome. It was built in 1796 and held political prisoners from five rounds of rebellions. In 1916, the prison executed all of the leaders of the infamous Easter uprising and during the potato famine, desperate, starving children were made “illegal” and sentenced to hard labor there.
Killmainham held ordinary prisoners as well, but it’s infamous role in Ireland’s independence movement is reason enough to visit. A forgotten history is likely to be repeated. At the Gaol, they try to avoid that with passionate tour guides and excellent exhibits.
“If the prison does not underbid the slum in human misery, then the slum will empty and the prison will fill”
— George Bernard Shaw
Cost: €8 for adult tickets purchased online.
Visitation time: The tour is an hour, but you’ll want to leave time to view the exhibits after.
Pro Tip: Truly, book ahead. The walk-up tickets are for a shorter tour and if they book up, you are standing around waiting.
I’m a contrarian traveler and usually avoid visiting the super-touristy stuff so it wasn’t until my third visit to Dublin that I actually made it to the Guinness Storehouse. It’s definitely touristy, but an educational kind of touristy. The Storehouse takes you through a multi-story history of the beer and how it is made. They offer a class to teach you how to pull your own perfect pint and at the end, you get a glass of beer at their rooftop bar.
Understanding the history of Guinness is a gateway into understanding Dublin’s culture and economic ingenuity. The “porter” style beer was devised as a popular beverage for the average working man–and also as a hedge against water born, gut destroying diseases. Guinness was the first Irish beer to export globally and they used exacting scientific methods to create that perfect pour. The exhibits in the Storehouse are visually arresting and the whole thing had a very fun vibe.
Cost: €17.50-25. They have a confusing demand-based pricing scheme that varies according to whether you do the advance purchase and time of day.
Visitation time: 2 hours, including time up in the rooftop bar.
Pro Tip: The cheapest tickets are for 9:30 AM– a bit early for beer but hey, it’s Ireland.
(Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you chose to purchase, I’ll get a small commission.)
Bonus extra: History Walking Tours
- Learn about the history of the 1916 rebellion with this 2.5 hour northside walking tour.
- Visit the tenement museum and take a 2 hour walking tour of Dublin’s infamous slums from the time of the famine.
- Take a pub crawl and hear traditional Irish music.
Have (Another) Pint
If you like your pubs snug, then go for a pint at the Stags Head. It’s one of Dublin’s most well preserved Victorian pubs with beautiful wood paneling everywhere. This centrally located local’s pub offers regular trad music sessions and a well-poured pint.
Use this map to gauge distances and figure out what to see for your one day in Dublin. The blue pins represent the art and culture itinerary and the black pins are for history.
Getting Around Dublin
If you are staying in central Dublin, all of the above points of interest are walkable except for the Killmainham Gaol and the Guinness Storehouse. Killmainham and Guinness are 1.2 miles (2/k) from one another, so if you are doing both, book your tickets one after the other. Hugh Lane is about .6 mile (1/k) north of the Liffey river so it’s walkable, unless you are tired or mobility challenged.
To get to Guinness/Killmainham, you can take a cab/uber, a bus or the hop on hop off bus. Here are the pros and cons of each.
- Uber/taxi: Costs ~€10.50 each way to Killmainham Gaol. But it’s point to point and you can bring 4 passengers for that price.
- Hop on Hop off: Costs ~€20 per person for one day. The buses stop at all of the key sites, including ones not listed in this post. It’s good for people who don’t want to try to figure out public transportation or who don’t have a local mobile data plan for mapping. But the buses run in a loop. So, for instance, to get from the Guinness Storehouse back to central Dublin, you have to take a 25 minute loop through Phoenix Park. You can check the route and book here.
- City buses: Costs €2 in the city center and €2.70 to/from Killmainham. They are reliable and pretty frequent. Don’t use the Dublin public transportation app, it’s crap. Just Google map your point-to-point directions using the bus option.
Packing Essentials for Ireland
Ireland has a chilly, rainy climate so you’ll want to pack for the elements. But if you don’t want to overpack, check out this packing list for the UK & Ireland. It’s a carry-on only list that will give you three weeks of clothes for sightseeing and outdoor adventures. Here is a short list of essentials for walking around Dublin
- A gore-tex rain jacket
- A snappy looking pair of waterproof walking shoes
- Extra data card for your camera
- An Irish emerald green reusable water bottle
These one day itineraries will help your get the most out of your trip to Dublin. Follow them strictly or mix and match. But report back when you return, I’d love to hear how your trip went. Happy trails.
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