Best Way to See Dublin, Ireland

One Day in Dublin

Because I delve deeply into local culture during my travels, I tend to stay places for longer periods. As a result, I’ve never tried to visit a city during a long flight layover. Recently, however, I was flying back to the U.S. on Aer Lingus, the national airline of Ireland. I choose them whenever possible, as Aer Lingus is the only airline in the world that allows passengers to clear U.S. Immigration and Customs on Irish soil, rather than at end of the flight, when I’m dead tired. Even though I had flown this route before, I’d never managed to visit Dublin; this time I was determined to carve an extra day out of my busy schedule between flights.

The Spire of Dublin and Jim Larkin statue on O'Connell Street

The Spire of Dublin and Jim Larkin statue on O’Connell Street

Effective use of time was most important, so I chose a hotel near the airport that also had access to the city center via public transportation. Bright and early the next morning I took the hotel shuttle back to the airport and caught the Airlink Airport Express Bus into Dublin, about a 40 minute trip. The Express Bus deposited me half a block from O’Connell Street, the main thoroughfare in Dublin, where I jumped aboard the Hop-on/Hop-off sightseeing bus and climbed to the upper, open-air deck. These buses are available in many large cities around the world, and whenever possible I take this tour on my first day, as it provides an invaluable orientation to the city.

I was particularly lucky in Dublin, as our driver was a loquacious fellow. Everyone riding the bus spoke English, so he turned off the pre-recorded program and treated us to a running commentary full of historical details, mixed with a liberal dose of humor. The sun peeked in and out of clouds as we rumbled down the road, chuckling at his jokes. We zipped past the Spire of Dublin, a 394-foot high stainless steel monument topped with a beacon that has earned the pin-like sculpture the nickname “Monument of Light.”

The Spire of Dublin at sunset

The Spire of Dublin at sunset

Across the River Liffey we slowed in front of Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest and most famous college. The writer in me perked up when I heard the litany of famous authors who had attended Trinity: Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Samuel Beckett, and I noted the drivers’ insistence that if we had time to do only one thing in Dublin, we must see the Book of Kells at the college.

Buildings on the campus of Trinity University

Buildings on the campus of Trinity University

We had a brief glimpse into the lush landscape of St. Stephen’s Green, the largest city square in Europe, before turning into the Grafton Street area, where buskers perform along pedestrianized shopping avenues. A few seats emptied at Dublin Castle, and another few at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but the real exodus came at the Guinness Brewery, and again at the Old Jameson Distillery, where tours include free samples.

The Guinness Factory may be the most well-known site in Dublin, Ireland

The Guinness Factory may be the most well-known site in Dublin, Ireland

The driver paused his amusing monologue at Kilmainham Gaol to strongly suggest this old prison turned museum, with its resident ghosts, was another must see. A couple dozen churches, museums, and municipal buildings later we returned to our starting point, where I hopped off and headed for Trinity College on foot.

The Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland

The Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland

The Book of Kells lived up to its reputation. This illuminated manuscript, which contains the four Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is believed to have been created around 800 A.D. in a monastery that was located in either Britain or Ireland. Extravagant illustrations that combine traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs are sprinkled among pages of western calligraphy. Human figures, animals, and mythical beasts are intertwined in gold-leaf Celtic knots, swirls, and mazes. The 340 folios of calf vellum were bound into four separate volumes in 1953. Today they sit under glass in a darkened room, with only two books on display at any time, one opened to a page of calligraphy, the other to an illustration. The books and pages are rotated regularly to protect against damage from light, and the room where they are kept is locked down whenever the cases are opened for rotation. No chances are taken with Ireland’s finest national treasure.

Exquisite Long Room Library at Dublin's Trinity College

Exquisite Long Room Library at Dublin’s Trinity College

It took my eyes a few moments to adjust when I stepped from the exhibit room into the college’s stunning Long Room Library. The 200,000+ books contained beneath its gleaming wood barrel ceiling are sorted by size rather than Dewey decimal system. Marble busts of historic Irish figures stand along its 213-foot long corridor, along with the Brian Boru Harp. Though incorrectly associated with the great Irish King Brian Boru, who died in 1014, it is the oldest surviving Irish harp and model for the emblem of Ireland.

Temple Bar, where everyone goes to party in Dublin

Temple Bar neighborhood, where everyone goes to party in Dublin

Book lover that I am, I could have stayed for hours, but there was so much more to see and so little time. I walked through the party district of Temple Bar and down Grafton Street (thankfully immune to the lure of designer fashions), on my way to St. Stephen’s Green. After a leisurely stroll around the lake I reversed direction, pausing briefly to admire the Victorian red brick Asia Market on Drury Street.

The Asia Market and other stores occupy this charming old building on Drury Street

The Asia Market and other stores occupy this charming old building on Drury Street

I had hoped to hop back on board the bus for the second route along the Grand Canal to see the U2 Graffiti Wall at the Docklands, but I missed the last bus of the day. Back in early 2007, when I first set off on this life of perpetual travel, a fellow traveler advised me to “leave each place before I was ready.” It was great advice, which I continue to follow to this day, and Dublin was a prime example. One day was entirely too short to experience everything the city had to offer, but my interest was whetted enough to know that I must return for a much longer stay.

Best Dublin Bus Tours Deal:

If you are staying at a hotel near the airport, the best hop-on/hop-off deal is the Airlink Combo Ticket, which combines the Airlink bus from the airport to Dublin city center with the sightseeing bus tour. The price is 20 Euro one way and 24 Euro return ($26 and $32 USD, respectively), and allows unlimited hopping on and off between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., on both the Dublin City and Docklands tours. You can purchase on board the bus or in advance online, but tickets purchased online must be picked up at the Travel Information Desk in Terminal One of Dublin Airport, or at the offices of Dublin Bus, 59 Upper O’Connell Street.

21 Comments on “One Day in Dublin

  1. I love Dublin.I like to visit Dublin for its beautiful climate..


  3. This beautyful place.The 200,000+ books contained beneath its gleaming wood barrel ceiling are sorted by size rather than Dewey decimal system.

  4. In Dublin, a 394-foot high stainless steel Ilike this.It represent power of the dublin.

  5. Hi Barbara! It’s been a while since I stopped by your blog and was so happy I did today. I feel as thought I might have written this post. I did the same things in Dublin, almost losing my breath as I stepped into the Long Room. One more thing I’d ad to your list, is for art lovers….I hopped off at the IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art)….it is housed in a historic building, has a wonderful hilltop view, and a residency program, that as an artist, left me drooling. So happy to see you keep trucking… the way, you look marvelous!

    • Hi Marianna: No doubt, I’ll be back in Dublin at some point, so I’ll add that to my list of things to see. And thanks for the compliment – not too bad for 62!

  6. I love Dublin. I did a tour all around Ireland many years ago and got to spend a day in Dublin. I loved your post, it made me nostalgic for my time there. I’m always impressed by the library at Trinity College, it never gets old 🙂

    • Craig, I absolutely love it when people tell me one of my stories makes them nostalgic. It means I’ve done my job well, so thanks for that 🙂

  7. Hi Barbara,
    I like to visit Dublin for its beautiful climate and shopping opportunities. According to me it is the best Shopping destination for people of all ages.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hello Barbara, I am very thrilled about your website and your post in particular. It’s great to see that you have setup a website blog to document your travel experiences and the new cultural experiences too. I love the pictures, it looked professional and has a high resolution. I love the church buildings and statues at O’Connell’s street. Actually that picture looks familiar to a particular street in the CBD (central business district) of Barbados, perhaps the same architect. I also love how you put your itinerary on line, it gives us readers a sense of belonging. I will incorporate the idea in my blog. Your post have made me want to go to Europe again after such a long time. I plan on visiting the UK, France and definitely Ireland over the next holiday and would be taking your advices on bus tour deals as well as posting some pictures and info about my trip on my blog.

    • Hi Olumayowa: Thanks so much for your kind comment – so glad to hear you’re enjoying my blog. I’ve been wandering around Europe for much of the last two years and am continually amazed by the history and culture. Best of luck with your plans to visit Europe.

  9. Hi Barbara,

    I just saw this as a re-tweet on Heather Cowper’s twitterfeed, and I must say that I am very glad I did. You have done my hometown justice, and it’s really interesting to see what a determined traveller could pack in, they way you have in a day.

    You have some lovely photos indeed, you’ve captured the parts of the city that you saw very well. I love the Long Room, really superb. I went to Trinity as a student …it was a privilege just to walk around it.

    Keep an eye out over at A Luxury Travel Blog, if you’re curious to see my guest post for this month, which will have a title along these lines – 7 Of The Best Quirky Things To Do In Dublin. From what I feel from reading your work, I believe you may enjoy to do some of these in the future, but definitely the first one I list – Biddy’s Cottage in Dalkey.

    I’m off to re-tweet this now 🙂


    • Hi Jackie: I’ll definitely take a look at your post, as I’m quite sure I’ll be revisiting Dublin at some point. So glad you enjoyed you cram-packed day tour 🙂

  10. I love all the pictures but especially love the pictures of The Spire of Dublin and the Book of Kells. The library looks amazing! I could spend a lot of time there, too. At least you got to preview the city, so you’ll have an idea of where you want to spend more time when you go back. You write so eloquently. I just wanted to keep reading. 🙂

    • Thank you Lauri! You’ve definitely made my day, as travel writing is my passion.

    • Fortunately, with the bus system in Dublin, it’s very easy to see during a short layover, Evanne.

  11. I’ll be there in December with my son to visit Trinity College on a university open day, looking forward to having a better look at the place since there was so much I didn’t see last time.

    • I also want to go back Heather. I’m certain there is much more to see and experience than I did on my one-day stay.

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