Isaac's Hostel in Dublin. Photo: Maddie Armstrong
Isaac’s Hostel in Dublin.
Photo: Maddie Armstrong

Dublin is the kind of place you could fall in love with before you even arrive. This charming city is steeped in history and is rich in culture. Whether you know it as the home of literary icons such as Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, or as the idyllic setting for cheesy romantic comedies like Leap Year and P.S. I Love You, Dublin has a certain familiarity and quintessential Irish hospitality that makes it instantly feel like home. However, there is also an edgier side to Dublin that adds vibrancy and excitement to its historic beauty. It is a small city, so 36 hours is just enough time to see its most iconic attractions. Plus, it is only an hour away from Edinburgh by plane, making Dublin the perfect place for a weekend getaway during term time.

Thursday afternoon

Check into Isaac’s Hostel

If you are looking for a cheap place to stay, Isaac’s is one of the most popular hostels in Dublin. It is easy to see why – this 19th-century building has cozy, stone-walled common rooms perfect for curling up in after a long day of tourism, and it is teeming with young people from around the world, giving it a lively and homey atmosphere. But, it is still a hostel at the end of the day, so if you are looking for something just a tad nicer, there’s always the renowned 5-star Merrion hotel on the other side of town.

Take a walk down O’Connell Street

This is the largest and longest street in Dublin, as well as one of the widest streets in Europe. It was one of the major sites of the Easter Rising of 1916, making it an historic attraction in its own right, and it also hosts the infamous Spire of Dublin – a dizzyingly tall, stainless steel monument that holds the title for the tallest sculpture in the world.

Have dinner at The Church

Literally eat dinner in a 300-year-old church that has been converted into an upscale restaurant. While it is a bit strange to eat dinner at the altar, The Church is extremely popular with both locals and tourists, and it offers a unique, fun and quintessentially Irish dining experience.

Friday

Trinity College Dublin & the Book of Kells

A trip to Dublin would not be complete without visiting the beautiful campus of Trinity College. Plus it is a great place to see on a sunny morning. Guided tours are given every half hour by university students who will tell you about the illustrious history of the school, the exploits of its most famous alumni and the stories behind its stunning and iconic architecture. After the tour, head into the University’s famous Old Library and ogle at the stunning Long Room, which houses hundreds of thousands of books stacked right on up to its high, vaulted ceiling. Then take a look at the legendary Book of Kells – an illuminated Gospel book manuscript that dates back to 800 AD and showcases some of the most gorgeous and fascinating art of the middle ages. Afterwards grab a quick bite to eat or a coffee at one of the nearby cafes that cater to the student body and stroll around the edge of campus to get a proper view of the gorgeous greens. Sallie’s quad is tiny in comparison.

Merrion Square

Especially if it is a sunny day, talk a stroll through this idyllic Georgian garden square. Set in the heart of Dublin, the square is one of the city’s largest and grandest, and its tree-canopied, flower-lined paths offer a beautiful natural escape from the urban center. It is also home to the reclining statue of Oscar Wilde, who, along with other famous writers such as Daniel O’Connell and W. B. Yeats, once lived and wrote in the square’s surrounding Georgian houses.

Dublin Castle

Once a bastion of English rule and built by the infamous King John in 1204, Dublin Castle is now one of the ceremonial seats of the Irish government and a popular tourist attraction. In between, it has also served as the royal mint, police headquarters and the residence of various British leaders. The Record Tower is the sole surviving tower of the medieval castle and is just about the most storybook-worthy castle tower I have ever seen. The rest of the castle is a beautiful Georgian building full of dazzling stately rooms. And, for just €4.50 a ticket, it is a great deal.

Bonus sites

Guinness Storehouse

Take a self-guided tour of the original Guinness factory, and you will be rewarded with a free pint at the end. (Free except for the €16 student ticket.) While knowing how beer is made is not required for enjoying how it tastes, this tour is a fun glimpse into one of Ireland’s best-known exports. The Storehouse has a comprehensive display of Guinness advertisements throughout the company’s history as well as an enormous gift shop. The building itself is shaped like a pint glass. The tour will lead you up each successive level until you reach the glass-walled Gravity Bar, which offers both a spectacular view of Dublin and a nice, cold drink (which at this point you will be dying to taste, whether you like Guinness or not).

Kilmainham Gaol

Though this jail is a few miles out of the city centre, it is worth the trip. Much of Ireland’s national history is on display here, from the cramped, stone cells where men, women and children were imprisoned during the Famine to the more modern, Panopticon-esque wing where leaders of the Easter Rising were detained and executed.

Dublin is an enchanting city that’s well worth visiting. Though I did say 36 hours was enough to see the best bits of Dublin, if you have a few more hours, head out to the Cliffs of Moher as well. This stunning, plunging coastline is one of the few things I’ve found to be even more spectacular in person than in the pictures. On a sunny day, it is breathtaking. (But do not get too close to the edge – even tourists are not immune to falling into the rocky depths!)

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