ONCE the second city of the British empire, Dublin has always maintained a cosmopolitan outlook - but around every corner there are important reminders of its past.
From medieval castles and cathedrals on display alongside Georgian architectural elegance, there is a side to the city that appeals to locals and visitors alike with its world class museums and galleries and rich vein of heritage as well as being an attractive seaside location and with the natural playgrounds of Dublin Bay and Dublin Mountains framing it on both sides.
But it’s at night when it really comes alive with its robust pub culture. The cobbled alleyways of the Temple Bar area are the epicentre of Irish revelry. If sinking a pint of the Black Stuff in an authentic Irish bar in this beating heart of the city doesn’t make you an honorary Dublinian for a while, nothing else surely will.
This excellent social scene, coupled with its wide variety of educational visitor attractions go to create a fascinating city that is an adventure in itself.
Here are some of the sights my family and I took in, starting with what has become Ireland’s number one visitor attraction. . .
Back in 1759 an enterprising brewer by the name of Arthur Guinness took out a 9,000-year lease on the brewery for an annual rent of £45. A couple of centuries later the Storehouse was born.
Built in the style of the Chicago School of Architecture in 1904, it was originally used as a fermentation house.
The Guinness Storehouse is a gleaming multi-media exhibition on everything from retro advertising to the craft of brewing, topped off with a pint of the Black stuff in the 360-degree Gravity Bar. This is also a wonderful vantage point from which to drink in the views of the city.
The building itself is even imaginatively designed in the shape of a giant pint of Guinness.
I’m not a beer drinker of any sort but, having visited the Storehouse, I would not say this is any way a prerequisite. I enjoyed every minute of this unique tour and, while the sampling room wasn’t something I was personally keen to repeat, I can certainly appreciate why many would and why this world-famous brand enjoys such phenomenal success.
Guinness Storehouse is a fitting and popular celebration of Dublin’s greatest export – and is universally at the top of every tourist’s Irish itinerary. Now I’ll drink to that!
EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum
This relatively new museum delves into the past of Ireland’s emigration with stories of sacrifice, endurance, adventure and triumph – all retold in brilliant technical detail.
This state-of-the-art visitor experience explores the inspiring journeys of over 10 million people who left Ireland’s shores as part of 1,500 years of history.
Housed in atmospheric vaults you’re very much encouraged to be hands-on as you journey through the 20 interactive galleries, including a motion sensor quiz, interactive whispering gallery and even the chance to send digital postcards.
The world’s only fully digital museum uses the latest technological techniques to engage its visitors to fantastic effect and you should allow at least a couple of hours to appreciate all it has to offer. It is an absolute must during any visit to Dublin and was one of my personal highlights. Visit: epicchq.com
A good complement to EPIC is Jeanie Johnston Tallship, permanently docked on the nearby River Liffey.
Jeanie Johnston Tallship
Jeanie Johnston is a replica of a three masted barque that was originally built in Quebec, Canada, in 1847.
Once on board, the 50-minute guided tour will lead you through the historic ship as you’re invited to take in the detailed craftsmanship before journeying to the dimly-lit cabins below for a detailed insight into what life was like for those passengers who made the transatlantic voyage to an uncertain future in the ‘New World’.
Maintenance work on the day restricted our visit to below deck only, where the guide painted a very colourful picture of what life was like during the great famine.
Not to be substituted for EPIC, but another for your hit list if time allows for both.
The Little Museum of Dublin
The Little Museum of Dublin – one of the city’s most impressive cultural attractions, is housed in a splendidly stuccoed Georgian townhouse overlooking St Stephen’s Green.
The museum tells the story of 20th-century Dublin. Highlights include the often overlooked contribution of Dublin designers to twentieth-century fashion; and the U2 Room, a homage to Dublin’s rock icons – complete with Trabant car.
But it’s greatest charm is the personal touch afforded to its visitors, groups of which are treated to a private talk and tour of some of the rooms. Museums, I discovered, are eminently more interesting when accompanied by commentary and insight such as that dispensed here.
If you only have time for one guided tour museum on your short break in the city, this scores highly.
A good hands-on museum for the kids though can be recommended in the form of Dublina.
This historical recreation museum and visitor attraction, located in a part of Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, focuses on the Viking and Medieval history of the city.
Here you can meet the Vikings face to face as well as learn about life during the Medieval period in Dublin, explore the world of a History Hunter and see a Medieval view of a modern city from the Medieval tower.
Dublinia sets out to provide a new perspective of the city sending you away knowing more about its citizens throughout the ages.
Worth a visit if you have time, but does offer some crossover from The National Wax Museum Plus (see below) so probably no need to do both.
Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum
Here, you are invited to take a walk behind the scenes of the world of Ireland’s vibrant music industry.
Behind the striking Wall of Fame in the heart of Dublin’s lively Temple Bar, the museum lets you poke around backstage at the renowned Button Factory, one of the top music venues in Ireland which has hosted the likes of Sinead O’Connor and U2 and Phil Lynott and The Script.
And be sure to check out the fascinating Thin Lizzy exhibit.
You don’t have to be an ardent music lover to enjoy this. It’s a fun and interesting way to spend an hour in Temple Bar before hitting the restaurants. And who hasn’t secretly hankered after a secret session in the recording studio. My drumming skills definitely needed some work however!
If the Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum hits the right notes for your family, The National Wax Museum Plus is also likely to appeal when it comes to the fun factor.
The National Wax Museum Plus
Expect the unexpected when you set foot in here. Its promotional leaflet promises ‘an entertainment experience like no other.’ So you can’t say you haven’t been warned!
Here, you are taken on a journey through the mythology, history in culture of Ireland
And it’s certainly an eclectic mix. From the history of Ireland through Vikings, Normans, famine, rebellion, independence, onto literary and sporting heroes through to the Horror Hotel, Dublin Dungeons and Chamber of Horrors, there’s also Science and Discovery, Cinema Wall and Mirror Maze to enjoy.
While certainly entertaining, this won’t be to everyone’s taste. It was only on our hitlist by special request from the youngest member of the family. But an enjoyable way to spend an hour all the same.
The Natural History Museum
A stand-out among the free attractions was Dublin’s Natural History Museum.
It’s known affectionately locally as The Dead Zoo for a reason – it has been preserved as a classic Victorian mausoleum-of-a-museum filled to the rafters with all manner of stuffed animals.
From insects and spiders, to elephants and giraffes, I reckon every species under the sun can be found here.
Pride of place goes to a giant whale skeleton, which dominates the ground floor. Impressive indeed.
It’s unendingly fascinating – if a little sinister in its intensity.
For those heading to Dublin for a short break, I would recommend investing in a Dublin Pass.
This is your ticket into over 30 top attractions, sights, landmarks and museums (including all those mentioned above) saving you both time and money and removing the hassle of queuing up to buy attraction tickets.
For further details and a full list of qualifying attractions visit: www.dublinpass.com