Most Dubliners would agree that the west part of city begins far outside the city centre but for the purposes of exploring the tourist hotspots we’ve designated Dublin West as the areas south of Temple Bar, including Dublin Castle, as far west as Kilmainham Gaol and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
The area consists of the Liberties, home of the city’s best antique stores and so called because this part of Dublin was built outside the medieval city walls, which is also the reason why St. Patrick’s Cathedral is so close to Christ Church (the former was outside the walls, the latter within). You can also head north of the Liffey to explore Smithfield which is mostly notable for the art-house Lighthouse cinema and the Old Jameson Distillery museum and viewing tower.
While most of the sights are within walking distance of Temple Bar you can catch a bus, taxi, or Luas to the gallery and jail in Kilmainham.
This part of the city is also home to the Guinness Brewery and the oldest public library in Ireland, Marsh’s Library.
Chester Beatty Library – This library is probably not what you’re expecting, being home to one of the world’s largest collections of the Koran and some of the founding or earliest known documents of most major world religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
The Chester Beatty Library won European Museum of the Year 2002 and is the only museum in the country to have ever been awarded that accolade. Named after Alfred Chester Beatty, a wealthy Canadian mining mogul who had a keen eye for artefacts and a deep love of Ireland leading him to donate his collection to the state in exchange for honorary citizenship.
Located on the grounds of Dublin Castle, the library houses Babylonian clay tablets dating to 2700 BCE, Japanese block prints, Chinese jade carvings and books, early Christian gospels on papyrus, and paintings and prints from Turkey and Persia. There are also many fine printed books on display from the time to Gutenberg to the 20th Century with detailed information on how the process changed over the centuries. If you’re looking for a good place to eat lunch, or just have a few minutes peace, the rooftop garden is a sea of calm in the city. The museum also has the Silk Road Cafe which offers a buffet style menu of predominantly Middle Eastern cuisine.
Dublin Castle – Dublin Castle doesn’t look like much of a castle, and that’s because large parts of it were converted over the centuries into government offices with the site being the centre of British administration in Ireland and used by the Irish government today for official events, including presidential inaugurations and state dinners. There are still a few medieval towers to be found around the back but the main attraction are the State Apartments where visiting British royals stayed when in Dublin. One of the highlights is a throne whose legs had to be cut off so that Queen Victoria could place her feet firmly on the ground. Around the back of the castle is the Coach House, used for exhibits occasionally, this was built in order to block Victoria’s view of Dublin’s slums when she visited (the other options were to move the slum or build new houses, both of which would have been far too expensive). The medieval towers are partially obscured by various shades of bright paint earning the nickname ‘Dublin’s LEGOLAND,’ asked why, the architect responsible for renovating this part of the castle simply responded “I liked the colours.”
One of the towers houses the Garda (police) Museum and there’s a memorial to officers who died in the line of duty in the park nearby. This green space is the reputed site of the black poll (dubhlinn in Irish) for which the city got its name. Near the Garda Museum is the Revenue Museum both are free to enter and easy to miss but are definitely worth a few minutes of your time.
Christ Church Cathedral – The first Danish king of Dublin to convert to Christianity built a small wooden chapel here in 1038 but construction of the current cathedral began in 1172 after Strongbow, who’s buried here, led the initial Norman invasion of Ireland and would continue for 50 years.
Time and weather took their toll, leading to a major renovation project beginning in 1875 which expanded the building and added a bridge – not unlike the Bridge of Sighs – between the cathedral and the old Synod Hall, now used for the permanent Dublinia Viking and Medieval multimedia exhibition.
The 12th and 13th Century vaults are Dublin’s oldest surviving structure and the cathedral’s most prominent feature. An interesting quirk are the mortified bodies of a rat and a cat who became trapped in an organ pipe at some point during the 186.s. There are choral recitals most weeks, usually on Wednesday and Thursday at 6 pm.
City Hall – There’s a cafe and exhibit, Dublin: The Story of the Capital, in the basement of this grand Georgian municipal building where Dublin City Council holds its meetings. The building was constructed between 1769 and 1779 by Thomas Cooley and was originally used as the Royal Exchange building.
12 grand columns encircle the domed central rotunda and there are 12 frescos on the wall depicting myths about the city and Irish history as well as an ornate mosaic floor.
The Four Courts – This is where you’ll find the Irish High Court and Supreme Court and the Corinthian portico certainly warrants a visit to the country’s highest civil law court.There are no tours of building but members of the public are welcome to attend cases if you want to get a glimpse of what’s inside.
The building was designed by James Gandon, who was also architect for the Custom House, and the building was almost destroyed in 1922 when it was seized by those opposed to the Anglo Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State (they wanted nothing short of a full republic). The Free State army shelled the Courts and the Public Records Office, which held a wealth of census and family records, was destroyed with the restoration process taking ten years.
Guinness Brewery – The Guinness family has had a profound impact on Irish society and not just because of the black stuff but their legacy started here in 1759 when Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease at a rate of £1 per year. The brewery measured 10 acres in those days but now covers 50 and the land was purchased outright years ago while Guinness is now part of the Diageo company.
Once the largest stout brewery in the world, St. James Gate is Dublin’s most popular tourist attraction though the actual production facility is closed to the public, visitors are tour the Storehouse, a large interpretive centre which guides you through the historical creation of Guinness and the creation of the Guinness Book of World Records, among other facets of the brewery’s history.
The high point, literally, of your visit will be a trip to the Gravity Bar where you can enjoy an unparalleled 360 degree view of the city. One of the bar’s first clients was none other than Bill Clinton.
There’s also a large gift shop selling just about anything you might imagine with a Guinness logo on it.
Kilmainham Gaol – Many movies have been filmed here over the years including In the Name of the Father, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and The Italian Job (1969) and it’s probably Ireland’s most iconic prison, and the place where many of the country’s revolutionaries spent their final days.
Its prisoners includes the leaders of the 1916 Rising, all but two of whom were executed by firing squad. The British authorities took their time with the executions, allowing one of the 13 killed to marry the night before his death and tying another to a chair when they shot him as he could not stand due to the gangrene in his leg – as the executions dragged on, public opinion, initially hostile to rebels (particularly in Dublin), turned against the British, ultimately leading to the War of Independence in 1919.
Other famous inmates include politician Charles Stewart Parnell and Robert Emmet, a revolutionary. Tours are guided, and last about 30 minutes.
Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA)/Royal Hospital Kilmainham – Across the road from Kilmainham Gaol is the old Royal Hospital, now an art gallery. There are a few rooms dedicated to the history of the hospital, built for wounded and retired British soldiers, and information on the armies of past centuries.
There are works by Picasso, Miro, and Damien His well as Irish artists including Louis le Brocquy, James Coleman, Dorothy Cross, Richard Deacon, Richard Gorman, Matt Mullican, and Sean Scully. IMMA often hosts visiting exhibitions from across Europe as well.
The hospital was commissioned in 1684 by the Duke of Ormonde, James Butler, who was chief viceroy in Ireland on behalf of King Charles II and remained a hospital before falling into disrepair after the establishment of the Free State and eventually being renovated and reopened as IMMA.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Dublin’s largest cathedral and the Church of Ireland’s national Cathedral, it is said that St. Patrick converted many locals on this site. Its proximity to Christ Church can be explained by the fact that it was situated outside the city’s walls and many people who lived in the Liberties area were unwilling to pay the tax charged to enter Dublin at the time.
It’s also Ireland’s longest church, and was used as a stable by Oliver Cromwell’s army because of this during the 17th Century. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and dean of St. Patrick’s between 1713 and 1745 is buried here. There are usually matins at 9:40 amand evensong performances at 5:45 pm on most days.
Just down the small alley outside the cathedral is Marsh’s Library, Dublin’s oldest public library which dates from 1701 and has hardly changed since those days.
Smithfield – You’ll find the delightful but small Lighthouse Cinema here which primarily shows a selection of European and art-house films as well as the Old Jameson Distillery. The main feature on this large, but mostly empty, square is the tower of the distillery which offers views across the city. Smithfield was renovated in recent years but because of the economic crash the area hasn’t really been revitalised like the planners hoped. There are a number of fruit and vegetable markets in the area and Dublin City Council plans to overhaul the largest into a grand public food market akin to the English Market in Cork.