Try to begin early if you can, and head for the vicinity of Grafton Street in the hours before the majority of businesses are open to customers. Between the buskers and the crowds of people it can be easy to overlook just how charming this street is later in the day but when there’s only a handful of people around and some delivery trucks, you’ll have no problem navigating this normally bustling stretch. There’s another reason to visit, it can often by hard to take a picture of the famous Molly Malone statue without getting other tourists or locals in the way, and this is the perfect time to take a few shots without having to wait for visitors posing for photos to get out of the way.
The statue is usually located on Grafton Street, but has been temporarily moved just around the corner and is now found outside the Suffolk Street tourist office.
For breakfast, step into Bewley’s Oriental Café on Grafton Street, now known as Bewley’s Grafton Street Café. This location was once a school, and its pupils included the only ever Irish prime minister of Britain, the Duke of Wellington, but has been a café since 1927. Take a moment to admire the beautiful stained glass windows by Harry Clarke, and architectural details of this beautiful building as you dig into your full Irish (you can also grab a tea or coffee to go if you prefer).
If it’s a pleasant day and you’ve ordered a drink to go, consider strolling down to St. Stephen’s Green or the nearby (and much quieter) Iveagh Gardens. Both parks are peaceful havens in the city centre but there’s something about watching the ducks and swans glide about the ponds of St. Stephen’s Green. By the time you leave the park the sound of shoes hitting the pavement should be replaced with the rumble of cars, buses, and taxis (you’ll never be long waiting on a taxi in the city centre) as Dublin comes alive.
As you leave the park, walk a few blocks to Aungier Street and enter Whitefriar Street Church. There are two statues located at the entrance and a life-size crucifixion scene once you step inside. Whitefriar Street Church is Roman Catholic, and run by Carmelite nuns who don’t charge entry fees like the admittedly more historically appealing Church of Ireland Christ Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedrals but it’s still worth visiting for the quiet created by the thick walls and the heart of St. Valentine himself. The relic is located in one of the side alters, but it’s worth exploring the church fully.
From there it’s only a short distance to the ground of Dublin Castle. Within the castle’s walls you’ll find a Garda (police) Museum, Revenue Museum, and the State Apartments but the real highlight here is the Chester Beatty Library, the European Museum of the Year 2002. The Long Room (Old) Library of Trinity College and the Book of Kells is a more renowned location, but access to the Chester Beatty Library doesn’t involve queueing and doesn’t cost a cent. There’s usually a video running about Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, an American mogul who purchased rare books from around the world and donated his collection to the Irish State.
Head upstairs and you’ll enter galleries containing some of the oldest books and documents on Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism in the world (the library has the world’s second largest collection of the Koran). As you move through the library the books become more recent, with several fine examples of tomes from the post-Gutenberg press era right up to the 19th and 20th centuries.
Like all museums in Dublin, the Chester Beatty Library is pretty small, but don’t be too surprised if you end up spending more time there than expected. If you’re still there around lunch time, consider stopping in the ground floor Silk Road Café for lunch, and trying on the Middle Eastern specials of the day. There’s a good menu with some delicious choices so it might be a good idea to order an extra side.
Upon leaving the Chester Beatty Library, your next step will probably be determined by the weather. If the sky doesn’t appear to be too threatening, a good option for the afternoon is a visit to Glasnevin Cemetery. It’s a four kilometre (2.5 mile) walk, which can include a pleasant stop at Blessington Basin park along the way, but the sometimes confusing directions and the distance involved make buses a viable alternative. A northbound Number 9 bus or the Number 4 (which has stops near Trinity College and on O’Connell Street) will both take you where you need to go and you can ask the driver to let you know when you need to get off.
When you arrive in Glasnevin, head for the modern museum building and join the next available walking tour of the cemetery. This is a remarkable grave site, with some of Ireland’s biggest historical figures and even presidents buried here and your guide will relay an enthralling who’s who of recent Irish history entirely through the gravestones of those buried here. If you’re going to be waiting a while for the next tour, enjoy some dessert and a tea or coffee at the Tower Café.
A gate was recently opened between Glasnevin Cemetery and the adjacent National Botanic Gardens, and it’s possible to visit both in a single afternoon should you have time. You can always expect to find a beautiful array of colours as you venture through the gardens the glass houses.
Exploring the cemetery and gardens in the rain is not a pleasant experience though, and if the sky looks foul when you leave the Chester Beatty Library, take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city. There are several operators, including newly launched coach-style sightseeing buses but think about getting a double decker green bus instead (there’s a stop on Dame Street right next to Dublin Castle). These tours, operated by Dublin Bus, include live entertaining commentary from the driver, rather than a pre-recorded audio commentary.
Everyone visits the Guinness Storehouse at some point during a visit to Dublin, and while it can be tempting to get off, another very worthy option is Kilmainham Gaol. This former prison was used as a film set for the 1969 movie The Italian Job, and plays a pivotal role in Irish history. There’s a story in every cell and every courtyard of the prison, from the graffiti left by the prisoners to the executions of revolutionaries. You’ll learn about one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising who married in the prison chapel the night before his execution by firing squad (his wife never remarried) and another who was tied to a chair because he could not stand when the time came.
Once you leave Kilmainham, you might fancy crossing the road to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in the old Royal Hospital or simply re-join the hop-on, hop-off tour. You can stop somewhere else along the route, or simply watch the city go by.
How you spend your evening will depend largely depend on your mood. A visit to the Brazen Head pub, the oldest in Ireland, is great for folklore and the ‘craic’, while restaurants such as Café en Seine on Dawson Street offer a stylish (but not particularly expensive) option for a fine evening meal. Many restaurants also offer pre-theatre menus, and there are few better ways to round out your day than by enjoying a show at one of the city’s famous theatres such as the Gaiety or the Olympia.