Edited by Holly Stark
Dublin is a vibrant city of serene outdoor activities, intriguing stories, and impressive attractions, as well as dynamic art and music. Walking the city’s old cobbled streets, you will discover there is something for everyone. Dublin off the beaten path is very much appreciated and there are many non-touristy things to do in Dublin to experience it at its finest like a local. From the stunning Iveagh gardens to cozy Dublin hidden bars and pubs and Labrinth bookshops, the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East won’t leave you disappointed. Here are my Dublin travel tips and top unusual things to do in Dublin, which can be enjoyed by solo travelers, families, and groups.
Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki
St Michan’s Church
Checking out this creepy spot is one of the more unusual things to do in Dublin. St Michan’s Church was founded in 1095 to serve the remaining and ostracized Vikings, and its present architecture dates to 1685, although it was renovated in 1825. The unassuming facade beckons you through the door, and once inside you’ll see many decorative attributes. The original pipe organ can be found inside, on which Handel is said to have first played ‘The Messiah’. Beneath the church, down into the basement, are five large burial vaults with mummies inside. The mummified remains, death masks and coffins are from the most significant and influential figures from 1600 to 1800. Some coffins are falling apart enough to reveal an arm or leg – the most visible mummies are “the big four.” The four mummified corpses have no lids on their coffins and are displayed together: a woman known as “the unknown”, “the thief” who has missing parts of both feet and a hand, “the nun,” and a six-and-a-half-foot man known as “the crusader.” The mummies in the basement of St. Michan’s Church are true to Dublin off the beaten path. If creepy is your thing, St. Michan’s is one of the best non-touristy things to do in Dublin.
Unlike the creepy St. Michan’s, The Church is alive and booming. Located on the corner of Mary and Jervis Street, the 320-year-old Church is a hub of activity; with sun-lit terraces, colorful stained glass windows, a modern Irish restaurant, an elegant bar, and a cafe. It combines all things social and is a great hub for gathering cultures, friends, and families together, socializing, dancing the night away if you so desire, enjoying live music, or sipping on a pint. The bar shakes up delicious, colorful cocktails and potent martinis. Experience the best of Dublin like a local and try the house Martini; a mix of Absolut Vanilla Vodka mixed with passion fruit, pineapple juice, and vanilla-infused sugar syrup and topped with prosecco. The Church is steeped in rich past and connected to some of Ireland’s Greats.
The Marsh Library
Dublin has been home to many literary legends; from James Joyce to Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett; the city has been the birthplace or heart of some of the world’s greatest authors. Unlock the secrets of Dublin’s literary history with a visit to the Marsh Library, located in St. Patrick’s Close, adjacent to the cathedral. The library offers one of the best of Dublin must-see attractions and is a hidden gem, the Marsh is Ireland’s first public library. Established in 1707, traditional, original oak wood bookcases fill the walls and carry over 25,000 books, including the rare, original and well-known. James Joyce and Jonathan Swift have read from the huge collection, and Bram Stoker is said to have researched there. The space is a beautifully-preserved structure from the early eighteenth century.
Arbour Hill Cemetery
Fourteen of the 16 executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising are buried in Arbour Hill but it has been almost forgotten by tourists and locals alike. As well as the popular Guinness Brewery, one of the most visited Dublin tourist attraction is Kilmainham Gaol, where 14 of the 16 Irish rebels of 1916 were executed. What is less known, and more Dublin off the beaten path is the burial place of the fourteen rebels executed at Kilmainham Gaol. Straight after their murders, the bodies were rushed across the Liffey River to Arbour Hill; a British barracks and military prison. Despite Arbour Hill’s dark history, it is located in a beautiful, peaceful, hipster district with low-lying old homes and remote, narrow lanes. It’s a must visit non-touristy Dublin attraction for anyone interested in country’s turbulent history.
The Hungry Tree
The Hungry Tree located in the grounds of the King's Inns, Ireland’s oldest law school established in 1541 during Henry VIII’s reign, and is a fascinating and unusual sight. An otherwise unremarkable specimen of the London plane tree, it has become known for having partially consumed a nearby cast iron park bench. Over time, the tree has grown, leading it to swallow the parts of the structure that stands in its way. Its knotted bark now spills over the back of the bench, making it appear as though the seat is being swallowed up by the tree’s trunk. It’s guessed that the tree is around 80 years old, and is one of Ireland’s Heritage Trees. Worth a visit for anyone looking for unusual things to do in Dublin.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/chowmeyow/4913494848
The Winding Stair Bookshop
To further unlock the secrets of Dublin’s literary history, head to the quirky, independent Winding Stair Bookshop and Restaurant at the heart of the city. The winding 118th-century staircase inside connects three floors, which are all lined with beautiful books. The bottom floor is home to a shop with a wide selection of classics, pre-loved, popular fiction, children's books, and books on poetry, gardening, art, cookery, design, and history. Upstairs, you can enjoy the views over Liffey and the Ha’penny bridge, as well as indulging in some delicious traditional Irish cooking such as organic Irish beef stew with mashed potatoes. Classical music plays as you step back in time and imagine old Dublin, and there is an extensive wine list for wine lovers.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/188150940@N06/500194289
Tucked away on Lincoln Place, in the heart of Dublin’s south inner city, is Sweny’s Pharmacy; a true Dublin hidden gem and a top thing to do on a rainy day, especially if you’re visiting in the winter months of unpredictable Irish weather. I love this space so much, I’m hopeful that it will stay open. It’s part of the city’s culture and nostalgia, having featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and is described in great detail within the novel. Today, Sweny’s is maintained by volunteers, dedicated to preserving the shop as it was in Joyce’s time. It is no longer a working pharmacy, but maintains its original 1850’s Victorian style with its mahogany counter, old glass cabinets and shelves of unopened medicine bottles. The charming original chemist's sign is still intact too. Home to a huge selection of pre-loved books, weekly author readings in French, Italian and English, and the famous lemon-scented soap, Sweny’s is not to be missed.
One of the city’s least-known parks, The Iveagh Gardens are a public ground of lush greenery, fountains, flora, rustic grottos, wilderness, woodlands, a maze, and a rosarium, located between Clonmel Street and Upper Hatch Street, near the National Concert Hall. Walking in the gardens is like being in a different era of time. I attended a Shakespeare play there and it was brilliant. The grounds frequently hold plays, concerts, and performances. For the large working population and locals working in nearby offices, the gardens are a much-appreciated sanctuary. They are a cherished and essential part of life in Dublin. The Iveagh Gardens have a unique character and an atmosphere of calm and seclusion that can’t be found anywhere else in the city.
Dun Laoghaire Market
Dun Laoghaire Market takes place in the Dublin’s People’s Park every Sunday on the month. The vibrant market offers a great collection of crafts and food in the scenic surroundings and greenery of the park. Farmers and other food producers bring their fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, flowers, ethnic fare and sweet and savoury treats each week to the market. It’s a great day out with a family and is easily accessible by car; it has a children’s adventure playground and a coffee shop. The Market has a variety of international foods, cuisines and crafts; Chinese, Lebanese, Croatian and French to name a few.
The Book of Kells
Head to the impressive Trinity College and enjoy its charming backdrop. Learn about the famous people connected with it, such as Oscar Wilde who studied here, and imagine walking among long-gone influential scholars. Trinity College is considered the best of Dublin attractions. A Dublin must-see for anyone interested in medieval art, typography, and graphic design, the vivid and colorful Book of Kells can be viewed in a case. Without a doubt regarded as the most sacred item on the Trinity campus, the Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript from 800AD which is housed in the Old Library building of the university.
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