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A Day or Two in Dublin | Sites Not To Miss

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

With less than two days in Dublin, we had choices to make. Circumstances--time (both limited time and the hours attractions are available), logistics, and our love of history developed our itinerary.

Looking up at the top of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, backed by a clear blue sky.
The iconic Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin

Other people's "Top Ten" lists are a great place to start; there are many interesting ones by travel bloggers who know their stuff. But the bottom line is:

Ultimately, you have to create your own top list, based on YOUR criteria.

So that's what we did.

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Dublin In 1 1/2 Days

Our trip to Ireland had us using Dublin as a point of arrival and departure. After arriving, we immediately took a train to Galway, where our family embarked on a ten-day exploration of the Western peninsulas of Ireland, much of it via mini-van with a fab company (Coastline Tours). But that's a story for an upcoming post. Upon our return to Dublin, we had a little under 2 days before flying home. Our style this trip: freestyling, history, libraries, and a dash of good Irish stout.


Day 1--Half-Day Adventure

Day Two--Full Day Fun and Discovery

Saint Patrick's Cathedral -- inside tour and Evensong service (A MiBrava favorite)


Freestyling Through Dublin

Our Airbnb was on Cook Street near St. Audoen's Church, allowing us to walk to most of the key areas of Dublin on the south side of the River Liffey. Having spent over 10 days seeking out authentic Irish pubs, sampling Irish whiskies, enjoying Guinness and Murphy's stout with meals, and with our family not having Irish heritage, we pitched a few of the "top" sites others might have seen: The Jameson Whiskey Distillery, The Irish Whiskey Museum, and The EPIC Irish Emigration Museum. These all tend to appear near the top of the "Things To Do" list on TripAdvisor. Feel free to add them to your list.

Travel tip: throughout Ireland and any country where they drive on the left, remember to LOOK RIGHT before you step into a street or crosswalk. This is especially true if you are from the U.S.

Our first afternoon there, we freestyled around the area. What is freestyling? Not having a specific planned destination, but rather taking in the streets, sites, and people. We had plans for the following day for two sites we knew we wanted to visit: Saint Patrick's Cathedral and The Book of Kells at Trinity College. Today, it was about absorbing the town.

Our meandering took us down Wood Quay along the river. There are numerous bridges to the north bank, including the famous Ha' Penny Bridge. You may want to at least cross halfway for photos. Eventually we headed south away from the river a few blocks to the Christ Church Cathedral complex.

Travel tip: DK Eyewitness has a good guide that includes separate top ten lists for various things (overall top ten, top ten pubs, place to eat, historic buildings, etc.). Check it out at the Amazon link.

Christ Church Cathdral -- Remember what I said about altering an itinerary and "do-to" list due to circumstances? Christ Church Cathedral was one place that happened to us. This working Anglican church is not only an iconic tourist attraction but an important heritage and pilgrimage site for many. However, with only a partial day to hit some attractions, plans to do the Evensong service at Saint Patrick's Cathedral the next day and with construction around the outside of the grounds (pre-pandemic trip), we decided we couldn't give the inside the time it deserved. Next time in Dublin, we will make time for the interior.

My favorite part of the entire exterior complex was the Neo-Gothic arch across the street.

Info on the tickets and tours of the Cathedral are here. Since the history of the Cathedral site goes back to the time of the Vikings, it's no surprise that it's possible to get a combined ticket for both the Cathedral and nearby Dublinia attraction. Dublinia is a short walk over the archway and focuses on the Viking and Medieval history of Dublin.

If you have more than one day, consider purchasing one of the several passes available that include Christ Church and other Dublin sites (Dublinia has them listed on their website). The DoDublin "Days Out" card is new since our visit. It includes 6 sites: Christ Church Cathedral, Dublinia, and Saint Patrick's Cathedral, the Little Museum of Dublin, EPIC Irish Immigration Museum, and the Museum of Literature Ireland. I haven't done the math, but if these 6 are on your to-do list, it's claimed you can get a 40% savings. Advice: Do the math.

Dublin Castle - We then wandered over to the Dublin Castle area. The Castle, built in the early 1200s and reconstructed several centuries later after a fire, is now part of a government complex but remains a tourist attraction. They are open 7 days a week (including bank holidays) and the self-guided tour takes about 40 minutes. The State Apartments seem to always be on the tour, with other areas such as the Royal Chapel available at select times. We skipped the inside tour and decided to enjoy the outside courtyard and architecture. Little did we know that a somewhat ordinary building on the other side of the green park area (literally behind where I was standing to take this photo) was going to hold a big surprise for us the following day.

There is a lovely garden out the back of the Castle that includes the Garda (Police) Memorial Garden. It's worth taking a few minutes to stroll through.

Temple Bar A visit to Dublin isn't complete without a visit to Temple Bar, which is not a specific bar but a street exploding with pubs, music, and restaurants. Note: there IS actually one bar named "Temple Bar" and their reviews usually end up on the overall locale's reviews. Judging by the reviews, I'd skip it and go elsewhere, as there's an abundance of great places.

Travel tip: throughout Ireland, we discovered that you can get a great pub experience or a great restaurant, but not often great food at a pub. Plan your drinking and dining accordingly and know there are always exceptions to the norm.

Day Two

A Discovery: The Charles Beatty Library

The previous day, we were so close to this museum, it should have bitten us. Our back was to it as we took photos of the Castle and gardens. In our defense, there was a construction fence around the front of it at the time we were there. But a random walk back here, seeking a short path through Ship Street on our way to Trinity College, gave us a second chance.

This site is often listed as an aside to the Dublin Castle. Technically, it's on the grounds, but a wholely separate entity. Lonely Planet considers it one of the best museums in the Europe and lists it as a "top choice" museum. They aren't wrong.

The word "library" in the name Chester Beatty Library might be a turnoff for those seeking "adventure" in their travels. Don't let that word frighten you away. This is NOT a building with rooms of books in stacks. This site houses a collection created by an American mining engineer whose fortune enabled him to gathered ancient manuscripts from all world religions as well as artifacts from many cultures. It's its own type of adventure through cultures--from Persia (and elsewhere in the Middle East), China, Ethiopia, Europe, India, Southeast Asia and more.

Like most libraries, it is FREE (although a donation is requested). It has a small cafe, The Silk Road, thus you can spend as little or as long a time as you desire or simply come in for a snack break.

Charles Beatty also seems to have been an amazing man, lending his house in England to the Red Cross during both World Wars, and ensuring black workers in his African mines were treated as equals, with healthcare and good wages. He retired to Ireland and eventually was knighted. It's worth stopping to watch the short film on his life and collection before going on to see the exhibits. Notably, you are allowed to take photos, as long as you do not use a flash. The rooms are darkened to preserve the manuscripts and artifacts, but have enough light for the modern smartphone camera to pick up detail adequately. My 16-year-old son eagerly traipsed from exhibit to exhibit, camera in hand, and brought home a hardback book on the museum and its exhibits.

I learned more about a few religions I previously knew little of and was awed by the manuscripts produced only a few centuries after Christ walked this earth. We came to Dublin to see the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript, but never expected to be up close and personal with so many beautiful, illustrated books in this less-famous museum.

Especially intriguing are the ancient Christian texts, and some from early religions that mixed Buddism and Christianity (a guy named Mani, believe it or not). Apparently images were allowed in nonreligious Muslim texts. Who knew? We paused frequently to read many Persian stories with gorgeous illustrations that were translated into English.

Book of Kells and the (surprise!) Long Room

An example of embellishments in the exhibit preceding the viewing of the Book of Kells.

Some consider Ireland's Book of Kells the country's grandest national treasure and rightly so considering it's a medieval manuscript of the four main Gospels of the Christian Bible. Though it's a must-see on many people's lists (ours too), we did not pre-book online. The ticket line was not long, but the queue through the exhibit leading up to the actual viewing of the Book of Kells did move a bit slowly (still worth it).

The Book of Kells exhibit was a fascinating look into the art of making manuscripts in 600 AD. The four Gospels are rotated on exhibit; we were able to see the Books of Mark and Matthew. The long library of historic books you empty into after viewing the Book of Kells was awe-inspiring, especially if you are a book lover! I may have actually gasped.

Unabashed self promotion-This lovely photo above, taken by our son on this trip, is available (without the watermark) for purchase on his website, Best printed on metallic paper.

Beanhive -- A needed break for sustenance

At this point in the day, we needed a break (and I especially needed caffeine). We walked by Beanhive at 26 Dawson Street and without consulting any top list or app (gasp) we spontaneously decided to grab a seat outside. The cappuccino was gorgeous and tasty, as were our wraps and salads. Reviews by others note that the cafe does a great Irish breakfast.

National Library of Ireland

It surely was--with no intention--library day for us. While freestyling, we unexpectedly walked past the National Library of Ireland and were intrigued by the front gate and the building's architecture.

While you need to prepurchase a Reader's Ticket to access the reading room, there are tours available (suspended during the pandemic). On this day, it was enough for us to step inside, where I asked and received permission from the front desk to wander and take some photos of the first floor and landing. The mosaics, stained glass, and carvings are unlike anything we have at home in our library. On a future visit, I may take advantage of the Reader's Ticket (good for 3 years).

Saint Patrick's Cathedral We've seen many churches and cathedrals on our trips to Europe, something we seek out for the art, architecture, history, and culture. I decided that to truly experience St. Patrick's, we needed to attend the Evensong service. I'd never been to one (I don't attend a "high mass" church) but as a former choir member I wanted to hear their choir sing in such a glorious open space. I wasn't disappointed.

Saint Patrick's is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland as well as the largest cathedral in the country, with an active congregation, ministry, and choir school. We arrived in late afternoon, early enough to enter and do a self-guided tour, but not so late as to be shut out as "tourists." We were allowed to take photos up until the start of the service. The self-guided tour costs €8 but if booked online you can get a slight discount. A few tidbits: Legend has it that Saint Patrick himself baptized people from a well on the site. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, is buried at the Cathedral. The church's Choir School, adjacent to the Cathedral, was established in the early 1400s and since 1432 the students have sung 12 services a week during the academic term. I'm not sure what it says about me that the first thing I noticed was the floor, resplendent with inlaid mosaic tiles.

Evensong began at 5:30 pm, but you should check the worship schedule before you arrive. Words to describe the spiritual mood of attending Evensong escape me. Maybe it impacted me more because I attend a church that focuses on contemporary music and doesn't have a lofty ceiling for acoustics. Whatever the reason, it was moving, thought-provoking, and spiritual. The service is regularly live-streamed so there are opportunities to share at least some of the emotion. Remember, no cameras or videos during the service, no matter how tempting. This BBC recording, although dated, accurately portrayed what we experienced.

I recommend experiencing the faiths of others when possible. It was a great way to stop being a tourist and shift over to being a world citizen who appreciates and learns from a different culture.

Our last night in Dublin: Brazen Head

This was not only our last night in Dublin, but our last in Ireland as we were to fly home the following day. What better way to end things than to drink a pint in the oldest pub in Ireland? Yes, it's a tourist move but it was right around the corner from our flat. The Brazen Head is at 20 Lower Bridge St. Usher’s Quay and has a unique entrance through a stone arch and walkway, almost as if you were walking back in time.

This trip was just the beginning of Dublin for us, I'm certain. The city has so much more.

Check out Lonely Planet's article on museums for more:

Or Pubs in Dublin by

Conde Nast's best restaurants in Dublin

I'm already starting my own lists for the next visit! If you have a blog post on recommendations in Dublin, feel free to drop it in the comments.

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