13 useful things to know before you visit Dublin

As a born and bred Dubliner, I’ve spent most of my life trying to make sense of my hometown.

In one way it’s a cinch to figure out: you’ll get your bearings pretty quickly and realize that you can explore most of it on foot. But it’s not just its size that makes it such a great walking city. It’s the nature of life here that makes it the ideal flaneur destination, where you amble and devote yourself to the art of observing life around you.

Spend a few days in Dublin and you’ll soon appreciate that there is much going on in this busy little town, and that to really understand the place you’ll have to move here and spend the rest of your days figuring out its wonderful idiosyncrasies and multilayered sense of humour.

In the meantime, though, here are a few local tips that will smooth your introduction to a city that has the power to grab your imagination and not let it go.

Dublin might be a small capital city, but it’ll demand as much time from you as you’re willing to give. You’ll need at least three days to even make a dent in the place: one day to explore even just a couple of the main sights, such as Trinity College and the Guinness Storehouse. You’ll need another day to visit some of the city’s other brilliant attractions, like the Little Museum of Dublin, the Chester Beatty and just one branch of the National Museum of Ireland. And a third day to sample some whiskey and visit either of the city’s iconic cathedrals.

A couple of days more will give you a chance to stretch your legs and explore more of the city – such as the historic General Post Office and 14 Henrietta St on the northside. But you’ll have to build in some leisure time – after all there are 800 pubs in the city, a fine selection of music venues and a handful of great theatres. And what about going further afield, on a day trip to Howth, for instance, or beyond?

Planning on some beers while you’re in Dublin? Here’s our guide to the locals’ favorite traditional pubs 

Pack casual clothes, and definitely have a waterproof jacket with you as rain is likely © Salvador Maniquiz / Shutterstock

You can wear pretty much whatever you want in Dublin, and smart casual is the most you’ll need for fancy dinners, the theater or the concert hall. Even most work places like to keep it casual as there’s a general perception in the city that dressing up is only for that special occasion, which work rarely is.

Irish summers are warm but rarely hot, so you’ll want an extra layer for when the temperatures cool, especially in the evening when the disappearing sun can make that day’s warmth feel like a distant memory.

Ultimately, the ever-changeable weather will determine your outfits, but a light waterproof jacket (preferably with a hood, unless you’re carrying an umbrella) and waterproof shoes should never be beyond reach, for the almost inevitable rain.

Plan your packing with our seasonal guide to Dublin through the year

There is a range of discount cards that will save you money on attractions and transport. The GoCity All-Inclusive Pass (1–5 days, €79–164) gives you free entry to a bunch of top attractions, including the Guinness Storehouse, EPIC The Heritage Museum, the Jameson Distillery Bow Street, and the Big Bus Hop On, Hop Off tour. For 25% off six of those attractions, there’s the DoDublin Days Out Card (€55).

As well as the Leap Card (see below), there are good discounts to be had with the DoDublin Freedom Ticket (€48), a 72-hour travel pass that covers all public transport as well as a hop on, hop off tour.

If you’re planning on using public transport in Dublin, be sure to get a Leap Card first, as it’s cheaper and more convenient than paying for fares directly. This green plastic card is available from most newsagents and can be used on all forms of transport in the city, including buses, DART, the Luas light rail system and commuter trains throughout the county. The Leap Visitor Card (1/3/7 days, €8/€16/€32) provides unlimited travel on public transport. It can be purchased in the city and at Dublin Airport, or ordered online and delivered to your home in advance of your trip.

To use the card, just tap your card on the machine as you get on: for Luas, rail and DART services you will also need to tap off when you get off (but not for buses).

You top up the card with any amount you want (there’s a minimum of €5) at newsagents, any Luas, DART and commuter rail machines, or by downloading the Leap Top-Up App onto any NFC-enabled iPhone or Android phone: hold the card to the back of the phone and you can top up, collect pre-paid tickets and check your balance.  

If you’re using a regular Leap card, rather than the Visitor Card, the TFI 90 Minute Fare applies to journeys made by Dublin Bus, Luas and most Dart trains. Any journey less than 90 minutes (including transfer times) costs €2.

Here’s more useful transportation information for Dublin

There are plenty of taxis in Dublin, but they can be tough to find late at night, especially at weekends when thousands of Dubliners are looking to head home to the suburbs after a night out in the city. Uber does exist in Dublin, but it’s oddly expensive; by far the most popular taxi hailing app is Freenow, which most of the city’s taxis are connected to. There are taxi ranks in the city center, but hailing them through the app is the preferred (and most convenient) option for most.

Diners eat at tables outside a restaurant as a member of waiting staff walks by them smiling
If you’re self-catering, beware that breakfast can be hard to find before 9am in Dublin © Sergey Olegovich / Shutterstock

Dubliners rarely eat breakfast out, so you might struggle to find a decent spot for breakfast that opens before 9am or 9:30am. The good news is that a decent cup of coffee is a non-negotiable, so there are plenty of places open by 8am to cater for caffeinated employees.

Discounted lunch specials are common, especially in the busy city center. Book tables at popular restaurants at least a few days in advance if you want to avoid disappointment or dodge the 5:30pm seating nobody else wants. For the really fancy spots including those with Michelin stars, you’ll have to plan well in advance. Some (like Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud) will accommodate reservations no more than a month in advance, but a place like Chapter One opens its reservations list three months in advance, and then only for blocks of two months. Most tables are nabbed up pretty quickly, but if you miss out you can join the online waitlist.

Most of the city’s larger cultural institutions are free to visit, including the three branches of the National Museum of Ireland, the National Gallery, the Chester Beatty and the Dublin City Gallery-the Hugh Lane – although there is a charge for some of the exhibitions. There are free tickets for the tours of Áras an Uachtharáin, the official residence of the Irish president in Phoenix Park and there is no charge to visit the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham.

Smaller, privately owned museums charge a fee, but it’s rarely more than €10, and you won’t need to book your ticket in advance.

Traveling to Dublin on a budget? Here are some other free experiences to consider 

In most restaurants in Dublin you’ll be offered the choice of water – still or sparkling. Unless you have a particular fondness for a specific brand of bottled water, you should always opt for tap as the city’s supply is perfectly safe, free and generally excellent. Some restaurants operate their own in-house filtration system, so for a minimal cost (usually €1–2) you have your choice of still or sparkling tap water. Same goes for filling your water bottle: tap water is fine and you don’t need to buy pricey and environmentally unfriendly plastic bottles to replenish your supply.

Dubliners, like the rest of the Irish, put great store in conviviality and a generous spirit. And both of these qualities are embodied in the rounds system, whereby if someone buys you a drink, you are obliged to buy them one in return. Getting sucked into the rounds system is a great way of getting to know Dubliners: strike up a conversation and, at the appropriate moment (ie when they’re just about to finish their drink), ask what they’re “having” – and before you know it you’re multiple drinks and conversations deep into a blossoming friendship.

Needless to say, you don’t have to take part in buying rounds, but if you want to understand the social glue that binds people together in Dublin, there aren’t many better ways than having a few drinks with them.

People enjoying nightlife on a cobbled street outside some pubs in a city
Expect to pay anything from €7–10 for a pint in the city center © Madrugada Verde / Shutterstock

Dubliners love a good night out, but the city is a pretty expensive place to party in. The capital is notorious for the price of the pint of beer, which is higher than anywhere else in Ireland. As a result, many Dubliners will do pre-drinks at home before heading out, usually between 9 and 10pm.

Happy hour promotions are illegal in Ireland; expect to pay anything from €7–10 for a pint in the city center, but keep an eye out on pubs that sneakily raise the price of a pint later in the night, presumably when punters are too drunk to notice. It’s illegal to charge a price other than what is indicated; if it happens, your best reaction is to complain and leave.

Licensing laws are stricter in Dublin than almost any other European capital. Pubs can serve alcohol until 11:30pm Monday to Thursday, to 12:30am Friday and Saturday, and to 11pm on Sunday. Many premises apply for special exemption orders, which allows them to serve until 2:30am – usually from Thursday to Saturday nights. Nightclubs usually go until 3am, but in a lot of venues there’s barely a distinction between a huge pub that turns up the music really loudly and a dedicated club for dancing.

Dubliners are, for the most part, an informal and easy-going lot who don’t stand on excessive ceremony and generally prefer not to make too much fuss. That doesn’t mean that they don’t abide by certain rules, or that there isn’t a preferred way of doing things in the city, though. But the transgressions of the unknowing are both forgiven and often enjoyed – the accidental faux pas is a great source of entertainment in a city that has made “slagging”, or teasing, a veritable art form.

Indeed, slagging is a far more reliable indicator of the strength of friendship than virtually any kind of compliment: a fast, self-deprecating wit and an ability to take a joke in good spirits will win you plenty of friends. Mind you, even slagging has its hidden codes, and is only acceptable among friends: it wouldn’t do at all to follow an introduction to someone by making fun of them!

Dublin has a pretty vibrant LGBTIQ+ scene, with some well-established bars and club nights as well as activities including hiking and sea swimming. The best-known gay bar in town is the George on South Great George’s St, followed by Pantibar, which is owned by renowned activist and drag queen Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss. June’s Pride Festival is the second-biggest celebration in the city after St Patrick’s Day, a raucous festival of color and fun that runs over five days. August sees GAZE International LGBTQIA Film Festival, Ireland’s only dedicated film festival, while the International Gay Theatre Festival usually takes place in May.

13. Dublin is generally a safe city with good health care

Health and safety should not be an issue during a visit to Dublin. Pharmacies selling basic medication are easy to come by, and crime is not a major concern. Taking normal precautions (eg keeping an eye on belongings in crowds) should be sufficient. O’Connell St and the streets immediately around it can get a little shady after dark, so keep your wits about you.

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