6 Places to Visit on a Dublin History Tour
Few cities make history as accessible as Dublin does. Just walking around the city, you can see buildings and neighborhoods that date back centuries and that open up a fascinating history. If you decide to take a historical walk around Dublin, you’ll gain insight into historical developments such as medieval architecture, the Potato Famine, Ireland’s War of Independence, and much more.
Historical Walking Tours in Dublin
If you want to see Dublin’s historical side, you can opt to do it yourself or join one of the many historical walking tours offered around the city. Most organized tours take about 2 hours and cost between roughly €12 and €22. The big benefit of a guided tour is that you’ll be walking around with someone who knows a lot about Dublin’s history. Many tour companies hire recent history graduates from Irish universities. This means you’ll learn a lot and be able to get the most out of the sites you see. Some tours also include admittance to a handful of sites along the way.
If you want to take a guided historical tour, companies such as Historical Walking Tours of Dublin and Pat Liddy’s Walking Tours of Dublinare popular choices. You may prefer, however, to go on a self-guided historical walk around Dublin. This will allow you to go at your own pace, spending as much time at each site as you like. You’ll also be able to stop into any pubs, cafes, or shops that catch your eye along the way. If you’re managing your own tour, make sure you include the sites listed below. If you’re planning to join a guided tour, these are many of the sites you can expect to see.
Interesting Historical Sites to See in Dublin
- Trinity College
- Old Parliament Houses
- Temple Bar
- Christ Church Cathedral
- Grafton Street
- Dublin Castle
Trinity College Dublin
Old Parliament Houses
Temple Bar Dublin
Christ Church Cathedral Dublin
Grafton Street Dublin
1. Trinity College
Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest university, founded in 1592. It’s worth seeing for the architecture alone. Beautiful stone buildings are arranged around green quadrangles. Although located in the heart of Dublin, the campus is a small center of tranquility. As a tourist attraction, Trinity College is most famous for possessing the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript containing four of the Gospels from the Bible. The Book of Kells is perhaps the most famous illuminated manuscript in the world, and it is a stunning example of the arts of illumination and calligraphy.
Although the exact date of composition is uncertain, historians estimate that the Book of Kells was created in the 9th century. If you visit the Trinity College library, you’ll be able to see a true piece of history and artwork. The Book of Kells is part of an exhibit at Trinity, so leave aside about an hour to see it, as it is often crowded. Most tours will not include entrance to see the book, so if you are taking a guided tour, you should plan to come back to see the Book of Kells another time.
2. Old Parliament Houses
In the early 18th century, the Irish Parliament decided to construct a new parliament building in Dublin. It was actually the first two-chamber building created specifically for use by a parliament, not only in the United Kingdom, but in the world. The building was constructed with long pews where members of Parliament would sit and face each other. The Irish Parliament met there until the Act of Union in 1800, which dissolved the Parliament.
In 1803 the Bank of Ireland bought the building, and it is still used as a bank today. However, it is open to the public, and much of the original architecture, including the entire House of Lords chamber, is intact. From the outside, the Parliament building has an impressive façade with tall stone columns. If it looks familiar when you see it, it’s because both the British Museum and the US Capitol Building drew inspiration from it.
3. Temple Bar
Temple Bar is a historic neighborhood along the River Liffey. It dates all the way back to medieval Dublin when it was a suburb outside the main city walls. It began to rise to prominence again in the 17th century when wealthy families began building houses and ornate gardens in the neighborhood.
In the 1980s, low prices drew in artists, galleries, and small shops, and Temple Bar gradually developed as a cultural hub. That legacy is strong today, and Temple Bar is famous for its art galleries, restaurants, and pubs. It’s a lively and interesting area to walk through during the day. If you’re looking for an energetic nightlife in the evening (and don’t mind a crowd of tourists), this is the place to come.
4. Christ Church Cathedral
If you enjoy beautiful churches, you’ll love Christ Church Cathedral. Christ Church was founded around 1030, making it almost 500 years old. In its long history, it’s been host to many kings and queens. The building was renovated during the Victorian period, so the current building is a fascinating mix of medieval and Victorian architecture.
Inside, you can visit the tomb of the warlord Strongbow (whom the cider gets its name from), an extensive crypt featuring the famous mummified “Cat and the Rat,” and the cathedral’s treasury. Even if you only see it from the outside, the cathedral is highly impressive.
5. Grafton Street
Grafton Street is another famous historical area, known primarily for its shopping. The street was built in 1708, and it gradually evolved from an upscale residential street to a busy commercial area. Today, most of the street is open only to pedestrians, making it ideal for walking around and looking into the shops.
There are a few great site-seeing gems along Grafton Street, including the Trinity College Provost’s House (dating back to the 18th century), St Stephen’s Green at the south end, and College Green at the north end. In between, you’ll find lots of high-end shops, cafes, and buskers performing for the crowds.
6. Dublin Castle
One of the top sites you must see on a Dublin history tour is the castle. Located in the heart of Dublin, Dublin Castle is a great place to get a taste of Irish history and culture. There has been a castle on the same site in Dublin since 1204, although most of the current buildings date from the 19th century. If you visit the castle, you’ll be able to see elaborate state apartments, a royal chapel, multiple museums, and the renowned Chester Beatty Library. All of these attractions make the castle well worth visiting. Furthermore, it’s just a couple minutes’ walk away from Temple Bar and other key Dublin attractions, so it’s easy to fit into your site-seeing schedule.
The History of Dublin Castle
The history of Dublin Castle dates back to 1204 when John, King of England and Lord of Ireland, ordered that a castle be built to enhance the city’s defense and to enable the administration of justice. The castle had been built by 1230, containing a central square, tall walls, and four towers. One of these towers, called the Record Tower, still stands today. Inside the square, there would have been a collection of wooden buildings. Unfortunately, in 1684 there was a massive fire that damaged almost all of the castle. Dublin Castle was rebuilt, leaving only the Record Tower. The new castle was built in the style of a Georgian palace. New construction in the 1720s updated the castle walls, buildings, and entrance, creating the castle you can see today.
Dublin Castle served as the central administrative location of the Irish government. The Viceroy of Ireland, who represented the monarch, held Dublin Castle as his primary residence. Law courts and the Irish parliament also met in Dublin castle for many years. Upon Ireland becoming a Free State in 1922, however, Dublin Castle ceased to serve as Ireland’s administrative center. It continued to serve, however, as the site of important ceremonial events, such as visits from foreign ambassadors, presidential inaugurations, and European Council meetings.
The State Apartments
The state apartments are one of the top attractions of Dublin Castle. They were built as both the private residence and public quarters for the Viceroy of Ireland and his court. They were the center of government administration and of elite social life. Today, they are still used for important state functions. Whenever they are not in use, however, they are open to the public through guided tours. If you visit, you’ll see impressive halls, a portrait gallery, the throne room, and more. You’ll also hear from your tour guide about the history of the castle.
The Chapel Royal
The Chapel Royal is probably the most beautiful part of Dublin Castle. It was built in 1814 in the Gothic style, and it is famous for its opulent interior. The most impressive feature of the chapel is its vaulted arches. It also has a beautiful stained glass window. In addition, the chapel features a number of beautiful wooden carvings and coats of arms of key historical figures such as Ireland’s justiciars and lord deputies. This makes the chapel interesting both historically and artistically.
The Dublin Castle Museums
There are two museums within Dublin Castle: The Garda Museum and The Revenue Museum. The Revenue Museum, located in the crypt of the Chapel Royal, displays the history of taxes and duties in Ireland. You can see things such as measuring devices used by the Revenue Commissioners and interesting illegal items that have been confiscated at airports and ocean ports. The Garda Museum is dedicated to the history of An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s national police service. The museum, located in the castle’s Record Tower, contains exhibitions and archives about the Irish police prior to 1922.
The Chester Beatty Library
The Chester Beatty Library, which is free to visitors, is not just a library; it houses impressive exhibits on historic cultures from around the world. In particular, it is famous for religious history and rare manuscripts. There are two large collections: Sacred Traditions and Artistic Traditions. Within both collections, you can see miniature paintings, rare books, drawings, prints, manuscripts, and more. The Chester Beatty Library has one of the largest collections of artifacts that are important to the history of Islam, and it is also well known for historic texts from the history of the Old Testament and New Testament. Its most famous objects are a copy of The Gospel of Mani and a volume of the very first illustrated edition of Life of the Prophet. For those interested in religious and textual history, the Chester Beatty Library is a must-see. Even if you are not particularly interested in religious texts, you’ll likely enjoy a glimpse at the intriguing history and appreciate the beauty of the artistic items.
What Is Your Favorite Historical Site in Dublin, Ireland?
What to Expect When You Visit
Dublin Castle is one of the top tourist attractions in Dublin, so you should always expect a bit of a crowd when you visit. You can take a look at the castle courtyard and the Chester Beatty Library for free. If you are short on time or have a tight budget, it is worth your time to stop by the castle and take a look. It’s a beautiful area to walk around, and the Chester Beatty Library is a fascinating museum to visit.
If you would like to see the inside of the castle, you’ll need to do so through a guided tour. Tours include the state apartments, the medieval undercroft, and the chapel royal, and they cost €12 (adults 18-60 years). If you’d just like to see the state apartments, you can do a self-guided tour for €8. For the extra €4, however, you get a lot of extra information about the history of the castle and all the events it has been involved in. If you have the time, it’s probably worth it.
Tours run from 10:00 to 16:45 Monday through Saturday and from 12:00 to 16:45 on Sundays. You should expect the tour to take a little over an hour, so if you want to walk around the grounds as well, plan on giving yourself about two hours (and more if you want to spend time in the Chester Beatty Library). The castle also includes a gift shop and café, so you can stop in for a cup of tea and a bit to eat if you get hungry after your tour.
I hope you enjoyed this Dublin history tour, most places are fairly close to each other and you'll find a lot of restaurants and bars to take a break.
© 2019 Sam Shepards