Most tourists visit the main attraction in Dublin. Guinness Storehouse? Check. Temple Bar? Been there done that. Book of Kells? Bought the T-Shirt. But there is so much more in Dublin than those main attractions of Dublin tourism. There are so many worthwhile hidden gems that can really be the icing on the cake of anybody who really wants to enhance a trip to Dublin.
Our hidden gems do not include any of Dublin’s mainstays (if you want to find out more about them, check our post here). We have included these sights, because we really love them and in our experience they generally are not filled to the brim with tourists.
1. Chester Beatty Library
If I had to choose three favorite locations in Dublin City Centre, the Chester Beatty Library would be one of them. The Chester Beatty Library is located directly behind Dublin Castle and although it is called a “library”, do not be misled by the name, it is in fact a museum.
Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was a mining magnate, who by the 1940s had already gathered an impressive collection of manuscripts dating from antiquity to the middle ages, as well as rare books, lithographs, and other works of art from all over the world.
The collections of Islamic and East Asian art are particularly impressive in my opinion, but so too are the collections of papyrus dating back to Ancient Egypt. The comprehensive exhibitions on show here are changed on a regular basis and I must say that all of the exhibitions that I have seen so far have been excellent.
It was here that I first discovered my interest in Persian and Indian miniature drawings (the detailed drawings are so minuscule that you have to use the magnifying glasses offered in the exhibition to properly enjoy them!).
In addition to great art exhibitions, this museum, which was honored as the European Museum of the Year in 2002, is also an inspirational place to learn about the five world religions. This permanent exhibition has been cleverly created to allow visitors to delve into fascinating subject material, without feeling overwhelmed. The five world religions are explained side by side according to their basic characteristics without any preference between one religion or another.
One of the best parts of this fabulous cultural attraction is that admission is free although, if you can support it by giving a small donation, that would be appreciated.
Bonus Tip: The Silk Road Café and the Silk Road Kitchen offer a fantastic selection of food and drinks (perfect for afternoon tea!).
In good weather the roof garden is open to the public and from here have a wonderful view of Dublin Castle. The lovely selection of planted flowers give an almost Japanese-like touch to the ambiance making this the ideal spot to recharge before embarking on your next sightseeing adventure. Definitely stop by!
2. St. Michan’s Church – A Crypt Tour with Mummies
This tour is not for the faint hearted or those of you with sensitive souls, but it is absolutely one of a kind and should not be missed! I’ve been on this tour three times and I’ve been thrilled by it every time.
St. Michan’s Church itself is not the highpoint of the tour, the underground crypt is. However, it is worth noting that St. Michan’s is one of the oldest churches in Dublin (the original church was built in 1065, but the present church dates back to the 17th century). The organ was also where Georg Friedrich Handel allegedly performed his Messiah oratorio before the first official performance in Dublin.
It takes a very enthusiastic, quirky tour guide (I always had the same great guy) to make a tour of a burial vault come to life and that is the case here! The tales and scary stories, delivered with perfect timing by the tour guide, leave the audience in rapture.
Those of you who are not easily disturbed can descend into the vaults as part of the tour to see the mummified remains of several nobles from the 17th to 19th centuries. (This may seem like an odd attraction to do on your holiday, but that is something you should judge for yourself!) Among the mummies is even a “Crusader” (in the photo at the back of the wall), but according to the latest findings the remains are only about 650 years old and thus cannot be a crusader.
Until 2017 you could touch the middle finger of the ‘Crusader’ to bring a year of luck in your life. Although this is no longer allowed for conservation reasons, it is a truly peculiar and memorable tour that will not be forgotten so quickly! Supposedly, Bram Stoker even got his inspiration for Dracula here. If you want to do five things in Dublin, St. Michan’s Church Tour should be one of them.
Update: At the end of February 2019, there was a burglary in the crypt and the skull of the Crusader and another skull were stolen. Luckily, both skulls have since been recovered. Guided tours are still ongoing, but unfortunately visitors are not allowed to see the “mummies” at present. They hope to have this open to the public again soon.
3. Freemason’s Hall
Most people are aware of the stereotypes about the Masons, especially since Dan Brown’s Illuminati. In this tour of the Grand Lodge of Ireland on Molesworth Street you can finally see behind the guarded walls of this mysterious society.
I was very surprised how openly our guide talked about alleged secrets and stereotypes of this fraternal club, such as covert handshakes and other rituals. During the tour I also saw the many very elaborate rooms in the Freemason’s Hall. Some make you feel that you have almost travelled back in time.
There is a room full of Egyptian symbols and objects (just like in a Dan Brown Thriller), a gothic-style chapel with glass paintings that were a gift from Queen Victoria, and the Grand Lodge Room, which reminded me a little of Alice in Wonderland because of its chequered floor.
I also found it very strange how many of the stereotypical ideas were confirmed – be it in the symbolism in the rooms or in statements of our guide that ‘Masons are like boy scouts for big boys’. It goes without saying that this bizarre journey through time into a world full of peculiarities is one that you should definitely when you are in Dublin.
4. Parks and Recreation
It always surprises me how much energy you need during a city holiday. After a few days of city touring, I am usually quite exhausted and in need of another holiday!
Dublin is no different to any other city in this regard. The great thing about Dublin though, is number of lovely parks, which are spread all over the city and are ideal to rest and recharge your batteries.
Some of the parks are very popular and well-known (e.g. Phoenix Park and St. Stephen’s Green), however, others such as the Iveagh Gardens are worth a visit in their own right. (It is surprising how few people take the time to visit these charming parks.) If the weather is sunny (or rather ‘not rainy’) they are certainly worth a stroll around.
Please note! Parks in Ireland are always closed at night. They usually open at around 10am and close before sunset depending on the month.
Do you want to visit our top 6 favorite parks in Dublin? You can read more about them here.
5. Archbishop Marsh’s Library
A real insider tip that you will find tucked away behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral is this library of the early Enlightenment era. Marsh’s Library has a collection of approximately 25,000 books from the 16th century. Most of them can be view during a tour.
While the library itself is not nearly as big as the Trinity College Long Room Library, it is still very worthy of a visit. James Joyce, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, and many other writers and scholars researched their works here and even scribbled some books! These can now be admired as part of a permanent exhibition. Also new beautiful exhibitions of the library’s book inventory are constantly being shown.
The building itself is also quite special. Unlike many other buildings from this period, the interior has remained almost entirely unchanged since it was built in the early 18th century (from 1707!). This also includes the oak bookcases, which are reminiscent of a bygone era. Take some time to step back in time and explore this little gem.
Bonus Tip: To get a good impression of the collection, the Facebook page of the Marsh’s Library is worth checking out.
6. Irish Film Institute
There is definitely more to Temple Bar than just pubs, but you need to look in the right place! The Temple Bar District is also home to the Irish Film Institute or the IFI, as the Irish call it.
Not only is the IFI a normal cinema, it also supports the film culture of Ireland as a national institution. It also houses the Irish Film Archive, has a library and overall a great program with many activities, such as various festivals, talks, exhibitions and more for all the family throughout the year.
If you just want to see a good (Irish) movie one evening, or are generally interested in film history (the bookshop has a great selection of books and DVDs), or you just want to sit in the cozy café, you should definitely schedule a visit to the Irish Film Institute.
7. Rent Dublin Bikes
Ok so this is not a sight as such, but it is a unique part of the Dublin city experience and we think it is a good insider tip. Why not explore the city by bike instead of by bus, tram or taxi? In recent years, Dublin has become very cyclist-friendly, and a lot of money has gone into cycling infrastructure and a public bike rental program.
My favorite area for cycling in Dublin is along the Grand Canal in the south of downtown. Just try it out and relax on the bench next to the statue of the famous poet Patrick Kavanagh and watch the houseboats.
When I lived in Dublin, I bought the annual subscription for Dublin Bikes a couple of times, but as a tourist you can buy a 3-day ticket. All you have to do is pay € 5 at one of the many Bike Stations with a credit card (a deposit of € 150 will be deposited) and then you will have access to use the bikes. The first half hour is always free, then a small fee will apply.
From my own experience I can say that half an hour from A to B is usually sufficient for most journeys. The great thing is that there are over a hundred bike docking stations throughout the city to return the bicycles allowing you can easily drop off the bike to the nearest bike docking station once you are finished with it.
By the way: There is now also the ‘AllBikesNow’ app with which you can locate bike stations and also see where and how many bicycles are available.
You can learn more here.