Before we talk about unusual things to do in Dublin, a word of warning: don’t miss the classics like the Book of Kells at Trinity College or the razzamatazz and history at the iconic Guinness Storehouse.
But once you’ve dipped into the Jameson Distillery, heard traditional Irish music in Temple Bar and paid some kind of homage to local boys U2, what next?
UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN DUBLIN
Allow me to show you some of the more unusual things to do in Dublin and make the most of this garrulous, energetic capital of Ireland.
Travelling with little ones? Check out this article on things to do in Dublin with kids.
CURIOUS AND OFFBEAT THINGS TO DO IN DUBLIN
1 – UNUSUALLY ACTIVE: TAKE SOME HURLING LESSONS
Let’s nip this one right in the bud. Hurling has nothing to do with the city’s, er, reputation for partying. Hurling, in this case, is a field sport.
Hurling’s older than time itself, according to Gareth, one of the owners of the Clash Gaelic Games School, and an avid hurling fan to boot. It’s an All-Ireland Gaelic sport that’s played outside with a stick called a hurley and a ball the size of a tennis ball but without the squidgy impact.
Take the short drive out of town to Portmarnock where Gareth and his brothers will teach you how to play the sport yourself (for women, it’s called camogie.)
This is the kind of thing that sounds (and feels) absolutely awful for the first 30 seconds. Then it morphs into all-absorbing, riveting, fantastic fun.
If you hated sport at school, then this is definitely for you. No more humiliation and hideous clothes: the idea is to have fun and learn a few new things. You’ll scoop balls onto hurleys in an impression of a slippery egg-and-spoon race and then pelt them at the wall in a magnificent display of stress relief.
Trust me, if I enjoyed it, anyone can ;-)
2- UNUSUALLY TASTY: MATCH YOUR FOOD TO YOUR ART AT THE MERRION HOTEL
Dublin’s Georgian architecture is a big draw and postcards and Instagrams of fancy doorways flutter across the city. But take the Georgian experience one step further by having afternoon tea at the Merrion Hotel: a luxury experience that offers the “lived in” Georgian experience.
The Merrion also happens to hold Ireland’s largest private art collection, one it brings to life through an innovative sugary experience: art tea.
Along with a glass of bubbles and the obligatory cucumber sandwich, sweet treats arrive that mirror the art collection. Winter sees smoked China tea served besides cosy roaring fires and the concierge can lend you an audioguide to learn more about the works at your own pace if you prefer.
3 – UNUSUALLY POETIC: GORGE YOURSELF WITH LITERARY WORKS
Dublin lays claim to an astonishing FOUR Nobel Prize winners for literature, and that doesn’t even include James Joyce and his famed Ulysses.
Your chances to submerge yourself in literary inspiration seem endless, from the clean cafe at the National Library to the quirky gloom of Grogan’s where poets would chatter in verse. There’s the Dublin Writers Museum and the ornate parchments at the lavish Chestery Beatty Library.
And if you’re in town on 16th June you can throw on a straw hat and join in with Bloomsday.
4 – UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN DUBLIN BEYOND THE CITY CENTRE: HEAD TO THE COAST OR THE MISTY GREEN FORESTS
Yes, despite the frequent pictures of red brick lanes and bridges, the city of Dublin is actually flanked by mountains, scenic coastlines and other such greenery. In fact, you can take so many beautiful day trips from Dublin.
There’s the moss-covered gnarled trees at Malahide Castle, the short drive to the stunning Wicklow Mountains National Park and the seaside towns of Howth (pronouced Hoath) and Sandycove (another link to Ulysses.)
Just remember to dress for the weather. Almost all sorts of weather. Sunshine, rain, wind, hail, snow. In this respect, Dublin really does have it all ;-)
If you’ve a car, it’s easy enough to visit these places yourself.
5 – UNUSUALLY LIGHT: SWITCH COSY PUBS FOR COOL NEW BARS
Yep, that’s right. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to have a night out in Dublin without a single drop of Guinness or even a rendition of Danny Boy. The Dean Hotel is dripping with vintage cool, while new-distillery-on-the-block Teeling’s offers whiskey tasting beneath bright lights and whiter walls.
6 – UNUSUALLY FESTIVE: DRESS UP, DRESS DOWN FOR FESTIVAL SEASON
As befits an energetic, young capital city (a staggering 40% of inhabitants are under 30) – festivals are all the rage. Come the end of summer, they all start to blur into one, earning the bland nickname”festival season.” Catch students challenging the status quo at the Fringe, leafy green streetside exhibits on PARKing day and stare up at dinosaurs in the dark on culture night when all the museums in town throw open their doors.
7 – UNUSUALLY POIGNANT: SEE WHAT BULLETS DO TO BOOKS
The Long Room in Trinity College is one inspirational library: the less well-known Marsh’s Library is even more thought provoking. Look out for Dracula, Gulliver’s Travels, the lost skull…and the bullet holes in the books from a world we all hope we never go back to.
8 – UNUSUALLY CREEPY: WALK WITH GHOSTS AT KILMAINHAM GAOL
On the outskirts of Dublin, but still within reach of the hop-on hop-off bus, lives Kilmainham Gaol. It “hosted” numerous criminals over the years but the most prominent residents were those involved in the 1916 Easter Rising.
The guided talk is bleak and haunting (the imprisoned revolutionaries were executed here) but the architecture is striking and the events a crucial part of Irish History.
9 – UNUSUALLY RESTFUL – FROLIC WITH DEER IN PHOENIX PARK
OK, so you don’t need to frolic. A simple walk will be fine.
Rated as the largest urban park in Europe, Phoenix Park began life as a 17th century hunting ground for the gentry. Today, it encloses several stately homes, beginning with the official residency of the Irish president and moving on to the home of the US Ambassador.
Despite all that, entrance is free to the public, where you can walk or cycle among the fallow deer and pay a visit to Europe’s 4th largest zoo.
The visitor’s centre travels right back to 3500 BC with its tales of Phoenix Park.
Disclosure – While I’ve visited Ireland many times and have Irish blood in my veins, this latest trip to Dublin came about as a project between iAmbassador and Tourism Ireland. Some of the unusual activities mentioned here took place on this trip, others I undertook on my own. All are my personal choices of the best and most unusual things to do in Dublin. Ach, but while I’m here, if you’re looking for a guide to unusual things to do in Dublin, let me recommend Brian Kennedy – [email protected]
Cheers – and enjoy Dublin!
UPDATE ON UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN DUBLIN
Check out my piece for Lonely Planet on the Hip cafes and hot design: exploring the new Dublin over here.
Follow my footsteps into the oldest library in Dublin, where Bram Stoker studied, James Joyce researched, and Jonathan Swift scribbled graffiti into text books. Amid the polished wood and ancient pages, you’ll find even more secrets about Dublin, Ireland.
Marsh’s Library, Dublin
As a child, I dreamed one day of owning, or perhaps just prowling around, an overtowering library.
Shelves would reach beyond my eyes, with creaky ladders required to reach the top.
Sunlight would shimmer through dust and romance, and science and wild adventure would swim between the thick, creamy pages where black ink bled into soft and yellowed parchment.
Well, in 21st century Dublin I found the library of my dreams, flirting behind flighty leaves and wrought iron gates and a steep if unspectacular staircase.
- Planning a trip to Dublin? Check out this 3 day Dublin itinerary.
The Oldest Library in Dublin
Marsh’s Library lives in the heart of Dublin right next to St Patrick’s cathedral in the city centre. It admits the public for a fee, with supervision, or throws open its doors for free for the excellent Open House Dublin event.
Founded in 1707, it’s Ireland’s oldest public library and it offers a flight through the history of reading and literature before the digital age.
Many a literary giant used to study here, with recorded visits from Bram Stoker, James Joyce and Jonathan Swift.
Read more about Unusual Things To Do in Dublin here.
Joyce took memories of the library further, by furnishing his novels with the library reborn, while Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels and the former dean of St Patrick’s cathedral around the corner, took things a little further.
In jagged inky letters bound tight with suppressed tension, he gives his views on the Scots in the margin of The History of the Great Rebellion. And let me tell you, dear readers, for a man of the cloth, he was unforgiving when it came to the betrayal of his beloved king.
Travel and Conflict in Dublin’s Best Library
Another quiet example of conflict comes in the form of delicate hand drawn maps from a time, and then a world, far away.
Visiting officials from Japan halted at the manuscript. Magnifying glasses unsheathed, backs bent and eyes squinted as the corps searched for a certain disputed island in the South China Sea.
Happily, this century old document seemed to back the claims of Japan and so a diplomatic incident was avoided.
Read about unusual things to do in Ireland (outside Dublin) here
Not so funny now…
It struck me, walking around and drinking in the history, how the prism of space and time distorted my interpretation of events. This map, drawn centuries ago, and this dispute, so far from home, seemed little more than a curiosity, an eccentric event that bordered on comic at the thought of grown men bickering back and forth about the fate of a tiny island.
The Maps of Ireland in Marsh Library Dublin
Come forth to the here and now and ever forth to the ground I was standing on and it immediately became clear how unfunny such bickering can be.
Grown men – and women – have not laughed off such disputes when it comes to the island I’m standing on.
At peace now – to a cautious extent – memories of the violence never seem far away in Dublin.
And Marsh’s Library shows by far the most subtle example of this…
Memories of Violence
At first, the row of books looks normal.
At second glance, the scuffing becomes clear, the ragged edged hole that signifies a bullet.
The keeper pulls the book from the shelf, creasing the spine to lay it open.
Inside the book, as in the body, and the psyche, words are torn and spread apart.
Fighting Over a Small Island
The bullet itself comes, of course, from a clash over the ownership of Ireland.
Marsh’s Library itself was never under direct attack, making this destruction even more poignant.
Nothing stays safe during war; crossfire affects everyone.
“We use it to show children,” he says, “to let them know the real effects of bullets. And to show that there’s nothing cool about fighting. That the effects of these bullets are real.”
From War to Travel in Dublin’s Oldest Library
But the past isn’t always painful.
Medieval parchments tell tales of travel, of exploration and of friendship between foreigners.
I recognise certain landmarks and catch the keeper’s eye.
“It’s Venice,” he tells me. “And this is one of the oldest postcards in the world.”
The oldest postcard in the world inside the oldest library in Dublin.
It’s a fitting place to end a visit.
How to Visit the Oldest Library in Dublin
Marsh’s Library contains over 25 000 books and 300 manuscripts in towering oak shelves. You need to visit with a guide since oil from human hands can damage some of the ancient tomes. Plus, it’s also more fun to hear the real stories behind these dusty, smoky corners.
For a little background, the library is named after Archibishop Narcissus Marsh, the 18th century founder. When its doors opened in 1707, Marsh’s Library was the first public library in Ireland.
The First Public Library in Ireland
The atmospheric design comes thanks to Sir William Robinson, the then General Surveyor of Ireland. It includes teetering shelves and quiet reading rooms, a space for Irish authors to thrive.
It’s much smaller than the library at Trinity College Dublin, but I think that’s part of the reason why I like it so much. Away from the university and tourist crowds, you’ll find a place to pause, reflect, imagine.
Plus, who can resist an old library?