I know it’s a bit blasphemous as a traveler to admit you don’t quite fancy a place, so prepare the tar and feathers: When I went to Dublin the first time, I didn’t quite fancy it.
Don’t get me wrong—the accents are nice and you can find some pretty weird stuff in the tourist shops. But the city itself lacks some flavor at first glance. The skyline is pretty basic (aside from the [relatively] new spike they’ve stuck on the O’Connell Street), the architecture a little so-so. Meh.
It wasn’t until I started getting to know the city that I saw past my initial poor impression. By the end of my second visit, I left in love with Dublin.
What did I discover along the way? Read on to find out.
1. Trinity College Library
My primary objective during my first visit to Dublin was to see Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells. I have long fangirled the Book of Kells in ways people do not generally fangirl illuminated manuscripts. But then, I am a nerd.
For anyone curious, the Book of Kells is a famous manuscript of the Gospels thought to have been crafted in Columban. It’s believed to have been created around the year 800, and is a masterpiece of art, with intricate designs that simply boggle the mind. The pigments (inks) used in it come from around the world—including lapis lazuli from mines in Afghanistan. It is a beautiful book that survived the Vikings, was lost to history, and then mysteriously reappeared at Trinity College.
(If you want to be inspired, the fantastical movie Secret of Kells is a gorgeous animated film loosely based off the story of the book’s creation.)
1. Trinity College Library Cont’d
I went to Trinity College Library on a cold February morning in the middle of the week, and practically had the exhibition to myself. The first room you enter contains information about the monks thought to have created the book, and other history for important works and events of the time. If you’re crazy like me, you could easily spend an hour in this room alone, but I think most people just wander straight through.
The Book of Kells itself is kept in a dark room under glass. There are four volumes altogether laid open for you to look at, and if you can you should linger here. The art comes alive the longer you look. Again, I had the room to myself (well, me and the security guard), and I spent a long while with my nose inches from the glass.
As you leave the dark room, feeling perhaps a little sad that it’s over, you ascend a staircase and walk past a restoration room. Normally the expert restorers are at work, and you can watch them working on books. Go through the grand doorway, and suddenly you’ll be in Trinity College Library itself. Beware: You might cry a little.
The library holds a cathedral-like silent grandeur. It is absolutely stunning. This is where I first began to fall for Dublin.
(If you’re a Star Wars fan, you will have already seen a library that looks suspiciously familiar. But you have to go on Sandeman’s tour to find out the hilarious story behind that connection.)
2. Awesome Walking Tours
If you want to really see and understand the city, you have to take a walking tour. I did not do this on my first trip to Dublin, and only added it on a last minute impulse the second time. But it completely changed the way I saw the city—and greatly informed how I understood Irish history and politics. I still sprout out tidbits I learned on that tour to friends today, three years later!
There are a lot of walking tours available, but I cannot recommend Sandeman’s New Dublin tour enough. It’s fabulous, and free!
Sandeman’s uses local guides, each with their own flare of humor, wit, and fun. I laughed myself nearly to tears on our tour. You’ll learn all about Dublin’s surprising Viking heritage (and its awful modern day City Council), the quirky traditions of Trinity College, the inspiration of Ireland’s harp logo (hint: it looks very much like a well-known beer company’s), and tons of other things beside. Totally worth three hours out of your day.
Though the tour is free, there is an opportunity to tip at the end. Take advantage of it! These guides are seriously amazing.