I’ve accidentally developed a hobby of offering lost-looking people with unfamiliar accents directions and advice when I pass them in Dublin city. Like most locals, I’m genuinely delighted to help (Dubliners are terrible know-it-alls).
Not too long ago, I walked through Trinity College and saw people queuing all around the square for entrance to the Old Library and the Book of Kells. As a born-bred-and-buttered Dubliner that naturally knows it all, I wanted to tell them all that the most popular sites are not always the most worthy.
A Toronto Star journalist on a tour in Dublin recently said she felt hurried looking at the Book of Kells, but that it was a pleasure to walk around the lesser-known Chester Beatty Library where “I could examine the enormous collection of rare books and illuminated manuscripts in near solitude for as long as I liked.”
See there is always a lesser-known alternative – and I’m here to tell you about them.
The view: Gravity Bar v Skyline Tour
Yes, I know the Guinness Storehouse is the first place circled on your map. And, yes, sipping a pint from inside the glass-walled Gravity bar while staring out at city rooftops is a great end to the tour. I’ve been there, written the blog.
But there is a wind-in-your-hair exhilarating alternative, just on the other side of the river.
Croke Park is Dublin’s biggest stadium. It welcomes over 1.5 million people a year through GAA matches, concerts, events and conferences, and stands 17 storeys high. What I’m suggesting is that you get on the roof.
This is one of only two stadia in the world (the other being the Olympic village in Munich) where you are allowed to walk on the roof. Get up here on the Croke Park Skyline Tour, you can peer over the city’s skyline – from church tops to courthouse domes, Dublin mountains to Dublin Bay. And to assist you in identifying cathedrals, churches or weird clouds, audio guides describe the places you can see from each viewing platform.
The most terrifying best part is when the platform snakes out over the roof and directly over the seats – there is nothing between you and the pitch but 17 storeys of air. Then it sways softly in the wind and you swear never to take advice from a Dubliner again.
Either way, it’s two hours you won’t forget. Wear flat shoes, wrap up for the wind and, for the love of god, hold onto your camera strap.
The tour: hop-on hop-off v lecool experience
The hop-on hop-off bus tour is a staple of any city break – the open-ended ticket, no danger of getting lost, and legs kept nicely rested on the whole journey.
What I’m recommending doesn’t have any of those benefits. It’s only on every couple of months, you have to walk everywhere, and you have no idea of where it goes.
But my goodness, it is cool.
When I took the lecool experience during October’s Bram Stoker Festival, the theme was horror. Guide Michael told the collected audience that he had racked his brains on where to bring us. Then he walked across the road and ushered us into a funeral parlor.
After speaking to the manager of Massey Brothers, slightly reliving a scene in Six Feet Under and asking the weird questions you always wanted to ask a funeral director, we followed him to a steel door of a warehouse off Meath Street.
He knocked. We quivered. The door opened and revealed a sea of monstrous screaming faces – we were in a special effects studio. Aoife and Ben of the Bowsie Workshop showed us around and talked us through some of their scariest models and faces, including work for the film Stitches.
Our last stop was a crypt – in a gothic city like Dublin, you couldn’t avoid the old, cold stone sites on a horror tour. We were marched under Christchurch where a Bram Stoker short story was being theatrically read to an audience.
Their next tour will be completely different – but it will cover pop-ups, new initiatives and generally places so cool not even locals have heard of them yet. Yes, even me.
National Museums of Ireland v Little Museum of Dublin
Reader, I’ll be straight with you. I couldn’t try to tell you not to visit one of our national museums without a giant guidebook falling from the sky and shutting up my nonsense-talking mouth forever.
Dublin’s national museums (Archaeology on Kildare Street, Natural History on Merrion Street and Decorative History in Collins Barracks) are magnificent. They’re free to visit, and between the two of them they span the island’s history over 9,000 years.
However, I want to make the case for a much more modest museum. In contrast to sprawling Georgian buildings, this museum covers a mere two rooms. It also covers just one short cough in history – 20th century Dublin. Most of the exhibits are donations, making the collection less of an archive and more a house of quirk. Welcome to the Little Museum of Dublin.
One of their prized exhibits is the lecturn that President John F Kennedy spoke at in government buildings during his visit in 1963. The lecturn is actually a music stand that was hastily brought into the Dáil when they realized they didn’t have a lecturn.
Just a taste of some of the marvels would include: a first edition copy of Ulysses from 1922, a very slim telephone directory from 1962 (which includes instructions on how to dial), and a photo of Muhammad Ali before his fight in Dublin’s Croke Park in 1972.
If you’re as lucky as I was, an older local will be on your guided tour to offer personal memories alongside the memorabilia.
Did I miss any other unusual things to do in Dublin? Tell me!
I’d love to read your own suggestions below.