Ireland is an ideal destination for a brief visit. You can drive from one end of the country to the other in just about 8 hours, allowing you to really see a lot in Ireland within a short period of time.
If you’re considering a trip to the Emerald Isle, here’s some suggestions for a 4-day visit to Dublin, including sights in the city that are not to be missed and some day tours that will bring you to some of Ireland’s most amazing locations.
Ireland has seen a surge in tourists over the past few years, meaning there are more flight options available that ever before. In fact, the introduction of low-cost direct flights from Providence, RI to Dublin on Norwegian Air was a driving factor in why we decide to book this brief visit.
The center of Dublin City is a short drive from the airport. We opted for a private transfer to get us to our hotel, but there are also buses, taxies, and shuttles that regularly make this trek.
Day 1 – Dublin City - Trinity College, Grafton Street, Temple Bar, and an Irish Music Pub Crawl
Created around 800AD, the Book of Kells is one of the most important illuminated manuscripts available from this time. On display at Trinity College, which is near the center of Dublin City, you will first make your way through an exhibit explaining about the book and the methods that would’ve been used to createit all those years ago. Once you are done with this exhibit, you enter a small room where the book is on display. No photos are allowed in this room, so the only way to see the actual book on display is to head to Dublin!
VISIT TIP: The lines for the Book of Kells can get pretty long, and the actual book is on display in a pretty small room. The crowds make it very hard to really get a good look at the book, so to beat those crowds your best bet is to arrive early and make this the first stop of your day.
The exit for the Book of Kells brings you into the Trinity College Library, including the wonderful space known as “the Long Room.” Built between 1712 and 1732, this room houses 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books. It is an incredibly impressive room and a perfect place to sit for a few moments and breath in the fact that you are in Ireland!
Dublin is an easily walkable city, and Trinity College is right in the middle of everything. Leaving the college, you can check out Grafton Street next. The primary shopping district in Dublin, on Grafton Street you will find a wide variety of shops selling everything from assorted shirts, trinkets, and other Ireland souvenirs to high end jewelry and fashion. There are also many restaurants in this area, so it’s also a good place to stop for lunch.
VISIT TIP: We honestly did not have a bad meal during our entire stay in Ireland. You can’t go wrong with any of the soups or stews you will find on menus in Dublin. The beef and Guinness pie, which we actually tried at a few places, was particularly wonderful. We also had an excellent Cottage Pie at a restaurant called the Millstone, just about a block or two from Trinity College.
As nighttime rolls around, it’s time to head out to the pubs for some local music and pint or two. If you read online reviews of Dublin, many of them will tell you to head over to Temple Bar. The area on the south bank of the river Liffy (which separates Dublin City) is seemingly where every tourist is headed for the night – which is probably why you may want to avoid it!
We actually were told by a handful of Dubliners to skip Temple Bar. It is crowded, expensive, and really operated by large corporations as opposed to family-run pubs. Instead of trekking to this tourist mecca, we were told to check out the establishments outside of this area. This is great advice, but for our first night, we actually had to head to Temple Bar since that is where the Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl we had signed up for began.
Beginning at a pub called The Oliver St. John Gogarty, we joined a group of about 40 people, including a pair of local musicians (Anthony on guitar and bodran and Luke Deaton on accordion). This tour was an absolute joy to be a part of, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. After playing a single song at the first pub and setting expectations for the evening, Anthony and Luke took us to the Ha’Penny Bridge Inn, a family-run establishment on the edge of Temple Bar. For about an hour, they played music, told stories, and related history lessons about Irish music and culture. Our evening ended with a short walk to a third pub, Hanngians, and another hour of music and stories, including an amazing performance by Luke singing a song called “North Amerikay”.
Being able to hit a few Dublin pubs in the company of some local musicians is a wonderful way to wrap up your first day in Ireland and, once again, we highly recommend checking out this tour experience.
Day 2 – The Cliffs of Moher
One of the most popular destinations in Ireland is the Cliffs of Moher. Located on the western coast of Ireland, the Cliffs are quite a distance from Dublin, so to get there you either need to have a rental car or you need to book one of the many tours that go to this destination. We opted for the later, booking a full day, 12+ hour tour with Paddywagon Tours.
Most people either love bus tours or they hate them. We actually had a really good experience on our first bus tour, which took us to see Stonehenge when we were in London, so we decided to try another tour in Ireland.
Our first stop on this tour was a small fishing village called Kinvara.
Back on the bus, our next stop was a rocky area known as the Burren and what is known as the “Baby Cliffs”. That was followed by a quick lunch at Doolin Village and then the final push onto the main attraction – the amazing Cliffs of Moher.
On the way back to Dublin, we made one final stop at Bunratty Castle in County Clare to stretch our legs and grab some refreshments as our tour came to an end.
All in all, our bus tour was a great experience, but you should make sure your expectations are properly set when you go into one of these tours:
- This is a LONG day. If you drove directly from Dublin to the Cliffs, you would be traveling well over 250km and it would take you the better part of 4 hours to do so.
- If you read the description of these bus tours, they state that you stop at a number of locations. The reality is that these are basically bathroom breaks and a chance to stretch your legs. Each stop was only about 30 minutes long, with about 1 hour for lunch. This is really only enough time to use the bathroom and maybe grab a coffee or snack before you need to get back on the bus. Just be aware that you will not be exploring any of these locations in detail so you are not disappointed. The real purpose of this tour is to get to the Cliffs – these stops along the way are just to give you and the bus driver a break!
- You will get about 90 minutes at the Cliffs. While we certainly could’ve spent far long exploring this amazing area, this was enough time to walk the path along both sides of the Cliffs and still have time to hit the restrooms before heading back to the bus.
Whether you take a bus tour or decide to drive to the Cliffs yourself, this is an area you simply cannot miss. Yes, it is pretty far from Dublin City, but the trip is well worth it.
Day 3 – Dublin City’s Churches and the Guinness Storehouse
Your third day in Dublin is a perfect day to walk the city and explore. As we said previously, the city is incredibly walkable, so you can easily get where you want in the city simply by putting one foot in front of the other.
Dublin is filled with museums, churches, parks, and other attractions, so it definitely helps to have an idea of what you want to see before you get there. For us, we decided to check out some of the historic churches in Dublin as we made our way to one of the city’s most popular attractions – the Guinness Storehouse.
Our first stop on this day Christ Church Cathedral. One of my favorite parts of this stunning church was the amazing tile work found throughout, including a design called the “Foxy Friar” which we were told is unique to this cathedral.
After exploring the main areas of the church, you can head below ground to visit the crypts, where they have a copy of the Magna Carta on display, as well as a mummified cat and rat that was found in the pipes of the church’s old organ!
Our next stop was Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, another amazing church that is just a short walk away from Christ Church Cathedral.
After a quick lunch (there are plenty of options all throughout this area), we made our way to the Guinness Storehouse. To be perfectly honest, I was not a Guinness drinker before I went to Ireland, but every site I saw about Dublin listed the Storehouse as the #1 place to visit in the city. Because of those recommendations, we decided to give the place a shot – and we were so happy that we did!
You cannot help but be impressed by the Guinness brand if you visit the Storehouse. It is just such an amazing place that starts by taking you through an explanation of how the iconic brew is created. Other floors of the tour take you through history lessons about the company and brand, advertising examples, and tasting rooms where you can sample different varieties of Guinness. There is also an area where a Guinness expert will teach you how to pour the perfect pint!
As part of your admission to the Guinness Storehouse, you do get a free drink. You can either redeem your freebie at the tasting room for a flight of 4 different Guinness drinks, at the pouring room where you will actually get to drink the pint that you pour, or at the Gravity Bar, which is found at the very top of the Storehouse. This 7th floor location offers amazing 360-degree views of Dublin. Unfortunately, it is also very, very crowded, so after getting our pints, we headed down a few floors to “Food on 5”. This level features the Brewers’ Dining Hall. We found a perfect spot in the back of the room, grabbed a few more pints to enjoy with some beef and Guinness pie, and listened to a wonderful band play for a few hours. It was a perfect way to wrap up what was a really fun visit to the Storehouse.
Honestly, I have to echo those other recommendations about this place. If you are in Dublin, make time for the Guinness Storehouse. Yes, it is busy and touristy, but it is a great way to spend an afternoon in the city!
As a nice surprise on this day, we discovered that it was actually Culture Night in Ireland. Starting at around 6pm, all the museums and other attractions in the city opened their doors and offered free admission for the evening. Shops throughout Dublin City also had exhibits and displays on this night and there was music everywhere (more on that shortly). This event brought out not only tourists, but Dubliners as well, so it was great fun to rub elbows with the locals as we took in some of the sights, including Dublin Castle.
VISIT TIP – Dublin is easily the most musical city I have ever been in. No matter where you go, there is live music playing. Every dinner we had was accompanied by local musicians playing, adding so much to our time in this city. There were also street musicians on corners and you could hear the sounds of guitars, accordions, fiddles, pipes, and more coming from pubs as we walked down the street. If you enjoy live music, you will love Dublin!
Day 4 – Newgrange and the Hill of Tara
For our final day in Ireland, we decided on another bus tour. This time we would be heading to a destination called Newgrange.
Located in the Boyne Valley, about an hour north of Dublin, Newgrange is a 5200-year old passage tomb. This makes it 1000 years older than Stonehenge and 500 years older than the Great Pyramids – and yet far, far fewer people have heard of Newgrange than those other iconic destinations! This lesser popularity was one of the things that drew us to check out Newgrange, which is actually one of only 2 UNESCO Heritage Sites in Ireland (the other is Skelling Michael).
This tour was a bit shorter than the one we took to the Cliffs of Moher, but we still stopped a few times along the way to grab some coffee and stretch our legs.
The tour of Newgrange starts at a Visitor Center and you will take a short bus to the actual tomb. The inside of the tomb itself is small, so they only allow about 24 people in at one time as a tour guide tells you about this ancient place.
While much of Newgrange is still a mystery, one amazing aspect of this tomb is a “sunbox” located above the doorway. On the morning of the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year, the rising sun enters through this sunbox’s opening and illuminates the burial chamber at Newgrange for 17 minutes. This amazing feat of engineering was built without access to modern tools or technology. During your tour, the guide will actually turn off the lights and simulate the rising sun of the Winter Solstice so you can get a feel for this incredible occurrence.
Newgrange is a place that is not on lots of suggested itineraries for Ireland, but we cannot recommend it strongly enough. Being in that tomb, which has stood for over 5000 years, and just breathing in the mystery of the place was an incredible feeling that we were so happy we got to experience.
Leaving Newgrange, which is where we had lunch, we had one more stop to make before returning to Dublin – the Hill of Tara.
The Hill of Tara was the ceremonial seat for the High Kings of Ireland. Today, this area is largely an open field with some monuments scattered about, including the Lia Fáil or the “Stone of Destiny”, which is the stone that kings would’ve laid their hands upon during their inauguration. There is also an old church and graveyard, a burial tomb, and a “fairy tree.”
Many people in Ireland still believe in the stories of fairies, and there are many traditions and superstitions based on these mischievous beings. Our driver and tour guide, Eoin, explained to us that the hawthorn tree is where fairies are said to live, and certain trees are very special. One such tree is on the grounds at the Hill of Tara. It is covered in ribbons, each representing a wish from someone who tied the ribbon to the tree. We also saw offering of money and other trinkets on and about the tree, adding a little bit of the mystical and magical to the end of our final day in Ireland.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Castle Hotel (which is not actually a Castle). This historic hotel was just a short walk from the center of the city, but it was far enough away that the sounds of the city’s nightlife did not impact us as we tried to get some sleep. This hotel also had two restaurants, including one that offered complimentary breakfast to guests and a smaller restaurant in the cellar that served dinner and drinks.