Dublin Highlights

While a newcomer to Dublin may be stunned by the huge amount of things to see and experience in Dublin, don't constrain your visit to the standard Guinness Storehouse and Temple Bar areas. There is much more to see and do, and much of it unique, perhaps even a bit bizarre. From vintage shops to book markets to storytelling events to glitzy nightclubs to the quaintest of old-man pubs, there is something to entice and charm travellers of all tastes, guaranteed to make your visit to Dublin unforgettable.

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James Joyce once said of his birthplace, "When I die, Dublin will be written in my heart". He also once described Catholic Ireland as "the old sow that eats her farrow", right before he followed the trend of Irish writers who emigrate and then devote the rest of their lives to recreating the auld sod in their literature.

Clearly, the man had some complicated feelings regarding his homeland. And understandably so, as Dublin is a city with a rough and vibrant past: having morphed from Viking stronghold to second largest city of the British Empire, hotbed of rebellion, capital of the new republic and cosmopolitan jewel of the erstwhile Celtic Tiger, it will undoubtedly make a lasting impression on anyone who takes the time to explore it.

A relatively small city at only 115 square kilometres and a population of 525,000, Dublin is ideal for the novice traveller: compact enough that it won't overwhelm, but brimming with thousands of years of history, music, art and folklore. It is both thoroughly Irish and entirely international, with communities of immigrants -- drawn to Ireland's capital during its economic heyday -- contributing to a society that's constantly in flux.

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Hunt Ghosts at Malahide Castle

At the northern outskirts of the city lies Malahide, a seaside harbor town whose main attraction is its 800-year-old castle. Previously inhabited by the Talbot family, Malahide Castle is now open to the public, a testament to the different epochs of Irish history. It's also inhabited by no less than five ghosts of past owners! Allegedly they rarely appear to visitors, but don't let that stop you from looking for them.

Purchase tickets in the courtyard for guided and audio tours of the castle and walled gardens.

If you prefer to stick to the outdoors, the demesne is free to explore, full of nature walks, picnic areas, cricket pitches, a pitch and putt course, and play area for children. It's the perfect daytrip for those eager to get away from the noise and bustle of the city.

Lose Yourself in Irish Folklore

The fact that Dublin has an entire museum dedicated to leprechauns may conjure kitschy images of tiny, ginger-bearded men cobbling shoes at the end of rainbows amid fields of shamrocks and pots of gold. But the National Leprechaun Museum is much more than that, a mystical, interactive exhibition of Ireland's wealth of folklore. The museum is ideal for all ages, blending imaginative storytelling with your interactive journey through Irish mythology and superstition. Learn how otherworldly beings such as the Banshee, the Puca and the Tuatha De Danann have influenced Irish culture and society for thousands of years.

If you're interested in a more adult-themed storytelling experience, book a ticket for 20 Euro for Dark Land, an immersive theatrical performance where you take part in helping the townspeople of Knock Duff investigate a streak of bad luck that's hit their village. Equal parts funny and spooky, Dark Land is the perfect way to introduce yourself to Dublin's theatre scene.

Early Morning Walk in the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom

It's been said that if Dublin were wiped off the map, it could be completely reconstructed based on passages from Ulysses, James Joyce's novel depicting one man's experience over the city over the course of a day: June 16, 1904. To commemorate Joyce's work, there are bronze plaques in the footpath tracing protagonist Leopold Bloom's journey.
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Take yourself on a self-guided literary tour when no one's about; if nothing else you'll be able to tell people you're read excerpts of Ulysses -- no easy task!

If you have the good luck to be in Dublin on the actual date of the novel, June 16th, otherwise known as 'Bloomsday', brace yourself for hordes of literary re-enactors dressed in period costumes following the entire map of the novel, starting at the Martello tower in Sandycove, now a Joyce museum. Join them if you have the stamina.

Guinness and Storytelling at The Stag's Head Pub

If you've made it this long in Dublin without indulging in Ireland's drinking culture, you've done a good job -- why not reward yourself with a pint of Guinness! While it may be impossible to track down the proverbial 'best pint' in the city, you'll come pretty close at The Stag's Head, a Victorian-era pub tucked away in the network of alleyways around Dame Street. While somewhat tricky to find (you can access it via George Street or Exchequer Street), The Stag's Head is worth it, with its turn-of-the-century feel, mahogany bar and stained-glass windows unchanged since the days it was frequented by James Joyce.

The dinner menu is stellar, offering traditional Irish meals, such as Irish stew, beef and Guinness pie, and bacon and cabbage, as well as over 50 different whiskeys. Plus, depending on the day of the week, you'll be treated to some of the best of Dublin culture, including traditional music sessions on weekends, live comedy on Mondays, and Brownbread Mixtape: a storytelling/poetry-reciting event, which convenes on the last Wednesday of each month.

24 Hours in Dublin

24 Hours Dublin has organized some of Dublin's top venues and activities to make sure you don't waste a single minute of your time here. Order it at Amazon.com for $4.99: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JGVAZW2

A lot of restaurants and bars will close earlier than you may be expecting, so opening hours, websites and contact information are included whenever possible. Check websites ahead of time to make sure you're not missing any special events, but be prepared for surprises and adventures wherever you end up!

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Anna Snyder is a freelance travel writer who received her Masters of Writing from National University of Ireland, Galway and has written for The Savvy Explorer and Language Trainers. When she isn't writing, she enjoys knitting and drawing Jane Austen-themed comics.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author.

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Published: April 28th, 2014

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