City Guide to Dublin, Ireland | Must See Attractions & City Cards
Disclosure: We may receive a commission for links on our blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very appreciative when you do. Thanks again for your support, we hope you find our posts and information helpful!
We packed our bags, got on a plane and made our way over the great Atlantic Ocean! Our first stop is Dublin and we’re thrilled! We booked a great deal on Airbnb that was in city center (use our link and save up to $40 off your first stay!). This helped tremendously in getting around since we’re not planning on renting a car to explore and move around Dublin. It’ll be mainly walking for us!
It’s a shock to be in a new country and thrilling to drive cars on the left side of the road, to be in the hectic hustle and bustle of a large city center, and it’s extremely satisfying to know that our adventure has only just begun.
We’re doing a combination of work and tourism here in Dublin, so it isn’t all site seeing from day one. We settled in, did some work, and planned our itinerary. We got a tip from our Airbnb host of an inexpensive grocery store (Lidl) within walking distance. To save money in the food budget we stocked up on a few days’ worth of groceries. In a matter of a day or two we felt much more comfortable with the change in culture and ways of doing things. Walking the town for leisure, exercise, and to find and buy necessities, really helped the transition process.
One of our go-to tourist items when visiting a city are city cards/passes. Generally, they offer dozens of attractions within the city at one low price. The card serves as your ticket, or as the means to get a ticket to attractions. We use the heck out of these cards and end up saving a ton of money.
Not all cities have cards/passes but many of the major cities around the world do. With just a Startpage search (a search engine like Google, but encrypted and anonymous) we found the Dublin Pass. For a low price, 79 Euro each (the price at the time we bought them) and a 10% off coupon we found, we had access to dozens of Dublin tourist attractions for 3-days. The pass also included 24-hours to use a hop-on-hop-off bus.
Tips for City Cards/Passes
We have used cards in several cities over the years and have learned a few things to best utilize them.
- Is the card worth it? If you’re a leisurely traveler, seeing only a couple of attractions a day, a city card/pass may not be right for you.
- The value of these cards are in using them at as many attractions as you can. For example, if you pay $50 for the card and only see two attractions that cost $20 each without the card (at the door cost), you lost $10. However, if you see four attractions that cost $20 each without the card, you’ve saved $30, and so on.
- Think ahead, figure out what you plan to do on the card and what the retail, at the door cost is. Be realistic about how much time you’ll spend at each location and how long it’ll take to get from place to place. Now, compare the retail cost to the cost of the city card/pass. Is it worth it?
- Research is done for you. City cards/passes go out of their way to give you access to the biggest tourist attractions in the city, that’s how they get people to buy them. This means the majority of the research of what to see and do is done for you. With a Tripit and Lonely Planet search to supplement the card’s attractions, you have your travel itinerary list done!
- Keep in mind that the card focuses on attractions that cost money to view or do. So, the card will get you a pretty comprehensive list of popular things to do, to that extent. We supplement the card with free attractions (architecture, parks, sculptures, hikes, etc).
- Use the hop-on-hop-off tour as transportation to attractions. It’s multipurpose in that it works as a tour of the city, but it'll also get you from place to place. This means saving on taxi fare or parking fees.
- Usually the hop-on-hop-off is only good for one day, so use it wisely. Plan out the attractions you want to see using the bus so that you get them all in in one day.
- Plan ahead! Don’t buy the card and think you’re done with planning. This approach will lead to valuable wasted time in figuring out where to go next. Plan out the destinations and their order ahead of time for each day you have the card. This way, you can fit in most everything you want to do and not miss a single attraction.
- Here’s our process for planning:
- We open every available attraction in our browser, each in its own tab.
- Together, we look at each attraction page and decide if it’s something we want to do. We consider the value, the time it will take to do, and the location. We close the tabs with attractions on them that we don’t want to do. We then organize the remaining attractions’ tabs we want to do by priority.
- Using the provided map, we figure out where all of the attractions we’re doing are located. We note how close they’re to the hop-on-hop-off bus stops.
- We look up hours of operation and determine if we need to reserve a time or space for any attractions.
- Using all of the gathered data, we logically plan out our itinerary. Making sure that we pack in as much as we can, but keeping it realistic, so we’re not rushed and not enjoying the venue. We know how far we’re comfortable walking, where the bus will take us and how long we’ll spend at each attraction.
- Here’s our process for planning:
Sightseeing in Dublin
Our first tourist attraction wasn't on a card. We decided to go on a boat tour of the Liffey River. It was a great way to start our sightseeing because it gave us a good foundation of the city and its history. On the way to the tour we passed through Dublin's busy shopping center and crossed over the famous Ha’penny foot bridge. We can’t say it enough, walking the city will give you opportunities to see and do things you wouldn’t have otherwise. On this walk in particular, we found a few of the less expensive stores where we could purchase essentials, therefore avoiding expensive tourist trap shops.
Using a 3-day Dublin Pass, we started our sight-seeing early on a Sunday morning. This was a great time to see the city and take pictures because everyone is still sleeping. We also found that many of the museums in Dublin are closed on Mondays, but many of the attractions are open on Sundays. Our first stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a beautiful stone wall Catholic church from 1191. We then made our way to Dublina, a medieval and Viking museum. We stopped at Teelings, a whiskey distillery, but since we don’t drink*, we didn’t find the wait for the tour worth it and moved on. Our next stop was The National Wax Museum, which had a great variety of different exhibit themes. The GOP Experience History is a great museum on the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. This is a very well done museum and gave a great, in depth history lesson on the Easter Rising. Before ending our day, we made our way to a great park in city center, St. Stephens Green. After strolling around and having a few romantic moments, we made our way to the last museum of the day, The Little Museum. It's a fun pop-culture history museum.
That was a full day for us, but we sure got our money’s worth on the card from that day alone. A few of the museums were free to all visitors, so the card got us a few extra perks here and there, like a guide book, postcards, and/or discounts in the gift shop or café. Day two was a half day for us, since we both had work to do in the afternoon. We started with Christ Church Cathedral, which had an impressive display in the crypt. City Hall was a short walk and had an exhibition of Dublin history. We then used the hop-on-hop-off tour bus to make our way to Phoenix Park, a park that reminded us of New York’s Central Park. From Phoenix Park we went to the Dublin Zoo**.
We must say here, that we’ve been to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, arguably, some of the world’s finest zoos. When we visit a zoo, we lower our expectations, not that it will be a bad experience, but just that it likely won’t live up to the San Diego Zoo or Wild Animal Park. However, while small, we really enjoyed the Dublin Zoo! We saw many great animals, all of which look well cared for and had nice exhibits. Our favorites were the orangutans, the hippo and the snow leopards.
Our second day on the Dublin Pass ended at the Guinness Store House. This is one of the largest attractions in Dublin, as Guinness started here. However, on a side note, the current largest Guinness brewery is in Nigeria (sorry to ruin it for all of you Guinness lovers!). This was an interesting stop for us, since again, we don’t drink*. I think we were the only people in the tasting room not to taste it. At the end, you get a free pint (or soda) for taking the tour, but since we don’t drink soda either, we gave ours away. The storehouse however, was well done and we enjoyed the tour. Plus, we now know what barely and hops look like.
We ended day two with a full round on the hop-off-hop-on tour bus. We enjoyed the narrated tour of the city and seeing it from atop a double decker bus. (Confession: we made it three stops on top before moving to cover underneath. It was extremely cold and windy.)
Day three was a day to wrap up and do everything we didn’t get to on the first two days of the card. We went to the National Museum of Ireland, Decorative Arts and History Museum, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The first had exhibits that were extremely detailed and sported a massive collection of historical items from various periods and regions throughout the world. The second had a great collection of modern art pieces that varied from paint and sculpture to 4-dimensional pieces and video.
We got a great value on the Dublin Passes and saved a significant amount of money. Unfortunately, there were a few attractions that we didn’t get to see because they were out of walking distance and the hop-on-hop-off tour bus didn’t go there. We were however, able to get a significant amount of time squeezed in between sightseeing for working. Can’t be all fun and games! It’s a good thing we love what we do.
Realization: Manmade Vs Nature
Looking back on our time sightseeing in Dublin, as well as the many vacations and trips we’ve taken over the past decade, something major sticks out to us. The most memorable things from each trip and place aren’t the manmade things but the things in nature. Very few museums stick out in our mind as the highlight of a trip (with that being said, shout out to Chicago museums, they stand apart!). The architecture and sculptures usually hit a little higher on the awe list, but what really makes our “best of list” are the wonders in nature. From the world famous sights (Niagara Falls, Yosemite, Muir Woods) to the smaller yet beautiful sights (clear water in the Bahamas, snorkeling reefs, hiking in the Columbia Gorge, sea lions on the beach in San Diego). We think this is because of the calmness and serenity we feel when in nature. The sounds and the smells of nature seem to center us, making some of the simplest things in nature precious. This is contrasted by the hustle and bustle of a city that can be full of manmade stresses, politics, traffic, etc.
This realization will likely shape our travels as we go forward. As we make our travel plans and choose our destinations going forward, we’ll know that we prefer natural and outdoor attractions. Of course, we can’t pass up the major cities and well-known manmade attractions. We’ll have a great mix of adventures, but spend more resources and focus on the natural wonders of the world. It’ll be a wise move for us to intersperse the nature trips and sights in between big city sightseeing to help us rejuvenate.
Tell us about your favorite places to see, both natural wonders and big city sights!
*We choose not to drink to keep our minds and our bodies healthy. We strongly avoid mind or body altering substances, including pain medicine and the like. Additional benefits we find from this decision is a financial and a ‘caloric’ savings.
**We'll refrain from getting into any political or animal rights commentary here.