City Guide to Dublin, Ireland | Must See Attractions & City Cards
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It’s a shock to be in a new country and strange but yet exciting to see cars driving on the left side of the road! Dublin, Ireland is huge (relatively speaking) and it certainly has the hectic hustle and bustle feel of a major metropolis. It’s so satisfying to know that our adventure has only finally begun!
We’re doing a combination of remote working and tourism here in Dublin, so it isn’t all site seeing from day one. We settled in, did some work and also planned our itinerary. We got a tip from our Airbnb host of an inexpensive grocery store (Lidl) within walking distance. So, 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. We quickly realized that walking the town for leisure, exercise, and to find and buy necessities, really helped the transition process!
Save Money with The Dublin Pass
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 DuckDuckGo 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 City 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.
Here are a few tips to evaluate if a city card like the Dublin Pass is worth it for you and your family when sightseeing.
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.
It’s a good idea to figure out what attractions you plan on seeing with the card and what the retail, at the door cost is. Remember to 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?
The Itinerary is Nearly Done for You
Research on what to see and do is already done for you with city cards and passes like the Dublin Pass.
City cards/passes go out of their way to give you access to the biggest tourist attractions in the city because that’s how they get people to buy them. Plus, there’s a variety of attractions included so you’ll get access to things the whole family will enjoy!
Tip: Keep in mind that the card focuses on attractions that cost money to view or do. So, while the card will get you a pretty comprehensive list of popular things to do,you may still want to do a bit of research on free things to do. We supplement the our city cards with free attractions like architecture, parks, sculptures, hikes, etc.
Transportation is Often Included
Many city cards, like the Dublin Pass, include access to a hop-on- hop-off tour. Use it wisely and it becomes multipurpose in that it works as a tour of the city and also transportation from place to place. This means saving on taxi fare or parking fees!
Tip: 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 to see them all in one day.
Make the Most of the Card
If you purchase the card and don’e do a bit of extra planning, you may loose out on some of it’s value.
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.
Our Planning Process
Here’s how we plan our sightseeing itinerary when using city cards. We used this process to plan our time exploring Dublin and it worked really well for us.
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.
Sightseeing in Dublin
Our first tourist attraction wasn't actually on the Dublin Pass. Unfortunately the Dublin Pass didn’t include a boat tour of the Liffey River when we purchased the passes. But we thought it would be a great way to start our sightseeing in Dublin, Ireland.
We’re glad we did the boat tour 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. For example, 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.
Sightseeing in Dublin with the Dublin Pass
Using a 3-day Dublin Pass, we started our sightseeing early on a Sunday morning. This was a great time to see the city and take pictures because everyone is still sleeping!
Plus, 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.
We thought that the GOP Experience History is a great museum on the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. It’s 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, which is a fun pop-culture history museum.
That was a full day for us, but we got our money’s worth from the Dublin Pass 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. However, we packed in a lot of attractions!
We started with Christ Church Cathedral, which had an impressive display in the crypt. Since City Hall was a short walk from the cathedral, it was next on our list. We didn’t expect there to be an exhibition on the history of Dublin, Ireland, so it was a nice surprise!
Next up we made full use of the Hop-On-Hop-Off tour bus! Our first stop was Phoenix Park, which in a way reminded us of New York City’s Central Park. Then, 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. So we lowered our expectation of the Dublin Zoo, but to be honest we really enjoyed it! We must say that there were a large variety of animals and they all seemed (from the visitors perspective at least) to be well cared for. We won’t forget the orangutans, the hippo, or the snow leopards anytime soon!
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 an interesting side note, the current largest Guinness brewery is in Nigeria (sorry we hope we didn’t ruin it for all of you Guinness lovers!).
Even though we don’t drink*, it was an interesting attraction for us. The storehouse was well done presented and the tour was very well done, giving us a good history on the brewery, brand, and how they make their famous beer. During the tour visitors eve get to do a tasting. But we think we were the only people in the tasting room not to taste the Guinness! Plus, we made someone’s day by giving them our end-of-tour certificate for a free pint of beer (or soda).
We ended day two with a full round on the Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour Bus. We really enjoyed the narrated tour of the city and seeing it from atop a double decker bus was the cherry on top! (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, the 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.
Our Review of the Dublin Pass
We got a great value on the Dublin Passes and saved a significant amount of money!
The downside for us was that were a few attractions that we didn’t get to see because they were outside of walking distance and the hop-on-hop-off tour bus didn’t go there.
On the other hand, there were so many attractions we were able to see with the cards that were within walking distance and close to the Hop-On-Hop-Off tour bus stops. We really feel that we got a good and thorough experience of the city. Not to mention we had a ton of fun!
Without a doubt, getting the Dublin Passes was a great idea and they were well worth it!
Realization: Manmade Vs Nature
Looking back on our time sightseeing in Dublin, Ireland, 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 man-made things but the things seen 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!).
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 (cystral clear water in the Bahamas, snorkeling reefs, hiking in the Columbia Gorge, sea lions on the beach in San Diego).
When we ponder why this is, we think it’s likely 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 man-made 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’ll probably prefer natural and outdoor attractions most of all.
Of course, we can’t pass up the major cities and the well-known man-made attractions. Were sure we’ll have a great mix of adventures, but end up spending more resources and focus on the natural wonders of the world.
*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.