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8 Historic Sites in Dublin Every History Buff Should Visit

8 Historic Sites in Dublin Every History Buff Should Visit | CosmosMariners.com

Any trip to Ireland must include some time in Dublin, the country's capital. Dublin is a thriving city, one that is easily walkable yet big enough to keep you busy for several days. There are many ways to approach Dublin, but my favorite is (of course) through the history--and, thankfully, history buffs will find plenty to see and do in Dublin once they've sampled that first pint of Guinness and gotten their first glimpse of the River Liffey.

Here are my favorite historic spots in Dublin, so brush up on your Irish history (this book is hilariously effective--and it's illustrated, so it ticks all of the major must-read boxes), strap on your walking shoes, and dive into this incredible city.


1) Book of Kells

You're not a book nerd until you add a centuries-old tome to your travel bucket list. (If you can boast such an entry, welcome to the club. Meetings are held every June 16, and you'll need to bring your glasses and a bookmark to share.)

As a proud literature nerd, I immediately knew that I had to get to the Book of Kells the moment that I discovered its existence. Making it to Ireland when I was nine seemed like a distant dream, but I also knew that I would make the journey somehow someday.

Two decades later, I gleefully wandered among the informative displays in the exhibit before filing into a dimly lit chilled room. There, before me, was the actual Book of Kells, a series of 4 illustrated copies of the New Testament Gospels. The text, which dates to around 800 AD, was every bit as beautiful as I'd hoped.

If you're planning a visit, know that there's a different page on display every day, so every walkthrough will bring a new surprise. The Book of Kells is located inside the Long Hall on Trinity College's campus.
  • Tickets can be purchased ahead of time online so you don't have to wait in line. However, these tickets are more expensive than the ones at the doors, so you'll have to do a cost-benefit analysis there.
  • You'll get a better deal if you're traveling with kids if you buy the family pack of tickets. This is true of both the pre-purchase and at-the-door tickets.
  • There's no photography allowed inside the Books of Kells exhibit.
  • The Book of Kells official website has some great free workbooks for kids if you want to emphasis that teaching moment further.

2) Long Hall, Trinity College

8 Historic Sites in Dublin Every History Buff Should Visit | CosmosMariners.com

It's kind of cheating to do separate entries to the Book of Kells and Long Hall since access to both comes via the same ticket, but I loved both so much that I decided give them their own spotlight. (My blog, my rules, right?!)

While the room, with its vaulted ceiling and towering stacks of books is impressive enough on its own, both the hall and its contents have deep historical roots.

The hall dates back to the early 1700s, while that distinctive ceiling was added in the mid-1800s. The building in its original form couldn't hold any more books, so the book people (an official title, of course) at Trinity College decided it would just be easier to add a barrel ceiling instead of building a completely new library. I like how you think, Trinity College.

Once you manage to pull yourself away from staring at the structure of the library, you'll notice the immensity of the collection. There are over 200,000 volumes kept here, and they're the oldest, most historical of Trinity College's holdings. You'll find an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic (the document of the Easter Rising, probably the most crucial of the Irish War of Independence), as well as a 15th century wooden harp and 14 marble busts of writers, philosphers, and Trinity College patrons (look for Jonathan Swift, who's satirical essay "A Modest Proposal" famously suggested that Irish parents just eat their kids so they wouldn't have to deal with the burden of feeding them any more.)

  • The library originally filled up so quickly because it had a copy of every free book that had been published in Britain or Ireland during that time. 
  • The Book of Kells has called Long Hall home since the 19th century. 
  • A visit to Long Hall is included in your Book of Kells ticket price. 
  • Unlike in the Book of Kells room, Long Hall allows you to take as many photos as you'd like. 

3) National Museum of Ireland: Archeology

8 Historic Sites in Dublin Every History Buff Should Visit | CosmosMariners.com
And there's my husband Landon in the red jacket waaaaaaay at the end!
It might have a bit of an unwieldy name, and it might be small compared to some of the other museums you've seen, but you shouldn't pass up an opportunity to visit the Archeology section of the National Museum.

If you wanted to go through these historical sites in chronological order, this would be ground zero. You'll find some incredible prehistoric artifacts (or artefacts, if you prefer the British English version), including the massive 50-foot-long boat that dates to 2500 BC.

One of the most interesting--though perhaps not for the faint of heart--exhibits is the one that centers on the Bog People called Kinship and Sacrifice. I'd originally read about the Bog People during a British and Irish Poetry class in grad school, and was stunned at the preservation of these ancient bodies.

As a result of human sacrifice, these men and women were killed and then thrown into the bogs of County Offaly and County Meath; instead of breaking down the bodies as most soil does, the bodies were instead preserved in the cold, moist dirt. When they were discovered in the early 2000s, the bodies looked so fresh that they were originally treated as recent murder victims--until it was discovered that they dated to between 400 and 200 BC.

  • The National Museum of Ireland is within easy walking distance of both the River Liffey and Trinity College, so stop by after you visit the Book of Kells.
  • If you want to learn more about the Bog People, I'd suggest reading The Bog People by P.V. Glob, which is an excellent overview of the bodies who were found in the marshes of Northern Europe. The book predates the discovery of the Irish Bog People, but much of the research and observations in this book still hold true to the people in the Kinship and Sacrifice exhibit. 
  • Irish poet Seamus Heaney (my favorite!!) wrote a gorgeous collection of poems centered around his musings on the intersection of Irish history and Northern European history, and are a must read if you're interested in how Ireland is treated in contemporary poetry. "The Tollund Man," "Punishment," and "The Tollund Man in Springtime" are great ones to start your reading.
  • Entry is free, so come and go as much as you'd like during your time in Dublin.

4) National Museum of Ireland: Natural History

8 Historic Sites in Dublin Every History Buff Should Visit | CosmosMariners.com

A glimpse into the Victorian obsession of collecting and categorizing the world, the Natural History branch of the National Museum is an interesting (if a bit morbid) look at the animals who share the planet with us.

One of the must-visit specimens is right at the front door: a giant Irish deer looms over you, its massive antlers stretching further than you'd think was possible. The remainder of the ground floor is devoted to specimens of animals native to Ireland. There's a lot to see here, and, while it is very well categorized, you might find it a bit overwhelming to take in all at one time.

You'll want to explore the second floor as well. Here, you'll find a huge room filled with stuffed animals (not the fluffy kind you hugged as a kid). There's everything from an elephant to a lion, which allows you to get up close and personal with these animals without the worry of getting eaten or trampled.

Like I mentioned, it's a little macabre to walk around all of these dead animals, but it makes for a fascinating glimpse into the natural world and Ireland's history.

  • Check out the samples of nearly 12,000 Irish insects. 
  • See the record trout caught in County Westmeath in 1894. It weighed 26 pounds!
  • The Natural History branch of the National Museum is on the same block as the Archeology branch, but the entrance to the Natural History building is on a separate street (Marion Street).

5) Kilmainham Gaol

Although the Gaol is best known for its ties to the 1916 Rebellion and the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1921), it actually follows the much larger struggle of the Irish against the English, which predates the 1916 Rebellion by 200 years.

The gaol was built in 1796 as a replacement for a now-destroyed jail near Mount Brown; it housed everyone from petty criminals to children of debtors (this was back when, if you couldn't pay your bills, the authorities just threw your entire family in jail with you). The jail you visit now is a result of a refurbishment and renovation in the mid-1800s: the new design was based on the Panopticon (Michel Foucault, anyone?), so that a single jailer could keep an eye on the more than ninety cells at once.

During the clash with Britain in the early 1900s, the jail became known for the rebel leaders who were held here, including Anne Devlin, Robert Emmet, and Henry Joy McCracken. Today, it's one of the most visited sites in Dublin, and is a haunting reminder of the sacrifices that the leaders of the revolution undertook for their cause.

  • Tickets are required to enter the gaol; to make sure that you actually get a ticket, you can pre-book for a time and date on their website.
  • Online prices are cheaper--you'll save a euro or two per ticket by pre-booking. If you're traveling with kids, go for the family ticket which will save you even more.
  • The gaol is a bit far to walk on foot from central Dublin, so you should hop on one of the city buses (#69 or #79 from Aston Quay, or #13 or #40 from O'Connell Street will get you there) or the Luas Tram (red line).

6) Dublin Castle

One thing I love about European history is how everything is figuratively and literally palimpsestic. Dublin Castle has had 2 major time periods, and, instead of destroying the building to make room for the new one, the leaders just added on some new rooms and kept going.

The first iteration of Dublin Castle dates to the 1100s, when it was built by King John of England, who also served as first Lord of Ireland. During this phase, it served as a center of English rule in Ireland. Over the years, the castle was expanded to accommodate the growing government, and much of what you see today was built in the 1800s.

The castle became a focus during the Rebellion as it was a physical reminder of the oppression and broken promises by the English government. Because of this history, the English government conceded victory to the Irish rebels by handing over the key to leader Michael Collins in 1921.

The final--and current--phase is as the administrative seat of Ireland's current government. Since 1921, the Irish republic has used the complex for state functions, dinners, and conferences. It's not quite the castle you're probably imagining (with Gothic spires and sweeping staircases), but its deep political ties make it worth a visit.

  • You're welcome to pop in the front door as long as there aren't any functions scheduled. 
  • If you'd like to see the entire building and get a guided tour, you'll have to buy a ticket when you arrive.
  • You can get free admission the first Wednesday of every month. 

7) General Post Office

This massive Greek-style building looks like many other government buildings around the world, but this one has done more than hold letters on the way to their final destination.

During the Easter Uprising, the leaders of the rebellion chose the General Post Office as their headquarters

  • Located on O'Connell Street, the Post Office is an easy walk from the River Liffey and central Dublin. 
  • You'll need to buy a ticket to enter; a self-guided tour is included in the price. If you want to do a guided tour, they are offered twice daily at an additional cost. 


8) Ha'Penny Bridge

8 Historic Sites in Dublin Every History Buff Should Visit | CosmosMariners.com

This bridge, which dates back to 1818, was the first bridge to cross the River Liffey. The name comes from the original toll cost (half a penny), though the cost was raised to 1.5 cents (penny ha'penny) before the toll was discontinued in 1919.

Today, Ha'Penny Bridge sees more than 27,000 people cross it daily, and it links Temple Bar on one side of the Liffey with Bachelors Walk on the other. [If you're interested in staying right next to the bridge on your next trip to Dublin, I recommend the VRBO property we used while on our trip last year.]

  • Officially, the bridge's name is the Liffey Bridge, but it's mostly widely known as Ha'Penny Bridge. It's also been known as Penny Ha'Penny Bridge and Wellington Bridge unofficially. 
  • The builder of the bridge ran a ferry service across the Liffey until he came up with the idea (and funds) to build Ha'Penny. Dublin officials allowed him to build the bridge and gave him a license to collect a crossing toll for 100 years. 
  • It was the first iron bridge in Ireland.


Have you visited Dublin? What's your favorite historic site there?

8 Historic Sites in Dublin Every History Buff Should Visit | CosmosMariners.com

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