Whether you’re travelling on regular airfare or with points, 24-hour layovers can go a long way towards stretching the value of your dollar. That’s because in both cases, you can often fit in a long layover in your journey for no additional cost.
I often get asked whether such a brief period is really enough to get a feel for the city, and the point of the 24-Hour Layover series is to show you just how much you can do. This time around, we’re headed to Dublin, Ireland, which is a place that I consider eminently “layover-friendly” – there’s plenty of things to do, but everything is relatively close together and it’s easy to get around.
Let’s say that Dublin is your first port of call on a wider Europe trip, and you’re arriving on the United flight from Newark at 7am and departing the next day on the early morning Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt.
On long layovers, the decision of where to rest your head at night usually boils down to a choice between an airport hotel and somewhere in the city centre; for early departures or late-night arrivals, I’d usually recommend the former option. In either case, you’ve got one day in Dublin to see what you need to see, so get settled in and get your city map ready…
9am | Dublin Castle
We begin in the centre of the city, just south of the River Liffey, where Dublin’s historic quarter and most of its noteworthy sites are located. I’d recommend linking up with one of those free European walking tours for this part of the day, since those will guide you along quite reliably around these parts.
Dublin Castle, the former seat of British rule in Ireland, is a relatively small palatial building by Europe’s standards, and if you like you can do a tour of the grounds for just €4.50. Around the back of Dublin Castle is Dubh Linn Garden (named after the Irish words for “dark pool” which gave the city its name), a large circular lawn that’s quite charming to stroll through.
Right adjacent to Dubh Linn Garden is the Chester Beatty Library, a library-cum-museum which hosts regular exhibitions featuring art, books, and manuscripts from around the world. Entrance is free, so it’s well worth popping in if there’s an exhibit that catches your eye.
11am | Trinity College
Head on over to Trinity College, Ireland’s foremost institution for higher education and the sole constituent college of the University of Dublin. On your way, see if you can find a Tim Horton’s pop-up stand somewhere – this area of Dublin is one of the few places outside of Canada that I found a Timmies outlet!
The campus at Trinity College is spacious and beautiful, and you should also check out the massive Old Library and the famous Book of Kells, an ornate Gospel book written in Latin, housed within. Personally, I’m a big fan of university campuses nestled seamlessly within a city centre – it’s always striking to me how the endless hustle of urban life morphs into a serene environment for higher learning in just a few blocks.
1pm | Guinness Storehouse
Grab a quick lunch at any of the food stops along Dame St and make your way across town to the Guinness Storehouse, which is as close to a “must-see” as it gets. Admission is in the region of €15, and for that you get a self-guided tour through the seven floors of the building that tells the story of Dublin’s, and indeed Ireland’s, world-famous drink.
Even if you don’t particularly care for beer, I can assure you that the tour is very eye-opening indeed. Don’t get the wrong idea – this isn’t a brewery (at least, not the part that you get to visit), but rather a museum dedicated to the Guinness brand.
It’s all interactive, so you’ll be kept busy as you learn about the ingredients that go into making a stout beer like Guinness, how the beer is brewed, the history behind the Guinness brand, how to detect the distinctive taste of Guinness, and – most exhilaratingly – how to pour a proper pint of Guinness (complete with an official certificate of completion at the end!)
Not only that, but once you’ve completed the tour, you’re rewarded with a complimentary pint of Guinness in the bar on the seventh floor, which boasts commanding views of all of Dublin. Overall, it’s an experience you don’t want to miss out on – after all, a quick skim through Dublin wouldn’t be complete without enjoying a taste of its pride and joy.
4pm | Free-for-All
Here’s where we have a little free time in our day to fill in depending on where your interests lie. If you’d like to take it a little easier before ramping up the festivities for the night, I’d recommend checking out Phoenix Park, the largest urban green space in all of Europe, a short 20-minute walk across the river from the Guinness Storehouse.
Or if you want to get your shopping fix, you’ll want to head north of the Liffey as well. O’Connell Street is the main drag, where all the major brands reside; from here, you can marvel at the Spire of Dublin, a gigantic steel pin-like monument that protrudes out of the Earth.
No one exactly understands the need for this thing, nor what it’s supposed to represent; accordingly, Dubliners have come up with all sorts of snide nicknames for it, like “the Stiletto in the Ghetto” and several less family-friendly other ones.
For sightseeing with a little more substance, you can head back to the old quarters to check out Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, both dating back to medieval times and boasting impressive Gothic architecture. The two places of worship are located within a few blocks of each other. The former holds the title of the oldest cathedral in Dublin; the latter, the largest.
7pm | Dinner
If you find yourself around Christ Church Cathedral around dinnertime, Darkey Kelly’s Bar & Restaurant is only a few steps away. Inauspiciously named after an infamous Irish serial killer, this place has awesome cocktails, a killer beef & Guinness stew, and by far the best bangers & mash (sausages and mashed potatoes in a rich onion gravy) I’ve ever had, ever. In fact, I’d happily take a long layover in Dublin just to eat here again – that’s how fondly I remember this place.
In addition to the above choices, Darkey Kelly’s offers an extensive menu of traditional Irish food, as well as all the Irish beer you could possibly want, complete with pairing suggestions. And don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself enveloped in a full-house Irish singalong!
10pm | Temple Bar
And so, we arrive at Temple Bar. You can’t miss it – just follow the noise from wherever you are. Dubliners will warn you that this place is the definition of a tourist trap, and they’re probably right, but if I’m being honest, you can’t come to Dublin and not visit the world-famous cobblestone streets of Temple Bar – if only for one drink!
Originally named after the sandbar on the River Liffey rather than any drinking establishment in particular, Temple Bar is vibrant and artsy by day – with multiple cultural institutions calling it home – and a nightlife hotspot by night.
Accordingly, it’s also the most expensive part of Dublin to get your drink on, so if you’re interested in moving away from the hordes of tourists, I’d highly recommend O’Donoghue’s, located further south near St. Stephen’s Green, which boasts an especially rich musical heritage and holds a special place in the public consciousness here in Dublin.
If you’re visiting Dublin on or around St. Patrick’s Day, though, then all bets are off. Drink wherever you’d like – chances are you won’t remember it anyway!
Dublin is a special city that I’d love to go back to sooner rather than later. It’s full of charm and character, and there’s plenty of “craic” to go around, as the Irish like to say. While 24 hours is never quite enough to truly get to know a place, I do think that Dublin is one of the cities out there that are more conducive to getting a lot out of such a quick stop, so I’d highly recommend seeing if you can work it into your next European adventure.