I studied history and international studies for my bachelor’s degree, and I have maintained a fascination with history ever since. A quick scroll through my podcast feed will show an abundance of niche podcasts all about historical topics. Prior to my week-long visit to Ireland, I spent some time trying to learn a bit about Irish history, because I honestly didn’t know a ton about this small island nation.
Specifically, I wanted to learn more about the Great Famine. Much to my chagrin, my favorite podcast Behind the Bastards produced a three part series on the Great Hunger. After listening and then visiting the memorial in Dublin, I realized how wrong my understanding of the famine was.
This sparked my greater curiosity – it made me realize that I had a lot of unlearning to do. I wanted to dive more into Irish history, particularly around the topics of resistance and rebellion. Ireland is a bit of an anomaly in European history because of its century’s long colonial occupation by the British and subsequent cultural oppression and religious repression. Even today, the territory in the North of Ireland remains contentious.
To really dive into the history of Dublin, you can choose an organized walking tour like I did, or you can go with a more DIY approach. All of the guides are history graduates of Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland, and they even have a specialized revolutionary history tour once a week.
In this post, I am featuring some of the must-see historical attractions in Dublin that I saw as part of the walking tour linked above. I have laid out this list largely based on proximity, where each of the paired locations can be seen together or have some relation to each other. You could reasonably visit all of the sights on this list in one day, with the exception of Kilmainham Gaol which is further outside of the Dublin city center.
12 Famous Historical Landmarks To See in Dublin
Fair warning, Dublin Castle isn’t the most impressive castle I’ve ever seen, especially not compared to the ones I see regularly living in Germany; but it is an important part of the Dublin’s history. The castle dates back to the 13th century, sitting on the foundation of a Viking settlement. For centuries, Dublin Castle served as the headquarters of English, and later British, administration in Ireland. It has faced a series of fires, explosions and wars that has resulted in only one turret remaining today. In 1922, following Ireland’s independence, Dublin Castle was handed over to the new Irish government, and it continues to function as a government building today.
Dubh Linn Garden
Just behind Dublin Castle, you can find Dubh Linn Garden. Dublin translates to ‘black pool’ and this garden is believed to sit upon the original location ‘discovered’ by the Vikings all the way back in the 1100s. Supposedly Vikings saw a black pool of water, likely due to soil rich runoff from the Liffey River. They named the location Dubh Linn. This park commemorates that history.
Ireland is understandably proud of its independence, because it was a hard fought battle. You can step into the past and learn about Ireland’s rebellions and civil war at Kilmainham Gaol. This notorious prison held Irish revolutionary leaders like Anne Devlin, Henry Joy McCracken and Robert Emmett. Many of them were executed onsite before it closed in 1924. Now it is a museum detailing Ireland’s tumultuous past and struggle for independence.
Great Famine Memorial & Tallship
No event in history has had a more profound effect on Ireland and the worldwide Irish Community than that of the Great Famine from 1845-1849. Located at Customs House Quay is the haunting but powerful Famine Memorial. The memorial was created by Rowan Gillespie in 1997. Six skeletal statues clutching their belongings in threadbare clothing commemorate the 1 million people who died during the famine. It is also dedicated to the additional 2 million Irish people who emigrated from Ireland.
Next to the memorial, you’ll find the Jeanie Johnston Tallship. This tallship is a replica of the original which was built in Quebec, Canada and used as one of Ireland’s famine ships. The Jeanie Johnston took Irish immigrants to the Americas on 16 different voyages, never losing one of its passengers to death on the crossing. You can only visit the ship on a guided tour and you should reserve tickets in advance, as numbers are limited. The tour lasts about an hour.
Molly Maloney Statue
A popular meeting point in the city is the Molly Maloney statue near Trinity College. There is a famous Irish song of the same name which is loosely known as Dublin’s unofficial anthem. Molly Maloney is a fictional character who sold seafood by day, and worked as a sex worker by night. Her duality is said to match the duality of Dublin, which has a very different vibe during the day than at night.
Dating all the way back to the 16th century, Trinity College has a long history in Dublin which is evident from the beautiful old architecture and well-manicured grounds. You are allowed to walk the Trinity College campus grounds for free; but to go inside the famous buildings, you’ll need to buy a ticket or sign up for a tour. I would recommend that, because the real showstopper is the Long Hall. Truly beautiful, this library hall is lined with towering shelves of books and an arched ceiling. It is every bibliophile’s dream as well as a photographer’s paradise.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
If you don’t know anything about Irish history, one of the major through-lines is division between catholics and protestants. This was actually a euphemism for division between Loyalists (loyal to the British crown) and Republicans (advocating for Irish independence). As such, cities like Dublin typically have churches for both religions. An important Catholic church in Dublin is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest catholic church in the city.
Christ Church Cathedral
The most important protestant church in Dublin is Christ Church Cathedral. It is located just up the street from St. Patrick’s, so it is easy to visit these back-to-back. A quick funny story about these two churches. The wealthy owners of Guinness renovated St Patrick’s, the catholic church, in the late 1800s as a show of their power. In retaliation, the wealthy owners of Roe and Co distillery renovated Christ Church Cathedral, the protestant church, at a cost of several million dollars. We can thank these alcohol merchants for the current condition of both of these churches!
The O’Connell Bridge is one of Dublin’s most iconic sights, dating back to the 18th century. Much of its beauty can be found in the unique details, such as sandstone balustrades, the seasonal garlands strung across, or the slightly out of place Parisian street lamps. We crossed this bridge several times during our 48 hour visit in Dublin, because it’s central location and wide sidewalks are convenient. The bridge is named after Daniel O’Connell, who is credited as one of the key figures in Irish emancipation from the British. There is a statue of his likeness directly north of the bridge.
General Post Office
Considered to be a historic site of Irish resistance, the General Post Office of Dublin has a lot of significance to Irish people. It was used as the headquarters for the revolutionary leaders during the Easter Rising. On Easter Sunday 1916, Irish hero Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which became a foundational document in the fight for independence against the British Empire. The building was destroyed during the rebellion, but was rebuilt in 1929 by the Irish Republic as a symbol of their triumph. It is still a working post office, but you’ll also find several exhibits and museums inside. There you can learn more about the country’s fight for independence. Directly in front of the building, you’ll also see the 390 foot tall Spire of Dublin, which was built in the former spot of Nelson’s Pillar.
Built in 1816, this was the first bridge to span the Liffey River. Previously, all Dubliners had to use a ferry to cross from one side of the city to the other. People had to pay a toll of a ha’penny to cross the bridge, hence the name that remains today. Ha’Penny Bridge is the most photographed bridge in Dublin, thanks to its long history and unique elliptical arch design. The stark white color and intricate detailing adds to its vintage charm.
St. Stephen's Green
St. Stephen’s Green played an important role in the Easter Rising in Dublin, which ultimately led to Irish independence in 1922. Today it is one of Dublin’s most beloved local parks. On a sunny day, you’ll see locals and tourists alike relaxing in the park. As you meander through the curving paths and along the duck-filled pond, peek at the signs around the park to learn more about the park’s history.