One Dublin tour company offers an experience so iconic that popular Irish fiction writers have used it to set their stories in the city. The tours and their unmistakable vehicles are so well known because they are a bit off the beaten track—in fact, they get off the road altogether! In the high season, up to 35 diesel-powered behemoths rumble through Dublin every day, with packs of helmet-wearing tourists cheering, yelling, and laughing.
Of course, we are talking about Viking Splash Tours, Dublin’s resident fleet of amphibious World War II transport vehicles driven by growling, good-natured Vikings who aren’t afraid to have a bit of fun with tourists and local passers-by. I rode along with one such horn-headed guide—Captain Pat, by name—to see what all the fuss and all the yelling was about.
Cap’n Pat described himself as, “zany—and a bit mad” when giving tours, and I agreed with him after our time together. As we rumbled through the streets, he pointed out the obligatory landmarks of the city while throwing out a few good-natured jabs, greetings, and laughs at the locals. I myself have had the honor of being the subject of some Viking Splash ribbing while walking and cycling through Dublin. Some people embrace the interaction, and shout their own lighthearted abuse back—others avert their eyes and hurry on their way.
As we climbed into the strange vehicle and strapped on our plastic helmets, I looked around and found myself the subject of a number of photos and videos not from my fellow passengers, but from other tourists on the street. I knew this was going to be a new and conspicuous experience, but I didn’t know I would become a Snapchat star before we even weighed anchor! We practiced our best Viking yell—YAAAAHHHH!—and were off.
The tour kicks off at St. Stephen’s Green North—a long block with a wide parking lane that acts as sort of Grand Central Station for various city bus tours—and heads first to what I call in The Frugal Guide “Viking-Age Dublin.” Here, we saw and heard about St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral on our way to the River Liffey. We crossed to the north quays and made our way to O’Connell Bridge and turned back across the river to College Green and on through more City Centre highlights. After cruising by Merrion Square, we headed to Dublin’s Docklands for the namesake splash of the tour.
These unique tours are offered in DUKW amphibious vehicles manufactured for combat use in WWII. The tour begins on the streets, but visitors enjoy a quick dip before all is said and done. In Dublin’s quickly recovering Docklands, we strapped on our life jackets—safety first on this tour—and charged into Grand Canal Docks. Until a few years ago, there wasn’t much happening here at the docks, but the arrival of Facebook, Google, and other big corporate offices has reinvigorated this once-seedy corner of the city. Cap’n Pat brought us through the large pool—built to be a loading dock for hundreds of ships at once—dodging the waterskiers and wakeboarders in a big loop.
Following the quick dip in the drink, we made our way back to St. Stephen’s Green, smiling and laughing all the way. I chatted more with our colorful guide Cap’n Pat, who told me the secrets to teasing the locals without getting in trouble, having fun with non-English-speaking tourists, and driving celebrities—none of which I can remember, because he kept me laughing and slapping my knees through it all.
The tour itself—the serious information, that is—was informative, and would make a nice basic introduction to the city for novices. The tour route passes many of the City Centre standards, and they are explained with enough detail to be memorable and useful later in a visit. The tour doesn’t claim to offer a comprehensive historical thesis on Dublin—what 75-minute tour ever could?—so don’t expect a long-winded rundown of names and dates on this tour. I recommend Viking Splash for casual, fun-seeking visitors; families with kids; and anyone looking for a fun overview of Dublin during a quick visit. History buffs might want to supplement a short visit to the city with a look at Kilmainham Gaol and the National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology.
Nuts and Bolts
- Viking Splash Tours operate most frequently during the summer, and less often in winter. Tickets can be booked online, by phone, or bought with cash at the departure point. Discount offered for tickets booked online, and tours often book solid during busy times, so why do it any other way? Online adult tickets are 20 euros, (22 if paid by cash).* This price is competitive with other Dublin tour bus offerings, but it is not hop on-hop off, so should not be used for transportation.
- The tour is one hour, fifteen minutes, and runs rain or shine. Vehicles are equipped with covers (rear seats are not covered), and can continue to operate through the mostly light Irish rain. The sides of the vehicle are open, so be prepared for unpredictable weather.
- Tours depart from St. Stephen’s Green North, on the northeast side of the park. Plan to arrive about 15 minutes before your scheduled time—you’ve booked online to secure your spot and to get the discount, right?—to ensure an on-time departure. Look for the blue-and-yellow boat/truck things and the horn-headed driver. Tours return to the same place.
- Special thanks to Susan, Peter, Cap’n Pat, and the rest of the Viking Splash raiding party for inviting me to yell along. YAAAAHHHHH!