Dublin is famous for pints, pubs, and parks. That’s right, Dublin’s green space is some of the best in Europe. Luckily, three of her finest parks are in the heart of City Centre, easily accessible with this walk. We will see the tourist throngs at St. Stephen’s Green, the secret solitude of Iveagh Gardens, and the wealthy snobbery turned public playground in Merrion Square.
A free audio version of this tour is available in podcast form on the iTunes store and for direct download at frugalguidedublin.podomatic.com.
About This Walk
The total length is about 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometers). This distance is just the direct route to all the stops on the map. If you choose to do additional meandering within the parks (and you should!) adjust the distance accordingly. Allow about one hour, fifteen minutes to do this walk at a leisurely stroll. Of course, allow more time if you bring a picnic lunch and camp out on a quiet (or noisy!) park bench. We will be exploring three parks with different histories and different vibes. Visits to each park can be as brief or as long as you care to make them.
This walk is all outdoors, and Ireland is Ireland, so keep an eye on the weather. This route won’t ever drift too far from Grafton Street and its shops and pubs, so if the weather turns ugly, you can duck indoors until things clear up.
Optional Pre-Walk View
Before the walk begins, we will be conveniently near the main entrance to St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre (0). This urban mall has a parking ramp going all the way up to the roof. For a quick (and free) look at part of Dublin’s skyline, head into the main shopping center entrance at the south end of Grafton Street. At the far end of the ground floor, near the entrance to Dunne’s Stores, the elevators (lifts) can take you nearly to the roof of the parking structure.
Take the lift up to level 8, then the stairs to 9B—the roof. The best looks from the roof are to the north and to the west. Looking directly west, see the smooth rolling hills of the Dublin Mountains. These comparatively small peaks protect Dublin on the south and west sides from strong storms and marauding Celts. The latter hasn’t been much of an issue in the past few centuries.
To the northwest, see the steeples of Dublin and the white stone obelisk of the Wellington Monument in Phoenix Park, nearly three miles (4.8 kilometers) away.
Looking directly north, the obvious metal pole of the Millennium Spire juts into the sky from O’Connell Street on the north side of the river. The steeple to the right of the Spire is near the Tourist Info Centre on Suffolk Street. If you need a break or some help later on, they have free advice, free maps, free brochures, and free Wi-Fi.
St. Stephen’s Green (Northwest)
We will begin our park tour at the Fusiliers’ Arch (1) at the north corner of St. Stephen’s Green. To get there, find the southern tip of Grafton Street, the arch is the most prominent sight on the square. Fight your way through the crowds watching the jugglers, stilt-walkers, or break-dancers and enter through the arch (Park opens Mon–Sat 07:30, Sun 09:30, closes at dusk).
The Fusiliers’ Arch memorializes the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who fought and died in the Second Boer War of 1899–1902. What’s a Fusilier? What’s a Boer? That’s what I thought, too. The Fusiliers were an elite regiment of British soldiers from Dublin. They went to South Africa to fight Dutch settlers over who had the right to colonize and exploit that unfortunate country.
The arch lists the names of those who died in service of the British Crown—not a very popular sentiment in Ireland when it was built in 1907. It was damaged in the shootouts of the 1916 Easter Rising, but survived the subsequent destruction of British statues and memorials after Ireland’s independence—unlike the unfortunate statue of Admiral Nelson which used to look over O’Connell Street, where the Spire of Dublin now stands.
Today, it’s just a nice landmark used by tourists to direct each other around confusing Dublin.Enter the park through the arch and make your way to the pond. For a nice viewpoint over the pond, follow the water’s edge to your right up a small hill to a clear lookout over the footbridge. When you’re ready, backtrack, follow the pond, and cross the footbridge. Walk around the flowers and fountains of the center of the park.
Just to the left of the footbridge as you face it from the center of the park is a semicircular Garden of the Blind (2), with uniquely-scented plants at eye level labeled in written English and in Braille. Further along, just up the steps behind the gazebo, is the sheltered Yeats Memorial Garden (3). This hideaway is perfect to escape from the general hustle and bustle of the park paths. An abstract bronze sculpture is dedicated to the Irish poet W.B. Yeats (rhymes with “mates”).
When you’re ready, return to the central square and exit to the west spoke, the next path to the right as you face into the center. Don’t worry if you exit the park somewhere between the corners, the west corner is easily identified by the Luas streetcar cables and rails heading south…which is where we’re going. Follow the train line across the busy divided road of Stephen’s Green South. You’ll now be on Harcourt Street. You’ll pass Stokes Place on the left and Montague Street on the right before reaching Clonmel Street, where you’ll take a left. At the end of this seemingly dead-end street is the entrance to…
The Entrance to Iveagh Gardens (4) may not look like much to the casual visitor, but behind these walls is a secret oasis in the busy capital of Dublin (Park opens Mon–Sat 08:00, Sun 10:00 closes 15:30 Dec–Jan, 16:00 Feb and Nov, 18:00 Mar–Oct).
Iveagh Gardens, like many of Dublin’s urban parks, was once the private garden for one or more rich neighborhood residents—in this case, the Guinness family. During the work week, the wealthy brewers lived in Iveagh House on St. Stephen’s Green, and this was their backyard. (On weekends, they stayed in Farmleigh House in Phoenix Park, which offers interesting free tours.) This park is almost invisible on all sides, surrounded by high walls, dead-end alleys, and fences overgrown with trees and vines.
Proudly known as Dublin’s “Secret Garden,” this park has a rather unspoiled feel. The park has a pleasurable mix of decorative styles and is rarely if ever crowded. Most visitors complete their Dublin visit never knowing that this gem sits just behind the big buildings on St. Stephen’s Green.
Enter through the gate on Clonmel Street, the large fields to your left may be set up with a stage for a summer concert or play.Head right to the Cascade (5), the large waterfall fountain facing a broad gravel boulevard. The fountain doesn’t always run, but is beautiful even at rest. Tree ferns planted around the Cascade provide the illusion of an exotic and tropical locale.
Stroll out on the boulevard to the center of the park and check out the Twin Angel Fountains (6) facing each other across the expanse of grass, which may be dotted with sunbathers, businesspeople eating lunch, and families with kids.
Head back to the cascade and turn left (south) to the southern corner of the park. Take a contemplative stroll through the Sundial Maze (7). At the center of the maze, use the provided guide to take a stab at getting a time reading. When you’re frustrated by the sun being covered by clouds, move on to the circular Rose Garden (8) ringed by an iron fence. Whenever you’re ready, move along to the Exit (9) at the southeast corner.
Exit the park onto Hatch Street and turn left. At the first corner, turn left again onto Earlsfort Terrace. Pause for a moment to admire…
The National Concert Hall
The National Concert Hall (10) is Ireland’s premier center for classical music. The building was once the central building of University College Dublin. In the mid-twentieth century, the university moved south of City Centre, and the building was renovated and converted to the concert hall it is today.
In addition to hosting performers from all over the world, this is the home venue for Ireland’s National Symphony Orchestra.
Continue on past the concert hall to the next corner. We’re back at St. Stephen’s Green. Cross the street and re-enter the park, this time at the south entrance.
St. Stephen’s Green (Again)
The Three Fates Fountain (11) stands just inside the south entrance to St. Stephen’s Green. These three ladies are the Three Fates of Greek myth who spun and tangled the threads of fate that bind people and events. Each of us had our own strand, and when our time on Earth was up…SNIP!This particular statue was given to the people of Ireland by Germany after the Irish assisted German refugee families in the wake of World War II.
Turn right at the Fates and stay right as you make your way along the east edge of the park. At the east corner find the Famine Memorial (12). Behind the memorial, around the rock pillars, is a park exit. Just outside the exit is the Wolfe Tone Statue (13).
The Famine Memorial sculpture is one of several in Dublin. It commemorates the Great Famine of 1845–1852, and the starving, emaciated state of the desperate Irish people. The Famine continues to have a profound effect on the soul of the modern Irish people, and its impact is still felt today. The country has only recently begun to approach pre-famine population, and the mass emigration event spread Irish influence (and Irish DNA) to the far corners of the world.
Wolfe Tone (1763–1798) was an early Irish revolutionary and is considered the Father of Irish Republicanism. He was arrested for his participation in the 1798 Irish Rebellion and sentenced to death. Before his execution, he met a nasty end when he attempted suicide in his cell and died after eight days of suffering. Touchingly, his statue today is usually a hangout for teenage hard cider drinkers catching a buzz and a smoke during lunch breaks at school.
At Wolfe Tone’s Corner, cross the street and turn right (east) onto Merrion Row, away from St. Stephen’s Green. After about one half-block, turn left onto Merrion Street Upper. Walk past a row of Irish Government buildings, including the Department of the Taoiseach (pronounced TEE-shuck, sometimes ironically called Tee-SCHMUCK), Ireland’s Prime Minister or executive branch. Going further, you’ll pass the National Museum of Ireland: Natural History. If you need a break, there are free toilets in the museum. The large obelisk monument farther down is in the back garden of Leinster House, Ireland’s House of Parliament.
Take a look down the street at the intersection in front of the museum to the church in the distance. This church is unofficially known as the “Pepper Canister.” Does the green-domed cupola not resemble a dinner table pepper shaker?
Across the street from the museum and Parliament, you will see the green of Merrion Square, our next park. To cross the street safely, continue up the same street to the corner of Clare Street and the crosswalk.
After the walk from St. Stephen’s, we arrive at the north corner of Merrion Square. Just inside the fence, you may be able to see Oscar Wilde (14). To get a better look at him, enter the park through the gate just to your right (Oscar’s left) and follow the short path to his monument (Park opens Mon–Fri 08:00, Sat–Sun 10:00, closes at dusk).Dublin’s cheeky Victorian literary hero Oscar Wilde reclines on a rock in the corner of the park. Much of his writing poked a quiet finger at the hypocrisies and absurdities of the lives of the rich people of leisure in his society.
He is most remembered for works like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray, and was a real charmer in his day. His flamboyant dress and clever wit were big hits. Sadly, he was eventually thrown in jail for being a homosexual and he died young and in poverty.
Today, the Irish recognize what a treasure he was, and the monument reflects his unique dress and his wry sense of irony. The statue gazes at his old family home at No. 1 Merrion Square. Think of him next time you say one of his most famous quotes: “True friends stab you in the front.”
Go down the path at Oscar’s right along the north edge of the park. Skip the first path to the right and continue to the first four-way path intersection. Left will take you out of the park, but we’re going right, into the central eye-shaped garden.
Following the paths, emerge into the (hopefully) sunlit Center of Merrion Square (15). This large garden is ringed with benches and artfully-arranged flowerbeds. Take a lap around to admire the flowers or the people spread out on the grass having lunch. Today’s Merrion Square Park was originally the private garden of the wealthy residents in the surrounding Georgian buildings. Residency in one of the buildings granted one access to this private garden. Nearby Fitzwilliam Square and its garden are still privately owned. Needless to say, we won’t be going there. Thankfully, Merrion Square Park is now operated by Dublin City Council as a tip-top urban park.
Want in on a really Irish piece of trivia? In the central garden, find the bronze, high-backed chair. This memorial, titled The Joker’s Chair, pays homage to late Irish actor Dermot Morgan who created and starred in Ireland’s favorite comedy television show, Father Ted. This sitcom was one of the first (and only) Irish comedies that was actually, well, funny. Morgan died a tragically young death, but Father Ted lives on in reruns and collections. Even young Irish folks who weren’t born when the show was on know their Ted trivia. For a good laugh, go into any local pub and ask whoever you find about their favorite Father Ted episodes.
From the center of the park, head west back toward the government buildings you passed on the way in. The most direct path is the one perpendicular to the path by which you entered the Center of Merrion Square, but feel free to wander around this modestly-sized park if you have time and energy. If you exit on the wrong street, go to a corner and check the street names, all of them are named Merrion Square [Compass Direction]. We need to be on Merrion Square West for our final stop…
The pyramid on the western wall of Merrion Square Park looking at Leinster House is the National Memorial (16). This pyramid houses an eternal flame in honor and memory of all Irish Defense Force soldiers who have died in the line of duty.
The memorial is made of stone, steel, bronze, and glass. Each material represents a different branch of the Irish military. Four sentries stand guard around the tasteful memorial, and benches offer a chance for a contemplative rest to finish our parks walk.
Finishing the Walk
The National Memorial is the last stop on our Urban Park Scramble. From here, you have easy access to Dublin’s fantastic free museum block. The Museum of Natural History is just to the left (south) of Leinster House, the National Gallery of Ireland has an entrance on Clare Street, just north of Leinster House. The National Library and the can’t-miss National Museum of Archaeology are one block to the west, on Kildare Street.
The Number 29 Georgian House Museum is on Fitzwilliam Street just south of the corner of Merrion Square South and Merrion Square East. It is decorated as the house of a wealthy Georgian family would have been. The museum and tour are not free, but may be worth a look for Georgian history fans (€6.00; Tue–Sat 10:00–17:00, closed mid-Dec–mid-Feb, guided tour at 15:00; www.esb.ie/no29).
To return to the Grafton Street area, turn left (south) the same way you arrived from St. Stephen’s. Turn right at Merrion Row (the way you came) and follow St. Stephen’s Green North back to the Fusiliers’ Arch and Grafton Street.
To get to Trinity College and Temple Bar, turn right up Merrion Square West and left on Clare Street. Clare Street will turn into Leinster Street South, then Nassau Street, all while skirting the iron fence of Trinity College. Molly Malone used to grace the busy bottom (north) end of Grafton Street, but now makes her long-term-temporary home one block west, in front of the church near the Tourist Information Centre on Suffolk Street.
“Dublin’s Urban Park Scramble” is excerpted from The Frugal Guide: Dublin, a free eBook guide to the city first published in 2014. It is available for direct download at Smashwords and most eBook distributors.