If you’re coming to Dublin, especially if it won’t be your first time, consider going beyond the traditional tourist hotspots (which, in fairness, can be a blast) and experiencing Ireland’s capital city like a local. You’ll have to explain your photos (practicing the time-honored Irish art of storytelling) to your friends and family, and there will be no leprechaun hats involved, but you’re sure to make lasting memories — and maybe a few lasting friendships.
Go to the races
Irish people are rabid sports fans, and they do enjoy “puttin’ a few bob on de action, so.” These twin passions of sports and gambling combine to create a grand auld time at the racetrack. Horses and dogs run throughout the year in Dublin’s racing venues, and an afternoon or evening spent at the track is a great way to pass some time with the locals. Before your trip, check the schedules (called “fixtures”) and be ready for excitement.
Hurling and Gaelic football might be the best-kept sports secrets in the world. These two fast-paced field games are high-scoring, physical, easy to understand, and sure to get your heart rate elevated. If you’re visiting Dublin in the summer or early autumn, you’ll do well to check the Saturday and Sunday schedules at Croke Park, the headquarters and home venue of Ireland’s national sports. If you won’t be in town or you can’t get a ticket, head to the local pub — any local pub — and settle into a booth with a good view of the TV screens (and the rest of the raucous seating area).
[If you want to try your own hand at Ireland’s ancient games, get in touch with Experience Gaelic Games and reserve a session for yourself or your group.]
Take a hike
Hillwalking and rambling are Irish traditions as old and as proud as whiskey, dancing, and Roman Catholicism. And Dublin, despite being Ireland’s main urban center, is quite near some fine, well-used trails that are more than worth a walk while you’re in town.
Before your visit, check in with the Dublin Mountains Partnership, an ambitious volunteer organization dedicated to the care, preservation, and promotion of the hills you’ll see rising to the south and west of the city. Each month, they offer a program of free guided hikes of varying length and difficulty (for visitors, their public transport–accessible walks from Shankill and Tallaght are best).
If a guided walk doesn’t fit your schedule, consider taking a walk on the well-marked trails on Howth Head or the Bray–Greystones Cliff Walk (both accessible on the DART commuter train) or you can get some urban hiking in along the Grand Canal in the city center or the River Dodder in the southern suburbs.
Seek out your own hobbies
Despite having a relatively small population, Ireland — particularly Dublin — has vibrant communities of every interest that are friendly, welcoming, and always looking for newcomers. Are you an avid gamer? Check out one of Dublin’s game and comic stores and find some like-minded locals. Are you into angling, kayaking, caving, parasailing, chess, poetry reading, adult entertainment (no judgment), or even the Miami Dolphins (still no judgment)? Find the enthusiasts’ club website and get in touch before your visit. You’ll have a great time doing what you love, and you may make some lasting friendships while you’re at it.
Enjoy a scoop in the snug
True to the stereotype, the local pub is an important pillar of every Irish neighborhood and community. (Contrary to the stereotype, most Irish folks don’t routinely get out-of-control drunk and violent.) For centuries (not an exaggeration), the corner local has been a welcoming community gathering place for friends and families; more about togetherness and good times than drinking to overcome the crushing darkness of the long winters at Ireland’s high latitude.
To enjoy the Irish pub experience, get a few steps away from Temple Bar and the touristy mega-pubs of the city center — think Georgian staples like the Ginger Man or local legends like the Hole in the Wall bordering Phoenix Park or the Gravediggers near Glasnevin Cemetery. In these Dublin favorites, don’t be timid, but do be polite. Order your drinks at the bar (making sure to add “when you can” to the end of your request), and be patient — especially if you order Guinness.
Find the snug — usually a small nook tucked behind an awkwardly placed wall or support beam holding up these old buildings — for an intimate experience with your travel mates or sit right up and the bar and strike up a conversation, just be prepared to keep up with that razor-sharp Irish wit (also true to the stereotype).
Getting off the beaten tourist path in Dublin is easy: be outgoing and flexible; do your homework and plan well in advance; and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.