There are so many different things to see and do in Dublin that you will never see it all in the one trip. It is a European capital city with enough things to experience to keep anyone busy for a lifetime. However, there are certain things that I would always recommend people check out when they first arrive.
For both new and returning visitors to Dublin, it is generally recommended to join a free walking tour as your first activity in the city. These are tips based tours led by local guides who will share the culture and history, in addition to giving more in-depth advice on other attractions including food and drink.
I have personally given many tours like this in Dublin. One of the most common things that I hear from travelers is that they were either delighted to do it on their first day or disappointed that they waited till the end of their trip and missed out on all the local advice.
The First Things to do When You Visit Dublin
Not everyone’s visit to Dublin will be exactly the same. There are all sorts of factors that will change the exact nature of your trip to the city, from flights to the weather. If you arrive early in the morning after a long flight, the best thing to do could very well be to just relax with some coffee.
However, unless you already have a walking tour of the city booked (or are not able to walk), the first activity you should do in Dublin is definitely a Free Walking Tour. As a guide, I personally love giving these tours the most, as I get to share the best parts of my city with as many people as possible.
I can also make sure that people get the most out of their often limited time in Dublin. Most people who visit the city are not going to stay for long and will generally stick to a few well-trodden tourist trails. While there is nothing wrong with going to any of the more well-known sights, there is so much more to see.
The way Free Tours work in Dublin is as follows: You show up to the start point a few minutes before the tour starts and let the guide know you’re there. Then, enjoy the tour for 2 – 2.5 hours, taking in the best of Dublin city from the streets. When it ends, you tip the guide what you thought it was worth.
Often, guides will have to pay €1-2 per person on their tour. This “marketing fee” ensures that any costs of marketing the tour are covered by the guide. The tour company usually makes money by selling other tours. Your guide that morning may be giving another tour later that day.
To be clear, you are not obliged to pay for these tours. While most guests do, there are times that travelers are unable to pay. That is one of the reasons why these tours exist and are so popular among both guides and tourists alike.
I will go into more detail on the exact tours that I recommend below.
Unearthed was set up in 2021 and is the newest of all such companies in Dublin. It is a locally owned and run business that hires experienced and qualified Irish guides. Their Free Tour starts further south than any other and visits parts of the city that most don’t.
This tour starts at the statue of Wolfe Tone, an Irish revolutionary figure from the 1700s. The statue is located on St. Stephen’s Green, across the road from the famous Shelbourne Hotel. While most of these companies will cover virtually the same topics, their different starting locations give each a different focus.
This starting location allows this tour to explore parts of Georgian Dublin, where most others don’t go. Stephen’s Green was the wealthiest neighborhood in the 18th Century and is still a beautiful place to visit. This tour will also explore places like Grafton Street and Leinster House, not visited on most Free Tours.
They also have an excellent “Dark Dublin Tour”. This is a paid tour which I talk about in more detail in this article.
For more information on this company and to book a place, you can find their website through this link here.
The Yellow Umbrella Tour company set up in Dublin in 2014. It is a member of the Free Tour Community, which is a loose affiliation of independently owned free tour companies in cities all over the world. Please click this link to find out more information on this network.
The Yellow Umbrella starts further north than any of the other companies. It is the only free tour to start north of the river Liffey. This means that the Yellow Umbrella also covers sections of the city that other tours don’t.
Their general city tour is called the “Southside” tour. It starts at the Spire on O’Connell Street on the Northside before going South. Like Unearthed’s tour, this one also finishes near Dublin castle. The first half of the tour also focuses more on historical context and the second half is more for sightseeing and recommendations.
Unlike Unearthed, the Yellow Umbrella has a second Free Walking Tour. Every afternoon, they run the “Northside” or “Risings and Rebellions Tour”. This tour starts at the same location and goes to places other free tours don’t, while talking about Irish political history in more detail.
For more information on these and their popular Pub Tour, please click this link to their website.
How to Spend the Perfect Day in Dublin
The perfect day in Dublin will have food in local haunts throughout. A free walking tour will not only entertain, but leave you with far more Irish knowledge than you arrived with. From there, you can decide what, if any, major attractions to see. You should finish up in a local pub with traditional music.
If you want more information on my ideal itineraries for Dublin, you can find them through this link here.