1. You can stay in the house the first Duke of Wellington was born
Barack Obama, Rihanna, Cameron Diaz… the roster of celebrities cooing about Merrion Hotel is a testament to the remarkable Dublin residence. They’re not the first notable names to enter its doors – the hotel is actual set within four Georgian townhouses, one of which was the birthplace of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. It’s full of five-star fancy, including one of the largest privately owned collections of 19th- and 20th-century art in Ireland. Even the afternoon tea is arty – pastry chef Paul Kelly creates masterpieces inspired by paintings that hang in the hotel’s collection. It’s almost too pretty to eat – but we’ll let you take up that challenge.
2. Trinity College’s library is home to medieval Europe’s greatest treasure
Like a warm mahogany back rub, the 18th-century library at Trinity College holds the collection’s 200,000 oldest books. The most famous resident is the Book of Kells, vibrantly illustrated manuscripts of the Christian gospels dating from 800AD. Here you’ll also find a rare copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the 15th-century Celtic harp, i.e the official symbol of Ireland. A breathtaking experience for history enthusiasts.
3. You can shake hands with an 800-year-old mummy
St. Michan Church has a fascinating story, even minus the mummies. It was built in 1095 to serve ostracised Vikings, then rebuilt in 1686 along with a pipe organ installation (the same pipe organ Handel accordingly first played the Messiah). With all this going on above, dozens of eerie coffins lay in a vault underneath. Well-preserved mummies continue to tumble out of the disintegrating caskets, but a loophole in the Church says they cannot be opened. As a result, these now include four lidless coffins with mummies on full show and ‘The Crusader’ – a six-and-a-half foot giant (for his time). His hand fell out of his coffin and visitors were once allowed to shake it, although a light touch is encouraged to stop it falling off now.
4. There’s an actual museum for leprechauns
What happens when you catch a leprechaun? Whether you know them for the folklore tales or their Lucky Charms fame, these little green fellows are the most joyful of Irish legends. The National Leprechaun Museum takes you on a journey through their history, from their first sighting in the 8th century to Walt Disney’s association with them.
5. Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin (and you can visit his birthplace)
Legendary Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was born in 1854 at 21 Westland Row, Dublin. His birthplace has changed a lot – it’s now the Oscar Wilde Centre, a specialised centre for writers and scholars. Combine your visit with another must-see, Sweny’s – a former 19th-century pharmacy (now bookstore) described by James Joyce in his pioneering novel Ulysses.
Where to stay near Dublin
It’s difficult to tear yourself away from a city that spoils with old-age wonder. Yet there is history and culture in troves to be discovered when you venture into the surrounding regions. If you’ve got longer than a weekend to play with, get amongst Dublin’s neighbours…
With its rolling emerald hills and historic riches, County Meath provides the perfect antidote to heady city life. Just north of Dublin, you’re a short drive away from UNESCO World Heritage site Brú na Bóinne. It’s one of the world’s most significant ancient landscapes, where you can access 5,000-year-old tombs engraved in prehistoric art.
Where to stay in County Meath
- Ghan House, Carlingford: An 18th-century country house next to a medieval heritage village. With its drawing room, log fires and candlelit dinners, the award-winning haven would look just as at home in an old postcard as it would in a swanky magazine editorial.
- Tankardstown House, Slane: Just an hour from Dublin, this 18th-century retreat is a rural delight. Its style is glamorous but relaxed – with cosy armchairs next to roaring fires, mahogany dining rooms with all the dark trimmings and big bedroom windows draped in dusty rose dressings.
Just west of the capital, Kildare is horse country. As well as its Horse Museum and racecourse, Kildare town itself is also known for its otherworldly Japanese gardens and historic cathedral.
Where to stay in County Kildare
- Barberstown Castle, Straffan: In less than half an hour you can be out of Dublin and inside a 13th-century castle – where you can actually sleep. There’s all the drama here: think Rococo boudoirs with golden mirrors and magenta antique sofas, opulent Victorian and Elizabethan dining rooms and charming four-poster beds.
A natural gem within easy reach of Dublin, the drive alone to Wicklow is pure enchantment. Whether you’re big on mountain air or craving a coastal adventure, falling in love with ‘The Garden of Ireland’ is a given.
Where to stay in County Wicklow
- Rathsallagh House, Dunlavin. Wicklow doesn’t have the kind of beauty you can see in a day – you need to immerse yourself in it. Fortunately, there’s a grand historic hotel in the vicinity (although you probably won’t want to leave your beautiful room). Rathsallagh was converted from Queen Anne stables in 1798 and is now a four-star country house with free-range hens who have helped chefs win the National Breakfast Awards four times.
Ireland’s ‘sunny south-east’ is home to the world’s ‘flashiest’ lighthouse, long sandy beaches, history in layers and lots of lovely strawberry-picking spots.
Where to stay in County Wexford
- Marlfield House, Gorey. Beside the main M11 Dublin to Wexford road is the historic market town of Gorey. This handsome Regency period house is a romantic place to unwind. It’s grand yet welcoming, with 13 bedrooms and six suites all decorated with antiques, paintings and fresh flowers from the garden.