Convenient, comfortable, and—remember this when the heavens open in June—relatively immune to inclement weather, bus tours are a great way to pack a lot of sightseeing into a little time. And while Dublin has more than its fair share of standard tourist buses, some are more original.
Of the many “hop on, hop off” bus tours of the city, one of the best is the Dublin Sightseeing tour, run by Dublin Bus (www.dublinsightseeing.ie; [tel] 01/703-3028). The 24-stop tour takes you all around the city center and out as far as Kilmainham Gaol. You can leave and rejoin the tour as many times as you like in a day. Buses run all day, every 10 minutes from 9am to 3:30pm, every 15 minutes until 5:30pm, and every 30 minutes until the last bus at around 6:30pm. Tickets cost €22 adults, €20 seniors and students, €10 children ages 5 to 14. Large discounts are sometimes offered for families if you book online.
Dublin Bus also runs the North Coast and Castle Tour and the South Coast and Gardens Tour, all-day excursions to the picturesque coastal regions on the far fringes of Dublin. Tickets include entry to a separate attraction; the medieval Malahide Castle and its landscaped park to the north, and Powerscourt House and Gardens to the south. The cost is €25 adults, €12 children.
A spooky evening tour in a bus decked out in, um . . . spooky wallpaper, Dublin Ghost Bus (www.dublinsightseeing.ie; [tel] 01/703-3028) addresses Dublin’s history of felons, fiends, and phantoms. You’ll see haunted houses, learn of Dracula’s Dublin origins, and even get a crash course in body snatching. It’s all ghoulish fun but actually quite scary in places, so it’s not recommended for kids who don’t have “teen” in their age. Tickets cost €28.
Likewise, the entertaining Gravediggers Tour (www.thegravedigger.ie; [tel] 085/102-3646) takes you in pursuit of a few ghoulish and well-intentioned scares. Just when it all seems like too much for the faint-hearted, the bus stops at the Gravediggers Pub by Glasnevin Cemetery for a fortifying drink—included in the ticket price of €25. Live actors and 4D technology help bring the whole experience to life. Or should that be . . . .
Horse-Drawn Carriage Tours
Touristy it may be, but there’s something hard to resist about the idea of clattering over Dublin’s cobblestoned streets in a horse-drawn carriage, with a driver who will comment on the sights as you clop past. Drivers and their carriages congregate at the Grafton Street side of St. Stephen’s Green. Simply walk up to one and arrange your tour—anything from a short swing around the green to a half-hour Georgian tour or an hour-long Old City tour.
Rides are available on a first-come, first-served basis from April to October (weather permitting) and will run you about €30 to €60 for one to four passengers.
Alternatively, to book a tour in advance, Bernard Fagan Horse Drawn Carriages (www.bernardfagancarriages.com; [tel] 086/874-8691) is one recommended company. Tours are customized to what you’re interested in seeing; prices vary, but expect to pay upwards of €25 per person for an hour-long tour
Land & Water Tours
For a lively tour of Dublin’s Viking history, the Viking Splash Tour (www.vikingsplash.ie; [tel] 01/707-6000) in a reconditioned World War II amphibious "duck" vehicle starts on land and eventually splashes into the Grand Canal. Passengers wear horned Viking helmets (a reference to the original settlers of the Dublin area) and are encouraged to issue war cries at appropriate moments. Call ahead or check the schedule online. Tickets are €22 adults, €20 seniors and students, €17 children ages 13 to 17, €12 children ages 2 to 12, and €70 families. Children under 2 aren’t allowed for safety reasons.
In addition to a raft of bus tours Dublin Bus also run a Dublin River Tour (tel. 01/473-0000; www.dublinsightseeing.ie). The zippy little red boats run in all weathers and are wheelchair accessible.
Small and compact, Dublin was made for walking, and some of the best experiences the city has to offer involve taking it at your own pace, map in hand. If you’d like more guidance, however, consider one of the following tour services.
You could hardly be in better or more learned hands for the Historical Walking Tours of Dublin (www.historicaltours.ie; [tel] 087/688-9412), whose guides are all post-grad students at Trinity College, Dublin. Established for nearly 30 years, these engaging tours offer peerless historical insight. Tours leave from the front gates of Trinity College on College Green, daily at 11am and 3pm from May to September; daily at 11am in April and October; and Friday to Sunday at 11am from November to March. Tickets cost €12 adults, €10 students and seniors (accompanied kids are free), and you can just pay the guide on the day. An intriguing variety of private tours are also available—subjects include Medieval Dublin; Irish Food; and even a Running Tour for those who like to take their history with a workout. These need to be booked in advance and cost €160.
If you prefer to take in the sights at a more leisurely pace, with a bit of liquid refreshment to keep things lively, try the Literary Pub Crawl (www.dublinpubcrawl.com; [tel] 01/670-5602). Walking in the footsteps of Joyce, Behan, Beckett, Shaw, and other Irish literary greats, this tour visits Dublin’s most famous pubs and explores their deep literary connections. Actors provide humorous performances and commentary between stops. Tours start at the Duke Pub, 8 Duke St. ([tel] 01/679-9553), daily at 7:30pm from April to October; and Thursday to Sunday at 7:30pm from November to March. Tickets cost €13 adults, €11 students. A limited number of tickets are sold at the Duke on the night, but it’s best to book online. No children are allowed, for obvious reasons.
More excellent sightseeing for the thirsty can be enjoyed on the Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl (www.musicalpubcrawl.com; [tel] 01/475-3313). Tours are led by two professional musicians, who sing as you make your way from one famous musical pub to another in Temple Bar. The evening is touristy, but the music is good. Tours meet upstairs at Oliver St. John Gogarty’s pub, Fleet Street and Anglesea St. ([tel] 01/671-1822). Tours run daily at 7:30pm from April to October; and Thursday to Saturday at 7:30pm from November to March. The cost is €14 adults, €12 students. Another higher-priced option also includes a show and a meal at Flanagan’s on O’Connell Street. You can book in advance or buy on the night. Again, no children.
If you’re looking for less booze and more history, the 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour (www.1916rising.com; [tel] 086/858-3847) takes you into the heat of the action at the General Post Office, explaining how the anger rose until the rebellion exploded on Easter Sunday in 1916. The 2-hour tour is well thought out and run by local historians who wrote a book on the events of that year. They also offer an alternate tour on Michael Collins in Dublin. Both tours run March to October, 11:30am from Monday to Saturday, and 1pm on Sunday. Tickets cost €13. Booking is advisable. Meet at the International Bar, 23 Wicklow St. ([tel] 01/677-9250).