This full day kicks off with some of Dublin's most famous landmarks. You might not have the chance to see everything, but the beauty of compact Dublin is that you'll probably be retracing your steps on another day.
1. Dublin Castle
It's fair to say that this is not among Ireland's most impressive castles, but it's a good place nonetheless to anchor yourself as you begin to explore the capital. The epicenter of British power in Ireland from the 1200s until the 1920s, Dublin Castle is now a government building. You can wander the peaceful courtyard grounds for free. Guided tours of the interior allow you to see the majestic State Apartments, Treasury, and the Gothic-style Chapel Royal.
2. Chester Beatty Library
On the grounds of Dublin Castle lies this wonderful small museum, unassuming enough that even many Dublin residents have never heard of it. And yet within lies a dazzling collection of early religious texts and other priceless artifacts. Highlights include breathtaking illuminated gospels, impeccable 15th-century Korans and scrolls from the 8th and 9th centuries, and sacred Buddhist texts from Burma and Tibet. If there's a better museum of this size in Ireland, we have yet to find it.
3. Christ Church Cathedral
One of Dublin's two great cathedrals, Christ Church was started in 1038. The present structure dates mainly from a controversial renovation in the late 19th century. The best way to visualize what the Norman building must have looked like is to visit the 12th-century crypt, which was untouched by the restoration.
4. St. Patrick's Cathedral
A leisurely 10-minute walk down the hill from Christ Church will bring you to Dublin's other great cathedral—and its most famous. Most of what you can see dates from the 14th century, but religious buildings stood here nearly a thousand years before that. A square medieval tower houses the largest ringing peal of bells in Ireland.
5. Trinity College
Ireland's oldest university, founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, is an oasis of lawns, cobbled paths, and myriad architectural styles ranging from the 1700s to the 1900s. Walk through the main entrance flanked by the two statues of Oliver Goldsmith and Edmund Burke to the graceful white Campanile, a famous Dublin Landmark. Explore the 16 hectares of grounds, and remember you're pacing the hallowed turf of an establishment that educated the likes of Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Samuel Beckett.
6. Book of Kells and Old Library
People tend to have one of two reactions to the Book of Kells. You may find yourself awed by the beauty of this 1,200-year-old illuminated gospel, which was painstakingly hand-drawn by monks. But you might equally wonder whether it's quite worth the cost and effort, which can involve standing in a lengthy queue. Still, it's a shame to come all this way and miss it. Afterwards, be sure to take the time to visit the college's Harry Potter-esque Old Library, included in the same ticket.
7. Parliament House
Adjacent to Trinity College, this grand colonnaded building might look somewhat familiar—it was supposedly the model for the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Today, somewhat disappointingly, it's owned by the Bank of Ireland; however, you can see parts of the grand interior, including 18th-century tapestries.
8. Bank on College Green
Directly opposite Trinity College, this beautiful Victorian bank building is one of the city's finest pubs. It also serves excellent food—so where better for a restorative lunch?
9. National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology
This sprawling museum is packed with objects dating as far back as the Stone Age. Highlights include an extraordinary hoard of Viking treasure, precious early Christian artifacts, and objets d'art from the Middle Ages up to the 19th century. One of three sites in Dublin that collectively make up the National Museum, this is perhaps the most essential, and deserves a couple of hours to do properly.
10. Grafton Street
A walk down Dublin's most fashionable street is a great way of rounding off your first day. The glittering boulevard is lined with fashionable boutiques as well as big chain stores. Among the most famous is the department store Brown Thomas, which has been here since 1848. Grafton Street's southern end, at the entrance to St. Stephen's Green, is dominated by the grand Royal Fusiliers' Arch. Midway down, stop at Bewley's, since 1840 a famous coffee haven and little changed since then. Grafton Street is also the unofficial venue for buskers, from Romanian accordionists to Irish fiddlers and wannabe rock stars—the best ones usually playing early evening or at night.
11. Butlers Chocolate Cafe
These Dublin chocolatiers have been making sumptuous treats in the city since 1932. You'll find a branch of their Chocolate Cafe at the St. Stephen's Green end of Grafton Street and another on nearby Chatham Street. The white hot chocolate is life-changing.
12. Temple Bar
If you're feeling sleepy after such a long day, an evening here is sure to wake you up. Temple Bar is an artsy, cultured district full of trendy shops and modern art galleries. But such refinement gives way to an altogether more raucous atmosphere at night. With its multitude of pubs, bars, and hip clubs, this is definitely where it's at in Dublin after dark.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.