Sights and Bites: What to Eat While Touring Dublin, Ireland

With a cultural map in one hand and a culinary compass in the other, savor the treasured sights then seek the nearby local delectable bites.

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Tourists wander in the east wing of Kilmainham Gaol, a historic prison in Dublin, Ireland.

Guinness may be Dublin's signature drink, but you’ll find plenty of inventive cocktails and great food here, often accompanied by traditional Irish music.

Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham Gaol has housed some of Ireland’s most outspoken fighters for the country’s independence over its more than 200-year history, many of whom met an unfortunate end. Kilmainham was also a debtors’ prison, and stuffed full to bursting after the Great Famine. While the crimes didn’t always merit the punishment, the jail’s east wing, opened in 1862, remains a spectacular tribute to the Victorian belief that aesthetically pleasing prison architecture inspired reform.

Classic food option: Kilmainham Gaol staffers suggest dressing warmly if visiting on a chilly day, and it’s practically doctor’s orders to have a warming cup of tea from the LimeTree Café afterward. You’ll find a pleasant smattering of locals and recent jailbreakers like yourself enjoying the friendly service and affordable prices in the cheery café. If a cheeky pint—not a cuppa—is more the order of the day, head to the Royal Oak for a no-frills pour.

Trendy food option: Don’t let Torino’s austere, modern-looking exterior throw you; this hopping Italian restaurant in the heart of the Dublin suburb Inchicore boasts a full repertoire of unfussy, authentic food. The Neapolitan-style pies from the brick oven are a favorite among regulars; there’s no complaining about the generously long wine list, either.

Unexpected food option: Nancy Hands pub isn’t really on the main tourist route, unless you’re visiting the zoo or the jail. That said, it’s become a beloved destination for those who love hearty Irish pub food and a convivial atmosphere. The whiskey and scotch list is 200 labels long and oft consulted on a typical night, which may explain why the pub’s live music sessions so frequently conclude with patrons singing—and dancing—along with the band.

National Gallery of Ireland

While many of the highlighted works in the National Gallery are Irish in origin, it’s Italian master Caravaggio’s “The Taking of Christ” that gets much of the attention. The 1602 painting was once presumed lost or destroyed, only to be rediscovered in Dublin in the 1990s and put on indefinite loan to the museum. Certainly take a peek—but don’t miss the Yeats room, and particularly, Jack B. Yeats’s painting "For the Road."

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An atrium in the National Gallery of Ireland, opened in 1864 in Dublin, Ireland

Classic food option: It’s easy to walk right by Pearl Brasserie, a subterranean French restaurant tucked under Merrion Street—do your best not to miss it. Once inside, the open fire, artfully presented food, and alluringly cozy dining nooks make it an excellent choice for intimate get-togethers. Once you’ve eaten, go for a Guinness at O’Donoghue’s. You won’t have the place to yourself, but the traditional Irish music played live seven nights a week is worth sharing.

Trendy food option: You know you’re in for a fresh, seasonal meal when the menu is stamped with a date and changes daily. At Etto, a small Italian place right on Merrion Row, a rotating repertoire of small plates includes dishes such as tuna crudo and braised pig cheek. A meal here is best finished with a stiff Italian espresso and a trip to the theater afterward, where you might be lucky enough to see the work of Shaw, Wilde, Beckett, or Yeats on their home soil.

Unexpected food option: If it’s a nice day, you can cut through St. Stephen’s Green on your way to the National Gallery, stopping to pay respects to the bust of Dublin writer James Joyce along the way. But it’s perhaps more entertaining to lunch with the flamboyantly colored statue of Oscar Wilde, who reclines in perpetuity in Merrion Square Park. Either way, pick up a freshly made sandwich from the Green Bench Café first. The soups are gluten free, produce and bread arrive fresh daily, and the meats are cooked, roasted, or baked on-site. Lunch is served promptly at noon—don’t be late.

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The Guinness Storehouse is a seven-story glass atrium that opened in 2000. Here, learn all you ever wanted to know about Ireland's renowned drink.

The Guinness Storehouse

Even if you’ve never had a pint of Guinness, it’s impossible to ignore the long-running advertising campaign claiming “the Black Stuff” gives you superhuman strength. True or not, the Guinness Storehouse is a fascinating tribute to the legacy that began in 1759 when founder Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease for the brewery. The view from the top-floor Gravity Bar is undeniably better these days, but the brew is still (basically) the same.

Classic food option: Any bar that claims to be the oldest in Ireland and has hosted everyone from James Joyce and Jonathan Swift to Van Morrison is likely to attract a crowd; lucky for the Brazen Head, it has more than enough character to absorb the fame. The beef-and-Guinness stew is legendary here, but the seafood dishes give it a run. Frequent live music and traditional storytelling sessions keep the atmosphere jolly and the Guinness flowing.

Trendy food option: The carefully mismatched chairs, a list of fermented drinks, and a street food-inspired menu are your first clue that the Fumbally isn’t another generic coffeehouse. The comfy vibe and plentiful windows make it feel like you’re having a cup of tea at a friend’s house, while the Fumbally’s legendary falafel and diverse menu remind you that you’re in the hands of professionals who know their stuff.

Unexpected food option: Nestled among the kebab shops, halal restaurants, and ethnic supermarkets of Leonard’s Corner is the Irish-as-it-gets Bastible. While the eatery’s sourdough may not be baked in the cast-iron pot for which the restaurant is named, the bread is made in-house and served with delectable Euro-style butter. It’s a 20-minute walk from the Guinness Storehouse, but well worth it. Take a quick detour to Mannings Bakery if you need a sweet treat to fuel the journey.

Trinity College

Trinity College, founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, is Ireland’s most prestigious college, but few visitors to its lovely campus are interested in its graduating class. Instead, most head straight to the treasury in the Old Library, where the magnificent Book of Kells resides. The richly illustrated manuscript is thought to be the work of monks from Iona who fled to Ireland in A.D. 806. Also take a moment to appreciate the whole of the Old Library, with its 210-foot-long tribute to the written word and its illustrious graduates, including Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett.

Classic food option: You may share the room with Trinity College students being treated by their parents, but Trocadero is a classic pre-theater destination that serves excellent food and drink in an atmosphere reminiscent of The Great Gatsby. All red velvet and ornate light fixtures (some even sourced from the grand old Theatre Royal) and housed in two elegant Georgian buildings, the “Troc” prioritizes locally sourced ingredients—and its fillet steak with béarnaise sauce is legendary.

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On South William Street, in the center of Dublin, Ireland, you will find Trocadero, which has been in business for over 60 years.

Trendy food option: With a name like Bear, it’s not particularly surprising that this South William Street eatery is a haven for carnivores. Meat may be the main event at this trendy spot—with its reclaimed-wood ceilings and Edison bulb “chandeliers”—but you’ll find plenty of inventive brunch dishes, too. And don’t worry: You can always have a rasher of bacon with that salad.

Unexpected food option: Perhaps 777 doesn’t look like much from the outside, with its all-black exterior and a single neon sign, but once inside you’ll discover a hip crowd digging into authentic Mexican food and washing it down with blue agave tequila. You won’t find cheddar- or sour cream-drenched tacos here, but rather marinated steak tartar, pig’s head carnitas, and sashimi tostados, all served up on a bright orange Formica bar.

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St. Patrick's Cathedral is the largest church in Ireland. Leave time to explore the interior and exterior.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

While St. Patrick is celebrated every March 17 with parades, plentiful Guinness, and the waving of shamrocks, the patron saint of Ireland attracts a more pious crowd here. Built on the site where the saint baptized converts around A.D. 450, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is now Ireland’s largest church. You can attend services for free, or pay to view the busts, monuments, and memorials (including author Jonathan’s Swift’s) inside.

Classic food option: Despite being tucked quite literally into the walls of Dublin Castle, Chez Max feels Parisian through and through. The menu isn’t huge but is well executed, and the café has a charming back garden. If you prefer a complete departure from tradition after your visit to church, head to Chameleon, which specializes in rijsttafel, or Indonesian small plates to share.

Trendy food option: There’s no gastronomic trickery on view at Fade Street Social, just excellent, locally sourced food. It doesn’t hurt that it’s accompanied by a neat little cocktail list and is served in a cool space of exposed brick and timbers. You can also head next door to Fade Street Social’s tapas joint, or finish your evening in its swanky rooftop cocktail bar for cool tunes and city views.

Unexpected food option: When the Whitefriar Grill moved into its current location on Aungier Street, it was wedged between a run-down Internet café and an off-license liquor store and pub. Since then, the owners have bought the pub next door and opened Bow Lane, a late-night cocktail bar also serving an inventive weekend brunch menu and modern Irish dishes for dinner.