From the haunts of writers such as W.B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde to the settings for timeless classics like James Joyce’s Ulysses, a path winds through this Irish city that tells its own tale.
Dublin’s rich literary history has earned it a spot as one of the top cities for travelers with a love of the written word. Museums, libraries and bookstores along the way provide the repositories to explore the literary treasures found in the Emerald Isle.
Long Room Library
WHERE: Trinity College Dublin
There’s no better place to begin than the stunning Long Room Library at Trinity College, which houses 200,000 of the country’s oldest books. Walking through the library doors is truly jaw-dropping; gleaming wood walls, shelves, and spiral staircases underneath an arched ceiling, with books filling every space and busts of the world’s most important writers and philosopher’s casting their impassive gaze on it all.
INSIDER TIPDon’t miss the chance to walk the grounds of Trinity College while you’re here. You’ll be stepping in the hallowed footsteps of such alumni as Bram Stoker, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and Jonathan Swift.
The Book of Kells
WHERE: Trinity College Dublin
So much more than a mere book, this is perhaps Trinity College’s most prized artifact. It’s a rare manuscript of the four biblical Gospels dating from 384 AD, written on vellum in a bold script style known as “insular majuscule.” It is lavishly and colorfully decorated throughout with images of humans, animals, and plants, along with symbols and gilded edges.
National Gallery of Ireland
Since it’s opening in 1854, the “nation’s collection” of art has operated on free admission. In addition to the incredible display of artworks, the National Gallery boasts an impressive library, research services, and a reading room. Here you’ll find works by George Bernard Shaw and the Yeats archive, a prestigious collection of material donated by the Yeats family.
INSIDER TIPThe collection is shown by appointment only.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Founded in 1191, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in Ireland and the largest in Dublin. It is notable not only for its impressive architecture, but also as the final resting place of Jonathan Swift. His tomb is in the south aisle, and his epitaph is inscribed above the choir robing-room door.
INSIDER TIPThe choir sings every weekday at 9 am and 5:30 pm; the hauntingly beautiful melodies are not to be missed if you’re nearby at those hours.
Bewley's Café and Theatre
Located on beautiful Grafton Street, this iconic landmark that first opened in 1840 has reopened after a major refurbishment. Many of the original building features have been carefully restored, such as the impressive stained glass windows and the fireplaces. Some of the finest pastries and baked goods can be had here, and taken into the Lunchtime theatre for daily mid-day performances, ranging from Joyce adaptations to works by new playwrights.
Dublin Writers Museum
Celebrating the Irish literary tradition as one of the most illustrious in the world, this museum celebrates the nation’s writers and traditions through the 1970s. On exhibit is a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, an 1804 edition of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, and Samuel Beckett’s telephone, as well as historical letters, portraits, and books.
William Butler Yeats Home
This delightful square of townhomes surrounding a public green has been home to some of Dublin’s most famous writers. W.B. Yeats lived at Number 82 Merrion Square, where he entertained some of the most eminent figures from the day’s literary scene, and even performed some of his plays.
Oscar Wilde Home and Statue
Also on Merrion Square you’ll find the restored childhood home of that lovable rascal, Oscar Wilde. Located at Number One Merrion Square, the home is maintained by the American College Dublin and known for its Georgian architecture and period furnishings. Just across the street, in the corner of the park, is a statue of the witty writer himself. No staid, marble busts for Wilde; he reposes on a rock with a wry grin and his ever-present smoking jacket.
The Winding Stair Bookshop & Restaurant
Though Dublin is not short on bookstores or cafes, this one is a delightful find. The charming dark green window front gives way into one of those treasure troves of a shop, where browsing is as fun as buying. Named after a Yeats poem, it does indeed have a winding staircase inside. It’s a relaxed haven in the middle of a bustling city, and two tables in the front window provide a space to relax with coffee, tea, or wine. Upstairs is a full restaurant, serving old-fashioned home cooking with a perfect view of Dublin’s famed Ha’penny Bridge.
James Joyce Centre
Housed in a beautiful 18th-century townhouse, the center runs changing Joycean exhibitions, lectures, and a permanent exhibition on Joyce’s life and work. The center also provides a great way to explore Joyce’s Dublin: walking tours of the city, based on the writer’s life and works. There are also a variety of events always on the calendar, making it a must-visit for any Joyce aficionado.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re visiting Dublin in June, don’t miss the annual Bloomsday Festival that takes place over a span of days including June 16, the day depicted in ‘Ulysses.’
This is the pharmacy that was immortalized in James Joyce’s Ulysses, as one of the spots that Leopold Bloom visits in his day chronicled in perhaps the most celebrated 20th-century novel. Sweny’s is maintained by a group of volunteers, and visitors may likely stumble upon a group reading of the beloved book. It is also home to an amazing collection of secondhand books and Ulysses memorabilia, including the lemon-scented soap that made the shop famous.
INSIDER TIPCheck the events page on the website to see when reading groups and other functions convene. You can also listen to ‘Ulysses’ being read in dozens of languages.
Brazen Head Pub
Ireland’s oldest pub has been pouring ale—and tall tales—since 1198. Brazen Head’s famed patrons have included James Joyce, Brendan Behan, and Jonathan Swift. It’s also one of the best places in Dublin to hear traditional, live Irish music and storytelling. Other pubs with an illustrious literary pedigree that are worth a visit are Davy Byrnes (established 1798) and Palace Bar (1823).