While Ireland’s known as the Land of Saints and Scholars, Dublin‘s reputation also brings literary and musical greats, a lively pub and club scene, and plenty of fascinating reminders of the country’s hard-fought history. Add in intriguing arts and culture, lovely green spaces and a thriving food scene, and Dublin as a destination goes from excellent to over the top. This city of just over half a million people offers a lot to take in, but our guide to a perfect weekend will have you feeling like you’ve discovered a true emerald gem, full of big city appeal while still offering plenty of small town charm and friendliness.

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Day 1: History, Cathedrals and Castles

Photo courtesy of Mespil Hotel

The Dublin Airport is easy to navigate, so you can quickly pick-up your bags and head for the city to drop them off at your hotel before getting out to explore the sites. The modern, centrally-located Mespil Hotel makes a good base. Located on the edge of the Grand Canal, the Mespil is in the middle of trendy Georgian Dublin (named for its classic Georgian architecture), an area filled with tons of popular restaurants and pubs. Opt for the hotel’s breakfast rate as the expansive buffet, stocked with both hearty Irish and lighter continental options, will give a great start to your day.

Photo courtesy of Clontarf Castle Hotel

If you’ve always wanted to stay in a castle, splurge at the luxury boutique Clontarf Castle Hotel, a 12th-century castle with modern touches. The Clontarf is 15 minutes from Dublin city center by cab, but with its long history, lovely art, and wonderful dining and bar options, it’s well worth it.

The perfect start to your Dublin weekend is a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the city. Founded in 1220 and built in honor of Ireland’s patron saint, you’ll be wowed by the 141-foot spire, intricate tiled floors and ornate naves. St. Patrick’s is world famous for its choir, so check their schedule for performance times.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland

Then take a 10-minute walk to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin’s oldest building, founded in 1030. Visit the medieval crypt to see artifacts and memorials and the famous mummified “cat and rat” which James Joyce mentions in his famous novel Finnegan’s Wake.

From here, head to nearby Dublin Castle, built by King John of England in 1230. See where the city gets its name (Dublin means Black Pool), a lake that was located at the site of the current castle garden. Don’t miss the medieval undercroft, or basement, where you can see artifacts of the original Viking fortress which once stood here; it dates back to 930 AD.

If you have time, pop over to Trinity College, to wander the charming campus, and view the Book of Kells, the early Christian illuminated manuscript. Note that two books are opened to view daily, so you can only see four pages on any given day.

Photo courtesy of Matt the Thresher

After all that history, you’ll be ready for some fresh, flavorful Irish food. Matt the Thresher Seafood Bar & Grill specializes in wild Irish seafood—so fresh, in fact, that their “specials” board is updated twice daily. Try the sweet, succulent Dublin Bay prawns, the briny Galway oysters or Matt’s special fish pie, topped with smoked gubbeen mash.

If you prefer meat over seafood, opt for Ely Wine Bar, where they serve organic, pasture-to-plate beef, pork and lamb sourced from their own farm. Ely’s is also the place to go for a glass of wine—they serve over 100 craft wines by the glass.

Day 2: Culture and Arts

A hearty Irish breakfast at your hotel will have you ready to spend your day browsing some of Dublin’s finest museums (which all have free admission, by the way). Learn everything you want to know about the country at the National Museum of Ireland. Museum exhibits are divided over four sites: archaeology, arts and history, country life and natural history.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland

To get in touch with your artistic side, visit the National Gallery of Ireland, where you can browse more than 15,000 paintings and sculptures dating from the 13th–20th centuries. Highlights range from dark Rembrandts to cubist Picassos and everything in between. If you prefer modern art, hit the Irish Museum of Modern Art, where 3,500 pieces are housed in a 17th-century hospital setting.

It’s probably time for a pint, right? Discover the reason that Irish pubs are far more than just a drinking place, and more of centerpiece for local communities. For tradition, try O’Donoghue’s, established in 1789, where any night of the week can be standing room only. Here, it’s not unusual to catch a “trad session,” a music jam and singalong—the folk band The Dubliners and other big names got their start here. Prefer a patio table where you can sip your pint and watch the Irish world go by? Then The Wellington is the spot.

Day 3: Emerald Green Parks and Guinness

One of the best ways to experience the shockingly pretty green of the Emerald Isle is to visit some of Dublin’s parks. St. Stephen’s Green is one of the city’s oldest and largest city squares. Surrounded by splendid 18th-century mansions, you can stroll through the formal gardens and check out the statues and memorials, including a bust of James Joyce.

Cross the River Liffey to Phoenix Park, a large urban park surrounded by a 7-mile fence. In 1662, the park was established as hunting grounds for the wealthy, and is still home to a herd of wild deer. Here you will also find the Dublin Zoo (one of the world’s oldest); various residences including that of the Irish president; and Ashtown Castle, a restored medieval tower house.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland

There’s no better way to finish off the weekend than with a visit to the Guinness Storehouse and St. James Gate Brewery. Operated since 1759, this remains Dublin’s number one tourist attraction. Even with the craft brewery movement in full swing, Guinness is still the most common beer you’ll find on tap across the country. Learn all about this fine, creamy stout on a tour and a tasting, and then stick around for a pint at Gravity Bar, where you’ll have a 360-degree view of the city.

Keep it simple and have dinner at the Storehouse at the 1837 Bar & Brasserie, which takes its name from the year that the famous pairing of Guinness with oysters first occurred. Of course, Guinness is an ingredient in almost every dish on the menu, including the yummy Guinness chocolate mousse. In Dublin, you’re guaranteed a weekend of good fun or craic, as the Irish say.

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