For the Irish, pubs are more than a place to meet friends for a pint after work. Over the centuries, Dublin pubs have served as the setting for legendary shootouts, watering holes for luminaries like Oscar Wilde, and a hotbed for British spies during the War of Independence. In the best of times and the worst of times, this is where it all went down, the tumultuous history of the fighting Irish in all its Guinness and whiskey soaked glory. Follow in the footsteps of Irish legends and walk along cobblestoned streets that date back to the days of medieval kings and Viking warriors. With such a rich saga, there is a page out of history around every corner.
10. The Old Stand
For an authentic pub experience, The Old Stand on Exchequer Street at the St. Andrews Street junction does not disappoint with its preserved Victorian décor and rugby fans drinking pints and shouting at the television screens. The pub has been around for about 300 years and within its walls, some of the most important events of Irish history took place. For Michael Collins, it was the meeting place where he gathered intel on British Secret Service agents and informants during the War of Independence. Some came to take the edge off with a pint after a long day at work, but for the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), it was a base camp for gathering information and plotting to take out high-ranking British officials. Today, the place is a lively spot for locals and tourists who enjoy the friendly atmosphere, traditional Irish food, and of course, the beer and whiskey.
9. The Porterhouse
On the edge of the popular Temple Bar District is The Porterhouse, another pub with its own legends. It’s a favorite spot for locals and tourists for its live music on the first floor, plus plenty of space for dancing, drinking, and catching up with friends with three additional floors. It was also a meeting place for the infamous Cairo Squad, a special force commissioned by the British government to wage a reign of terror on the streets of Dublin during the War of Independence in the early 20th century. The legendary showdown between Michael Collins and his special forces happened in this very pub, a massacre known as “Bloody Sunday”. Today, the pub is owned by The Porterhouse Brewery Company, Ireland’s largest independent brewery known for handcrafted small-batch beers and old-style Irish food.
8. Palace Bar
Situated on Fleet Street just outside of the Temple Bar District is one of Dublin’s most highly regarded Victorian era pubs. With old photos on the wall, original dark wood interior, and antique books on the shelves, it still retains its former 19th century charm. During the 40s and 50s, the editor of the Irish Times, RM (Bertie) Smyllie, used the Palace Bar as his social home away from home, or what newsman and correspondents referred to as the Fourth Estate. In the cozy back room, journalists would use it as their office to write articles, meet with sources, and ease the stress of deadlines with a few pints. Today, it is still a popular spot among the literary and intellectual set and with the same décor as when it opened in 1823. The pub was bought by the Halls in 1946 and is still a family owned and operated establishment.
7. Café en Seine
After a quick walk through the Temple Bar District and past Trinity College, you’ll reach the popular upscale shopping area of Grafton Street and Café en Seine on nearby on Dawson Street. In the heart of Dublin, embrace your inner Parisian flair at Café en Seine, Dublin’s premier French café and bar. When you step inside, you’ll get swept away to a time of exotic art nouveau mixed with the allure of the ancient orient. With its domed ceilings, blue glass panels with intricate detailing and giant palms, you’ll feel like a star in a French noir film, but in this version, you get to hobnob with Irish intellectuals and young working professionals. It’s also a popular spot for lunch with its fresh baked French bread, classic Irish dishes, and Provencal cuisine. On Friday nights, it turns into a dance club, so put on your dancing shoes for a wild night.
Dating back to 1850, Kennedy’s–formerly Conway’s–has been a favorite watering hole for professors and scholarly types from Trinity College around the corner. Although Trinity College started out as a school of divinity, it was also where students honed their drinking skills. But it wasn’t just drinking they got up to, it was where the genius of such luminaries like Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, and Brendan Behan was cultivated and inspired. It was also part of a grocery store where Wilde got his first job as a stock boy. Follow in the same footsteps and drink the same pints of great minds like Behan who claimed to be “a drinker with a writing problem”. With that much literary history, come prepared with your copy of Dubliners and get ready to discuss the fall of the Irish aristocracy in the early 20th century, which was James Joyce’s trademark genre.
Around the corner from Trinity College and other traditional Irish pubs like Kennedy’s and Palace Bar is McDaid’s, another popular watering hole among Ireland’s most revered writers. In fact, legend has it that it was one of Brendan Behan’s favorite spots. With its well-preserved dark wood interior and stained glass panels, the atmosphere and décor is typical of traditional Irish pubs from the 19th century. It was also the old stomping grounds of Oscar Wilde and is featured in the opening scene of James Joyce’s story “Grace” from his 1914 collection Dubliners. Originally the City Morgue, the building was converted into a chapel for the Moravian Brethren, which left behind high ceilings and Gothic-style windows. Known by locals for its friendly vibes and rich literary history, McDaid’s is a must-see for both Dubliners and tourists.
4. Brazen Head
Keep walking past Trinity College and Dublin Castle to Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Dublin that dates back to 1198. Step back in time to the days of Vikings and medieval kings who enjoyed the same pints and traditional live music in the days of the Old World. Today, the Brazen Head is all about tradition, one that has lasted for centuries, making it one of most celebrated pubs in Dublin. Situated a few blocks from Temple Bar and steps away from the Guinness Factory, you’ll know you’re close when you smell the hops in the air. When locals and tourists aren’t dancing a jig to a live performance, they’re catching up with friends over a pint in the cobblestoned courtyard on sunny days. In the winter, people keep warm with shots of whiskey by the fireplace, which is sometimes the only thing that can chase away the chill.
3. Horseshoe Bar at the Shelbourne Hotel
After meandering through St. Stephen’s Green, a city park dating back to the Victorian era, it would be worthwhile to stop in at the stylish and sleek Horseshoe Bar across the street for a few pints or something more decadent like oysters and champagne. Located in the posh Shelbourne Hotel, the bar still boasts its glory days from the 19th century with its antique chandeliers and well-preserved Victorian detailing, making it a classy detour from the more traditional pubs in the area. It was also the setting for George Moore’s Victorian novel “A Drama in Muslin”, an Irish classic that represents the Naturalist movement in literature and paving the way for legends like Samuel Beckett and James Joyce. The Horseshoe Bar is like walking into a museum with its walls full of original artifacts and memorabilia from the time of top hats, corsets, and carriages.
2. The Bleeding Horse
Like many pubs in Dublin, the Bleeding Horse has almost as much history as the Brazen Head, minus a few centuries. Established in the mid 17th century, the medieval pub still has the original façade from its 1871 renovation and an interior that was renovated in the 1990s. Legend has it that the pub was named after an incident at the Battle of Rathmines in 1649 when a wounded horse fled from battle and sought refuge on the streets of Dublin. Located in the city center and a short walk from Stephen’s Green and the popular shopping area of Grafton Street, the Bleeding Horse is a hotspot for young Irish professionals who work in offices nearby and tourists meandering through the city.
1. Johnnie Fox’s
After exploring the pubs surrounding the center of Dublin, hop on a booze bus or hire a cab for a half hour ride to Johnnie Fox’s, a traditional pub up in the Glencullen Mountains, the highest spot in the city. Tucked away from the bustling metropolis, enjoy a pint of Guinness and take in the traditional ambience steeped in history. The pub is also a favorite among Irish rock stars like The Corrs and Bono of U2 looking to get away from tourists and paparazzi. Established in 1798, one of Dublin’s oldest pubs, it was a favorite watering hole for storytellers and poets like Samuel Beckett and WB Yeats, who were known to spin tales of Celtic folklore until the wee hours, or at least until the snow melted or rain stopped. Today, locals, tourists, and celebrities like Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt are drawn to the original charm of Dublin’s most revered pub.