What do you get when you combine the convenience of a full day's public transport with 90 minutes of entertainment and information from a local? Big Bus Tours!
Last week we were offered two spots on Big Bus Tours' Dublin route and we had a brilliant day. The hop on hop off route stops at all of the city's most famous tourist attractions, including:
the Guinness Storehouse
the Book of Kells and Trinity College's Long Room
St Patrick Cathedral
the Jameson Distillery
With buses running every 60 minutes Monday - Thursday and even more frequently Friday - Sunday, you can easily jump off, visit an attraction and jump back onto the next bus passing through. If you note the time when you get off, you'll have an idea of when you need to be back at the stop again, and Big Bus Tours have an app where you can track live arrivals.
As well as a fab live guide (our driver had us all in stitches), you can use your headphones to listen to the pre recorded audio tour in 8 languages.
Read on to see what we got up to and how you can best plan your day to fit in as many top Dublin sights as possible:
We started our day on the first bus of the day (9:30am) to give us as much time as possible. Stop 1 leaves from Upper O'Connell Street, 5 minutes walk from our hotel, where a friendly red coated guide scanned our QR code and gave us a pink paper ticket to show throughout the day as we re-joined the tour.
The bus route takes you down Upper O'Connell Street past the enormous modern Spire of Dublin and the General Post Office, used as the headquarters of the Easter Rising in 1916. Look out for bullet holes still visible in the O'Connell monument right before the bus crosses the Liffey River.
Hop off about 10 minutes into our tour at Stop 2, Trinity College. Here you can view the world famous Book of Kells, a gorgeously illustrated book of the Gospels dating from the 9th century, and the stunning Long Room library, 65 metres long and floor to ceiling with 200,000 books. You'll feel like you've stepped into Hogwarts! Take a stroll around the college's Georgian courtyards before heading back towards the bus stop.
NB: At time of writing, tickets for the Book of Kells and Long Room needed to be booked online and cost €18.
Cross over the road and walk straight up Kildare Street to the National Museum of Ireland's archaeology branch. This fab museum is completely free and you could easily spend hours looking at everything, but on today's bus tour we would recommend nipping in to see the beautiful Ór exhibition of prehistoric goldwork and jewellery (some are 3000 years old!) and Kingship and Sacrifice, a humbling experience where you can literally come face to face with Iron Age bog bodies, amazingly preserved in Irish peat, who were ritualistically sacrificed over 2000 years ago.
NB: On Sundays and Mondays this museum doesn't open until 1pm
If timing links up, head back to stop 2 to catch a lift around the corner and listen to the guide's narrative about James Joyce's Ulysses and Oscar Wilde before disembarking at Stop 4, Merrion Square. If there's no bus any time soon, it's an easy walk from the Archaeology Museum. Merrion Square and the surrounding streets are some of Dublin's finest examples of Georgian houses. Visit the statue of Oscar Wilde in the park at the centre of the square (lounging on a large rock, he is the only colourful statue in the city -scan a QR code near by and he will speak to you!), and stroll the elegant terraces. Oscar's childhood home is just across the road at #1 Merrion Square. How many different coloured Georgian doors can you spot?
Hop back on the bus and stay on this time until Stop 7 to visit another iconic Dublin statue, famous cockles and mussels seller, Molly Malone. Though little historical evidence exists that a real Molly ever "wheeled her wheel barrow through streets broad and narrow", her sad legacy lives on in the song In Dublin's Fair City.
Walk along Dame Street through Temple Bar and dip into the courtyard of Dublin Castle. It doesn't look particularly castle shaped (apart from one grey stone round tower), as most of the original Medieval structures were destroyed in the 17th century, and the elegant
Georgian buildings that you see today look more like a palace. The castle was the seat of English, then British rule until 1922, and today is used for State events and Presidential inaugurations. Dracula author Bram Stoker worked there as a civil servant from 1866 to 1878!
Stroll 4 minutes further to the end of the street and visit Christ Church Cathedral which has stood for around 1000 years. Inside, the church looks more Victorian after a refurbishment, and your €9 ticket includes an audio guide which points out architectural and historical highlights. A side chapel contains a heart shaped stone reliquary, holding the heart of St Laurence O'Toole, 12th century Archbishop of Dublin and now the city's patron saint. Don't miss the 12th century crypt, which displays precious church silver, a rare copy of the Magna Carta Hiberniae and a mummified cat and rat discovered in the organ pipes.
7 minutes walk down Patrick Street is St Patrick's Cathedral, boasting the tallest spire in Ireland. Supposedly built close to the well where St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland first baptised Christian converts in the, the magnificent building is around 800 years old. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, was the Dean of the cathedral between 1713 and 1745 and is buried there. The cathedral also offers an audio guide as part of its ticket, which is €8, or €7.50 if booked online.
Re-join the bus tour at stop 11 which is right outside the front door of the cathedral. This time, stay on until stop 13 for the Guinness Storehouse. Book tickets online in advance for a cheaper rate, we went for a 3pm slot. Here, an immersive multimedia exhibition across 5 floors teaches you everything you need to know about Ireland's most famous black beverage, from the ingredients and brewing methods to the brand's iconic adverts and marketing. On the 7th floor you can enjoy a free pint of Guinness with 360 degree views over the city up in the Gravity bar.
NB: We spent about 2 hours at the Guinness Storehouse, be aware that at time of writing the last bus of the day stops there at 17:50, so keep an eye on the time or you'll be walking home!
The bus now takes you for a sneak peek at Phoenix Park (where on a different day you could hop off to visit Dublin Zoo), past the Wellington Testimonial (dedicated to Sir Arthur Wellesley, a native Dubliner) the largest obelisk in Europe and 2nd only to the Washington Monument in Washington DC!
Time permitting, just after the Courts of Justice you can also claim another free glass of Guinness at Stop 21! Show your pink bus ticket at the Nancy Hands pub for about a third of a pint of the black stuff (actually red!), but you can upgrade it to a full pint for €3.20 which has to be the cheapest in town! If you're not planning on visiting the Guinness Storehouse, this is another great way to try out Guinness for free. The last bus from this stop is (at time of writing) 18:14 but do double check.
From here, sit back and enjoy the guided tour as you head back into central Dublin along the River Liffey. You can either take it all the way back up Upper O'Connell Street to the final stop, or hop off early at Stop 24 and cross the famous Ha'penny Bridge to finish your day with some live music and a few more pints in Temple Bar.
Here are a few more top tips for using the Dublin Hop On Hop Off bus:
Save 10% by booking online: You'll pay €27 instead of €30, and flexible tickets mean that you can change them up to 72 hours of your booking if your plans change.
Children ride free! For a limited time, one child's ticket is included with each full paying adult.
Get one extra ride the next day: Our 9:30 bus ticket was still valid until 10:18 the following day, so use it to catch a lift to your first stop.
Download the Big Bus Tours App to your phone: Keep an eye on live arrivals, find walking directions to each bus stop, check which stop is best for which attraction, and see shopping and dining recommendations close to your location.
Hang onto your headphones: To cut down on plastic, Big Bus Tours ask passengers to take their ear bud headphones with them when they leave the bus to use when they get back on again.
Don't forget the free glass of Guinness at Nancy Hands pub! Jump off at stops 19 or 21 (they're on opposite sides of the road) and show your paper bus ticket at the bar to claim your freebie.
Disclosure: We were gifted two free passes from Big Bus Tours Dublin in exchange for Instagram content and this blog, however as always all opinions are our own, and this is an honest account of our day.
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