So you’ve scheduled a trip to Dublin. Flights are booked, the hostel is chosen. Easy. Now comes the real work of planning a trip. Now you have to decide what you’re going to do while you’re there.
Luckily for you, Dublin is a pretty easy city to plan for. If I’m being honest, there isn’t actually that much to see in the city by way of landmarks. The basic list everyone who does any research at all will find looks something like this: the Dublin Castle, Trinity College (to see the Book of Kells), the Ha’penny Bridge, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Stephan’s Green, the Temple Bar area, and the Guinness Factory. To be fair, this isn’t a short list, but since the city is fairly small, it can probably be tackled in one day alone.
Now, I’m not saying it is a bad thing that the list of landmarks and must-sees isn’t longer. I actually think it’s a benefit because it gives you time to really experience the city in ways that are not just shuffling between one landmark to the next. It gives you time to get a real feeling of Dublin’s lively and friendly atmosphere.
And what better way to do this than by checking out the local pubs?
(The correct answer is that there isn’t any better way.)
Obviously, pubs and a big drinking culture in general are not unique to Dublin, but what makes pubs in Dublin so characteristically Irish, and what makes Irish pubs in any other city so successful, is the energetic and welcoming mood they produce. You can walk into any bar, or restaurant for that matter, and instantly feel like you’re entering a private party of your closest friends you’ve just so happened to have never met. So what is it that make a smile undoubtably spread across your face as you open the door?
Maybe it’s all the Guinness—because let’s be real, it’s kind of hard not to feel friendly after a couple of pints. But I think, more specifically, it’s the fact that there is always live music being played wherever you go. Seriously. Every night no matter where you go; almost every restaurant and pub (closer to every place than not) plays live music every night of the week. There is always a band set up in some corner giving you and the rest of the the crowd a private concert.
While the range of music played is quite large, it is almost certain that traditional Irish songs will be played at some point over the course of the night, and you’re bound to hear the strains of “Galway Girl,” one of the most recognizable of the lot, immediately followed by a chorus of happy stirring in the crowd.
It is moments like that, when the beat of a well-known song brings a group of random faces together that gives Dublin pubs such a unique feel. You may be in the heart of the Temple Bar area, a center for nightlife, surrounded by tourists, and the music will make you feel like a local.
Even if you don’t step foot into any of the many pubs that line each street, you’re sure to see your fair share of little shows throughout the day just by walking through the city. Dublin has a very active busking community, and crowds form around bands promoting their early albums or solo artists covering some version of Ed Sheeran or other top hits at nearly every corner. The tendency of passersby to be more than just that and actually stay awhile speaks to the city’s slow pace and feel of ease—there’s always time to listen to at least one song—as well as the performers’ undeniable talent. During my own time in Dublin, I did not hear one performance that didn’t make me want to stick around for a couple more songs. Whether it was the young band playing their original songs, each one as catchy as the last, while the crowd and a mesmerized toddler danced along, or a pair of guys with guitars in a pub singing traditional Irish music while sending out birthday wishes to anyone celebrating, each mini concert left me wanting to hear more. Not even the characteristic gray skies and rainy afternoons could put a hamper on the good moods these musicians evoke.
It’s possible to go from the restaurant where you eat dinner, to the street, to a pub no more than a couple of blocks away, and hear a band in each location, each unique in style and sound, but able to generate pure joy like all the rest. Each scene also feels equally as intimate regardless of how many people stand to share it with you. It’s this quality that made my time in Dublin feel like so much more than the many experiences I’ve had in other cities.
Now, so you can go experience this for yourself, here are 10 of the best pubs to hear live music in Dublin:
- The Brazen Head
- Temple Bar
- The Stag’s Head
- The Cobblestone
- The Porterhouse
- The Quays Bar
- The Palace Bar