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Undoubtedly the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and celebrations rank high on a list of top things to do in Dublin. However, if you were going to take a poll of the person least likely to want to be in town for these antics, I would probably win. (I tend to dislike both drunk people and staying up late.) Yet, we when saw a flight deal that would get us into Dublin Saturday afternoon of St. Patrick’s Day weekend, it seemed too good to be true. Strangely, imagining the inevitable chaos made me want to see it even more. Which is how we found ourselves trekking through the rainy streets of Dublin through the throngs of crowds dressed in varying shades of green. While you may be far more interested in Paddy’s pub celebrations than we were, below are some tips and tricks to keep in mind.
This probably seems like an obvious statement, but hotels/hostels/AirBnBs/etc. fill up quickly for that weekend. We bought our airline tickets at the end of November, which put us a little less than four months out and looking for a place to stay in our normal budget range was not only difficult, but basically impossible. At least, not anything that would also be in walking distance of the city center. After some discussion, we decided that there was no reason to even be in Dublin during St. Patrick’s Day if we weren’t going to experience it. Since we were going to have to pay more no matter where we chose, staying within a thirty minute walk of the celebration hub made sense.
Our hotel was in the Iveagh Gardens/St. Stephens Green area and, even if you aren’t going for St. Patrick’s Day, I highly recommend staying here. It puts you within walking distance of almost all of the main things to do in Dublin and is easily accessible by public transportation and airport buses. The other benefit of staying in this area is that you’re a fifteen to twenty minute walk from Temple Bar (the major tourist area full of bars), but far enough away that you won’t have any issues with rambunctious folks out on the streets. Our proximity allowed us to easily float in and out of weekend festivities without having to worry about transportation or crowds.
I’m sure there are plenty of local Dublin writers who could tell you about hidden (or at least more low-key) places for you to go besides Temple Bar. With the hundreds of pubs and bars in the city, it also wouldn’t be that hard for you to just walk around and find one you like. I don’t claim to have found any special or unique bars, but I can tell you where we went, in case you’re looking for some guidance. On Saturday night, after putting our names down for a reservation at Elephant and Castle, we had two hours to kill before our table would be ready, so we decided to try our luck at Temple Bar. (Elephant and Castle is one hundred percent worth the wait – read my full review in My Definitive Guide to Dublin)
While I’m sure that prices are always expensive in this area of town, they seemed especially high this weekend and the bars were particularly crowded. Obviously. You have to be ready for both. Luckily we were able to find a slight reprieve from some of the crowds by sitting on the top floor at The Merchant’s Arch. Walk through the ground floor until you find the stairs and the start climbing. Don’t worry, there’s a bar upstairs so you don’t have to hike back and forth. Full of Guinness memorabilia, this place felt like a good balance between lively and exciting while not being completely overcrowded. The Temple Bar Pub was a different story.
Before we start to get confused, there is Temple Bar as an area/neighborhood and The Temple Bar Pub, which is an establishment in the aforementioned area. In the spirit of getting the whole experience, we joined the hordes of people inside Temple Bar and sipped our Smithwicks beer in the back where we luckily found spots by the archway that led outside. From that archway we watched the wildly diverse clientele come and go, either through the archway or to and from the downstairs bathroom. While I heard an amazing range of languages being spoke, I also saw drunken body language being understood by most people, regardless of background. The only exception was the drunk French guy who kept offering to French kiss all the women walking by. The only English words he seemed to know where ‘French kiss’.
In my opinion, Temple Bar Pub isn’t really all that special except for the fact that tourists seem to think it is. If it’s important to you to see it, then by all means. If you don’t like crowds and don’t care, then don’t bother. There are plenty of other bars that line the adjoining streets, you can certainly find a less claustrophobic spot for a drink. (If you want a photo without all the chaos, I recommend an early morning stop. The streets were bare as its normal inhabitants were presumably still sleeping off the libations from night before.)
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is huge spectacle that takes places right in the middle of the city. Starting at Parnell Square, it is a massive production, but definitely one that requires staking out a spot a few hours in advance. Faced with the choice of exploring Dublin or parking ourselves in a good parade spot, we chose to explore and forfeited a view of the parade. Even if you’re like us and don’t have the patience to stake out a spot, walking through the crowds during the parade is still an experience. People show up and line the streets in their most embarrassing St. Patrick’s finery as the parade passes with floats so big that you’ll catch a glance even if you aren’t right up at the gate.
Before leaving, it never occurred to me that museums and other sites might be closed because of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It only crossed my mind as we were walking past the blocked off route and I suddenly realized that we’d never even checked. Thankfully most places seem to operate with their usual hours, even on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. (The only exception was the James Joyce Center, which is closed on St. Patrick’s Day.) Obviously make sure to double check, in case this changes.
I think the St. Patrick’s Day parade and celebrations in Dublin are probably something worth experiencing once. I have no interest is doing it again, however, I would like to see what celebrations look like in some of the smaller Irish cities and towns. From my estimation, St. Patrick’s Day revelers are mostly drunk tourists, which makes it feel like you could be at any celebration around the world. The city also looks great decked out in its Irish paraphernalia and green decorations. However, if you have a distaste for crowds, drunk tourists, or expensive drinks – this might not be the celebration for you.