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How to plan a literary walking tour through Dublin

Discover the city that’s inspired many literary classics on a tour of the Irish capital.

Published 20 Apr 2022, 12:00 BST
Ireland, Dublin, Temple Bar area, Crown Alley.

Ireland, Dublin, Temple Bar area, Crown Alley.

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Dublin Writers Museum

It’s 100 years since James Joyce’s Ulysses was published. In honour of this, get your bookish bearings at Dublin Writers Museum, an old-school property full of belongings from titans of Irish literature — Samuel Beckett’s old telephone and a letter from Brendan Behan berating the local press among them. Yes, most of those represented here are male and deceased, but a gander in these Georgian rooms is a good grounding for any literary layover in the city. 

2. Gutter Bookshop

Oscar Wilde’s aphorism — “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” — has inspired the Gutter Bookshop, a 20-minute stroll from the Dublin Writers Museum, in Temple Bar. Big windows bring natural light onto a carefully curated mix of classics, staff picks, works by modern Irish authors such as Sally Rooney and Rónán Hession, and titles for younger readers, too. Perhaps the gutter isn’t the worst place to be, after all. 

3. Museum of Literature Ireland

Nicknamed ‘MoLI’ (and pronounced ‘Molly’, a nod to Molly Bloom, from Ulysses), the Museum of Literature Ireland is an interactive celebration of writing. Alongside traditional draws such as ‘Copy No 1’ of Ulysses, you’ll find space for child-friendly displays, female and young adult authors, a secret garden and a very good cafe. Centenary anniversary events of Joyce’s novel include ‘Love, says Bloom’, a look at the Joyce family’s love of music. 

Read more: The ultimate hotel guide to Dublin

4. Sweny’s Pharmacy

Cross St Stephen’s Green via the Oscar Wilde statue and head to Sweny’s, a Victorian pharmacy that features in Ulysses, when Leopold Bloom muses, “Smell almost cure you like the dentist’s doorbell.” The mahogany shelves, dusty bottles and old dispensary drawers remain, but it’s no longer a chemist; today, volunteers host readings. It’s a wonderfully eccentric, unscripted and passionate place to spend time — just be prepared for plenty of good conversation.

5. Bewley’s Café Theatre

Stop off at a literary pub such as Mulligan’s or Davy Byrnes or, better still, combine a cuppa at this famous Grafton Street cafe with a short show upstairs. Since 1999, Bewley’s Café Theatre has carved out a niche with classic one-acts by the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Seán O’Casey, as well as modern Irish and emerging writers (Gemma Kane and Catríona Daly, for example). There’s an emphasis on comedy and good craic, with shows from 1-2pm. 

Read more: How to plan a literary walking tour through Oxford

6. The Old Library

A hop across the cobbles of Trinity College takes you to this bewitching temple to the written word, The Old Library. Some 200,000 volumes are stacked beneath the barrel-vaulted oak ceiling and a separate exhibition showcases the Book of Kells, whose ninth-century illustrations still dazzle in the age of screens. A major redevelopment sees the library close from 2023 to 2026 (the Book of Kells will be temporarily rehoused), so book a slot ahead online.

Published in the May 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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