How to Make the Most of Your Layover in Dublin

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Any traveler can do a lot worse than have a layover in Dublin. Actually, Dublin layovers happen often because Dublin is a hub for cross-Atlantic travel. For people traveling from the United State or Canada, Dublin is often the place where their feet touch European soil first. Thanks to Ryanair, they can travel from Dublin affordably to most European countries.

But how to make the most of a layover in Dublin? It mostly depends on how much time you have. You’ll need at least five hours of free time if you want to experience a bit of Dublin. Anything less, and you probably won’t want to go to Dublin proper because, let’s face it, spending an hour in Dublin might not be worth the time spent getting to the city in heavy traffic.

Of course, the more time you have on your hands, the more things you can do during a layover in Dublin. If you’re want to how to prioritize sightseeing, experiencing the real Dublin, and enjoying the local charm, keep reading. We’ll help you figure out how to cram as much of it in the time you have.

woman layover in dublin

What to Do with a Short Layover in Dublin?

Let’s say you only have a couple of hours between two flights, and you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to get to Dublin and back in time for check-in. In that case, you’re probably wondering what’s the minimum time you need between flights to have a good shot at enjoying a layover in the city.

The math is easy. One of Dublin Airport’s top tips for air travel is to be at the check-in at least ninety minutes before the scheduled departure time for European flights.

For flights to the United States, check-in opens three hours before the flight. And then you should factor in the time you need to get out of the transit area and into Ireland, which can take up to half an hour.

So, passengers who have two hours between flights shouldn’t expect to spend any time in Dublin. However, even if they would have an extra hour, or even two, Dublin might still be out of their reach.

The airport is located seven miles north of the city center, and a round trip can take an hour by car, or an hour and a half by bus. If the traffic is bad, add a half of an hour.

The best place to spend a three- or four-hour layover in Dublin is to avoid going to the city center. Instead of heading south, head northeast to Malahide. It’s a suburb on the coast with a pretty marina, nice places to grab a delicious quick bite, and a castle to visit. Plenty of charm there for a relaxing layover and all of that is only a fifteen-minute drive away from the airport.

How to Spend a Longer Layover in Dublin

If you have five hours or more, you can start thinking about visiting Dublin. Check the traffic first, though, because a serious traffic jam can leave you spending the layover on a bus on your way to the city. If you’re lucky enough, a five-hour layover will give you, at best, two hours to spend in Dublin.

What’s the best way to spend two hours in Dublin? Well, it can depend on the time of the day, whether you’re visiting at the peak of the season, and how much money you want to invest in your layover. It’s safe to say, however, that you won’t have enough time to taste Dublin’s cultural offer, especially the places that tend to have queues for getting in.

If you want the touristy type of enjoyment, there’s only one address for you — the Temple Bar District. However, because Dublin’s premier tourist spot tends to have plenty of tourists wandering around it, it’s possible you’ll spend more time finding your way through the crowd than doing anything worthwhile.

But don’t let that bring you down. You can, instead, visit Dublin’s and maybe even Ireland’s oldest pub, the Brazen Head, and grab a plate of mussels if there’s a free spot. Or, you can stroll along the River Liffey, or walk around the St. Stephen’s Green, or even have a picknick if the weather is nice. Dublin has heavily regulated its busking scene, but you can still hear amazing music on Grafton Street.

If you plan well, you can spend even a short layover in Dublin and still do the quintessential things. Hang out with the locals in a pub over a pint? Check. Eat a quick plate of a local specialty? Check. Take a walk and experience the Irish weather? Check. Listen to local musicians? Check. What else do you need?

What to Do if You Have More Time?

If you’re wondering how big of a layover you need to fully experience Dublin, the answer is — too big. Technically speaking, a layover can only last around 24 hours for international flights, and significantly less for domestic flights. And because it would take you a couple of whole days to fully experience Dublin, a layover wouldn’t cut it. You’d need a stopover.

But the good news is that, no matter how long your layover gets, there will always be a way to use the time you have. The more time you have, for example, the more attractive the Temple Bar District will look for spending some of it. Instead of a quick meal, you can have a full lunch or dinner in one of the fine establishments Dublin has in spades.

The best way to approach is to make a list of things you’d like to see beforehand, and then map a route that will allow you to see everything. Some of the things that could find their way into that list are:

  • A visit to the Trinity College should be a high-priority item on the list. The Book of Kells is there, but it’s the Old Library that is probably the best thing about the College. The grounds are nice, too, and you might enjoy taking a walk.
  • A visit to one or two or ten of Dublin’s museums, depending on how much time you have. Dublin has a lot of museums, so you can take your pick. The Little Museum of Dublin is mandatory. The James Joyce Museum, the Dublin’s Children Museum Imaginosity, the National Museum of Ireland, the museum of Irish immigration EPIC, and many more are a welcome addition.
  • The Kilmainham Gaol is a great place to learn a thing or two about the struggles the Irish endured in the past. The former jail can be a creepy place. But it should still be high on your list of things to see and do in Ireland.
  • The Irish Film Institute for those who are film buffs but also like to eat well. The IFI host free lunchtime screenings of movies, and it also offers a nice place to sit down and have a decent meal.
  • Capel Street, because it’s so random you’ll never need to go to any other street in Dublin. There’s everything you need on Capel Street, from fine suits to bakeries to Asian cuisine to pubs to a pawnbroker. It’s a business street like no other in Dublin.
  • The Workman’s for the craic. That’s all you need to know.

And then, you might visit the Guinness Museum because of the beer, the Freemasons Hall because of your inner conspiracy theorist or lover of symbolism, Sweny’s for second-hand books and the soap, the Christ Church Cathedral for its unorthodox displays, the Pantibar for the most fabulous time you can have in Dublin, and plenty of other places for any reason. Whatever you need, Dublin has it.

Additional Questions:

Do I need a visa for my Ireland layover?

Before you start getting your hopes up about the awesome layover you’ll get to spend in Dublin, it would be a good idea to first check whether you’re able to enter Ireland without a visa.

Citizens of certain countries need a transit visa even if they plan to spend their layover in the transit area of the airport. Others don’t need a transit visa, but they might need a short stay visa if they want to enter Ireland. And citizens of some countries don’t need any kind of visa and are free to enter Ireland for their layover. It would be best to check beforehand.

What’s the best way to get around Dublin?

There are several ways you can get around Dublin. Dublin has a compact city core, so it’s possible to get around mostly on foot, especially if you only want to see a couple of things or spend all your time in a single street.

The taxi might be the best and most convenient transportation for you if you don’t have a lot of time, but you want to see more of Dublin. Dublin also has public transportation that includes bus lines, the light-rail service Luas, the DART rail system. The best way is, of course, the one that gets you where you need, when you need it, at the price you can afford.

Are there any other international airports in Ireland?

Dublin Airport is not the only international airport in Ireland. It’s one of five, the other four being Shannon Airport near Limerick City, Cork Airport near Cork City, Knock Airport in County Mayo, and the Belfast Airport.

Flights from European countries can land at other airports, too. Kerry Airport, Donegal Airport, and George Best Belfast City Airport all service European flights.  

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