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The Story Of The Book Of Kells (Plus The Tour And What To Expect)

The Story Of The Book Of Kells (Plus The Tour And What To Expect)

A visit to the Book of Kells in Trinity College is one of the most popular things to do in Dublin.

Especially as, in the process, you can wander around the breath-taking Long Room Library, which looks like a set from a Harry Potter movie.

Dating back to 800AD, the Book of Kells history is an interesting one to say the least, and the tour is enthralling from begging to end.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from the Book of Kells tour and its history to what to expect from a visit. Dive on in.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Book Of Kells in Dublin

book of kells tour

Photo left: Public Domain. Right: Ireland’s Content Pool

Although the Book of Kells tour is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

Note: if you book a tour through one of the links below we may make a tiny commission that helps us keep this site going. You won’t pay extra, but we really do appreciate it.

1. Location

The Book of Kells is found next to The Old Library on the north-side of Fellows Square at Trinity College. Situated just south of the Liffey and to the immediate east of the popular Temple Bar, the college is easily accessible on foot.

2. How to visit

The Book of Kells tour is hugely popular, so it’s highly recommended that you book your tickets online in advance of visiting. This’ll save you having to queue (and the queues here can be huge!).

3. Admission

Standard adult entry to the Book of Kells tour will cost €18.50 for adults or €15 for students and seniors. You can also try this guided tour that’ll take you around Trinity and Dublin Castle (the reviews are excellent).

4. Opening hours

The Book of Kells is open for visits all year round between Monday and Saturday from 09:30 to 17:00. On Sundays between May and September, it’s open from 09:30 to 17:00 but that changes between October and April when it’s 12:00 to 16:30. 

5. A work of art

Perhaps I was a little gushing in the introduction, but I meant what I said! This book is more than just an ancient manuscript with a few pictures. It’s a bonafide work of art that should be appreciated as if you were strolling through a gallery. There are few books like it and the fact that it’s over 1000 years old just makes it even more extraordinary. 

The Book of Kells history

Now, it’s time to tackle ‘What is the Book of Kells’ and where did it come from. The Book of Kells history is an interesting one.

As it has been around since 800AD, it’s seen its fair share of action. And there’s a nice bit of myth and legend attached to it.

The origin story

Where does the Book of Kells even come from? Just a cursory glance at a map of Europe during the time period it was written (800AD) shows what a different world they were living in. The Roman Empire had collapsed, Charlemagne had his tentacles all over the continent, and Spain was an Islamic Caliphate – crazy! 

But miles away from all this drama on a wind-whipped island on Scotland’s west coast, the Book of Kells was being written (probably). There’s no way of knowing conclusively if the book was indeed written on the island of Iona by the monks at a Columban monastery, but that’s one of the main theories. 

The book may also have been created in the small town of Kells in County Meath. It stayed there for many years and takes its name from Kells (obviously), but it’s still difficult for historians to say if that’s where it was written. 

Its impact

Despite the clear time and effort put into its creation, the book appears to have had a sacramental rather than educational purpose, with a lot more effort put into its lavish illustrations. In fact, there are several uncorrected mistakes in the text.

Lines were often completed in a blank space in the line above, and transcription of the text was rather careless, with letters and whole words often omitted. 

Clearly, it was designed for ceremonial use on special liturgical occasions such as Easter rather than for daily services. Let’s be honest, though. Preserving its appearance through limited use was probably a good thing for us!


The book remained at Kells throughout the middle ages and was venerated as a great gospel book. Following the Irish Rebellion of 1641, the church at Kells was in ruins, so around 1653, to keep it safe, the book was sent to Dublin by the governor of Kells, Charles Lambert, Earl of Cavan.

Some years later, it reached Trinity College and has been on display next to the Old Library at Trinity College since the mid-19th century. Two volumes can normally be seen displayed at Trinity on the Book of Kells tour; one opened at a major decorated page, and one opened to show two text pages with smaller decorations. 

What you’ll see on the Book Of Kells tour

book of kells dublin

Photo by James Fennell via Ireland’s Content Pool

One of the reasons that the Book of Kells tour is the most popular of the many things to do in Dublin when it’s raining is due to the sheer volume of things to see and do here.

Aside from discovering the Book of Kells history, you’ll also be taken through an immersive exhibition and through the stunning Long Room.

1. The exhibition

The exhibition before you view the book is essential to understanding it. I’ve explained above briefly about how it came to be, but the in-depth exhibition is a great way of comprehending the religious society of the time and the artistry that went into its creation. 

2. The book itself

Made from high-quality calf vellum and extending to a total of 680 pages, the Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book written entirely in Latin and is opened at a major illustrated page and another one that shows two text pages with smaller decorations. 

3. The Long Room

Three hundred years old and 65 metres long, there’s a good reason why the Long Room is one of the most photographed rooms in Dublin! Carved with an elegant wooden barrel ceiling and lined with marble busts of prominent writers and philosophers, it’s arguably just as impressive as the Book of Kells.

4. Trinity College

The leafy grounds of Trinity College are some of the prettiest in Dublin and it goes without saying that you should spend a bit of time exploring. Some of the grandest buildings date back to the 18th century so grab a coffee and go for a stroll (autumn is particularly lovely for this). 

Things to do near the Book of Kells in Dublin City

One of the beauties of the Book of Kells tour is that, when you’ve finished, you’re a short walk from some of the best places to visit in Dublin.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Trinity (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. National Library of Ireland

National Library of Ireland

Photo by McCarthy’s PhotoWorks (Shutterstock)

The Irish know a thing or two about writing, and The National Library’s holdings are the most comprehensive collection of Irish documentary material in the world and offer an invaluable representation of Ireland’s history and heritage. Located just south of Trinity College, the library contains archive material from the likes of James Joyce, Seamus Heaney and W.B. Yeats. 

2. National Gallery of Ireland

National Gallery of Ireland in dublin

Photo left: Cathy Wheatley. Right: James Fennell (both via Ireland’s Content Pool)

Just a short walk south of Trinity College, the National Gallery of Ireland is Ireland’s premier art gallery and showcases work by some of the all-time masters of their craft. Located in a stately Victorian building on Merrion Square, the gallery features an extensive collection of fine Irish paintings as well as work by European artists from the 14th to the 20th Century, including Titian, Rembrandt and Monet. 

3. Endless attractions in the city

St Patrick's Cathedral dublin

Photo left: SAKhanPhotography. Photo right: Sean Pavone (Shutterstock)

With its handy central location, there are loads of other Dublin attractions to check out within a short walk or a tram or taxi ride. Whether you want to learn about the city’s most famous export at the Guinness Storehouse or go for a bucolic stroll through St Stephen’s Green, there’s plenty of entertaining directions to head when you’re leaving from Trinity College.

4. Food and old-school pubs

things to see after the book of kells tour

Photo left via Tomahawk Steakhouse on Facebook. Photo right via Eatokyo Noodles and Sushi Bar on Facebook

Located near to the famous Temple Bar area, there’s a ton of pubs, bars and restaurants to get stuck into when you’ve finished marvelling at the Book of Kells. See our guide to the best restaurants in Dublin for where to eat and our guide to the finest Dublin pubs

FAQs about the Book of Kells tour

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the Book of Kells movie (The Secret of Kells) to ‘What is the Book of Kells?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

What is the Book of Kells?

The Book of Kells is an illustrated manuscript that covers the four Gospels of the New Testament.

Why is Book of Kells famous?

The Book of Kells is famous due to 1, how old it is (c. 800 CE) 2, as it is the best-known of the many medieval manuscripts and 3, due to its detail and beauty.

Who made the Book of Kells and why?

One of the theories is that it was written on the island of Iona by the monks at a Columban monastery. Another is that it was created in the town of Kells in County Meath.

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