Welcome To Dublin Castle: It’s History, The Tours + Underground Tunnels

dublin castle tours
Photo by Mike Drosos (Shutterstock)

The beautifully maintained Dublin Castle is arguably the most popular of the many castles in Ireland.

If you’re one of the many who love exploring these famous old seats of power, then you’re in for a treat in Dublin.

With its complex history, underground tunnels and curious appearance, Dublin Castle might be one of the most unique of its kind in Europe. 

In the guide below, you’ll find info on everything from the Dublin Castle tour and the castle’s history to what to look out for while you’re there.

Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Dublin Castle

outside dublin castle
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Although a visit to Dublin Castle is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Dublin Castle can be found in the heart of Dublin, just off Dame Street. The ticket office in Dublin Castle is located in the State Apartments and that’s also where the guided tours start from. 

2. Opening hours

Dublin Castle is open every day from 09:45 until 17:45, and that includes bank holidays. Last entry is at 17:15, although we’d recommend getting there much earlier than that if you want to make the most of your visit!

3. Dublin Castle tours

Until the end of 2021, entry to Dublin Castle is free for all visitors and you’re also free to ramble around the grounds outside too. There are also guided Dublin Castle tours (€12) and self-guided(€8). If you plan on visiting the Book of Kells, too, this combo tour has great reviews (affiliate link).

4. A very unique tour

If you try one of the Dublin Castle tours then you’ve made a wise decision indeed. Hear the experienced guides tell countless tales about everything from underground chambers to Medieval towers. You’ll also hear fascinating eyewitness accounts from the 1916 Easter Rising and see all the spots associated with it. 

The history of Dublin Castle

Photo by Matej Hudovernik (Shutterstock)

Originally developed as a medieval fortress under the orders of King John of England, work on Dublin Castle was started by Meiler Fitzhenry in 1204 when the city was under Norman rule following the invasion of 1169.

Early Years

Constructed on elevated ground once occupied by an earlier Viking settlement, it was completed in 1230 and took on the look of a classic Norman courtyard design. 

The original castle had a central square without a keep and was bounded on all sides by high defensive walls and protected in each corner by a cylindrical tower. The castle would be the seat of power in Ireland throughout its time as The Lordship of Ireland and also when the country became The Kingdom of Ireland in 1542 under King Henry VIII of England.

The Middle Ages and A Grand Fire

This period saw ever greater English control over Ireland, though the castle remained the seat of power. Things changed however in 1684 when a catastrophic fire ripped through the castle, destroying much of the original structure and causing the authorities to order a total rebuild.

Though the political position didn’t alter, the painstaking rebuild of the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw Dublin Castle transform from a traditional medieval fortress into a stately Georgian palace.

One of the most prominent parts of the castle today, the imposing Record Tower is the only surviving tower of the original Medieval fortifications. While its rectangular battlements on the roof are actually a 19th-century addition, they look pretty convincing! 

The Fight for Independence 

From 1800 until 1922 Dublin Castle was the seat of government when it was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

However, it was during this period that Irish separatism really began to ferment and grow, culminating in the 1916 Easter Rising which eventually lead to the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and the creation of the Irish Free State.

And in one of the most momentous moments in Irish history, the castle was ceremonially handed over to Michael Collins and his Provisional Government. 

These days, Dublin Castle hosts the inauguration of each President of Ireland and also various State receptions.

Things to do at Dublin Castle

One of the reasons why the Dublin Castle tours are one of the most popular things to do in Dublin is due to the sheer volume of things there are to see and do.

Below, you’ll find info on the grounds, the tour and what to check out while you’re there. There’s even a Dublin Castle Christmas market!

1. Explore the grounds

dublin castle tours
Photo by Mike Drosos (Shutterstock)

You don’t have to do one of the Dublin Castle tours to wander around the grounds. A stroll here is one of the best free things to do in Dublin and the beautiful gardens are actually a great place to start and get a feel for the castle’s unique architecture.

Situated just to the south of the Chapel Royal and the State Apartments, there have been gardens here since at least the early 17th century and they’re divided into a bunch of smaller gardens with their own distinct look and flavour. 

At its heart lies the grand Dubh Linn Garden, with its curious sea-serpent patterns in the grass. If you’re in Dublin during the summer, come down and relax in these gorgeous historic surroundings!

2. See the Subterranean Chamber

Photos via Dublin Castle on Facebook

Remember when I mentioned that the Record Tower was the only surviving relic of the original Medieval fortress? Well, that only applies to the fortifications above ground!

Head on down to the Subterranean Chamber where excavations managed to uncover parts of the structure of the medieval castle alongside the remains of some of Viking Dublin’s original defenses.

One of the more extraordinary historical relics in Dublin and perhaps anywhere in Ireland, visitors are able to get a close-up look at a section of the Castle’s medieval curtain wall, complete with a postern gate and a set of steps that led down to the original moat (if only that still existed!). 

3. The significant art collection

Not only are the state apartments beautiful themselves, they’re also given a fine flourish by a fabulous art collection adorning the walls. Definitely check out the three large canvas paintings on the ceiling of St Patrick’s Hall by the Italian artist Vincenzo Waldré, arguably the most significant painted ceiling to survive in Ireland from the eighteenth century. 

As was popular during this period, there’s a whole host of formal and official portraits available dotted around. As well as a unique series of 20 portraits of Irish Viceroys, there’s also plenty of portraits of British monarchs and their consorts, from King George II to Queen Victoria. 

4. The Chapel Royal

Photo left: Sandra Mori. Photo right: Icon Photo Design (Shutterstock)

Taking pride of place next to the Record Tower, the Chapel Royal is a gorgeous gothic revival chapel with a wonderfully ornate interior. While there’s been a chapel on this site since at least 1242, this particular chapel was opened in 1814.

Designed by Francis Johnston and running wildly over budget by the time of its completion, it actually didn’t become known as the Chapel Royal until King George IV attended a service on 2 September 1821.

Bizarrely, the chapel lay dormant for over 20 years following Irish independence in 1922. Eventually it became a Roman Catholic Church in 1943 and, though it’s no longer used for worship, it does occasionally host concerts and other events.

5. The Medieval Tower

Photo by Korvil (Shutterstock)

As well as being the oldest part of Dublin Castle, the Medieval Record Tower is actually one of the oldest parts of the city of Dublin itself and it’s one of the most unique features to be found in any of the many castles in Dublin.

Constructed during the reign of King Henry III, it dates back to 1204-28 and features some of the most formidable walls imaginable at 4.8 meters thick. Considering its former use as a home for the King’s wardrobe, armour and treasure, it’s no surprise those walls were built to be so intimidating!

From 1811 to 1989 its use was of a more administrative variety as it safely kept all sorts of records (hence the Record Tower name) including state papers, official correspondence and ancient manuscripts. 

The tours of Dublin Castle

 

If you want to really get underneath the skin of Dublin Castle and learn about the most significant parts of its 800-year history, then definitely get yourself onto one of their guided superb tours.

From the lavish State Apartments to the ancient Viking defences underground, you’ll hear fascinating facts and interesting tales of how this whole place came to be. 

You’ll also learn about the people who called the castle home and what it meant to them (plenty of whom you’ll see on the portraits in the State Apartments!). And, of course, you’ll also find out how Dublin Castle functions today. 

Things to do near Dublin Castle

One of the beauties of doing one of the Dublin Castle tours is that, when you finish up, 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 Dublin Castle (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Chester Beatty (5-minute walk)

Chester beatty free museum dublin
Photo copyright @ Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library

An overflowing treasure chest of ancient manuscripts, rare books and countless other historic items, the award-winning Chester Beatty is a stunning collection just a 5-minute walk from Dublin Castle. Perhaps overlooked in favour of visitors going to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College instead, this cracking place is well worth your time.

2. Dublinia (5-minute walk)

Photo left by Lukas Fendek (Shutterstock). Photo right via Dublinia on Facebook

Want to experience what Dublin was like back when the castle was first built? Just a 5-minute walk away lies Dublinia, an interactive museum where you’ll be able to travel back in time to get a unique window into Dublin’s violent Viking past and its bustling medieval life. You’ll also be able to climb the 96 steps of the old tower of St. Michaels Church and get some cracking views across the city. 

3. Cathedrals galore

Photo by littlenySTOC (Shutterstock)

Only a 5-minute walk away and just as iconic as Dublin Castle, the mighty Christ Church Cathedral is well worth your time. Check out its 1000-year history and spectacular crypt if you have the time. And if you still haven’t had your cathedral fill, the sublime St Patrick’s Cathedral is less than a 10-minute walk south down Patrick Street.

4. Great food and old pubs

Photos via the Brazen Head on Facebook

Fascinating attractions in their own right, this area is blessed with some of Dublin’s most historic pubs. Just a 10-minute walk from Dublin Castle is the Brazen Head, by some distance the oldest pub in Dublin with its claims of origin dating to 1198. And coming in at a mere 250-years-old, The Stag’s Head on Dame Lane is another mighty old Dublin pub that’s just a 5-minute stroll from the castle.

FAQs about the Dublin Castle tours

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Can you go inside Dublin Castle?’ (you can) to ‘Where do you buy the Dublin Castle tickets?’.

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.

Are the Dublin Castle tours worth doing?

Yes! The Dublin Castle tours are packed with interesting stories, history and you’ll also get the chance to see the underground area.

What are the Dublin Castle opening hours?

The opening hours for Dublin Castle are 09:45 until 17:45 Monday to Friday (last entry is at 17:15). Note: times may change.

Can you go inside the Dublin Castle?

Yes. You can go inside on one of the Dublin Castle tours. You can also go inside for a look around at certain times of the year/at certain events (e.g. the Christmas Market).

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