The National Gallery of Ireland is arguably the finest of the many museums in Dublin.
Founded in 1854 and opened to the public ten years later, the National Gallery of Ireland hosts an extensive collection of Irish and European art.
Attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, those that visit will be treated to a haven of peace and calm in the middle of Dublin’s hustle and bustle.
Below, you’ll discover everything from the National Gallery of Ireland opening hours to what to see when you arrive.
Some quick need-to-knows about the National Gallery of Ireland
Although a visit to the National Gallery of Ireland is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
The National Gallery of Ireland is located on Merrion Square West, Dublin 2, south of the River Liffey. It’s a 3-minute walk from Merrion Square, an 8-minute walk from Trinity College and an 11-minute walk from St Stephen’s Green.
2. Opening hours
The National Gallery of Ireland opening hours vary slightly day-to-day. It’s open seven days a week as follows:
- Monday: 11am to 5:30pm
- Tuesdays to Saturdays: 9:45am to 5:30pm
- Sundays: 11:30am to 5:30pm
3. Free entrance/ticket booking
A visit to the National Gallery is one of the best free things to do in Dublin, however, you must book a general admission ticket in advance. The general ticket allows you access to the permanent collection, any exhibitions that are free and the Gallery shop within.
4. A fine spot to spend a rainy afternoon
Should the weather not be kind during your visit to Dublin (this is Ireland, after all) then the National Gallery is a great spot to wait out the showers. There is so much to see and do and, if you have kids, there’s an audio guide designed especially for them.
5. The cafe
There are indoor and outdoor cafes at the National Gallery. The indoor option offers teas, coffees and pastries and a seated service, while the outdoor café serves sandwiches, treats and hot drinks. Gallery members can enjoy a 10 percent discount in both cafes.
About the National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery of Ireland is the finest of the many art galleries in Dublin for good reason, but where did it all begin?!
When the railway magnate William Dargan organised and underwrote an art exhibition in 1853, it proved so popular, it was decided to set up a permanent public art collection in Dublin.
The building was completed and opened to the public in 1864. When it opened its door, there was no established collection and it only had 112 paintings, but an annual purchase grant was set up and a substantial donation by the Dowager Countess of Milltown resulted in the building of a further wing.
Other contributors included Hugh Lane who left a substantial number of paintings and part of his estate and George Bernard Shaw who left a third of the royalties from his estate in thanks for the time he’d spent at the gallery as a youngster.
The gallery needed further extension in 1962 and it was granted the paintings given to the nation by Chester Beatty in 1978.
Other acquisitions include paintings by Picasso and Jack B Yeats. In the 1990s, a lost Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, was discovered in a Jesuit house of study in Dublin and was exhibited in the gallery.
Things to see and do at the National Gallery of Ireland
One of the reasons that a visit here is one of the best things to do in Dublin is due to the volume of things to see and do.
Below, you’ll find info on the various collections and displays along with what areas to look out for while you’re there.
1. The National Art Collection
There are more than 16,300 works of art in the National Art Collection, which spans the history of western European art from the beginning of the 14th century to the present day, with artists such as Mantegna, Titian, Monet and Picasso represented.
As well as paintings, prints and drawings, sculptures, photography, archival and bibliographical materials are there too.
2. The Gallery archive
If you’re interested in the history of the gallery, the Gallery archive holds the official records for the institution, including detailed archives about how it came to be established, and the books that record the minutes of the board meetings.
There are also records that depict the development of the collection, registering when paintings, prints and sculptures were acquired, and papers about the Gallery’s directors and staff. Archive three contains an architectural plan of the building.
3. The collections most popular pieces
There are many highlights in the National Gallery, reflecting the enormous range of styles and fashions in art. Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, painted in 1602, depicts the moment Judas identifies Christ by kissing him so that the temple guards can seize.
The painting is extraordinary because it offered a new visual approach to the biblical story thanks to its close-up on the figures and the use of dark and light contrast. In addition, the Degas picture, Two Ballet Dancers in a Dressing Room, painted about 1880.
The richly coloured pastel shows the ballerinas at rest just before they go on stage. A Ship Against the Mewstone by Turner was painted circa 1814 and is well-known for its lifelike depiction of the waves that toss the boat, the Mewstone a dramatic natural feature near Plymouth that claimed many lives over the centuries.
4. National Portrait Collection
The National Portrait collection was set up in 1875 and has grown substantially in the years since, with paintings, drawings, watercolours and sculptures added, representing prominent Irish people who have contributed to Ireland’s civic, social and cultural life.
The gallery runs an annual portrait prize, which has also contributed to the collection. One recent addition is the portrait of writer Edna O’Brien by Mandy O’Neill, the winner of the Zurich Portrait Prize in 2018. Theatre directors, dramatists, poets and others are all featured in the collection.
5. Painting and Sculpture
As you might expect of a gallery in Ireland, many local treasures make up the collection, including the much-loved The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Maclise and The Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Burton.
Other Irish artists include Barry, Hamilton, Henry, Hone, Leech, Osborne, O’Conor and Orpen. There are more than 380 sculptures, including busts of notable Irish figures.
6. The Yeats Archive
Jack B Yeats’ niece Anne donated the prestigious collection of work to the National Gallery in 1996, and it includes the artists sketchbooks, covering more than 50 years of his career.
It contains books from his library, a journal collection, original manuscripts and theatre programmes and his easel and smoke. There is also material relating to other Yeats family members, such as WB, John Butler Yeats, his sisters Susan and Elizabeth, and Anne.
Places to visit near the National Gallery of Ireland
There’s endless places to visit a short stroll from the National Gallery of Ireland, from more museums and art galleries to quirky tours and more.
Below, you’ll find everywhere from the Long Room Library and one of the finest parks in Dublin to old school pubs.
1. Trinity College Dublin (8-minute walk)
2. Merrion Square Park (3-minute walk)
Merrion Square Park will whisk you straight back to Georgian Dublin. This fine example of Georgian urban design is a popular Dublin landmark and was once a fashionable address for the city’s well-to-do. Famous residents of the Georgian houses around the square included Oscar Wilde and WB Yeats.
3. Food and old-school pubs
There’s some incredible restaurants in Dublin, many of which are within easy walking distance of the National Gallery of Ireland. You’ll also find some of the oldest pubs in Dublin a short ramble away.
FAQs about visiting the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Who founded the National Gallery of Ireland?’ (the Earl of Carlisle) to ‘How old is the National Gallery of Ireland?’ (it was established in 1854).
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.
Is the National Gallery free?
The National Gallery is free to visit but all visitors must book a general admission ticket in advance.
Is the National Gallery of Ireland worth visiting?
Yes! The National Gallery of Ireland is a fine place to spend an afternoon, with a wealth of history and stunning artwork to discover.
What are the National Gallery of Ireland opening hours?
The National Gallery of Ireland opening hours are: Mondays (11 to 17:30), Tuesdays to Saturdays (9:45 to 17:30) and Sundays (11:30 to 17:30).
Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.