A Guide To Visiting Trinity College In Dublin (History + Tour)

Trinity college dublin
Photos via Shutterstock

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

Not only are its grounds lovely to walk around, it’s also home to a ton of history and some stunning artifacts, from The Book of Kells to the stunning Long Room and more.

And, while the grounds are free to have a ramble around, there’s also a paid tour that you can take, but more on that in a minute.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from the history of Trinity College in Dublin and what there is to see to the tours and more.

Some quick need-to-knows about Trinity College in Dublin

trinity college dublin ireland
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

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

1. Location

Trinity College’s central location makes it perfect for quick and easy visits. Situated just south of the Liffey and to the immediate east of the popular Temple Bar, the college is easily accessible by public transport – the Luas Green line stops right outside the College Green entrance and most city centre buses have a stop nearby.

2. Ireland’s highest ranked university

Trinity College isn’t just Ireland’s highest ranked university, it’s one of the finest in the world and is just a hair’s breadth outside of the global top 100 (it’s ranked joint 101st). It’s also the 8th most international university, attracting a hugely diverse number of applicants and students. 

3. Home to a heap of history

Founded way back in the 16th-century, the college has seen a ton of changes unfold within its walls and outside them too over the course of its 400+ year history. From significant political developments to some of Ireland’s most well-known public figures making their mark here, there are endless stories to tell. 

4. Plenty to see and do

While it might be a living and breathing university for its students, Trinity College leads a double life as a popular Dublin attraction and there are loads to check out. From its pleasant greens to the Book of Kells and the stunning library, you can definitely pass a few hours in this elegant quarter of the capital. 

The history of Trinity College

trinity dublin college
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Though Trinity College has a long history, it wasn’t actually the first university in Dublin. Founded in 1320 by the Pope, the Medieval University of Dublin was the city’s first attempt at establishing a university in the city and while it lasted a couple of hundred years, it was ended by Henry VIII’s Reformation. 

Created by a royal charter

Trinity College Dublin was created by royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1592 amid the thought that it would bring prestige to Ireland at a time when many other European countries were also founding important centres of education.

The new university was to be built on the former site of All Hallows monastery to the southeast of the city walls, where Trinity College still stands today. 

Growth years and religious questions

The 18th century was when Dublin started to see Trinity College emerge as a significant part of the city and many of its grand buildings were constructed, alongside the elegant green and parks. 

Following the Reformation, this time period in Britain and Ireland was an era of ascendancy for Protestants and for many years Catholics were not allowed to join the university. It was only in 1793 that Catholics were finally allowed admission to Trinity College, but even then they were not allowed to be elected to Scholarship, Fellowship or be made a Professor. 

Finally in 1873, all religious tests were abolished although Catholic Bishops themselves encouraged Catholics not to attend due to the university’s protestant history. 

The 20th and 21st centuries

An important development kickstarted the 20th century as women were admitted to Trinity College as full members for the first time in 1904. Another huge event took place just over a decade later as the 1916 Easter Rising engulfed Dublin and the university was lucky to escape unscathed. In fact, many of the discussions about what an Irish Free State would look like took place at Trinity in the aftermath of 1916. 

The true growth in student numbers at the university began in 1970 when the Catholic Church relaxed its policy on Catholics attending Trinity College, and this lead to new courses and buildings, especially in sciences and computing. 

Now in the 21st century, Trinity is an iconic part of Dublin enjoyed by visitors and students alike. 

Things to do at Trinity College

One of the reasons that Trinity is one of the most popular places to visit in Dublin is due to the sheer volume of things there are to see and do.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from the Book of Kells and the general architecture to the Long Room and more.

1. See the Book of Kells

book of kells tour
Photo left: Public Domain. Right: Ireland’s Content Pool

Top of most visitors lists when they visit Trinity College is this extraordinary book and believe me when I tell you it isn’t like other books! Dating back to the 9th century, the Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book written entirely in Latin. Though to be honest, just saying the word ‘illuminated’ doesn’t quite do justice to just how elaborate this ancient book is. 

Made from high-quality calf vellum and extending to a total of 680 pages, some of the pages contain colourful ornate illustrations of various religious figures and symbols that appear either by themselves or alongside the text. 

2. Visit the Long Room

the long room trinity college
Photos via Shutterstock

Put any library interior up against the Long Room inside the Library of Trinity College and I’d say most would pale in comparison. Yes, there’s a touch of hubris within that statement but I stand by it! 300 years old and 65 metres long, there’s a good reason why the Long Room is one of the most photographed rooms in Dublin. 

Admire its elegant wooden structure and how it’s lined with marble busts of prominent writers, philosophers and supporters of the college. The Long Room is also the longest single-chamber library in the world, housing some 200,000 books and includes one of the last remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. 

3. Grab a coffee and wander around the grounds

Photos via Coffeeangel on Facebook

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 just strolling around exploring them. Whether it’s before or after your visit to the Library, it doesn’t really matter as there’s no rush on this particular activity. 

And since the university is located so close to the city centre, that means there’s plenty of pleasant cafes dotted around for you to grab a cup of coffee and take a leisurely ramble. I recommend timing your trip to Dublin for the autumn for this particular activity when all the students are scurrying around and the leaves are turning all sorts of orange and red. 

4. Visit the National Science Gallery

the national science gallery dublin
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

A far more modern (but no less interesting!) attraction at Trinity College is the National Science Gallery. Established in 2008 and housed in the Naughton Institute, the Science Gallery operates a little differently to most science museums as it has no permanent collections, opting instead to showcase an ever-revolving cast of temporary exhibitions. 

Following its opening in 2008, the goal of the gallery is to host a programme of exhibitions, workshops and events to engage people aged 15–25 with science and technology. And since then, more than three million visitors to the nonprofit gallery have experienced 43 unique exhibitions

5. Drop into The Douglas Hyde Gallery

Focusing on artists who push at the boundaries of form and convention and who also might be overlooked or marginalised, The Douglas Hyde Gallery is a cracking little spot located just to the left of Trinity College’s Nassau Street Gate. If you’re feeling inspired by the art inside the Book of Kells then this could be the place for you!

First opened in 1978, the gallery has showcased work by significant  Irish artists such as Sam Keogh, Kathy Prendergast and Eva Rothschild, and also brought well-regarded international artists to Ireland for the first time too, including Marlene Dumas, Gabriel Kuri and Alice Neel.

Places to visit near Trinity College

One of the beauties of the Trinity College tour is that, when you’re finished, you’re a short walk from many of the best things to do 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. Irish Whiskey Museum

whiskey museum Dublin
Photo by Brian Morrison via Ireland’s Content Pool

Trinity College developed some of Ireland’s finest minds (Oscar Wilde, for example) and just a stone’s throw from the university you can learn all about another of Ireland’s most well-known exports. Opened in 2014 and independent of any distillery, the Irish Whiskey Museum offers visitors the opportunity to taste and experience a huge selection of Irish Whiskey.

2. Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle
Photo by Matej Hudovernik (Shutterstock)

If Dublin Castle doesn’t really resemble a traditional castle in the way you might see one in a movie, that’s because the cylindrical Record Tower is the only remaining remnant of the old Medieval castle. It’s a fascinating place though and was the seat of British power in Ireland until it was handed over to Michael Collins and the Provisional Government of Ireland in 1922.

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 trad bars

Photos via Tomahawk Steakhouse on Facebook

Located next to the famous Temple Bar area, there’s a plethora of pubs, bars and restaurants to get stuck into when you’ve finished exploring Trinity College. Whether it’s classic Irish meals or far-flung dishes from Nepal or Japan, there’s a cuisine for everyone. And if you want to hear a bit of trad music then just walk closely past any pub and listen out (the later in the evening the better!).

FAQs about visiting Trinity College in Dublin

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Can you visit Trinity College Library Dublin?’ to ‘Is it hard to get into Trinity College Dublin?’.

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.

Can you walk around Trinity College Dublin?

Yes. You can walk around the grounds of the college. You can also visit the Long Room in the Old Library as part of the Trinity College Tour.

Is the Trinity College tour worth doing?

If by the Trinity College tour you mean the Book of Kells tour, then yes, the Trinity College tour is well worth doing, as it’s packed with info.

Was Harry Potter filmed in Trinity College?

No. Although the Long Room looks like the library from Hogwarts, it wasn’t actually used during the filming.

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