Dublin's traditional music and festival scenes

by ykmedia

Traditional music is the rhythm of Dublin's streets and pubs, and this is complemented by a thriving festival scene

‘Trad’ is everywhere in Dublin and you’re sure to find a tin whistle, a fiddle or a bodhrán (pronounced bow-rahn) being struck on their own or all together in Temple Bar.

Oliver St John Gogarty’s (Temple Bar Hotel, 58 / 59 Fleet Street, Dublin 2; +353 671 1822; www.gogartys.ie) hosts a live music session most nights but plenty of less touristy bars offer better ‘trad’ music such as O’Donoghues Bar (15 Merrion Row, Dublin; + 353 660 7194; www.odonoghues.ie) or take a little excursion into the Dublin mountains (a half hour taxi ride away) to Johnnie Fox’s Pub (Ballybetagh Rd, Glencullen, Co. Dublin; +353 295 5647; www.jfp.ie) for an excellent music session as well as delicious Irish food in a quirky but authentic Irish pub. Be advised to book ahead as it’s often packed to the rafters in here, but everyone should visit this legendary watering hole - it's also the highest bar in Dublin!

Authentic Irish pubs

A veteran Irish pub for live music is The Cobblestone Pub (77 King Street North, Smithfield, Dublin 7; +353 872 1799; www.cobblestonepub.ie) where a permanently reserved area for musicians hosts The Session with the Pipers and other live music recitals to get toes and heels tapping. Dublin's oldest pub The Brazen Head (20 Lower Bridge St, Dublin 8; +353 6779549; www.brazenhead.com) is another reliable place for excellent live music seven nights of the week with great food. Favourite Dublin pubs with locals for a quiet pint free of music include The Long Hall (51 South Great Georges St, Dublin 2; +353 475 1590) The Stag’s Head (1 Dame Court, Dublin 2; +353 679 3701), Grogan’s Castle Lounge (15 William St South, Dublin 2; +353 677 9320; www.groganspub.ie) or Neary's (1 Chatham St 2, Co. Dublin; +353 677 8596).

Musical legends

Dublin is home to more than a few musical legends, and our pub scene is indicative of this.

Ronnie Drew from the Dubliner’s began his career as a regular pub performer. Phil Lynott has been immortalised as his statue stands proudly outside Bruxelles (7/8 Harry Street, Dublin 2; +353 677 5362) so raise a glass to Phil when you’re enjoying a pint al fresco. U2 have a special relationship with Dublin city, as the band has been as good to the city, as Dubliners have been to U2. The original Windmill Lane Studios (20 Ringsend Road, Dublin 4; +353 668 5567; www.windmilllane.com) or ‘U2 studios’ have long since relocated but the original studios, although derelict, are a popular cult symbol for U2 fans to visit. The Clarence is legendary and is where U2 made their name and is owned by the stars today.

Festival fever

Dublin’s festival circuit is amongst the best in the world and if you’re a music hound, be advised to check ahead so that your trip will coincide with a festival to suit your own taste. Dublin City Soul Festival, Dublin Dance Festival, DLR Festival of World Culture, The Heineken Festival, Taste of Dublin, AIB World Street Performance World Championships, The Waltons Guitar Festival and Temple Bar Tradfest are just a few. Whether you immerse yourself in these festivals or not, this is when Dublin will be at its liveliest, and most fun, but also the most crowded. Check online www.dublinevents.com or www.dublin.ie for the latest goings on and see my When to go to Dublin page.

Irish dancing 

A Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl (20 Lower Stephen Street, Dublin 2, +353 (1) 475 3313, www.discoverdublin.ie) can be booked that takes two and a half hours (from 7.30pm) and soaks up traditional beats as well as some city sightseeing with two professional musicians as your hosts. The star of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest was Riverdance – the groundbreaking Irish music and dance show that trips off tongues in most major cities of the world today. The show returns to Dublin's Gaiety Theatre (South King Street, off the top of Grafton Street, Dublin 2; +353 679 5622) each summer.

Other spectacles of Irish dancing, suited to first-time visitors, can be found at the Arlington Hotel (23-25 Bachelors Walk, O'Connell Bridge, Dublin 1; +353 804 9100; www.arlington.ie) seven nights a week or at the Merry Ploughboy Pub (Edmondstown Rd, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin; +353 493 1495; www.mpbpub.com). However, be warned, these shows can be a little twee so please bear that in mind!


Dublin is a busy city for concerts with top international acts hosted by the refurbished O2 arena (North Wall Quay, Dublin 1; +353 819 8888; www.the02.ie). The best international singers and bands perform here regularly. As well as pop and rock concerts, Dublin has two of its own opera festivals, the DLR Glasthule Opera Festival held in the Pavilion Theatre every June and the Anna Livia Opera Festival held in the Gaiety Theatre every September. For lovers of classical music, the National Concert Hall (Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2; +353 417 0077; www.nch.ie) stages live performances every evening.

Where to stay

I would recommend The Gibson Hotel  for O2 concerts, The Morgan, The Clarence or Temple Bar Hotel for Temple Bar fun or any of my other recommended Dublin Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Dublin in the city centre. 

More nightlife advice

Read more on my Dublin nightlife page.


I've sponsored terminally itchy feet as a journalist and travel writer for 10 years. Living in Chicago, San Francisco and San Diego before taking time to soak up Asia and Australia on my travels to New Zealand, I landed my first journalism job with Mountain Scene in Queenstown, NZ (2003) where I lingered for five years as a freelancer for the Herald on Sunday, New Zealand Herald and Insight Guides, magazines B-Guided, Ski & Snow, Fitness Life, and columnist for Avenues. I also wrote travel pieces for Backpacker and Food & Wine magazines in Ireland.  Home to roost in 2008, these days I work as Deputy Editor for Irish Country Magazine and freelance for Women Mean Business magazine and various websites. I also run my own eco-fashion agency YK Styles, which I set up in 2009.  

I've come full circle. Dublin is home for me once again. Time away allowed me to develop a new appreciation of the grey (and often wet) cobbled streets between Dublin's Victorian and Georgian walls. Dramatic bridges and luminous lights in the rejuvenated Docklands area now complement a medieval aesthetic. The excesses of the Celtic Tiger years have bowed to a more sincere, affordable and friendly city. One thing stays the same: the joy of cosying into a serene,darkened Dublin pub, distant music floating in from a street busker, while waiting for a creamy pint of Guinness to settle...bliss. 

My Dublin


Where I always grab a coffee/tea/hot chocolate: Bewleys Café on Grafton Street in a C18th building, refurbished in the 1920s to resemble cafes in Paris and Vienna, oriental tearooms and Egyptian architecture – yes, really. Admire six imposing stained glass windows, and two floors up, gaze down onto the buzz of Grafton Street from the theatre café balcony. Immortalised by James Joyce in ‘Dubliners', it's the biggest café in Ireland, and in this case at least, biggest is best.

My favourite stroll: Through the grounds of Trinity College, along Dame Street, weaving the cobbled lanes of Temple Bar, past Dublin Castle, to reach Christchurch Cathedral at the top of the hill, making sure to look up, photograph and marvel the medieval sites all around. A less sober alternative is Dublin's literary pub crawl, voted one of the world's best 50 walks by the Sunday Times, proving you can justify any bar crawl by throwing in some history, a bit of walking and a lot of laughs.

Fiction for inspiration: Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories by the genius of James Joyce or throw yourself in the deep end with his legendary book Ulysses. Delve into 1950s Dublin with classic crime novel Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (pen name for John Banville) or laugh your way through Roddy Doyle's modern classics The Commitments, The Snapper (also hilarious films) and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.

Great Dublin films: If you don't shed at least one tear (yes guys, you too) at Once you're missing a heart string or two. Glen Hansard of Irish band The Frames, who stars in the movie, since won an Oscar for his co-written song Falling Slowly from the soundtrack.  The opening scene is pure Dublin.

Where to be seen this year:  It's all happening in the Docklands area where you can browse the Point Village Market on Sat/Sun from 9am-5pm, go for a spin on The Wheel of Dublin, our giant Ferris Wheel, for 60m views of the city and Wicklow mountains, glass of wine in hand on the deck of the Gibson Hotel.

The most breathtaking view:   Choose from three: 60m high views from a capsule in The Wheel of Dublin, or the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor of the Guinness Storehouse for a 360 view, or 5th floor balconies of the Gibson hotel in the Point Village look across the River Liffey to the rolling glass fascade of Aviva stadium.

Best spot for some peace and quiet:  Any of Dublin's art or photography galleries and National Museums (all free entry) or marvel at 5 million books in silence in Trinity College Library.

Shopaholics beware:  Grafton Street, especially Brown Thomas where slaves of designer labels need to hold onto their hats. I prefer side roads off Grafton Street and Temple Bar for quirky boutiques, weekend markets The Loft (second floor of Powerscourt Shopping Centre, off Grafton Street) and Cows Lane (off Dame Street) for emerging fashion and jewellery, or Georges St Arcade for affordable vintage.

City soundtrack:  So much music, so little space. Imelda May's album Love Tattoo for kick ass rockabilly, jazz and blues. Traditional - The Dubliners; Rock - U2, The Frames; The Pogues for ballads and a bronze statue of Phil Lynott outside Bruxelles on Harry Street evokes classic Thin Lizzy hits The Boys are Back in Town, Jailbreak and Whiskey in the Jar.   The Commitments soundtrack is another must listen. Whelans pub is a Dublin institution if it's live music you're after.

Don't leave without:  Meandering the medieval, cobbled lanes of Temple Bar (beware of overpriced restaurants) by foot or the best fun you can have on two wheels - take a bike tour to exploit 120kms of new cycle lanes so you can pedal Dublin's leafy Georgian strips at your leisure.