With my road trip around Ireland cut short by a day because of one letter, my plans of touring the countryside had to be dropped. This left me with more time in the capital cities of Belfast and Dublin, two distinctly different cities from two different countries. One thing they certainly have in common is a passion for a good pub. Since I previously said I would return just to seek out the best bars in Ireland, with my now shortened trip I decided to do just that.
Here are my picks for the best pubs in Belfast and Dublin, no matter what you fancy.
Getting Around Ireland
Before diving into this list I need to give a shout-out to Auto Europe for getting me around Ireland with ease. From pickup to drop off, the experience was a breeze and made getting between Dublin and Belfast easy and stress-free. Getting between the pubs, now that is a different story. For the most part, both cities are incredibly walkable/stumble-friendly. Remember the way back to your hotel after several pints, not so much.
Let’s crack on.
The Historian Drinker
Belfast’s Oldest Pub
First up on this list of the best bars in Ireland takes history into account. Belfast’s oldest pub is Whites Tavern which dates back to 17th century! This historic pub is quietly tucked down an old trading alley just outside of Belfast’s downtown core. Inside you will find original wooden beams, historic photos, and surprisingly good Irish stew.
Dublin’s Oldest Pub
Dublin‘s (and Ireland’s) oldest pub is the Brazen Head which dates back to 1198! Like many of Dublin pubs, the Brazen Head is separated into several parts making it a treat to explore sober and a challenge when drunk. From its courtyard sanctuary to its low ceilings and cosy fireplace, this pub is a must see. As the photo wall shows, the Brazen Head is frequented by celebrities and is even referenced in James Joyce ‘s classic book Ulysses.
The Unique Drinker
Belfast’s Character Pubs
Belfast’s most unique bar has to be The Crown Liquor Saloon. With handcrafted Italian wood carvings, tiled ceiling, stained glass, and unique booths, how can it not be?
Bought and renovated in 1855, pub owner and guy with the most Irish name possible, Michael Flanagan, hired Italian craftsmen to complete his masterpiece. These craftsmen were in Belfast building churches and took the bar gig after hours. The result is a pub like no other.
Dublin’s Character Pubs
The Crown Saloon’s Dublin counterpart has to be the Long Hall. Located on the locally loved George Street, this Irish pub boasts meticulously handcrafted wood carvings, ornate fixtures, and perfectly poured pints.
Although the Long Hall pub has been around since 1766, its present-day charm dates back to Victorian renovations in the 1880s. Over the years local politicians and writers have come here to unwind or work on their craft. There was even a music video filmed here by Irish rocker Phil Lynott in 1982. You should watch it just for the hair and 1980s camera stares.
The Live Music Lover
There’s no shortage of amazingly talented musicians in Ireland. This is evident by live music heard bellowing out of seemingly every pub, every night. Still, some bars are better than others.
Belfast’s Best Live Music
In Belfast that has to go to Harp Bar. This local favourite showcases amazing musicians who command the room. No background music here. With my two nights in Belfast, my travel bud and I gravitated towards the Harp Bar each night because of the music. It’s happening location inside the Cathedral Quarter doesn’t hurt, nor does its plush red furnishing and Belfast craic.
Bonus Belfast Pub: A couple steps down from the Harp Bar is the Thirsty Goat, and outdoor pub with a cool modern setting, outdoor heaters and great talent on stage. Oh, and a stuffed goat…
Dublin’s Best Live Music
Pinning down a favourite music venue in Dublin is a little harder as it is a much livelier city than Belfast. While walking the streets live music can be heard coming from so many pubs, all of them inviting you in. The Dame Tavern did just that to me.
Although there is nothing overly special about the place, musicians playing acoustic guitar and violin covers of Neil Young and Radiohead literally turned my head. Hogan’s Bar and the Stags Head (literally across the alley from the Dame Tavern) also pulled me in with its foot-stomping tunes.
Clearly, it’s hard to go wrong in Dublin.
The Tourist Drinker
When talking about tourist traps I would typically say avoid them. Not the case with these best bars in Ireland.
Belfast’ Tourist Trap Pubs
In Belfast, there is, of all things, a Canadian-themed pub. Rockies Sports Bar brings Canada to Northern Ireland in the most stereotypical way possible. I certainly don’t need a pint of Molson Canadian to miss home nor do I drink it at home, but the collection of sports gear and hockey jerseys caught my eye. Located in the Odyssey Arena, home to the Belfast Giants hockey team (yup that’s a thing!), this should not have come as a surprise.
Dublin’s Tourist Trap Pubs
Ask any Dubliner where the tourist trap bars are in town and they will point you to (or away from) Temple Bar. Although misleading, Temple Bar is an area as well as a pub. This entertainment district is a few blocks squared and full of pubs loved by tourists and loathed by locals.
Ironically, like the Harp Bar in Belfast, we gathered here every night. The Temple Bar (pub not area) is a claustrophobic nightmare. On most nights you have to squeeze your way through its many bars-inside-a-bar to pay for an overpriced pint.
So why would anyone want to go here? It truly is alive.
There is an underlying energy to The Temple Bar and it can be contagious. Or maybe that’s just the Guinness talking…
Pubs to Avoid in Belfast
Belfast has been listed as one of the worst places for a night out in the UK. Although I have a hard time believing this, as with any city that is popular with tourists, there may be some pubs in Belfast that are more geared towards tourists than locals, and may be considered “tourist traps.” These establishments may have higher prices, a less authentic atmosphere, and offer a more commercialized experience. However, it’s important to keep in mind that what one person considers a tourist trap, another may find enjoyable.
If you are looking for pubs to avoid in Belfast, do your research in advance. Read online reviews and ask locals for recommendations. Additionally, consider venturing outside of the main tourist areas and exploring neighbourhoods that may offer a more authentic pub experience.
Best Place to Enjoy a Guinness
Speaking of Guinness, head high above the Guinness Storehouse to find Ireland’s best place to enjoy a creamy pint. Besides getting it straight from the source, the Gravity Bar offers unobstructed 360° views of the city and surrounding hills.
There you have it, my favourite and (arguably) the best bars in Ireland. Two cities with distinctly awesome pubs to explore and enjoy. I have said it already but I would return to Ireland (again) just to barhop. Really. Also, I don’t care what anyone else says, Guinness truly is better in Ireland.
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Although my time touring the best bars in Ireland was made possible through a partnership with Tourism Ireland,
the experience, opinions, and delicious pints had where my own.