Ever wondered what it’s like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, the holiday’s own green-hued homeland? Despite my long line of Irish heritage, my family has never been able to answer that question for me. Some said it’s a religious holiday, others claimed it’s a tourist play hijacked by beer companies, but most admitted they had no idea what exactly Irish locals do for the national holiday.
After heading to Dublin for a first-hand look at the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, I finally have an answer—and it’s not the one I expected. Yes, there’s plenty of beer, and just as much of the debauchery we have in the States—but there’s also plenty of family-friendly fun, and far fewer tourists than I anticipated. Here’s what St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is like, and how you can make the most of the travel-worthy holiday.
Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland
“Paddy’s Day,” as the locals call it, is indeed a religious holiday in Ireland, but not in the way it once was. Beer company campaigns transformed it from a church-going holiday to a pint-raising one in the 1980s—but the day is still one most locals enjoy with their families. Having a beer with your kids in tow is common at most Paddy’s Day festivals, like the famed Guinness Storehouse’s four-day St. Patrick’s Day Festival. I saw lots of children and babies enjoying live music with their parents at the Storehouse on St. Paddy’s—kids are part of the fun.
St. Patrick’s Day marks the death of Ireland’s fifth-century patron saint, who, according to folklore, introduced Christianity to the Irish and banished snakes from the island. Until the 1980s, most businesses (pubs included) closed for the holiday, which meant Irish families would go to church and enjoy company at home for their day off. Advertising by beer companies helped create the festivities that exist today—beer is one of many things the Irish do well, after all.
Local families in Dublin flock to O’Connell Street around 11 a.m. to see marching bands and local officials march alongside community arts’ groups, dancers, and festive floats depicting mythical beings, animals, and more. The event is much more eclectic than its American counterparts, and kids as well as adults march in the parade. The spectator crowds are massive, and people show up rain or shine.
Despite warnings about what a touristy mess the events would be, it became clear to me at the parade that the celebration wasn’t exactly for me—and the crowd was mostly made up of locals. Floats and songs recall Irish folk stories, and some locals were generous enough to explain them to me. For example, one swan-shaped float told the tale of the Children of Lir, who, as the story goes, were turned into swans by a sorceress. The intricate displays are an incredible sight for everyone watching, but elements of Irish pride will be lost on most tourists.
But, like most popular cities, Dublin has the perfect neighborhood for tourists, as well. Temple Bar is overrun with visitors year-round, and Paddy’s Day is of course no exception. If you’re looking for a more authentic experience, though, note that most pubs and festivals outside the Temple Bar area will have plenty of locals happy to chat with visitors.
Two things are certain in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day: The pubs will be packed, and the beer isn’t going to be green. Don’t expect American celebrations to hold true here: there will be no river dying or tinted beer. Instead, enjoy the company of a crowded, music-filled bar, and down a pint that’s too dark to be dyed green—like a Guinness.
Dublin hotel markets certainly take advantage of the surge in visitors around St. Patrick’s Day, so book early or take advantage of vacation rental listings. Locals told me it’s wise to book Paddy’s Day accommodations by Christmas, and that renting a local apartment will get you the best deal. This year in particular has seen unprecedented demand, with the majority of accommodation in Dublin for March 2023 booked up months in advance and the remaining going for upwards of $1,700 per night.
St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, especially in Dublin, is going to be packed no matter what you do. That’s why tickets to an organized event are worth the small price—you’re sure to be able to get a drink at the bar, see some live entertainment, chat with locals, and have enough elbow room to raise your pint. Events usually end by 7 p.m., leaving plenty of time in the evening to find a Dublin pub that suits you.
The Guinness Storehouse’s biggest annual celebration is its four-day St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which includes live music, a pint of Guinness and paired snacks like donuts, and entertainment like Irish step dancers and music troops. Guests will experience seven floors of beer history and the chance to pour your own pint from the source. Guinness is Ireland’s most-visited attraction—over 1 million people flock to the Storehouse each year—and it does Paddy’s Day right.
This article was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect most current information.
Author Shannon McMahon visited Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day as a guest of the Guinness Storehouse, with additional support from Failte Ireland. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for more travel advice.
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