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Ask an Irish local: How to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Mar 11, 2024 by Jamie Gallerani

March 17 brings green-tinted revelry to the Emerald Isle, when St. Patrick’s Day celebrations spring to life in Dublin and beyond. “St. Patrick’s Day is the biggest and most exciting day in Ireland every year—it’s a national holiday,” said Irish Tour Director Patricia, who joined Tour Directors Brian and Sean to share their local expertise about the occasion. Wondering how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland on tour? Keep reading for the inside scoop.

Tours to take to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Have your heart set on taking a St. Patrick’s Day tour? Your best bet is to plan ahead! Dublin bursts with merriment every March 17, and putting your trip on the calendar early—before tours and hotels fill up—is always the ticket. Here are two tours that take you to the heart of the celebration and include a free day in Dublin for the festivities.

What is St. Patrick’s Day about?

At its heart, St. Patrick’s Day is all about celebrating Irish heritage and culture—and Guinness and good craic never hurt either. “As children, we loved the idea that we would be taken to parades, we would get the day off school, but most importantly that we would spend the day with our families and dress up in our traditional Irish dresses,” said Patricia. All the revelry makes Ireland one of the best places to visit in March. Here’s some history about this quintessential Irish event.

  • It’s a national holiday that honors Ireland’s patron saint. “Saint Patrick is hugely important to the Irish people because we understand that he brought Christianity to Ireland,” said Patricia. He was originally taken from Great Britain and forced into Ireland as a slave in the 5th century A.D., and later returned to share his Christian beliefs with the people of Ireland, many of whom were Pagans. “They say he died on the 17th of March and that’s why his national holiday is marked on that date,” said Sean.
  • St. Patrick’s Day celebrations got their start in the U.S. That’s right—we have the Irish immigrants and military regiments in the U.S. to thank for kick-starting today’s global celebrations! Present-day St. Augustine, Florida, played host to the first parade honoring the Catholic feast in the 1600s. More secular parades took off in Boston in 1737, and in New York City in 1762.
  • Ireland’s extravagant fêtes started in the 1950s. They took a page from the celebrations happening abroad, and used floats and bands to shine a light on different Irish businesses and industries.
  • Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day committee was established in 1995. What was once a weekend festival has since morphed into a week-long celebration that you can experience on our St. Patrick’s Day tours!
Learn about St. Patrick’s day in Ireland

What to wear on St. Patrick’s Day

Whether you’re dreaming of an Ireland tour from home, or are booked on a trip to Dublin, one of the quickest ways to get in the celebratory spirit is to throw on some festive garb. Here are a couple packing tips for your St. Patrick’s Day trip.

  • Grab your best green. “We do wear green, always to symbolize St. Patrick’s Day, and green symbolizes Ireland,” said Patricia. While King Henry VIII changed the national color to blue during the Irish Reformation in the 1500s, it’s the green that stuck. “The Irish people, I suppose in their little rebellious way, decided they would follow on from Saint Patrick’s tradition, and they would wear green,” Patricia continued. “He used the green shamrock to explain the Christian trinity and of course we are called the Emerald Isle.” You’ll often see white and gold in the mix, too, since those are the other two colors of the Irish flag—so throw on some accessories to punch up your green ensemble!
  • Prepare for every type of weather. “In Ireland, we don’t have any extremes of temperature, of heat or cold,” said Patricia. “We have a very temperate climate. Every day the sun is shining—sometimes we get liquid sunshine, sometimes we get the bright yellow sunshine, but every day is a wonderful day in Ireland. Bring your sweater, bring your good walking shoes, and on the same day you will use your sweater, your windcheater (windbreaker), your sun cream, and your sunglasses.” Find out more about Irish weather in our season-by-season guide to Ireland.
Grab your green for a trip to Dublin

What to expect in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day

Lots of fun, live music, excited crowds of revelers—there are so many good things waiting for you on our St. Patrick’s Day tours. Knowing how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland comes down to what you hope to experience: loads of action in the heart of Dublin, or more local moments in quieter areas. The good news is that you can find both! Here’s what to look forward to.

  • Dublin often hosts over 400,000 people for the event. March 17 is one of the busiest and most exciting days in the city, so planning ahead will do you a world of good.
  • The parade kicks off around 12pm in Parnell Square, and then winds south to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
  • You should arrive early for a spot in the city center. Your best bet is to find a place along the parade route around 9am, before the crowds really start to fill in. Snag a corner on O’Connell Street for some of the best views of the festivities.
  • Dublin’s parade lasts about two hours. “It goes right down through the main street,” said Patricia. “Many visiting bands come from North America, as well as other parts of Europe, and entertain for the afternoon.”
  • There are prizes for the best floats. A little friendly competition adds to the excitement of the day.
  • The Temple Bar area will be, ahem, busy. This is one of the top spots to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, and it’s always jam-packed with shoulder-to-shoulder revelers. “Go and visit Temple Bar and have a look but don’t stay there because it’s too crazy,” said Brian. Instead, opt for pubs that are off the beaten track for a more local experience—and a better chance at a seat.
  • The celebrations extend beyond the day of St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, the days before and after March 17 are full of the same excitement and spirit. “There’s plenty of music on the streets, storytelling, and food festivals over five or six days,” said Brian.

Check out these St. Patrick’s Day tours

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Top pubs to visit on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin

There are countless top-ranked pubs in Dublin to visit, which means you’ll have options galore on St. Patrick’s Day. “The standard of the pubs in Dublin city, as well as in the towns and cities across the country, are very good,” said Patricia. “I personally like to go to a small pub where you can sit down and enjoy the music, singing, and chatting. Now as you know, the Irish people love to talk, and if you go into any one of those bars you can expect the locals to join in conversation with you straight away. By the time you’ve left you’ll have heard their life story!”

Here’s a handful of Tour-Director recommended pubs to check out in Dublin—they’re some of our top picks for the best food, drinks, and restaurants in Ireland, and Patricia said they are, “definitely a lovely place to go for a drink.”

  • Oval Bar, Middle Abbey St.
  • Palace Bar, Fleet St.
  • Peadar Kearney, Dame St.
  • Murray’s Pub, O’Connell St.

How to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day during your free time in Dublin

All of our St. Patrick’s Day tours include a full free day in Dublin, which means you can mark the occasion however you’d like. Here are some things to do in Dublin during free time on St. Patrick’s Day.

  • Watch the parade, of course! Thousands of people line up around the city to glimpse the passing performances, and you can opt to get into the mix. Once the parade wraps up, you’ll also have the rest of the day to fill however you’d like—which is good news, since there are so many top spots to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish capital.
  • Claim your seat at a local pub. “Most of the pubs also sell food so on Patrick’s Day, I always recommend to my groups that if they get into a bar and get a nice comfortable seat, don’t leave it too soon because there are many people around that’ll be quick to jump into your spot,” said Patricia. There are plenty of local foods for a St. Patrick’s Day feast, so be sure to get your fill while you soak up the celebrations.
  • Pull a pint at the Guinness Storehouse. “That’s a paid entry and you can book that online before you get there and select your time,” said Brian. “It’s quite an interesting place to go. Sometimes you get to pull your own pint as well­, and you get a certificate.” This cultural landmark is one of the top places to visit in our Dublin Travel Guide for good reason!
  • See the Book of Kells at Trinity College. “That’s in the center of the city, and it’s a beautiful setting,” said Brian. “The Book of Kells is held there. Again, it’s a paid visit but you can book that online as well before you arrive so you can time your day in such a way that you get to do these things after the parade. It’s really, really good fun and it’s quite interesting as well.”
  • Pop into a free museum. Think: the Natural History Museum, the National Museum of Ireland, and more. While Dublin’s museums do close on Mondays, you’ll be able to swing by after the parade on years when St. Patrick’s Day lands on any other day of the week. “The museums and the galleries in Dublin are all close to Trinity College and are all free,” said Brian. “There’s no charge for our museums or galleries anywhere in the country, so free entry, and you don’t book anything, you just turn up.”
Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with us

Irish Tour Directors’ favorite St. Patrick’s Day traditions

Memories of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin are always sweet. Here’s how Tour Directors Patricia, Brian, and Sean mark the occasion every year as they lead tours in Dublin.

  • Tour Director Patricia: “My favorite St. Patrick’s Day tradition actually takes place the day before St. Patrick’s Day. As a child, my father used to take us out into the fields on the farm to pick some shamrocks to wear on the day.”
  • Tour Director Brian: “I live in Dublin, so I usually wait until after the parade because most Dubliners watch the parade on TV at home (unless you’ve got children, you’ll bring them to the parade). But if not, we wait until the parade is over, then we go into the city for the atmosphere and end up in a bar somewhere and usually get involved with some singing, playing music, and conversation. I usually bring some of the group with me.”
  • Tour Director Sean: “My favorite tradition on Patrick’s Day is to sing a song, which I always do on tour, so here goes.”

Oh the Garden of Eden has vanished they say
But I know the lie of it still
Just turn to the left at the bridge of Fenagh
And stop when halfway to Cootehill

It’s there you will find that I know sure enough
When fortune has come to your call
All the grass that is green around Ballyjamesduff
And the blue sky is over it all

And tones that are mellow and tones that are gruff
Come whisper, come over the sea
Come back, Paddy Reilly, to Ballyjamesduff
Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me

—Percy French, “Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff” (1912)

If all this chat about shamrocks, parades, and Irish traditions makes you want to don your green, then pick a trip based on your favorite holiday and put a St. Patrick’s Day tour on your bucket list!

About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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