Temple Bar TradFest in Dublin is Ireland's largest festival of traditional music. TradFest features musical artists who keep traditional Irish and Celtic music alive, while also welcoming international musicians from the folk, nu-folk, country, and rock & roll genres.
I had the wonderful opportunity to partner with Temple Bar TradFest for my 2019 visit and, as I begin preparing for my return in 2020 (with friends in tow), I wanted to share these tips I took away from my experience.
Planning Your Trip to Temple Bar TradFest in Dublin
Begun in 2006 as a small, niche music festival, Temple Bar TradFest has grown to a 5 day celebration of music that draws everyone from trad music purists to the musically curious.
Even with its growth, the festival manages to maintain it's small, boutique qualities by hosting concerts in some of Dublin's most historic venues. It's these venues, from churches and military barracks to castles and pubs, that elevate the concerts from wonderful performances to unforgettable events.
Podcast Extra: Learn more about the historic venues at Temple Bar TradFest
Where is Temple Bar in Dublin?
You'll find Temple Bar at the heart of Dublin city centre, bordered by the River Liffey to the north and Dame Street to the south, with Trinity College and Christchurch Cathedral guarding the east and west entrances.
Often referred to as the ‘Old City', the streets of Temple Bar are still cobbled and the buildings retain their Medieval characteristics, updated, of course, by the development through the decades.
Strolling the streets and lanes of this cultural district is like walking through time, the architecture reflecting history from the Vikings and Normans, through the Gothic, Renaissance, and even Baroque periods.
Podcast Extra: Learn more about Temple Bar in Dublin
When is Temple Bar TradFest?
Temple Bar TradFest is held each January over a period of 5 days, beginning on a Wednesday and ending the following Sunday. You'll find concerts taking place during the afternoon and evening, with other events scattered throughout the day.
Who Will Enjoy Temple Bar TradFest?
Temple Bar TradFest in Dublin is truly a festival with something for everyone.
Those who love music will be overwhelmed by the concert choices. In 2019 there were nearly 60 concerts during TradFest. From the better-known performers at the Headline concerts, to the intimate Front Row Sessions at small venues, and the names you'll hear about tomorrow performing in the TradHub, you will find plenty of choices to fill your playlist.
Then, of course, you will find music nightly at the pubs in Temple Bar. My advice: choose the lesser-known venues for smaller crowds and more personal performances.
Beyond the music you'll find cultural offerings at TradFringe. From the origins of Irish names and genealogy research tips to songwriting and singing workshops, TradFringe takes you deeper into Irish culture and history.
TradFest even has activities if you're visiting Dublin with kids. While the day-time and early evening headline concerts are family friendly, you really want to be sure your child is of an age to appreciate them.
Luckily TradFest has an entire TradKids series on the weekend. Two days of live concerts, crafts programs, musical workshops, and even a trad session for children who play an instrument, offer incredible exposure and inclusion into Irish music and culture for children.
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Tips to Help You Plan Your Time at Temple Bar TradFest in Dublin
Your time at Temple Bar TradFest will go fast. And while you want to leave room for spontaneity, you also need to have a few key plans if place to take advantage of everything the festival, and Dublin, have to offer.
How Long to Stay in Dublin for TradFest
If your flight to Ireland involves crossing more than 4 time-zones, plan to spend a week in Dublin. As the concerts begin on Wednesday, I think arriving Sunday or Monday is perfect. This gives you time to shake off any jet lag and get your bearings in the city. It will also allow you time to explore Dublin before the concerts begin.
Plan your flights to arrive and depart from Dublin Airport, unless you have plans to tour Ireland before or after the festival.
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Getting Around Dublin During TradFest
Dublin is a wonderfully compact and walk able city. Most TradFest venues are within Temple Bar. Most that fall outside the boundaries of the ‘Old City' are in an easy walking distance.
If you don't wish to walk, or the distance is more than you are comfortable with, taxis are readily available in the city centre. If you don't want to wait for a taxi to come along, download the My Taxi app for Ireland before your trip.
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3 Tips for Choosing Your Temple Bar TradFest Concerts
As mentioned above, the number of concerts you can attend at Temple Bar TradFest in Dublin is nearly overwhelming. And choosing which concerts to attend is difficult.
As you begin making your concert selections, keep these tips in mind!
Choose by Music Type
If you're a trad music enthusiast you may be familiar with a few of the performers at TradFest. As you research the performers you'll find that many of the venues feature a specific type of music. Meaning if you like one performer at that venue you are likely to enjoy all the performances being held there.
Choose by Venue
If you're like me you enjoy music but you are also very interested in history and architecture. I began my research with the venues, noting which locations I wanted to be sure to see concerts. Then I researched the performers at each venue and chose who and when based on date and time. There may have been a spreadsheet involved…
Choose by Research
Temple Bar TradFest makes it really easy for you to hear their featured artists with their Spotify playlists.
The TradFest website also features bios for each performer, including website information and other helpful links.
You may just and up with your own extensive playlist of new favorites!
Remember This When Booking Your Concerts
If there was one thing I took away from my first TradFest experience it was this: Don't Overbook.
I planned my concerts well in advance of TradFest. And I thought I had left time for other experiences. But I found that quite a few additions are made to the schedule within the final weeks prior to the festival. And my time was already spoken for.
So my advice is this: book into the concerts you absolutely, completely do NOT want to miss. Then, as the festival dates approach, keep an eye on the website to see what other offerings are being added. Food tours, whiskey tastings, seminars, and showcases are all added as the festival dates get closer.
Add those experiences, then fill in with other concerts.
Tips for Attending Temple Bar TradFest Concerts
Headline Concerts and Front Row Sessions have a completely different vibe and feel.
The Headline Concerts are held in larger, historic venues. Seating is limited to ticket holders and space is comfortable. It's easy to bring your coat and a bag to these concerts and not feel crowded.
Front Row Sessions, however, are held in small venues. If you arrive early enough you may get a seat, but these crowds are mainly standing room. I recommend arriving to these shows with as little extra as possible. If you can, leave your coat at your hotel and carry only the necessities. Don't bring bags from shopping excursions as they may get stepped on or spilled in.
Be Sure to Visit the TradFest Box Office
The TradFest Box Office is open during the festival to help you with any festival questions, pick up last minute concert tickets, and grab your official Temple Bar TradFest swag.
You'll also be able to pick up the official TradFest guide which lists everything happening during the festival, a handy guide to Temple Bar, and a map showing the locations of all concerts.
Temple Bar Hotels for TradFest
Dublin has hundreds of hotels, so choosing the best hotel for your time at TradFest can be, like choosing concerts, a bit overwhelming.
These Dublin hotel recommendations are based on my own stays in the city.
The Morgan Hotel
The Morgan Hotel is a luxury property located in the heart of Temple Bar, steps away from the lively pubs and a short walk to many of the city's attractions.
Rooms at The Morgan are spacious and modern, with pops of color and whimsy.
Staff at The Morgan will go out of their way to make sure you have everything you need (huge thanks to Adrian and Sonya who went above and beyond during my stay).
And if the chocolate chip cookies happen to be on the desk as you pass by be sure to grab one. It may be the best chocolate chip cookie you've had. Ever.
Book your room as B&B to take advantage of the wonderful breakfast at The Morgan.
The complete breakfast buffet allows you to eat as light or heavy as you wish. Create your own ‘Full Irish' from the hot options, or eat lighter from the Continental offerings.
If you prefer to order off a menu you'll find plenty of selection available.
Is The Morgan Hotel good for families?
I'm going to preface this to say that I don't really like staying in the Temple Bar area with kids. The area is busy and quite lively, bordering on wild in the evenings. It is not my preference.
That said, the Morgan Hotel is family friendly, with special family offers, triple rooms and the ability to easily book multiple rooms.
If you decided to stay in Temple Bar with kids, The Morgan Hotel would be my recommendation.
The Harding Hotel
You'll find The Harding Hotel just across the street from Christchurch Cathedral on the west edge of Temple Bar. A historic ‘Old City' hotel, I found the rooms to be compact and designed with purpose, each bit of space usable.
My single room left little extra space, but the bathroom was huge. The double room next to mine was larger but the bathroom was smaller. When booking into The Harding it is important to remember the historic nature of the building and be aware that it does affect room layouts and size.
That said, the rooms were very clean and the staff friendly and helpful. My room was quite dim. Upon mentioning this to the staff at the front desk an extra lamp was delivered in minutes.
The hotel offers breakfast in the Copper Alley Bistro where you place your order from the small menu with all the traditional Irish options.
Evenings are lively in the hotel pub, the famous Darkey Kelly's Bar, where you'll find live music nightly and an extensive pub menu from Copper Alley Bistro.
The Harding Hotel is a terrific budget option in Temple Bar with a great location.
Is the Harding Hotel good for families?
While the Harding Hotel is on the edge of Temple Bar and therefore quieter, when I inquired at the front desk about family rooms the staff was rather quick to point out that they really don't cater to families.
That said, the hotel website does state that travel cots are on request, but this wouldn't be my choice for a comfortable family hotel in Dublin.
The Castle Hotel
The Castle Hotel is a charming Georgian hotel in Dublin city centre, but outside the boundary of Temple Bar. The hotel is created from a row of Georgian townhomes and still retains the grand staircases, marble fireplaces, and magnificent chandeliers.
Bedrooms at The Castle Hotel are individually decorated to reflect the style and history of the building while offering spacious rooms and today's comforts.
An extensive breakfast buffet is served in the Old Music Shop restaurant, and you'll find trad music and a meal most evening sin the Castle Vaults Restaurant.
Is The Castle Hotel good for families?
This is one of my favorite family hotels in Dublin. The family rooms are very spacious and, as the hotel was once a series of townhouses, you'll often find a large sitting room right outside your door.
On-site parking is a plus, if you've braved Dublin traffic, and the location, just 2 minutes from O'Connell Street, makes it easy to walk to any spot in Dublin city centre while keeping you out of the busiest Dublin areas at night.