The best way to see the Book of Kells is early in the morning, before the rest of Dublin is awake. 1,200 years ago, a few dedicated monks devoted their to lives to creating a stunningly detailed, illuminated version of the Gospel. Today the Book of Kells and the library that it lives in are a couple of the most popular attractions in Dublin.
With so many people wanting to visit, I knew that lines would form outside the doors of the Old Library at Trinity College first thing in the morning, to see the Books of Kells and the iconic Long Room. Rather than cueing up myself, I decided to go on an Early Access Book of Kells and Dublin Castle Tour with Letzgo City Tours. If you have a few days in Dublin, these are places that I recommend visiting right at the beginning. It’s a great way to to know the city.
Now to answer the most important question…
Is Early access to the Book of Kells worth it?
When I woke up at 7:00 A.M. on a Friday morning so that could trudge across Dublin to Trinity College, having just spent 14 hours exploring Northern Ireland the previous day, I was definitely wondering the same thing! If you’re on the fence about the early morning (and the cost of early access), this post is for you!
The Books of Kells
The tour group met up at 8:15 A.M., outside the main gates of Trinity College. It wasn’t a small, intimate group, but it wasn’t a huge group either. There were around 25 people, so it was always easy to hear the guide and stay together.
Once everyone had arrived, we made our way across Trinity College campus to the Old Library. Our guide told us a brief history of the Book of Kells, and then we went straight to the exhibit.
The Book of Kells display was far more impressive than I was expecting.
Imagine turning off all your lights, hunkering down in a dark corner, and trying to complete an adult colouring book with a quill. You’ll be doing something not even 10% as difficult or detailed as illuminating the Gospel. It’s impressive anyways, but as you learn about the materials used and the conditions the monks worked under, it becomes even more so.
The members of our group were the only ones in the Book of Kells exhibit. It was great having enough space and time to get a really good look at the pages.
Trinity College Library
Once we finished looking at the Book of Kells exhibit (which does not permit photography) we made our way up to the Long Library. You’ll definitely recognize this place. It’s so incredible that it’s hard to believe it’s real. It even smells wonderful, like stories and old paper. We weren’t the only group in the Long Room, but it’s so big that this wasn’t really noticeable.
I loved seeing the Book of Kells and the Long Room, and as we left the Old Library I was wondering how it would have been different if I had come on my own, later in the day.
When we stepped outside, I knew at once that coming early was the right decision. This is a photograph of the line up to see the Book of Kells, just after 9:00 A.M!
Regular opening hours for the Books of Kells exhibit are 8:30AM to 5PM Mondays-Saturdays and 9:30AM-5PM On Sundays through the summer months. People start lining up first thing, and it remains busy all day.
While there might be a few other ways to get early access to the Book of Kells, I loved the tour that I went on because our library visit was followed by a walking tour of Trinity College, downtown Dublin, and Dublin Castle.
I’ve been on a lot of walking tours, so my bar is set pretty high.
This was honestly one of my all time favourites. If you’re going to Dublin, take this tour on your first day. You will be absolutely in love with the city by the end. Dublin was a tough sell for me. It didn’t make a great first impression, but this tour changed that. I was enthralled with the city by the end of the morning.
Our tour guide was enthusiastic, friendly, and knowledgable. He led us across Trinity College campus, telling us fascinating and hilarious stories from the school’s history. It’s amazing what can happen when no one updates the rules to account for students no longer carrying swords and arriving on horseback.
We then made our way across Dublin, stopping at interesting landmarks, and to Dublin Castle where we explored the gardens and toured the outside of the castle. It all wrapped up around 11:00 A.M., concluding with some insights in to how Dublin Castle inspired the story of Dracula.
Make A Day Of It
I loved that we were already done our tour by 11:00 A.M. I took some more time to explore the Dublin Castle gardens and take photographs, and then had lunch at the Chester Beattie Library next door.
The Chester Beatty Library is free to enter, and is considered one of the best museum’s in Europe!
You can also go inside Dublin Castle for an additional fee. I high-tailed my way across Dublin to go and tour the Kilmainham Gaol at 1:00 P.M. If you want to do this, book it a little later than I did, because it was further away than I thought!
Was it Worth it?
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether an Early Access Book of Kells tour is worth while, mainly the access and the price.
It’s about 10 Euros to see the Book of Kells on your own, and 44 Euros for the tour that I went on. Given the early access and 1.5 hour walking tour, I consider the price reasonable.
Considering the line up that I saw when we left the Old Library, and how crowded Trinity College campus was when I went back later that day, I think the early access, and morning tour, were worth it. It’s nice to have space to move around and actually see everything!
If you go: the tour that I went on was run by Letzgo City Tours, and you can book it on Viator. 8:15 A.M. start, 44 euros per person. This tour is best suited for adults, simply because of the length and amount of information. Perfect for any fellow geeks!
Have you seen the Book of Kells, and did you go early? Will you if you haven’t been yet?
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Thanks to Letzgo City Tours for inviting me on this tour! Opinions and ideas are my own.