If you’re considering a trip to the British Isles, or to Europe more broadly, you’re probably debating the merits of London vs Dublin as vacation destinations. In short, both of these cities make fabulous destinations for different types of travelers, depending on what you’re looking for, the type of travel that you enjoy, and the experiences you’d most like to have on your trip.
I have lived in Ireland for about two years and recently spent 5 days exploring London as part of a larger European trip. As someone who has visited Dublin many times, I wanted to share my thoughts on these two renowned cities and hopefully help you choose the best vacation destination for your trip.
If you read this guide and find yourself feeling stuck, I recommend that you think about how you would like to feel during and after your trip. Then, make the decision that best aligns with your intentions for your vacation.
London vs Dublin: Which City Is Better To Visit?
Despite living in Ireland for a little over two years, I just recently made my way to London for the first time. I wanted to share my advice for choosing between London and Dublin, two cities that often spark wanderlust in world travelers planning their trips to Europe.
Put simply, if you enjoy large metropolitan cities with creativity and intrigue and fabulous food, London could be the perfect place to explore. If a cultural trip – where you’re listening to live music in pubs, chatting with locals, and exploring enough to feel like you’re really gotten a sense of the place – is your idea of a fabulous vacation, then Dublin is the choice for you.
If you’re planning a longer trip, remember that these cities are not far apart, though they are on two different islands. Travelers with flexibility in their itineraries may find it easier to try one city out and then hop to the other if it’s not meeting your expectations.
Known for its double decker buses, distinctive cuisine, pubs, and royal landmarks, London is a cultural powerhouse in its own right. This massive city is home to over 10 million people, making it comparable in size to New York City. The busy streets of London offer metropolitan amenities and world class, though busy, attractions.
There are options for nearly every type of urban traveler, from the backpacker with the strictest budget to those seeking the utmost luxury. The size of the city necessitates some serious travel within London, so prepare for long days of walking, riding the Tube, and strolling through museums.
You’ll find just about any cuisine you might want in London (yes, even Mexican food if you’re willing to go searching for it). Like Paris, you’ll want to head away from the central tourist areas for the best food and most reasonable prices. On my most recent trip, I fell in love with the bao buns from Daddy Bao in Tooting.
Dublin, by contrast, has a much smaller population of just less than 1.5 million people. You’ll immediately start to sense the culture that Ireland is known for, from the pace of life to the food to the traditional music. The downtown or city center of Dublin is Temple Bar, a lively area with plenty of pubs, restaurants, and bars.
Although you’ll probably find yourself using public transit or taxis to explore the further reaches of Dublin, most of the action is within the walkable center. St Stephen’s Green, Temple Bar, and Grafton Street are all accessible on foot. If you decide to venture away from the center, however, you’ll most likely want a car for the best experience.
A note: if you want an even smaller and more local feeling experience, make your way to Cork – the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland. I live in Cork, and we have plenty of wonderful things to do and some of the best coffee shops around.
London vs Dublin: Costs
I want to start by establishing that neither London or Dublin are cheap destinations to visit. Both of these cities have relatively high costs of living, and you’ll find average prices are much higher than, say, Italy or Greece. As a general rule, the British Isles come with relatively high price tags, but they’ll still be more affordable than, say, Scandinavia. Everything in perspective!
On the whole, a trip to London will probably cost more than a trip to Dublin. Expect very high prices for transportation and accommodations in central London, with few deals to be found on restaurants near the main attractions. In Dublin, by contrast, you’ll find lower prices across the board, but experienced budget travelers will struggle to find deals in the city.
My take on the relative costs between London and Dublin is this: if you’re really thrifty, a careful planner, and have some travel experience, you can plan a much cheaper trip to London than would be possible in Dublin. However, for the average traveler – even a budget-conscious traveler – you’ll probably find Dublin to be cheaper. During the peak tourist seasons in Dublin, expect prices to go up dramatically over those in the off season.
Transportation costs will be lower in Dublin than in London. There are a few reasons for this: first, Dublin is a much smaller and more compact city. Most places you’ll want to go will be within walking distance, or otherwise a short bus ride away. London, by contrast, is a very large city, so you’ll need to use some form of transportation most days of your trip to explore the area.
London’s public transit is pricier than the systems of many other European cities, especially if you take the Tube. I would expect to spend less than 10€ on bus fare on a typical day in Dublin, while 7-20£ is a more realistic daily budget for public transit in London. Taxis in both cities will be much more expensive than public transit, but budget more for London because the city is quite a bit larger (so the taxis will typically have to drive further, increasing the fare).
You can always save money by choosing to walk or cycle around instead of taking public transit. If I see a distance of 30-40 minutes walking, I’ll typically decide to go on foot instead of taking a bus or the metro – but this is always personal preference.
If you were to take an average of all of the accommodations in Dublin and average them against the accommodations in London, there’s no doubt that London would be more expensive. Prices fluctuate based on the season, availability, and time that you check the booking sites.
That said, you won’t find as many low budget accommodations in Dublin, especially during the summer. Most places will be moderately priced, even if you’re willing to stay a bit outside of the city center. London, by contrast, has some budget-friendly hostels offering prices far below what you’d find in Dublin.
Here are examples of the places I’ve stayed in both cities as a budget traveler during the off season:
Dublin: Errigal Guest House
I chose Errigal Guest House on a last minute trip to Dublin because it was a very convenient bus ride from the airport. The room was adequate and it would have been easy to take the bus into the city, though I chose to walk instead. There were some shops near the Guest House, including a small Tesco, so I felt as though I had everything I needed.
I paid €85 for one night in a private room with a private bathroom in January of 2023.
London: Urbany Youth Hostel
Urbany is a good example of the kind of accommodation you simply won’t find in Dublin. This youth hostel is huge and offers a mix of dorm rooms and private rooms, with private rooms being a significantly more expensive option. There were daily activities that included free dinners, clubbing nights, and walking tours of the city.
The location was great, just off of Hyde Park. Major attractions like Buckingham Palace and London Bridge were a long walk or a bus/Tube ride away. As a bonus, travelers staying in hostels are usually more friendly and open to getting together, so it’s easier to make friends while exploring the city.
I paid £167.82 total for 5 nights in a 6 person mixed dorm in February of 2023.
There’s really no contest when it comes to eating in Dublin vs London: London has better food options and generally higher price tags.
From its food markets with world class cuisine to old timey sandwich shops to street food, London has options for every type of diner. Some of my favorites are the Black Pig in the Borough Market, Daddy Bao’s in Tooting, and Paul Rothe & Son in Marylebone. The city also has many wonderful options for regional cuisine, and some American staples that expats might be missing like Chipotle and Whole Foods.
Although the food options in Dublin have improved in recent years – and are getting better all of the time – you’re unlikely to have many memorable meals. The food in Dublin doesn’t stand out even when compared to the rest of Ireland. The smaller Irish city of Cork, where I live, is known as the Food Capital of Ireland and is home to Ballymaloe, an Irish culinary institution.
Cultural Experiences – Entry Fees
London and Dublin offer two different versions of cultural experiences, so comparing costs is a little bit like comparing apples and pears. On the whole, I’d consider London to have cheaper entry fees, mostly because some of the biggest and most popular museums are open to the public for free. You could spend a weeklong itinerary only seeing free museums and galleries in London, and it would be a worthwhile trip.
For its part, Dublin also offers a unique cultural experience, but this comes mostly from the small interactions that you have with locals and in the pubs. Daily interactions and activities in Dublin are likely to feel like more of a cultural experience than the metropolitan city of London. You’ll find that people in Dublin are friendly, often happy to chat with you, and this is one of the best cultural experiences you can have, in my opinion.
There are certainly plenty of museums and other tourist attractions for you to visit in Dublin. Expect that the museums and other activities will come with entry fees, usually in the 10-20€ price range.
London vs Dublin: What To Do
Given the relative size of these two cities, it should be no surprise that there are more things to do in London. However, you’ll find more local flavor and traditional experiences in Dublin, where there are fewer people and the population is more homogeneous. Here are some of my favorite things to do, as well as the top attractions, in each city.
Best Things To Do In London
One of the perks of visiting London is that many of the best things to do in the city are free. You could fill an entire itinerary of activities with free activities, from visiting Buckingham Palace to exploring the British Museum to walking across the London Bridge. I’m including free activities in this section, but you could certainly attend a theater performance, visit a museum with an entry fee, go on a river cruise, or sample any number of other ticketed events.
✅ Wander through one of the city’s free museums, like the British Museum or the Natural History Museum
Regardless of your budget, it’s always nice to know that there are free or cheap activities to choose from when planning your itinerary. London is similar to Washington, D.C. in that there are high quality, extensive collections that you can see for free in the city’s museums. You’ll find museums for nearly every interest, from modern art to natural history to Greek sculptures.
My three favorite free museums in London are the British Museum, the Tate Modern, and the Natural History Museum.
✅ Visit one of the city’s famous covered markets, like the Borough Market.
There are covered markets throughout London, a highlight for those who enjoy shopping for unique gifts. My favorite market was the Borough Market, known as a foodie haven and filled with tourists eager to try some of London’s famous cuisine. There were food stalls and shops with artisan options, perfect for you to enjoy on site or to bring home as a souvenir or gift.
Another famous market is Camden Market, home to the infamous statue to Amy Winehouse and beloved by visitors to London. There, you can stroll through aisles and aisles of antiques, vintage clothes, and other unique shops. Camden Market extends into the streets, so you’ll want to leave at least an hour or two to try to see as much of it as you can.
✅ See the city’s landmarks like the London Bridge or Buckingham Palace.
Even Paris pales in comparison to the volume of landmarks you’ll find in London. From the London Bridge to Big Ben to Buckingham Palace to Hyde Park, you’ll find landmarks located throughout the city. Most of these landmarks are free to visit or can be enjoyed from the outside.
If you’ll be visiting just the exterior of the landmark, it can be helpful and interesting to do a little research online either while you’re there or before you go. That way, you’ll have a little bit of a self-introduction to the place, since there aren’t always placards or other public information displays. Dublin, by contrast, more frequently displays introductions to the city’s major sites and landmarks.
Best Things To Do In Dublin
The relatively small city of Dublin also has plenty of activities for visitors to enjoy, but you’re likely to see modest entry fees and ticket prices. Most of the top Dublin attractions are located a short walk from Temple Bar, the city center or downtown area. In addition to hitting the main attraction in Dublin, try to visit a local pub or a less touristy spot outside of the main circuit to see a little bit more of the local atmosphere.
A great way to do this is by going to brunch in one of the nearby neighborhoods. One Society, Two Boys Brew, and Alma are all great choices for breakfast or brunch and adored by locals.
✅ Visit a pub in Temple Bar
One of the most iconic activities you can do in Dublin is to visit a pub. There are pubs throughout Ireland and across Dublin, but the most famous area for its pubs is Temple Bar. A note: there is a pub specifically named “The Temple Bar” which you can certainly visit, but Temple Bar usually refers to the broader area in the center of Dublin.
Although it’s technically free to visit a pub in Temple Bar, you’ll always want to be sure to buy a drink when you arrive. In Ireland, it’s highly inappropriate to sit in a pub without a drink, even if the drink is simply a soda or bottled water (although a pint of beer is certainly more traditional). So, be sure to order something when you visit a pub.
✅ Take a stroll through St Stephen’s Green then walk down Grafton Street
One of my favorite things to do in Dublin is grab a raspberry jelly donut from the Rolling Donut and eat it while I stroll through St Stephen’s Green. This city park is filled with families picnicking on the greens, college students sprawled out with their books, and children playing in the sizable playground. If you enjoy bird watching, you may have a chance to see a few graceful (and perhaps unsettling large) swans as they slowly make their way around the central pond.
After you’ve seen the park, walk across the street to Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, a mall set in a beautiful, greenhouse-style building. Then, stroll along Grafton Street to see some of the more upscale stores in the city, along with street performers and a mix of locals and tourists. If you happen to be visiting around Christmas time, Grafton Street is often tastefully decorated for the season with lights and garland.
✅ See Trinity College and the Book of Kells
I’ve walked around the Trinity College campus many times, but truthfully have never seen the Book of Kells because there has always been a very long line. So, if you want to do as I do, simply stroll through the campus and poke your head into a few of the public areas. Trinity College is the most prestigious university in Ireland, and it’s the setting for the popular Irish novel, Normal People by Sally Rooney.
The Book of Kells is a gospel book from around 800 AD that is prized for its historical significance and beautiful illustrations. Visitors can see the pages that the book is open to on the day of their visit, but no additional pages – the pages are turned every 6-8 weeks by trained staff members. You can also explore the adjoining library, a beautiful space that reminds me of Hogwarts every time I see a photo of it.
London vs Dublin: Best Day Trips
There are great day trip options from both London and Dublin, so they make great bases for exploring England and Ireland, respectively. These day trips are all within a 4 hour drive of the city center, but many are much closer for an easier day of driving and exploring.
Best day trips from London
London is connected by an extensive network of trains, which offers a number of great day trip options. Without a doubt, the two most popular day trip destinations from London are to Oxford and Cambridge. These two collegiate towns are full of enchanting views, wonderful history, and plenty of things to do.
If you decide to rent a car, be aware that it would be challenging – though not impossible – to drive in London. I’d imagine it would be most similar to driving in New York, but without the trademark New York car horn honking.
✅ Cambridge Day Trip
Home to Cambridge University, the relatively small city of Cambridge can definitely be explored in a day. I didn’t make it to Cambridge on my trip to London, but it’s definitely the day trip I’d choose for my next visit. You can visit the colleges that make up Cambridge, many of which are free or can be enjoyed from the outside.
✅ Oxford Day Trip
Oxford has been home to the infamous Oxford University since it was granted a charter in 1248. The area has been a temporary home to students for centuries, and the area is, accordingly, lively and full of academic energy. There are stunning views from across the campus that you can see, as well as a covered market where you can pick up a tasty lunch.
Like Cambridge, I didn’t make it to Oxford on my visit to London. I can tell you, however, that this English city would also make a great destination for a day trip.
When I visited London in February of 2023, I made my way to Brighton immediately after I landed. I had a friend who had lived in the city and she made me a wonderful itinerary to follow. I visited on a sunny winter day, and I was immediately enchanted by the city, which reminded me at times of San Francisco and at other times of Bray in County Wicklow, Ireland.
I had wonderful Mexican food from Casazul in the Open Market and coffee from the Botanist just outside the train station. I tried to visit the Feminist Bookshop, which my friend loves, but had unfortunately planned my visit for a day when they were closed. A sunny day next to the beach in Brighton would be the perfect spot for a self-care break while traveling.
Best day trips from Dublin
Although Ireland does have a train system, most people will opt to drive if they choose to take a day trip from Dublin. You can either rent a car or join a tour if you’d like to visit another spot in Ireland on a day trip from Dublin.
I lived in Wicklow for about a year and have written a few posts about the area. For a nature trip, it’s definitely your best bet as a day trip. Galway is a smaller city located in the west of Ireland and can be visited in short form as a day trip from Dublin or as part of a longer road trip or itinerary.
✅ Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains Day Trip
One of the easiest day trips from Dublin is to the Wicklow Mountains, the mountain range just south of the capital city. This mystical mountain range is home to Glendalough, a glacial lake surrounded by a hiking trail – it just so happens to be my favorite hike in Ireland. There’s an adjacent set of ruins, including a number of funerary stones and a round tower, just a short drive up the road.
If you decide to stay longer than a day trip, there are plenty of things to do in Wicklow to fill a few days’ itinerary. There are plenty of accommodations in Wicklow, from small B&Bs to hostels to guest houses. However, if you only have a few hours, Glendalough is worthy of a day trip on its own.
✅ Galway Day Trip
Home to street performers and hen/stag parties (bachelorette/bachelor parties), I have come to think of Galway as the Nashville of Ireland. If you visit on a day trip, you’ll probably only have time to walk around the main pedestrian areas and catch some street performers. Be sure to step into a pub to experience the city’s culture and energy, and grab some food at one of the fabulous restaurants.
If you want to be able to sing along, listen to Steve Earl’s song, “Galway Girl,” otherwise known as the unofficial anthem of Galway. Although you’ll probably hear the song in other Irish cities and towns, it’s predictably popular in its namesake city.
A perfect stop when driving between Galway and Dublin is Clonmacnoise, a historic Irish monastery. It’s definitely worth a stop, and it’s perfectly located to break up the drive.
✅ Giant’s Causeway and Belfast Day Trip
Another popular day trip itinerary actually involves leaving the country: a visit to the Giant’s Causeway and Belfast in Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is an independent country and part of the European Union, while Northern Ireland is part of the UK. For historical reasons outside of the scope of this post, there are no checkpoints at the border, so visitors can freely cross between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
One of the most famous landmarks in Northern Ireland is the Giant’s Causeway, a geological formation made up of rock columns that extend in a sort of pathway into the ocean. After you’ve visited the Giant’s Causeway, you can make your way to the city of Belfast, home to the Titanic Museum and lots of wonderful, historical pubs. I particularly loved the Gin Palace in the Crown Liquor Saloon.
If you decide to extend your trip to the Giant’s Causeway, there is a great spot for car camping just a few minutes up the road from the car park at Feigh Farm. Bring cash to pay the camping fee.
London or Dublin: FAQs
As someone who has lived near Dublin and visited London, here are my answers to many of the frequently asked questions about these cities.
Which is more walkable?
Both cities are very walkable, with plenty of sidewalks and pedestrian areas. If I had to choose, I would say that London is slightly more walkable, given the number of large parks and pedestrian areas. Because London is such a large city, you’ll almost certainly find yourself using public transit to get around.
Dublin, on the other hand, is smaller and much more compact. Although there are parts of the city that are worth exploring a short distance from Temple Bar, you can see most of the city center on foot.
Which is better for backpackers?
London is definitely a better choice for backpackers. With cheaper hostels, more budget food options, and plenty of things to do that cater to young visitors, backpackers are likely to prefer London. London also has several chains from the US and other countries, so there are more reminders of home in case you’re feeling homesick after several months of backpacking.
Backpackers who prefer destinations a little bit off of the beaten path, however, may still have a great time in Dublin. The pub scene, especially in Temple Bar, is very active and lively, with plenty of people to meet.
Which is better for nightlife?
The answer to this really depends on what you enjoy on a night out, but London is likely to have better nightlife on the whole. There are theaters throughout the city, with all sorts of performances that visitors can enjoy. London is also known for its club scene, with plenty of options for those who want to party the night away.
However, if you prefer a quieter and more cultural experience, the traditional live music and historic pubs of Dublin may be a better choice for you. There are some clubs and other events in Dublin, but most of the nights out will involve chatting with locals, tourists, and friends in one of the city’s many pubs.
Which is better for live music?
Dublin takes the cake here. The city is famous for its traditional live music (known locally as “trad music”), so head to Temple Bar for a chance to see some of the best local bands. There are also music festivals in Ireland, especially in the summer, if you’d like to see even more live music and learn about Irish musical traditions.
If you visit a pub to listen to music, remember that you’ll need to buy a drink while you’re there.
In London, you’ll still find plenty of live music, but it’s comparable to other large cities. Huge names will play concerts in London, so if you’d like to see a larger concert you may have better luck seeing them perform in England.
Which has better museums and cultural sights?
Museums are plentiful and often free in London, giving the city the clear edge for this question. A visitor favorite is the British Museum, which houses a massive collection that includes Cleopatra’s mummy, artifacts collected throughout the former British colonies, and the Rosetta Stone. If you’d like to be a little more informed about the ethics of the British Museum, John Oliver has a great segment on museums from 2022 that you will want to watch.
Another fabulous museum to consider in London is the Tate Modern, a modern art museum that is free to enter. There are some ticketed galleries with the Tate, but you can see many of the collections for free. When I visited there were exhibitions that grappled with imperialism, gender, and perspective.
Dublin, for its part, has several museums that you might consider visiting. Some of the most popular include the Kilmainham Gaol Museum, a tour of a former jail that housed many famous revolutionaries in Ireland’s history. Visitors also love the Guinness Storehouse, which explains how beer is brewed and includes the Gravity Bar, where you can drink a pint of Guinness while you look out over the city.
Which city has better food?
Without a doubt, you’ll find better food in London. This sprawling metropolis has food for any diet, preference, and for all but the smallest budget. I had several unforgettable meals while visiting London for less than a week, and at prices that were similar to those you’d find for budget meals in Dublin.
Which city has better shopping?
Between the two cities, London absolutely has better shopping options. There are covered markets throughout the city, including the vintage-laden Camden Market. Spend some time perusing the racks at the boutiques you’ll find throughout the city, or try to find a popup market for more unique options.
Whatever you’d like to shop for, you can probably find it in London.
Which city has better weather?
The weather in London and Dublin is fairly similar, given that these two European capitals are located only a short flight apart. These temperate cities have relatively mild weather year round, with occasional snow in the winter and the odd smattering of hot days in the summer.
I wrote a packing guide for Ireland that could also help you to prepare for a trip to London, but the short version is that you’ll want to dress warmly. Locals in both London and Dublin are used to chilly temperatures indoors and outdoors, which can leave visitors wishing they’d brought more warm clothing.
Which city is better for family trips?
For millennials or gen z travelers who are planning a trip with their parents, either city would make a great destination. London will be easier to navigate and more approachable, with most of the amenities that tourists are used to seeing. Dublin will feel a bit more foreign, but locals are friendly and kind and interacting with them can be one of the most special parts of a visit to Ireland.
There are many advantages and options that go along with choosing to visit an enormous city like London. If you’re looking for variety, ease of public transport, and to be able to see many different types of places in a short amount of time, choose London for your next vacation.
If, however, you’re looking for more of a cultural experience, Dublin could be the right choice for you. Dublin is more intimate and it’ll be much easier to experience the cultural differences between Ireland and other countries, even on a relatively short trip.