One of the best places to take your kids in Dublin is the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology. The treasures displayed by this free museum are interesting and educational, and some are so eye-popping that your kids won’t ever forget it!
The museum is part of the state museums of Ireland, which include the Decorative Arts and History Museum, Country Life museum, and Natural History Museum. They all look interesting in their own way but the location and contents of the Archaeology Museum make it an easy addition to a visit to Dublin.
The museum is part of the government complex just south of Trinity College and west of Merrion Square. The museum shares an entrance with the National Library and the building that houses Parliament. You might run into a political protest on the street in front, like we did! Just duck past them as quick as you can and enter the museum’s gates.
You can hit the highlights of the museum in about an hour but you might be surprised at how interested your kids will be. In fact, my younger son was so excited about all that he was seeing that he was “cured” of his extreme jet-lag! The must-see things include the prehistoric history displays, the Viking ship, scale model, and swords, and most importantly, the bog bodies.
The building that houses the museum is beautiful.
You will enter through the middle of the rotunda, which contains a gift shop. Be sure to visit the information desk to get a map and the handouts with scavenger hunts and activities for kids. These really make the museum fun for all ages!
You can then enter the museum, directly into the main room, which houses exhibits on prehistoric Ireland and Ireland’s gold. Be sure to look up at the beautiful ceiling!
The prehistoric exhibits ring the outer walls of the room, and I recommend you start here.
The artifacts from prehistoric Ireland are fascinating – some are from 7000 B.C.! While kids may have a hard time getting excited about ancient rock weapons, they will enjoy seeing the reconstructed passage tomb, which is on the left side of the exhibit. If you plan to visit Newgrange while in Ireland, this display helps you understand the way these massive tombs were constructed. There is also a reconstruction of the Hill of Tara, which is one of the most important places in Ireland’s history.
As you make your way around the room, in the back left corner, you will see the entrance to the “Kingship and Sacrifice” room. This contains one of the most unique displays you will ever see in a museum, the bog bodies. These bodies of human sacrifices date from 400 to 200 B.C. and were extremely well-preserved by the peat bogs found throughout Ireland. The bodies still have their hair, fingernails, and skin. You can even make out the calluses on their hands and the lines and expressions on their faces. It is hard to imagine that you are looking at a person who died well over 2,000 years ago. I will warn you that the bodies are not all intact so that can be difficult to see or explain. One in particular is missing the lower half of its body. The bodies are located in semi-circular “rooms” inside the exhibit space so you can avoid seeing them if you are squeamish or if you have little kids who might have nightmares. My boys, ages 14 and 10 at the time, were not scared at all and were fascinated by these bodies. They ran room to room, comparing the bodies and which one was best preserved and how they thought each had died. You can read more about the history and see pictures of bog bodies here to determine if this is something that your kids can handle. This display is one of the things that my sons will never forget!
After leaving this room, head back out to the main exhibit hall to check out the Bronze Age gold displays before heading upstairs. My boys weren’t as interested in these displays but they are quite fascinating, with extremely large gold necklaces and brooches, many of which were also found in peat bogs. You can imagine these items in the ancient tales that have been passed down through Irish history. The Treasury room is also of some interest, with metal crosses and other Celtic metal items. Feel free to skip this room if the kids are getting restless.
Head upstairs and don’t miss the kids’ play room, which contains hands-on activities to help your kids understand what they are seeing. This room was too young for my boys but if you have children between the ages of 2-9, this room looked great!
Head straight to the Viking displays, which takes up one whole side of the museum. My kids spent a lot of time here, looking at the displays, including a scale model of a Viking town in Ireland. Viking weapons, especially swords, and armor are also fun for kids to see. There is also a replica of a Viking ship that is really interesting. This part of the museum pairs really well with a visit to another Dublin museum focused on the Viking era, Dublinia. I will be reviewing it soon!
The Viking displays lead into the Medieval Ireland displays, which my kids also quickly enjoyed. The rest of the displays are not essential to see but if your kids are having fun, check out Ancient Egypt artifacts.
Your kids will love feeling like Indiana Jones as they pretend to be archaeologists at this museum. In fact, my son still talks about this museum and has added “archaeologist” to his ever-changing list of possible careers. Since the museum is free, it’s a great place to pop in and stay for as little or as long as you’d like!
- Cost: Free
- Recommended: ages 10 and up
- Tour time: 1 hour
- Gift shop and cafe located onsite
- Transportation: The museum is near many other tourist attractions and is within walking distance from most hotels. It is also easily accessible from several forms of public transportation – Dublin Bus, Luas light rail, and DART commuter rail.
- Dining options nearby: There is a cafe onsite. Nearby is a family-friendly pizza and pasta restaurant that we liked, Gotham Cafe.
- Nearby hotels: See my Dublin review for ideas!
- Nearby attractions: National Library, National Gallery, National Museum of Ireland-Natural History, Trinity College/Book of Kells/Old Library, Merrion Square with its fantastic “Giants Garden” playground and colorful Oscar Wilde statue, and St. Stephen’s Green with a playground and the ticket kiosk for “Viking Splash” tours
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- The O’Brien Book of Irish Fairy Tales and Legends
- How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe
- In Search of Ancient Ireland: The Origins of the Irish from Neolithic Times to the Coming of the English
- The Dublin Saga (The Princes of Ireland and The Rebels of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd (for older teens)
- Bog Bodies Uncovered: Solving Europe’s Ancient Mystery
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up:
Have you seen the bog bodies? Comment below!