Planning my trip to Dublin, Ireland, I thought that a visit to Trinity College Library was at most importance for such a bookworm like me. I was wrong. Filled with some of the most prominent national treasures, a visit to Trinity College Library tops itineraries of almost every traveler who explores Dublin for the first time.
Last updated: January 17, 2023
How to Visit the Library of Trinity College Dublin
A long, symmetrical room entices your eyes, creating an illusion that there is no end to these massive walls. Day and artificial lights seem to also be overwhelmed by the size of the room. Unable to unveil centuries-old secrets of the Long Room of the Trinity College Library, they settle for a rather humble visit.
But even in this dim light, you can see books. A great amount of them. In fact, there are so many books that they fill all the shelves that align the tall walls.
This was my first virtual visit to the Long Room of the Trinity College Library in Dublin. I wasn’t looking for any specific pictures to inspire my first trip to the capital of Ireland. But, frankly, they came in handy. Once I laid my eyes on the photos of the Library of Trinity College Dublin, I knew I had to visit it sooner or later.
Meet Trinity College Dublin
Fast forward a few weeks and I marched straight to Trinity College in attempt to see its famous library on my first day in Dublin. Despite the early morning hours, the place was packed.
Tourists, impressed by the size and opulent architecture of Trinity College, gathered in the main square. Just arrived college students were hurriedly leaving the maddening crowds behind and streaming in different directions of the campus.
After admiring the main square for a few more minutes, I followed their lead.
Visit Trinity College Dublin
Founded in 1592, Trinity College Dublin is one of the oldest universities in Western Europe. Its creation came in time when European cities strived for prestige and significance that would be bestowed on them upon the establishment of their own universities. For Ireland and Dublin, having its own university also meant an alignment with European school system and weakening of English control over the country.
Interestingly enough, Queen Elizabeth I, often called “the mother of a university”, founded the college. The royalty modeled the new establishment after the collegiate universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Sadly, only one college, the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, was built in the city.
The long official name of the institution, however, never gained popularity. Even today, both locals and visitors stick to the shorter names, such as Trinity College or University of Dublin.
Not being particularly popular, the early establishment occupied only a small part of today’s Front Square. The place set outside the walls of the city. As Dublin grew, it slowly swallowed the university, positioning it in the center of the city.
Today Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest surviving university, occupies 47 acres (190,000 square meters). It is recognized as one of the seven ancient universities of Great Britain and Ireland and one of the top academic institutions in Europe.
Library of Trinity College Dublin
One thing that differentiated Trinity College Dublin from other European newly-established universities was its eagerness and urgency of assembling its own library. Although the Library of Trinity College Dublin didn’t have its own space until the beginning of the 18th century, its collection started to grow almost instantly.
In 1661, Henry Jones presented the library with the Book of Kells. Up to this day, this ancient manuscript is one of the reasons why many people visit the Trinity College Library in the first place. In 1801, the library received legal deposit rights, allowing it to hold a copy of every book published in Ireland.
It was only a matter of time for such devotion and love for books to take shape in several buildings. Six of these library establishments are located on the Trinity College campus.
Visit the Old Library of Trinity College
While all the library buildings hold impressive book collections, the Old Library is the highlight of the visit to Trinity College Dublin.
The construction of the building started in 1712 and lasted twenty years. At the time of its completion, it was one of the tallest buildings on the campus. You can hardly notice the large scale of the Old Library when visiting Trinity College Dublin nowadays. Other structures of similar size surround the building, making it less profound from outside.
The interior, however, unveils the unprecedented character of the most famous library in the country. Even J.K. Rowling couldn’t resist it, using the Library of Trinity College Dublin as an inspiration for Hogwarts in Harry Potter.
The Long Room
The highlight of the visit to the Old Library is the Long Room. Home to 200,000 books and manuscripts, this 65-meter-long chamber impresses with an old charm and the 19th-century decor.
With its barrel-vaulted ceiling and floor-to-ceiling bookcases, the Long Room is rather dark. The natural light penetrates into the chamber through large windows. But trapped between the endless book shelves, the sun rays lose almost all their power by the time they make halfway through the room.
Fortunately, 14 white marble busts create a welcoming resonance, allowing for more light inside to the obvious delight of all those who visit the Long Room of the Library of Trinity College Dublin for the first time. Lining the chamber, these sculptures help your eyes adjust to the dim light quicker.
Once the overall darkness of the room ceases to bother the visitors of the Trinity College Library, the busts present themselves in full glory. The marble faces of great philosophers and writers of the Western World suddenly become your silent guides. With their strong connections with Trinity College Dublin, you can’t ask for the more knowledgeable companions.
The Book of Kells
While the Long Room entices with the Brian Boru Harp and one of the last remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, the Book of Kells always steals the show.
The finest example of the illuminated manuscript dates back to 800 AD. It contains the four Gospels of the New Testament with such opulent illustrations and ornamentations that surpass those in other Insular Gospel books.
The Book of Kells has been one the most cherished possession of the Trinity College Library since 1661. The manuscript first appeared on display only in the 19th century. To this day, thousands of tourists visit the Trinity College Library in attempt to see this ancient book.
Planning Your Visit to Trinity College Library
Address: College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
Admission to Trinity College Dublin
To visit Trinity College Dublin and learn more about its history, including its famous library, you can join student-led tours. They run from June though September. The ticket includes a tour through the college and admission to the Book of Kells. The tours are optional. If it is not your cup of tea, skip them and explore the Trinity College Dublin at your own pace, free of charge.
Admission and Times to Visit Trinity College Library and See Its Exhibits
Trinity College Library and its exhibits are open to visit seven days a week. You can purchase tickets online. The admission to the Book of Kells exhibit also includes a visit to the Old Library and the Long Room of the Library of Trinity College Dublin.
- May – September
- Monday – Saturday: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
- Sunday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
- October – April
- Monday – Saturday: 9:30 a.m – 5:00 p.m.
- Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Getting to Trinity College
Due to its central location, you can visit the Trinity College Library while exploring other landmarks of the city. Although Dublin’s public transport functions well, I would recommend exploring the center of the city on foot. Dublin with its colorful abundance offers many interesting places you otherwise risk to miss. Moreover, Trinity College Dublin is just a short walk away from Temple Bar and the famous Ha’penny Bridge.