On my previous trips to Dublin, I had walked by Trinity College many times but never ventured inside. I had heard that the library was a must-see even if you just have one day in Dublin but just brushed it off.
It’s more than just a place for book lovers, the Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College is an interesting lesson in art, history, and religion. And if that is not enough, the Long Room upstairs is just visually stunning and filled with so many amazing books.
Let me tell you what you can expect when you go to see the Book of Kells exhibit in Dublin.
The Book of Kells Exhibit
So you may be wondering what is the Book of Kells and what is so special about it? Well, first of all, it probably dates back to the 9th century. Since the Book of Kells has textual errors and such ornately decorated pages, historians believe it was for altar furniture for special occasions rather than for daily use.
It may have been commissioned to celebrate the bicentenary of the death of St. Colum Cille who founded the monastery in Iona. At one point the Book of Kells was stolen, then later returned. For security purposes, it was sent to Dublin in 1653.
You don’t get to see the Book of Kells right away. You have to go through the exhibit which helps you appreciate the book and learn some Book of Kells facts.
First, you learn about how the Book of Kells was made. I hadn’t thought about it before but obviously, they don’t have the tools that we do now to be able to make books. They actually used 185 calf skins to make the pages. They were very resourceful and used various things such as gypsum, green clay, and indigo indigotin to get the colors that they needed.
The Book of Kells exhibition also helped explain some of the symbolism in the book. I appreciated the display that explained the most celebrated page which is called Chi Rho. Chi Rho is the name of Christ abbreviated in Greek form. There are so many details on this page. If you look closely, in addition to the elaborate Book of Kell letters you can find fish, mice, cats, and even an otter.
After the exhibit, you enter the room where the actual Book of Kells is stored. Since it was divided into four volumes in 1953, you can see four different pages, all under glass. They also have enlarged versions of some of the Book of Kell pages on the wall for you to examine closer.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: For conservation reasons, the Book of Kells will not be on display from November 4, 2019, to early March 2020. During this period, ticket prices are reduced by 15% and visitors can still see the Book of Kells Exhibition and the Long Room.
If you happen to be visiting Dublin during this time, I still think it is worth going to the exhibit. You can still learn about the history of the Book of Kells and see the Long Room Library, and I am guessing it might be less crowded.
Trinity University Library
Once you have finished looking at the Book of Kells, then you go upstairs to the Long Room. This famous Dublin Library is covered in dark wood and full of countless old books. The books went all the way up to the ceiling, and each section had ladders to reach the top shelves.
Along each side, there are busts of various famous men including Socrates, Shakespeare, and even some I wasn’t sure who they were. It is quite a sight to see. Many people mistakenly think that the Trinity College library was a filming location for the Harry Potter movies, but that library is actually in Oxford.
Also, towards the far end of the room, you can find the Brian Boru harp inside a glass case. It is the oldest surviving Irish Harp and the national symbol of Ireland is modeled after it. Although it is mistakenly linked to Brian Boru who was king in 1014, it probably dates from later in the middle ages. It was presented to Trinity College in the 1700s and then restored and restrung in 1961.
The Book of Kells Tickets
As with other popular tourist attractions, there can be a long line to get inside. We arrived at about noon on a Saturday and there was a queue. So I definitely recommend buying your Book of Kells tickets for timed entry online before you go.
The ticket price varies from €11-€14 per person depending on the time that you want to see the Book of Kells exhibit. Children under 12 are free. If you are traveling with kids (over 12), there is a family option that can save you money.
When you arrive you will receive a leaflet with information about the exhibition. It is available in 10 different languages. If you prefer, there are audio guides in French, English, Spanish, German, Italian and Chinese that can be rented for €5.
If you don’t buy tickets online in advance, you can get them (subject to availability) at the ticket kiosks located at the Nassau Street entrance to Trinity College Dublin or the ticket desk within the exhibition. There may be a wait though.
Check out this list if you are looking for free things to do in Dublin.
Book of Kells Exhibition Hours
The operating hours for the Book of Kells varies depending on the time of year. From May to September, it is open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Saturday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm on Sunday. From October to April, it is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Saturday from 12:00 pm to 4:30 pm on Sunday.
Allow about one hour to see the Book of Kells exhibition and the Long Room Library.
For those that choose to visit during the week, there is a short talk at 3:00 pm about the preservation activities in the Old Library. The talk is included in the price of your admission to the Book of Kells exhibition.
Is the Book of Kells Exhibit Accessible?
Yes. While there are stairs leading from the Book of Kells Exhibit to the Long Room Library, there is an elevator too. Just let the staff know if you need it.
Touring Trinity College
It is also worth mentioning that the campus of Trinity College is beautiful and worth exploring. We walked around a bit before we went inside the library and took a few pictures, but they do also offer 35 minute guided tours.
While you can get a combined ticket for both the tour and the Book of Kells for €15, you cannot purchase it in advance. Given the popularity of the Book of Kells exhibit, I would recommend booking that in advance and then showing your tickets to get the tour for an additional €4.
To purchase a ticket for the guided tour, go to the Authenticity Tours desk, by the Front Gate, inside the campus.
You can check the schedule for the guided tours here.
While you are in Dublin, you should also visit Dublin Castle. It has a fascinating history!
How to Get to the Book of Kells Exhibit
The Book of Kells Exhibit is located on the campus of Trinity College in the heart of Dublin.
The best way to get to the Book of Kells exhibition is to take public transportation. You can take the DART to either Pearse Street, Tara Street or Connolly Stations, which are all a short walk away. Alternatively, take the light rail to College Green or Dawson.
Don’t try to drive to Trinity College – there are no parking facilities.
I thought the Book of Kells exhibit was interesting and the Long Room was just beautiful. Have you visited Trinity College?
Expert Tips for Visiting Trinity College and the Book of Kells
- Get Book of Kells online tickets in advance to avoid a wait.
- Take a tour of Trinity College if you have time.
- Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the Book of Kells experience. Inside the Long Room Library, you can take photos, but they do not allow tripods or flash photography.
- Here are some more photos that will inspire you to visit Dublin.
Disclosure: No financial compensation was received, but we did receive complimentary tickets to the Book of Kells exhibit. As always, opinions expressed here are my own.