Feeling lucky? It might be the luck o’ the Irish calling your family to visit Dublin, Ohio, a city that celebrates all-things Irish all year long. Located just 20 minutes north of Columbus, Dublin is a city with lots of activities for families — especially during the colder months. From brisk nature walks to frozen waterfalls, and holiday lights to elf and fairy trails, you’ll be surprised by all the winter adventure that’s waiting for families in Dublin.
What to Do in Dublin
Wildlights at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
If you’re looking for a can’t-miss holiday activity in Central Ohio, Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is it. Over three million LED lights and animated displays illuminate the grounds, transforming the zoo into a winter wonderland.
My family and I had a great time just walking around, visiting animals, and being surrounded by lights and holiday music. Wildlights has been an Ohio family tradition for more than 32 years, and I can see why: It’s amazing! It really is one of those things that you have to see in person — photos don’t do it justice. It really put us in a holiday mood.
For an additional fee, visitors can also take part in Wildlights rides, including the Polar Bear Express, camel rides and the 1914 Mangels-Illions Carousel, a historic Central Ohio treasure. Or grab a stick and a giant marshmallow, and toast it over an open fire at the S’mores Experience.
Pro tip: Wildlights runs through January 3, 2022.
Bridge Park and the Dublin Link
Did you know that Dublin is home to the world’s longest single-tower “S” shaped suspension bridge? Take a walk across this record-breaking bridge, called the Dublin Link, when you visit the Bridge Park area. This urban park has lots of green space, places to picnic, and easy access to the Scioto River. It connects Dublin’s historic district with the more modern, bustling downtown Dublin.
Pro tip: You’ll get a great view of the Scioto River from the bridge. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
Irish Fairy Door Trail
In the mood for some fairy magic? Channel the luck of the Irish and use it to find the 12 hidden fairy doors hidden all around Dublin’s historic district. The Irish Fairy Door Trail is one of the most fun ways to see Dublin on foot, and it is an activity that can be done all year long, 24 hours a day.
If you can, start your magical journey at the Dublin Visitor & Information Center, where you can pick up a Fairy Door Trail Passport. Find all 12 fairy doors, write the fairy names on the guide, and turn it in for a free Irish Fairy Doors of Dublin t-shirt. The passport is also available online here.
Pro tip: During the month of December, visitors can hunt for elves on the fairy trail, instead!
Dublin Toy Emporium
As we wandered the brick-lined sidewalks of downtown Dublin looking for fairy doors, one of the stops on our fairy hunt took us to Dublin Toy Emporium. Of course, we had to go inside (my kids insisted!). I’m glad we did, because we were treated to a quaint shop filled with unique toys and games. Owned and operated by a local mom and former educator, this toy shop has nooks set up with toys that kids can try, and when we visited, there was a storytime happening in the back.
Dublin is packed with all-weather, all-year-long activities for families. The self-guided tours of the city’s multiple waterfalls was one of our favorite activities we experienced while in Dublin. And best of all: Touring the waterfalls is free, and it will get you outdoors to enjoy Central Ohio’s beautiful natural scenery. During the cold winter months, the waterfalls become frozen and take on an artistic look!
Hayden Run Falls (4326 Hayden Run Rd.) is a local favorite and an easy hike for all ages. The 30-foot waterfall is nestled between a busy road and suburbia, and takes less than five minutes from start to finish to get to the waterfall.
Indian Run Falls (700 Shawan Falls Dr.) will have you hiking across the bridges and down dirt paths above the streaming water. Look for a sign that indicates where the waterfall is located (it’s a bit hidden), then follow the path all the way down to the bank.
O’Shaughnessy Dam (1 Glick Rd.) is a man-made waterfall, and it is a sight to behold. This dam is impressive by its sheer size, and the beautiful walking path will take you to the bottom of the falls and give you an up-close look. Glick Park & Overlook is located here, so pack a picnic and enjoy lunch outdoors at one of the picnic tables while listening to the rushing water.
Pro tip: For bonus waterfall action, check out Wedgewood Hills Falls, a hidden gem located in a nearby neighborhood. This waterfall runs dry in the summer and fall due to a sinkhole, but if you’re visiting Dublin in the winter (and you have a bit of the Irish luck!), you might be able to see it!
Public Art Tour
As you travel around Dublin, you’ll probably notice something interesting: There’s a lot of public art in this city! Dublin is home to more than 60 large and small-scale permanent, temporary and interactive public art projects. You are pretty much guaranteed to see impressive art wherever you go, which makes for some great Insta-worthy photo opps. Here are some of my family’s favorites:
Field of Corn: 4995 Rings Rd.
Leatherlips: 7377 Riverside Dr.
Dancing Hares: 6350 Woerner Temple Rd.
Daily Chores: Historic Dublin, Corner of Bridge and High Streets
Visitors looking for more info on Dublin’s public art can take a cell phone tour, which will provide an interactive guide of the above artworks, as well as the rest of the entire collection in the Dublin Art in Public Places program.
What to Eat in Dublin
101 Beer Kitchen
An easy way to win a parent over is to have a good kids menu. The kids menu at 101 Beer Kitchen is great, and each kids meal comes with a choice of a cookie or puppy chow (housemade chocolate-and-sugar-covered crunchy cereal bites). The adult food menu is uncomplicated, and includes comfort-food favorites like loaded tater tots (a local favorite) and fish & chips.
Frank n’ Carl’s
Located in Dublin’s Bridge Park neighborhood, Frank n’ Carl is a sandwich shop that also specializes in breakfast bagels and bagel sandwiches. For breakfast, their bagel sandwich with egg, bacon, cheese and freshly made chorizo cream cheese is a must. For lunch, you can’t go wrong with the Roger Roger (a hot sandwich loaded with pepperoni and capicola) or the 2 Flannels & a Vest (a hot pastrami and smoked cheddar sandwich). And bonus: They serve beer, wine, cocktails and dessert. You can find something to eat here for every meal of your trip to Dublin — just ask me how I know.
This sweet shop — which specializes in custom cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and other desserts — was one of the stops on the Irish Fairy Door Trail, and we had to stop in for some of their delicious cupcakes. Our Cupcakery has a make-your-own cupcake menu, where you can customize your cupcake to fit your exact preferences. They also sell pre-made cupcakes, as well as decorated sugar cookies, brownies and more.
Imagine a foodie paradise lined with restaurants offering varying cuisine, from Vietnamese pho to Somali sambusas, all in one place. That’s what you’ll find at North Market, one of Dublin’s newest food hall attractions. The Market is a great place to find food and goods that highlight the diversity of central Ohio’s population, and it’s a great spot for families to grab a bite to eat.
You’ll find tacos, falafel and sushi stands inside the North Market food hall, but for more conventional eaters, you’ll also find pizza (local favorite Gallo’s Pizzeria just opened their North Market location in November 2021), as well as burgers, bubble tea and bakeries. Then, find a seat at one of the many tables or booths located throughout the food hall, and people-watch while you enjoy your meal.
Dublin Village Tavern
For a meal with a bit of history, we stopped for dinner at Dublin Village Tavern, an iconic restaurant located in Dublin’s historic district. Loved by locals and visitors alike, the restaurant serves Irish-inspired food, like shepherd’s pie and meatloaf with Guinness gravy. The building that the restaurant sits in was estimated to have been built in 1889!
Known for their chocolates and ice cream, Kilwins is a must-visit to satisfy a sweet tooth. During the cold months, stop in for a nice cup of hot chocolate, or savor an Irish-themed treat, like Irish creme truffles or The Lucky Irish chocolate-dipped Oreos. And of course: Can you even say you visited Ohio if you didn’t eat at least one buckeye? Thankfully, Kilwins has lots of these peanut-butter-and-chocolate treats in their display cases.
Pro tip: On select days, you can watch the workers make fresh caramel corn right before your eyes!
Where to Stay in Dublin
We stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott, located in the heart of Dublin. This hotel was perfect for our family: it had comfy beds, free wifi, and a free hot breakfast each morning. But best of all, this hotel has a basketball court and indoor swimming pool. These last two features were the most important to my kids! I really enjoyed the fact that each room in the hotel has a full kitchenette, complete with a full-sized refrigerator/freezer, plus dishes, utensils and glasses stocked in the cabinets. These things really made our stay much more comfortable, and made us feel like we were in a home away from home.
Pro tip: The Residence Inn by Marriot is also pet-friendly, so bring your furry family members!
If your family is looking for a great getaway for winter break — or any time of the year — Dublin delivers! Visit the Visit Dublin Ohio website to learn more.