As part of our Irish Icons series, we’re taking a look at Phoenix Park, an oasis of calm and nature in Dublin and one of the biggest city parks in Europe.
Across its 1,752 acres, visitors go to Phoenix park for Dublin Zoo, horse riding, polo, cricket, organised model airplane flying, running and rock concerts (among other activities).
Most of what the park offers is free and we think it’s a beautiful thing to have so many acres of greenery, where deer frolic and flowers bloom, in a capital city.
We’ll start with a little history of the park and then move onto trivia and activities.
History of Phoenix Park
One of Ireland’s most popular spots, Phoenix Park is over 350 years old.
Initially, it was a lot less publicly accessible than it is today. In 1662, under King Charles II, it was a hunting ground for visiting British royals. Visitors hunted pheasant and deer, which might be why the park was walled. Descendants of these deer still roam the park today.
The 18th Century saw extensive military presence in Phoenix Park. Today, the park holds a local army barracks, but back then, it was the site for British army’s military manoeuvres, the Royal Hibernian Military School (for children of soldiers on duty abroad) and the Magazine Fort, which held munitions and arms for other barracks.
In 1747 the park was opened for public use by the Earl of Chesterfield.
While it might be hard to imagine now, it was also the site of motor racing events at the turn of the 20th Century, including a major international one in 1929.
The 20th Century was an eventful one for the park, with extensive restoration and the planting of thousands of trees that are still there.
There was also a visit by the Pope in 1979 and one in 10 Irish boys born in 1980 were named after the visiting pontiff! You might be attending a 40th for your friend JP, John or John Paul sometime in 2020.
Three things you might not know about Phoenix Park
1. Phoenix Park is bigger than Central Park
Dublin’s biggest park is often compared to New York’s Central Park: both parks are unusually large for their location in a major city. And both are relatively central to major residences and rush hour traffic. In Phoenix Park’s case, thousands of commuters drive and cycle through it every day.
Visitors often wonder which of the two parks is bigger, and the answer is Phoenix Park. At 1,752 acres it positively dwarfs Central Park, which spans a mere 842 acres.
That said, some city parks, such as South Mountain Park in (ironically enough) Phoenix, Arizona, are bigger than Dublin’s largest park.
2. The name has nothing to do with birds
Phoenix Park is commonly thought to be named after the breed of bird. And it makes sense, especially when you look at how it was left to ruin and rebuilt over the years, rising like a phoenix.
But in fact, its name comes from the Irish phrase “Fionn Uisce” meaning “clear water”.
3. Viking Graves are in Phoenix Park
It’s hard to know how many Vikings were actually buried here, given the park’s size and the time that’s passed. That said, about 40 Viking graves have been found there, making it the largest Viking burial place outside of Scandinavia.
Attractions and Events
Phoenix Park Visitor Centre
The Phoenix Park’s Visitor Centre is a draw all year around, but especially in the summer, where families enjoy the picnic benches, mini hedge maze, café, little museum and playground.
Aras an Uachtaráin
This magnificent building is the office and residence of our president.
You can get guided tours of Áras an Uachtrán (booking is recommended) all year round. We especially endorse summer visits, as that’s when the glorious flowers are in bloom and – sometimes – the President pops down to say hello.
You’ve probably seen the Irish State Guest House in the news over the years, as it accommodates visiting dignitaries and is often used for photo opportunities and press conferences.
Farmleigh House, a gorgeous mansion, is open for tours and its grounds (open seven days a week) have plenty to offer, including an art gallery, café, walled garden and a regular food market.
This is also where you’ll find captivating international public events, like Japan Day and India Day. Speaking of which…
Phoenix Park Events
There is a rich calendar of events in Phoenix Park, including:
- Japan Day in April
- Bloom in May
- 5k and 10k runs throughout summer
- India Day in August
As you might imagine, this is constantly being updated with new, diverse things to do, so check out Phoenix Park’s events calendar for up to date information.
Phoenix Park Playgrounds
Finally, if you’ve got kids, Phoenix Park has two very decent play areas. There’s one in the “People’s Garden” (accessible via North Circular Road entrance) with swings and slides especially suitable for little ones. Bring some oats to feed the ducks from the nearby pond.
Alternatively, there’s a bigger playground behind the Visitors’ Centre.
We Heart Phoenix Park
Modern life can be frantic and complicated, but we’re lucky in Ireland to live close to nature no matter where we are. Even if you live in a major European capital city, if that city is Dublin, you’re never far from the flora, fauna…and fauns of Phoenix Park.
If you’re traversing the Park or going further, remember that OSI (whose head office is in Phoenix Park!) has been drafting comprehensive maps of every corner of the country for over 190 years.