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Croke Park Stadium Tour: Step inside Ireland's sporting cathedral

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Cian Nolan guiding a stadium tour at Croke Park

Cian Nolan guiding a stadium tour at Croke Park

Kyle Doyle (6) visits the GAA Museum in Croke Park. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Kyle Doyle (6) visits the GAA Museum in Croke Park. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Pól Ó Conghaile on the Etihad Skyline tour at Croke Park

Pól Ó Conghaile on the Etihad Skyline tour at Croke Park

The Croke Park Stadium Tour

The Croke Park Stadium Tour

Jerseys in the dressing room at Croke Park

Jerseys in the dressing room at Croke Park

GAA Museum

GAA Museum

Croke Park

Croke Park

Katie Taylor's gold medal from London 2012. At Croke Park's Irish Olympians exhibition. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Katie Taylor's gold medal from London 2012. At Croke Park's Irish Olympians exhibition. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Ericsson skyline tour, Croke Park

Ericsson skyline tour, Croke Park

In the dressing rooms on the Stadium Tour, Croke Park

In the dressing rooms on the Stadium Tour, Croke Park

Cian Nolan takes his tour through the dressing rooms at Croke Park. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Cian Nolan takes his tour through the dressing rooms at Croke Park. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Croke Park chandelier

Croke Park chandelier

Blackthorn Cafe, Croke Park

Blackthorn Cafe, Croke Park

Croke Park Hotel, Dublin

Croke Park Hotel, Dublin

The Etihad Skyline Tour offers a view of Dublin, 17 stories up. Photo: Caroline Quinn

The Etihad Skyline Tour offers a view of Dublin, 17 stories up. Photo: Caroline Quinn

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Cian Nolan guiding a stadium tour at Croke Park

Croke Park is Ireland's sporting cathedral, but there's a lot more to it than big summer games, writes our Travel Editor.

Set the mood

"There's only one continent that doesn't have a Gaelic games team," says Cian Nolan (above), our stadium tour guide at Croke Park. "And that's Antarctica."

We're in a dressing room deep inside Ireland's largest sporting arena; 82,300-capacity stands soar above us. The smell of fresh cut grass rises from a surface fit for snooker.

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Pól Ó Conghaile on the Etihad Skyline tour at Croke Park

Pól Ó Conghaile on the Etihad Skyline tour at Croke Park

Pól Ó Conghaile on the Etihad Skyline tour at Croke Park


Pól on the Etihad skyline tour.

Our tour travels from player tunnels to pitchside pass-bys and the highest reaches of the Cusack Stand, taking in a galaxy of GAA culture, construction stats and legendary characters en route ("it looks like there's a bit of a shemozzle in the paralellagram," as one quote from Micheál Ó hEithir, who commented on 99 All Ireland finals, goes).

Summer hurling and football showdowns are Croke Park's biggest days, but there's a lot more to it than 70 minute spectaculars. This is a year-round attraction.

Cultural kicks

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Jerseys in the dressing room at Croke Park

Jerseys in the dressing room at Croke Park

Jerseys in the dressing room at Croke Park


Jerseys in the dressing room.

Great tours need great guides, and both of mine were excellent - differing in tone and delivery, but engaging their groups, stirring the banter and bringing scripts to life with humour and passion. Croke Park is right up there with the Nou Camp or Old Trafford as a cultural institution, but what sets it apart is its meaning for 32 counties.

"Players run 12km in a game, in just 70 minutes," says Cian. "And then they go to work." The soccer fans in our group are silenced.

Afterwards, grab a bite at the Blackthorn Café.

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Roof with a view

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Ericsson skyline tour, Croke Park

Ericsson skyline tour, Croke Park

Ericsson skyline tour, Croke Park


View from 17 storeys up.

It's no surprise that the Etihad Skyline Tour, which sees guests walk atop of the Cusack, Hogan and Davin stands on specially-constructed metal platforms, serves up bird's eye views of Dublin.

Seventeen storeys up, the panorama stretches from Dublin Airport to the Wicklow Mountains, with several quirky stories along the way (did you know there's still a field of cows in Drumcondra?).

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The Etihad Skyline Tour offers a view of Dublin, 17 stories up. Photo: Caroline Quinn

The Etihad Skyline Tour offers a view of Dublin, 17 stories up. Photo: Caroline Quinn

The Etihad Skyline Tour offers a view of Dublin, 17 stories up. Photo: Caroline Quinn

The highlight is a U-bend that veers out over the pitch itself - visitors are clipped to rails, and can skip the section if they wish - but essentially, the tour is a one-trick pony.

If you've only got time for one activity, I'd tip the Stadium Tour - pay less, learn more, and get a sniff of the views to boot.

Hotel Intel

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A deluxe room at the Croke Park hotel.

A deluxe room at the Croke Park hotel.

A deluxe room at the Croke Park hotel.


A deluxe room at the Croke Park.

The Croke Park hotel, a stone's throw from the stadium, bills itself as 'Dublin's iconic sporting hotel'. That's a stretch, but the Doyle Collection's clued-in service, Sideline Bistro (try the slow-cooked, Tipperary lamb) and an executive floor with turndown service raise the four-star's game.

Overall, I felt breakfast and facilities fell short of Cork's River Lee Hotel, probably the closest comparison within the group, but it's good on city packages - bundling tickets for Dublin Zoo or sightseeing tours in solid value offers, for example.

Top tip

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GAA Museum

GAA Museum

GAA Museum


The GAA Museum at Croke Park.

Croke Park's GAA Museum is chocca with memorabilia (highlights range from Michael Cusack's blackthorn stick to Muhammad Ali's shorts), and an exhibition on Ireland's Olympians runs to March. You can test your football and hurling skills, too.

Allow a good hour for a visit if you're a GAA fan.

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Kyle Doyle (6) visits the GAA Museum in Croke Park. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Kyle Doyle (6) visits the GAA Museum in Croke Park. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Kyle Doyle (6) visits the GAA Museum in Croke Park. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

 

Glitches

Several of the streets around Croke Park (Summerhill Parade and the North Circular in particular) are woefully rundown. There are complicated reasons for that, but outside of match days, it makes for a forbidding walk for families.

Get me there

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In the dressing rooms on the Stadium Tour, Croke Park

In the dressing rooms on the Stadium Tour, Croke Park

In the dressing rooms on the Stadium Tour, Croke Park


Touring the dressing rooms at Croke Park.

Croke Park's GAA Museum costs €6.50 for adults, €4.50 for kids, and €17 for families.

Stadium tours cost €13/€8.50/€35. The Etihad Skyline Tour costs €20/€12/€52 (both tours take around 1.5 hours, and include museum admission). Tours run adjusted schedules on match days (check crokepark.ie for details).

The Croke Park hotel's GAA family package bundles B&B, a three-course dinner and a stadium tour for a family of four from €229 (doylecollection.com).

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