Walking the Etihad Skyline was one of the highlighted from my very first visit to Dublin. What better way to see the Irish capital, than from atop of it’s most famous and beloved sporting arena.
Owing to my love of sports, especially what I would call football, I’ve seen and been inside my fair share of stadia around the world.
From stadium tours to attending games themselves, ‘collecting’ new stadiums has been a hobby of mine for quite some time, and on a recent visit to Ireland I was more than happy to tick another sporting arena off the list.
Dublin’s Croke Park is the largest amateur sports stadium in the world, holding up to 82,300 spectators. It is the headquarters of the GAA (Gaelic Athletics Association), which itself is one of the largest amateur sporting associations in the world. Every year fans of Gaelic Football and Hurling cram into this incredible stadium to watch the All Ireland Finals. This was to be the scene of my latest stadium triumph.
Croke Park Museum
Gaelic Football? Hurling? Now if these are not sports that you are familiar with, fear not, for Croke Park is easily large enough to hours an incredibly big, and detailed museum which provides you with all the tools you’ll need in order to quickly learn and understand these two exciting Irish sports. In fact, the museum will not only teach you the history, the rules, how the necessary equipment is made and which individuals have been crowned the best players throughout the ages, it also has the capacity to let you try each of the sports for yourself. An interactive museum, now that’s a winner!
I won’t lie, I was terrible with a hurling stick, more commonly referred to as a hurley. I thought that having played cricket as a teenager that I might be OK with my bat and ball coordination, but whilst I was able to hit the slith (ball) at 80kph, I didn’t necessarily hit it on target. Far from it in fact! Hazardous would be a good word to describe my Hurling skills at this point. Just those brief few minutes spent in the museum with a hurley in hand gave me a new found appreciation for the skill of the men and women who partake in the sport, its tough!
The museum, whilst very interesting to have a look around, was not the main purpose of my visit however. In the nicest way I was simply killing time in there, an hour or so, just until my tour started. I was at Croke Park to take the Etihad Skyline tour – a tour of the stadium roof, which affords not only great views of the stadium itself, but all over Dublin.
The Etihad Skyline Tour
My Etihad Skyline tour started at 11am sharp, just a mere two hours after I had touched down in Dublin from London. I was still a little bleary eyed after an early start, but needed to wake myself up and pay attention at this point as it was time for the safety talk and demonstration. It was simple enough to be fair, a few house rules, a demo and then practice of attaching our harnesses to the guide wires that would line the stadium roof walkaway and keep us from tumbling off. We also went around the room and introduced ourselves. To be surprise I was the only non Irish attendee, but at the same time this made me feel more confident about the tour, and that I’d found something highly thought of and appreciated by locals. Anyway, with bags safely locked away and harnesses strapped on, we made our way through the skeleton of the stadium and up to the roof.
The route to the roof was actually via the upper tier of west facing Hogan Stand. As we emerged into the stand from the concourse, we could see a practice session taking place on the pitch itself which was a treat.
To our left we could also clearly make out the most unique part of the stadium, the all terrace Nally/Hill 16 stand (the stand seems to have 2 names on the official seating plan). Stadium terraces are pretty rare nowadays, especially on this scale – 13,000 capacity. In certain parts of Europe ‘safe standing’ sections are now being trialed, but owning to issues with crowd violence the 1980’s, come the 90’s a lot of the larger sports stadiums in Europe made the switch to all-seater in the interests of safety (some sporting bodies made this a policy). Croke Park is unique in that Sunlight (or a lack there of) has enabled it to keep hold of its iconic terracing. It was once deemed that expanding the stand upwards would cause the houses located behind the stand to received too little sunlight, and so the terrace remains, just in a more modern design after a 2005 redevelopment.
From entering the Hogan Stand we walked up the steps to row Z (or whatever row is the very last in the upper tier) and through a caged liked tunnel system up to the roof. The wind was instantly felt. Our guide at this point instructed us that we were to clip onto the safety cable system, and then we were off.
The safety cable is set up so that you don’t have to do anything really. As you walk, a carabiner and clip simply hang at your side, and slide along the cable and your walk forwards. Simple but effective. On occasion it might get a little stuck, at the sections where the cable to attached to the roof walkway platform, but a little tug and your were on your way again.
The 0.6m walk around the Etihad Skyline makes 5 separate stops. At each of these there is a information board which points out key features of the Dublin skyline in front of you. In addition to these info boards, your guide will also provide you with a little more info, but on the somewhat quirkier side. These little stories from our guide were perhaps my favourite part of the tour, and whilst I don’t want to spoil them in case of any potential future visits to Croke Park by you guys, I will say that the story of Patrick O’Connell will be of particular interest to any sports/soccer fans. Well worth a read!
Starting on the west side (Hogan Stand) of the stadium, we made our way around the roof to the south (Davin Stand) and then the east (Cusack Stand) of the skyline walkway. From the 5 vantage points of the walkway we could pick out any number of Dublin’s famous attractions. There was the Spire, the Jameson factory, the Guinness factory, the Botanical Gardens and Dublin Castle. I could also see the Docklands, where I would later that weekend try wakeboarding for the very first time.
There was no filler in this tour, each viewing platform offered interesting and relevant sites in and around Dublin, and in effect helped me plan and mentally map our my plan for seeing the best of Dublin in the next 48 hours. It was a great way to start my weekend!
The walk around the roof of Croke Park is very easy in itself, and whilst I am not one for heights usually, it wasn’t until we neared the end of the tour that my knees started to go a little weak . It is as you make your way around the south-east corner of the stadium that an overhang walkway becomes accessible to you. I’m not sure that ‘overhang walkway’ is the correct term here, but that’s effectively what it did, it deviated from the roof and stretched out and hung over the playing field. As with the rest of the walkway, some incredible views were provided, but I must admit to holding onto the railings a little tighter at this point. Yes, I am a giant wuss.
And that was it, 2 hours later and we had completed the skyline walk and I know knew what lay in wait for me during the rest of my weekend. For €20, I would struggle to think of a better introduction to a new city, especially for me when considering sports and amazing views are two of my favourite things.
Getting to the Stadium from the Airport was via just a single bus, at €6 a ticket. From the Stadium itself and having finished the tour I then walked into the centre of Dublin, this only taking 25 minutes or so. I believe the DART also runs close by, so Croke Park is very accessible. As such, if you are any kind of sports fan I would implore you to take this tour. There is an alternative Stadium tour on offer also, whereby you get to see the Press Boxes, changing rooms, trophy cabinets etc, but you can do that kind of tour at most other stadiums. The Skyline tour is where it’s at, its something just that little bit different and as I mentioned probably countless times already in this post, a great intro to Dublin.
Essential info and links
Adults: €20 / £16
Kids: €12 / £9.50
- 5 viewing platforms
- 17 storeys / 44 metres high
- 0.6km walk
- Guided tour inc history of surrounding areas
- Additional audio guides – multi lingual