From February, 2015
Now I know there is deep, deep affection for the Old Sod. I have actually been there three times and have been smitten myself. But just want to start by saying that if you are seeking an outwardly gorgeous city that takes your breath away, Dublin is not that place. It’s more like that seemingly shy and simple date whose beauty comes out as you get to know her/him. What makes Dublin so enchanting is not the cityscape (which for the most part is pretty drab compared to other jewels of Europe), but the city’s heart. The spirit, the tears and triumphs of the denizens is palpable in every cobblestone, monument and pint of Guinness. In other words, it’s what’s inside and often hidden that makes you see the true beauty of the place.
My last trip was a winter one and the Irish eyes were smiling on us because while it was a bit cold and bracing, nary a drop of water rained on our parade. This last trip was a mere 4 days which is almost enough time to get your Irish on and in synch with the hum of the harp.
A few tips. Best people EVER! One of the few places in Europe I’ve been where they treat you BETTER because you are an American. And if you are from New York or Boston, you are almost royalty. (And I’m not even a scintilla Irish!). Everyone is friendly and helpful and downright jovial. Hard to believe in a place with the weather of Seattle. But there it is.
Hotels can be pricey. As we were off season we got a great deal with airfare from AerLingus. They often have packages that are a great value. We stayed at O’Callaghans Davenport Hotel, a perfectly serviceable spot with an okay restaurant in a charming old building. (Lovely staff who didn’t toss us out when we almost set fire to the breakfast room by putting a scone in the toaster.) But a great part of town to stay. (Merrion Square area). Close to everything, but not in the thick of the noise and the crowds. 8-10 Merrion Street Lower, Dublin 2, Ireland,+353 1 607 3500; http://www.davenporthotel.ie/
It goes without saying that renting a car in this town is foolish unless you are an adrenaline junkie. Not necessary. Airport is close to the city so a taxi isn’t terribly expensive. Plenty of mass transit as well, and it’s a place that beckons for you to see it by foot. And by all means wander. Go mapless and find a bit of magic you might not find in any guidebook.
To start, let’s discuss the where and what to do.
What to Do:
There is so much but here are my highlights.
Usual Suspects, but musts for a first time trip:
O’Connell Street, Statue of the “Tart with a Cart” aka Molly Malone, St. Patrick’s (non-Catholic) Church, Trinity College and the Book of Kells, Temple Bar area, St. Stephen’s Green (Dublin’s Central Park), Phoenix Park (home of the renowned Dublin Zoo), Dublin Castle, Christchurch Cathedral, Guinness and Jamison Distilleries.
The National Museum of Ireland (Kildare Street) has the bog people (amazing) and is resplendent with Bronze Age jewelry and all sorts or archaeological finds you won’t see anywhere else.
The Bridges Over the Liffey… there are many with quite a few new ones over the past 15 years. My fave is the newish Samuel Beckett Bridge that looks like an Irish Harp.
North Side of the Liffey: “The Docklands” area has been built up recently and is quite a lively new part of town. Wander toward the convention center which is a very unique architectural structure.
Kilmainham Gaol: This is the famous prison where all political prisoners were during “The Troubles”. Worth a look see if this is your first time
Hop-on-hop-off bus…I know, I know…the ultimate touristy thing but a great way to get your bearings in the city. Best way to see Phoenix Park if you don’t have too much time.
Theater…whether it’s the Abbey, the Gaiety or the National Theater, take advantage of the English speaking theater in the place with playwriting in its DNA.
(Check out Link 1 below for more great sightseeing options)
Shopping…forget Grafton Street. One big mall like we have in the US. Wander beyond Grafton to the area of the Powercourt Townhouse, George Street Arcade, Castle Market, Exchequer St., Drury St., South William St., Suffolk Street, if you want to see local merchants and designers; Irish wares that aren’t tourist crap. Charming area. And stop for a bit of tea to rest your shopping feet.
(Check out Link 3 below for more great shopping options)
Where to Eat:*
Forget all of the old myths you’ve heard about Ireland being a food wasteland. Not true and hasn’t been for a long time. There are so many culinary options all with a bit of an Irish twist using locally sourced ingredients that are turned into sumptuous fare.
Forest Avenue: Queens, NY transplants own and are the chefs. May be one of the best meals I’ve ever had, anywhere. Locally sourced, creatively prepared. If you can only go to one dinner in Dublin, this is the place. They serve tasting menu options with or without wine pairings. Charming spot bi-level location. (See link 1 below for details; and a few other options).RESERVATIONS A MUST. 8 Sussex Terrace; 353-1-677-8337; http://forestavenuerestaurant.ie/
The Green Hen: Franco-Irish brasserie. Locally sourced. French bordello décor, but kitschy. Frenchy but not fancy. Great Guinness made bread. (See link 1 below for details.) RESERVATIONS RECOMMENDED. 33 Exchequer Street; 353-1-670-7238; http://www.greenhen.ie/
Mulligan Grocer: Fab gastropub. Farm to table. Irish microbrews. Great atmosphere. Old bookshop look. (See link 2 below for details; and other options.) RESERVATIONS SUGGESTED. 18 Stoneybatter; 353-1-670-9889; http://www.lmulliganrocer.com
The Hot Stove: An elegant (but not off-putting) spot in a Georgian townhouse on the very pretty Parnell Square. Modern and flavorful take on Irish cuisine. Delish. (See link 2 below for details.) RESERVATIONS A MUST. 38 Parnell Square West; 353-1-874-7778; http://thehotstove.ie/
(Check out Links 2 & 5 below for more great food options that we just didn’t get to)
*In high season (May–Sept), make reservations where noted at least a month in advance if not earlier.
Where to Drink:
I am a big fan of hotel bars…particularly the ones I may not be able to afford to stay in. Here are a few I highly recommend.
The Shelbourne: The Grand Dame of the bunch. The larger No. 27 Bar/Lounge is a cool space with a nice buzz but can be either noisy or crowded. For a more intimate experience go find the historic Horseshoe Bar (which I believe is downstairs or in the back) for a more “leathered” aristocratic libation. Was great fun and they made a fabulous Old Fashioned. And overlooking the loveliest part in Dublin. 27 St. Stephen’s Green www.marriott.com/hotels/hotel-information/restaurant/dubbr-the-shelbourne-dublin-a-renaissance-hotel/
The Clarence: The pioneer of the trendy Temple Bar district of U2 founding fame. Right on the Liffey. There are a bunch of options here depending on your mood and time of day, but the Octagon Bar was where we had a great pre-dinner drink in a somewhat traditional yet funky venue. Overall, the whole Clarence scene is a bit more beautiful people, but manageable and a good stop when you are in this part of town. 6-8 Wellington Quay; http://theclarence.ie/food-drink/cleaver-east/
The Merrion; A stunningly beautiful, yet classic hotel that I hope to afford a room in one day. That said they have several bar options where even I can afford a drink in such an elegant setting. The Cellar Bar is the mainstay here and is all wood and classy-ness. (Also a gentleman’s club like spot…in the old sense of that expression…called Bar No. 23, but did not venture there). In nice weather the Garden Terrace is open for drinks and food. Lovely area right off Merrion Square (not far from the statue of Oscar Wilde). Upper Merrion Street; http://www.merrionhotel.com/dining_options.php
While finding real, authentic Irish music is a quest in Dublin (most bars cater to the tourist set), a chatty cabbie turned us on to a wonderful pub walking distance from Forest Avenue bistro…
The Cobblestone: This is a place to get a pint of Guinness and whiskey neat. The barkeep (who looks as old and gnarly as the bar itself, was skeptical of my simple whiskey order, being a lady and not Irish of course, and served it to me with ice and a splash of ginger ale. He was right. It was delicious.) Nothing fancy here. No cover, no minimum and mostly no tourists. Front of the pub is reserved for musicians who come and go as they please joining in as it suits them. It was fabulous. Only had this kind of local Irish music experience farther afield in the countryside of Ireland. Don’t miss. You will enjoy every second. 77 King Street North, Smithfield Dublin http://cobblestonepub.ie/
(Check out Link 4 below for more great drinking options that we just didn’t get to)
Off the beaten track: For a free afternoon, take the local commuter train that goes along the seaside and go north to Howth where you can get the best seafood aka fish and chips you will ever have in your life at The Oar House, 8 West Pier, Howth; http://oarhouse.ie/
Then take the train to Malahide Village, a charming little town with the Malahide Castle & Gardens, a magnificent 12th century castle with gorgeous grounds and preserved rooms. Worth the tour (Reserve in advance). http://www.malahidecastleandgardens.ie/
The train to the south of Dublin is also a great ride stopping in all the little seaside villages that the well-heeled Irish call their weekend homes. On a nice day, it’s a real lovely jaunt.
Great resource links to download and print out/bookmark.