There are many criteria to define what makes a great city. Athens and Rome have the centuries of ancient architecture to draw on, while Sydney boasts the Opera House. London and New York are financial centers of excellence, while Cape Town has the awe-inspiring Table Mountain as a natural backdrop. I reckon you should forgo all of these, and try out Dublin, Ireland.
Known for its friendly people, literary scene, hundreds upon hundreds of pubs, (we Irish obviously wanted to have a plan B in case our local pub ever runs out of beer – while we were at it, we thought it’d be a stellar idea to have a contingency Plan C, D, E and so on as well)…. The city is a veritable treasure trove of hidden gems.
Things to do in Dublin
But there is so much more to the city than the main tourist traps. And if you ever hear a Dubliner recommend that you go to a pub in Temple Bar, you can guarantee that the Dubliner in question has some kind of financial interest in the place, as the locals try and avoid the place like the plague, citing overpriced hospitality and kitsch faux-Irishness. For the authentic pub experience, go off the beaten track and find a place that does good cheap food, a decent pint, and because these things require extensive market research, you will be required to repeat the exercise numerous times while in the city!
Start by exploring some of the following gems:
- GPO (General Post Office), and the GPO Witness History exhibition. (the site of the HQ for the Irish revolution in 1916).
- Trinity College, the most prestigious university in the city, and where you can find the Book of Kells.
- Epic Ireland, a recently opened attraction, documenting the Irish diaspora and the Irish influence on the world.
- Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison, site of the incarceration and in some cases, execution of some Irish revolutionaries.
- Christchurch and St. Patrick’s Cathedral – the architecture alone is worth it, and the underground vault in Christchurch contains some priceless items.
- Dublin City Hall and the Custom House, both of which have exhibitions on Dublin’s storied history.
- National Museum of Ireland, Archaeology and National History.
- Michan’s Church, where you can find mummified remains!
- The Irish Whiskey Museum. (self-explanatory)!
Of course, for a bit of relaxation, take the chance to wander along the River Liffey which roughly cuts the city in two halves. There are some great parks to relax in too, Merrion Square and St. Stephen’s Green on the south side, while the northside has Phoenix Park, one of the largest enclosed recreational spaces in any European city.
A trip out to the picturesque beach suburbs of Malahide and Portmarnock in the north is definitely worth a look, and for those looking for a more strenuous walk, do the full walk around Howth Head. Ireland’s famous tend to hang out around the southern beach suburb of Killiney, on the DART line. (More on the DART later).
For those of you that like shopping, the main shopping areas are around Grafton Street, south of the Liffey and Henry Street, on the north side. The suburbs host some large shopping centres, so if you don’t mind making the trek out to them, Dundrum Shopping Centre in the south, Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown in the west, or the Pavillions in Swords, north of the airport, may be for you.
Of course, no trip to Dublin would be complete without sampling a bit of the black stuff. And nowhere does it taste as good as at home. The Guinness factory is a sprawling complex just beside the Liffey River, and has a whole Guinness experience. Learn how it’s made, the history behind it, and afterwards, sample a pint or two of it in the Gravity Bar with a 360° view of the city.
Sleeping in Dublin
There is a multitude of varying accommodation standards in Dublin, ranging from hostel accommodation to 5* hotels, however, even with the large selection, there is currently a shortage of it, especially in the city center. This is certainly noticeable during the summer peak season when tourists flock to the city. The general advice I have here is either a) book early, or b) be prepared to stay slightly away from the city center to get a better rate. It can really pay off, and it is still easy to access the city center proper.
Dubliners, (like all the other Irish) like a good party, so be aware that if you plan on being there for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, or a major sporting event, it will be incredibly busy, and be prepared to pay more than the normal rates for accommodation.
The public transport in Dublin is good, although to a visitor at first glance, it may be a bit confusing. The predominant mode of transport in the city for the locals is bus – www.dublinbus.ie and they also have an app for real-time updates as to when your bus should arrive at the stop. (Be aware though, at times, your desired bus is a bit like sunny days in Dublin – none for ages and then a deluge of them)!
There is also the DART, a north-south train line that runs along the coast from Greystones in the south to Howth in the North. This in itself is a nice journey, and well worth the few euro. Of course, the many suburbs you go through on your way, make for good stopping points for food or a bit of discovery.
The Luas is the city’s light rail system. It consists of two lines (the green, which runs roughly City Centre to the south, and the red, which runs City Centre to the southwest. In their infinite wisdom, city planners didn’t join up the two lines at launch, but this is scheduled to be fixed before the end of this year, with the addition of a blue line, running City Centre to the northwest.
Dublin, of course, is a good base for exploring the rest of Ireland, and this can be done by train (www.irishrail.ie) or by bus (www.buseireann.ie). Note there are many private bus operators as well, so you will never be stuck for a way to get to most places in the country.
So, Ireland is a small place, and yet very easy to get to, given that the Irish have a large propensity to travel and the Irish diaspora is extensive. Aer Lingus and Ryanair are the two home-based airlines and have routes to most countries in Europe pretty well covered. (Aer Lingus also flies to 10 North American destinations). In addition, the giants of British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and KLM all offer connections from the main European transit hubs. North America is a big market for the Irish, and vice-versa, so you will also find Air Canada, American, Delta and United flights too. The ME3 haven’t forgotten about Dublin either, and with Qatar Airways due to launch a route from Doha to Dublin this northern summer, the city is more accessible than ever, joining the existing flights offered by both Emirates and Etihad. For further information on flight options, see www.dublinairport.com .
So that’s the quick run down on Dublin – hope to see ye all here soon!