Tipples and tarts, whiskey and Wilde… UTB’s expert on Ireland, Rachelle Thompson, shares the secrets of The Fair City.
There’s a reason why Dublin has one of the fastest growing populations of any European capital city – people come for a city break and then make plans to move here! However it isn’t all about the ‘craic’ as most guidebooks would have you know and Dublin runs deeper than its famous pints and stiff armed dancing. Strong literary and political history has coloured this city, so that it shines with the passion of the past, from the physical evidence of the 1916 uprising at the General Post Office to the banter of Oscar Wilde, quoted many times over on Dublin’s streets and stages.
Any local will tell you that Dubliners remain amongst the most opinionated and yet friendliest people in Europe, keen for a conversation and willing to let you in on all the secrets of the city. Do you know where the best flea markets are? Coin collectors? Quirky statues? Ancient artefacts? They do, and they are happy to share. This is a city with strong unchanging roots, a great pride and quality characters, as important as the physical elements of the city itself.
Best of the Beaten Track
The one thing everyone knows about Dublin is that it’s good for a tipple! Guinness boasts that one in every two pints drunk in Ireland is the black stuff, so it should be fairly obvious that a trip to the Guinness Storehouse is a must. An interactive tour runs through its history, ingredients and campaigns until you reach the Gravity Bar, offering 360 degree views of the city (also the highest bar at 46 meters) to go with your complimentary pint. If you prefer a stiffer option then best head to the Old Jameson Distillery which is renowned for its intimate tours, and rosy-cheeked patrons. The other obvious area to head to is the medieval Temple Bar district, embodying the typical Irish bar experience for tourists, complete with the bar of the same name at the centre, The Temple Bar.
Once you’re good and merry then why not walk along the Liffey, the river that separates North and South of the city and cross over the historic Ha’penny Bridge built in 1816 to create a crossing, costing… you got it, a Ha’penny. Along the Liffey is the beautiful Four Courts Building hosting the main courts of the Republic of Ireland, and just a short walk on from there lies the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral the origin of which can be traced back to 1038.
The diligent tourist should also head to O’Connel Street, taking in The Spire for modern history and the GPO for a more sombre look at the Easter Rising of 1916. Trinity College, still a functioning university to this day, holds the famous Book of Kells within its library, a tome transcribed by Celtic monks c.800 AD.
Dublin has an obsession with statues; they are littered all over the city, often in unlikely areas. One of the quirks of the locals is to rename them, so that Oscar Wilde is known as ‘The Queer with the Leer’ and Molly Malone is the ‘Tart with the Cart’.
Drop into the Market Arcade for a proper alternative look at Dublin’s tourism and locals all mixed in together, bohemian cafes, little market stalls, clothes from India and Asia mixing with record collections to kill for!
When you’re finished being cultured drop into one of the bohemian meeting points, Cafe Irie for some organic food in a small alternatively run space.
Experience & Events
There is quite a desire to escape the beaten path when travelling, possible more so in a city like Dublin where every weekend is a tourist filled one! However there are some alternatives for learning something unusual outside of what is on offer at the tourist office, such as walking tours with the gregarious Pat Liddy, an historian soaked in Dublin’s everyday life. The Viking Splash Tours will not just show you the Liffey, but put you in the river with their converted land/sea vehicles. If that is a bit too wild for you then perhaps slip into The Huguenot Cemetery and meet some of the old habitants of Dublin in one of the best kept secrets of the city.
Naturally the event of the year is Saint Patrick’s Day, in celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, celebrated on the 15th of March. If you’re in Dublin sooner though you should get to the Temple Bar Trad Fest, in its fifth year of providing Traditional Irish music, bar hops and food.
If you’re in Dublin to live it up then the Fitzwilliam Hotel will deliver. It has a deserved 5 star rating and is slap in the centre of town. The penthouse comes with a private butler, and all rooms boast a view of St. Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street so you won’t miss a moment. More affordable, but still right in town (perfect for the drunken stumble home) is Kinlay House. For a more romantic and country styled accommodation it is best to head slightly out of town to stay at the D4 Hotel (named after its suburb code). Also highly recommended is hostelling at Isaacs which is near the quays, and cheap enough for the tightest of shoestrings. Otherwise there are plenty of tourist apartments in Dublin for rent.
Dublin’s dining options are almost as plentiful as it’s drinking holes, from sushi to curry to home style cooking, each venue has carved out a niche in the market. Be sure to try as many places as possible, even the smallest of cafes will have some surprisingly tasty options. The Bald Barista is a relatively new addition to Dublin, serving up quality coffee with a great atmosphere. Another venue not to miss is the famous Butlers Chocolates. Their hot chocolate has been warming hands and hearts for decades, never mind their quality confectionary.
The Queen of Tarts have cornered the market on perfect afternoon tea treats, you may have to wait a little while to get a place, but you won’t regret it! Street food to go? Don’t go past Lemon who can give the French a run for their money with their steaming crepes. For something more substantial call into Gruel serving up hearty soups and roasted meats fresh carved into rolls. Or try Cafe Bar Deli for simple Italian style food, served in a bustling and beautiful setting in the middle of town.
While there is a lot more to Dublin than hen parties and Guinness, it would be remiss of me not to give you the scoop on the best places to go wild away from the Pink Ladies! If you’re after a night that’s a bit of grunge, a tad down and dirty, then Fibbers is for you. Locals and tourists alike get a chance to shake their stuff without trying to beat a door policy from a style guide.
The place for intimate gigs and bit of alternative funk is The Sugar Club while The Twisted Pepper has a bit of everything going on. Whelans will give you a great live music offering every night of the week. Sheeben Chic not only offers a cool range of ‘recycled’ alcohol, but they also host live music sessions downstairs (with local music celebrities quietly dropping in from time to time).
Cheap airlines to the Emerald Isle include Aer Lingus and Ryanair, and there is also ferries from Stena Line’s HSS, Irish Ferries and Norfolkine which arrive into either Dublin Port or Dun Laoghaire. For flights to Dublin from Stateside try 1-800 Fly Europe.
Qype has guides and reviews created by the local community; for the inside track this is your best bet. The Dublin Tourism website will provide you with links to city passes (great for cheap deals for entry to major museums and sights) while The Dublin Blog will provide insights into the daily life of a Dubliner as well as post new events.
Lonely Planet, AA, Eyewitness and Rough Guides all have great books about the city sights. For something a bit more cultured watch The Commitments, and get a copy of the Irish writer Jonathan Swift’s Gullivers Travels (the quintessential travellers book). If you’re enjoying this then delve into the literary history of the city with James Joyce (Ulysses and The Dubliners, amongst others, are set in the capital), Oscar Wilde and a bit of Samuel Beckett!
Soundtrack to the City
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