I’ve recently been contacted by a few friends and colleagues who are soon visiting Dublin for the first time. Where to stay? Where to eat? What to see in a long weekend? Instead of sending the same e-mail five times – here’s a more developed, new and approved suggestion list. Consider it Dublin 101.
Dublin is a city to be explored on foot. For this reason, a centrally-located hotel is more important in Dublin than it would be in a city like London. There’s no subway in Dublin – so unless you figure out the buses or plan on taking taxis, choose a hotel that is close to the action.
Splurge: The Shelbourne. This hotel has one of the best addresses in town – right on St Stephen’s Green. Take a seat in their front bar and watch all of Dublin stroll by over a pint of Guinness. They are also known for doing great afternoon tea.
Save: The Schoolhouse. While it may help that each of the rooms in this small hotel are named after an Irish writer, that isn’t the only reason I like it. The Schoolhouse has a great location along a canal, and is just a quick 10 minute walk into the center of the city. It has a cozy bar where you can grab a bite next to one of the fireplaces and it also has a stop outside for the Aircoach (more on that in another post).
Question 2: What Should I do?
The first thing anyone first arriving in Dublin should do is go for a walk. All roads in Dublin lead to Grafton Street, the pedestrian shopping center of the city. During a stroll along this famous street you’ll see street performers (some Irish greats got their start on Grafton Street – and Bono from U2 sang a few impromptu songs this year on Christmas Eve) and generally get a good feel for Dublin. If you need a coffee, stop into Bewleys and get a seat looking down over Grafton Street to watch the city go by.
Splurge Options (Not Free):
- Kilmainham Gaol: If you splurge on one attraction, it should be Kilmainham Gaol. I’ve taken the guided tour a few times now, and each time, I learn something new and am impressed by the passion and knowledge of the guides. Kilmainham is more than a jail, it’s a history lesson on recent Irish struggles.
- The Dublin Writers Museum: Besides the many impressive first editions on display, the Dublin Writers Museum also has Samuel Beckett’s telephone, Austin Clarke’s desk, and a variety of letters, postcards, and manuscripts. Whether you arrive to learn about Irish writers or see personal items of some of your favorites, this museum is worth the small entry fee.
- The Abbey Theatre & Gate Theatre: Some of the most famous playwrights, both alive and dead, were born and raised in Ireland. No trip to Dublin would be complete without attending a play at The Abbey or The Gate. Choose a play by an Irish playwright to get the full experience. A recent production, The Seafarer by Conor MacPherson was so incredible, I saw it three times.
Save Options (free):
- The National Gallery: Don’t try and see everything in this large, free to the public, museum in one day. When you first arrive, go straight for the Yeats Gallery, featuring the vibrant paintings of Jack B Yeats. The museum has a great bookshop and cafe as well.
- The National Library: Anyone with literary interests should save a few hours for the free exhibition on WB Yeats at the National Library. This stunning exhibit allows you to digitally rifle through Yeats’ notebooks. You will also listen to some of his most famous poems recited by Seamus Heaney, Sinead O’Connor, and the poet himself.
- Temple Bar Market: Skip Temple Bar at night in favor of the markets on Saturday and Sunday. Stalls of secondhand books, organic fruits and veggies, Irish cheeses, crepes, and vintage clothes are the perfect way to spend a sunny weekend afternoon.
Question 3: Where Should I Eat?
If I achieve one thing through all my writing about Dublin – I hope it is this: IRISH FOOD IS NOT BLAND. In fact, there are many Irish restaurants that are serving up not only delicious cuisine, but flavorful, creative, original food in a cozy atmosphere.
Splurge: The Winding Stair. There are many great restaurants in Dublin – but many of them don’t serve Irish food. For a first trip to Dublin, make reservations for a dinner at the Winding Stair. This former bookshop-turned-gourmet-restaurant has old wooden floors and low lighting. The menu will tell you the name of the farmer in Ireland where certain ingredients came from. Try anything to do with lamb or smoked salmon.
Save: Fallon & Byrne Wine Cellar. While the Fallon & Byrne restaurant is delicious and worth a try – if you’re traveling on a budget – check out the wine cellar. Wine is available by the glass or the bottle, and all of the tapas are served with generous portions of fresh bread. Keep asking for more to accompany your fruit, cheese, and charcuterie!
There is much more I could include in this post, so stay tuned for future lessons in ‘Dublin 101′!