WHAT TO DO
Dublin is an eternal gem renowned for its historic buildings, proud past and passionate culture. Sitting on the mouth of the River Liffey, the Irish capital buzzes with enthusiasm and is home to some of the friendliest people anywhere. Dublin is always a good time and a traveler's dream.
Dublin is best explored on foot and the first place to start your adventure is in the heart of the city at Trinity College. Located on College Green, Ireland's most prestigious (and oldest) university was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I. It remained completely Protestant until 1793, but even when the school relented and began to admit Catholics - the Catholic Church held firm (until 1970), any Catholic who enrolled could consider themselves excommunicated. The campus is an excellent example of medieval architecture and picturesque landscaping preserved in Georgian aspic. Most of the buildings and statues date from the 18th and 19th centuries, each elegantly laid out on a cobbled or grassy square. Despite its placement (right in the middle of bustling Dublin), the campus retains a tranquil atmosphere. This is largely because of the smart compact design of the campus where the main buildings are built inwards and are enclosed by large squares with few public entrances. Famous alumni include Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. Trinity's greatest treasures are found within the Old Library (built by Thomas Burgh between 1712 and 1732), which usually has a long line of visitors waiting to get in to take a peek at the Book of Kells and the Long Room. The Book of Kells is a spectacular, illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament - created around 800 AD by monks on the Scottish island of Iona. Even more stunning is the 215 foot Long Room, the library's main chamber which houses around 200000 of the library's oldest volumes. Other displays include a rare copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, read out by Padraig Pearse at the beginning of the Easter Rising in 1916, and the harp of Brian Boru which dates from around 1400 - making it one of the oldest harps in Ireland. Note: go online and purchase a fast track ticket which gives timed admission to the exhibition and allows you to skip the line.
Next, make your way to Dame Street and Dublin Castle. The stronghold of British power in Ireland for more than 700 years, Dublin Castle was officially handed over to Michael Collins (the Irish patriot and revolutionary), representing the Irish Free State in 1922. The main Dame Street entrance that takes you into the grounds offers a brilliant evolution of Irish architecture. The Victorian Chapel Royal on your left can be seen decorated with more than 90 heads of different Irish saints and dignitaries intricately engraved out of Tullamore limestone. Next to it, sits the Norman Record Tower with its 20 foot thick walls. On the right side is the Georgian Treasury Building which is Dublin’s oldest administration block and behind that stands the unattractive Revenue Commissioners Building of 1960. Heading away from that side of the castle, as you ascend to the Upper Yard, get mesmerized by the combined charm of the emblematic statue of Justice with her back turned to the city (an appropriate symbol for British justice) and the 18th century Bedford Tower perched right beside it. The castle is now used by the Irish government for meetings and functions - the best areas are only visible as part of a hour long guided tour. Highlights include the State Apartments and Saint Patrick's Hall, where Irish presidents are inaugurated as well as the room in which the wounded James Connolly was tied to a chair after the 1916 Easter Rising, so that he could be executed by firing squad. Another highlight is a visit to the medieval crypt of the old castle, discovered by accident in 1986. Check out the foundations built by the Vikings, the hand polished exterior of the castle walls that prevented attackers from climbing them. Also on the grounds of Dublin Castle is the Chester Beatty Library. It houses the collection of mining engineer Alfred Chester Beatty, bequeathed to the Irish State on his death in 1968. Spread over two floors, the collection includes more than 20000 manuscripts, rare books, paintings, costumes and other objects of artistic and historical importance.
Located at Christchurch Place is the impressive Christ Church Cathedral. Its hilltop location and eye catching flying buttresses make it the most photographed cathedral in Dublin. It was founded in 1030 and rebuilt from 1172, mostly under the power of Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke (better known as Strongbow), the Anglo Norman noble who invaded Ireland in 1170 and whose monument has a place of pride inside. From the southeastern entrance to the churchyard, walk past ruins of the chapter house which dates from 1230. Once inside, you'll see the monument to Strongbow along with the baroque tomb of the 19th Earl of Kildare and the large arched crypt which dates back to the original Viking church. Curiosities in the crypt include a glass display case housing a mummified cat chasing a mummified rat (known as Tom and Jerry), which were trapped inside an organ pipe in the 1860s. Ireland's largest church is Saint Patrick's Cathedral, built between 1191 and 1270 on the site of an earlier church dating from the 5th century. Located at Saint Patrick's Close, it was here that Saint Patrick himself baptized the local Celtic chieftains, making this ground sacred turf. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, was the dean of the cathedral from 1713 to 1745, but after his tenure the cathedral was neglected until its restoration in the 1860s. Entering the holy site to your right is the grave of Swift and on the wall nearby are his own Latin epitaphs and a bust of him. From Saint Patrick's, head north towards the River Liffey and wander the exciting Temple Bar neighborhood. This cobbled playpen is Dublin's best known district. Full of pubs (more on that later), bohemian shops, art installations and vintage everything - Temple Bar is the town's official 'cultural quarter.' Be sure to check out the Temple Bar Food Market (Meeting House Square), The Gutter Bookshop (Cow's Lane), Claddagh Records (2 Cecilia Street) and Icon Factory (3 Aston Place). Take the Ha'penny Bridge over the River Liffey and make your way to the General Post Office on Lower O'Connell Street. It's not just the country's main post office or a striking neoclassical building - the General Post Office is at the heart of Ireland's struggle for independence. The GPO served as command headquarters for the rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916 and as a result has become the focal point for all kinds of protests, parades and remembrances. The building, a neoclassical masterpiece designed by Francis Johnston in 1818, was burnt out in the siege that resulted from the rising. There was bitter fighting in and around the GPO during the Civil War of 1922. Since its reopening in 1929 it has lived through quieter times, although its role in Irish history is commemorated inside the visitor center. A self guided tour takes you through the causes, action and aftermath of the armed rebellion. Nearby, take a picture of the James Joyce Statue on North Earl Street or the Famine Memorial just east of the Custom House.
Dublin's most famous street is the pedestrian only Grafton Street, the bustling heart of the city center. Always full of people, you'll find the biggest range of pubs, shops and restaurants in and around the narrow lanes and streets that surround it. Just south of Grafton Street is the centerpiece of Georgian Dublin and the city's best loved park, Saint Stephen's Green. The main entrance to the park is beneath Fusiliers' Arch which commemorates the 212 soldiers of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who were killed fighting for the British in the Boer War from 1899 to 1902. Spread across the green's lawns and pathways are some notable artworks including the monument to Wolfe Tone (the leader of the failed 1798 Rising) and the memorial to all those who died in the Potato Famine from 1845 to 1851. A few other parks that are worth a visit are the massive Phoenix Park and the charming Merrion Square. The most elegant of Dublin's Georgian green spaces, Merrion Square's well kept lawns and tended flower beds are flanked on three sides by gorgeous Georgian houses with colorful doors and ornate door knockers. The square was laid out in 1762 and is bordered on its fourth side by the impressive National Gallery of Ireland (more on this in a bit). The highlight of the square is the flamboyant statue of Oscar Wilde, located just inside the northwest corner of the park. The Irish poet and playwright grew up across the street at 1 Merrion Square and is immortalized reclining on a rock, wearing his customary smoking jacket with a mischievous grin.
Dublin has some fantastic museums and my favorite is the aforementioned National Gallery. Located at West Merrion Square, it's the top art museum in Ireland. Its excellent collection is strong in Irish art and there are also top notch collections of every major European school of painting. Spread about its four wings you'll find works by Rembrandt, a Spanish collection with paintings by Picasso and a well represented display of Italian works dating from the early Renaissance to the 18th century. Titian is among the artists represented, but the highlight is Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ. The ground floor displays the gallery's fine Irish collection plus a smaller British collection. Do not miss the Yeats Collection at the back of the gallery - it displays more than 30 works by Irish Impressionist Jack B Yeats, Ireland's most important 20th century painter. Note: the museum is open everyday and admission to the permanent collection is free. The Little Museum of Dublin can be found at 15 Saint Stephen's Green. This award winning museum tells the story of Dublin over the last century via memorabilia, photographs and artifacts donated by the general public. The impressive collection, spread over the rooms of a handsome 18th century Georgian town house includes a lectern used by John F Kennedy during his 1963 visit to Ireland and an original copy of the fateful letter given to the Irish envoys to the treaty negotiations of 1921, whose contradictory instructions were at the heart of the split that resulted in the Civil War. This 'people's museum' of Dublin is a guided tour which goes on the hour every hour. The Irish literary tradition is one of the most illustrious in the world, famous for several Nobel Prize winners and for many other writers of international renown. The Dublin Writers Museum (18 Parnell Square) was opened to house a history and celebration of literary Dublin. Situated in a magnificent 18th century mansion in the north city center, the collection features the lives and works of Dublin's literary celebrities over the past 300 years. Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett are among those presented through their books, letters, portraits and personal items. Do not miss the 1st edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) is housed in the elegant expanse of the 17th century Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Following Irish independence it was considered as a potential home for the new Irish parliament, but it ended up as a storage facility for the National Museum of Ireland. Today, it is Ireland's leading national institution for the collection and presentation of modern and contemporary art and is the home of the National Collection. In addition to the collection, IMMA presents a dynamic and changing program of exhibitions from Irish and International Artists such as Sean Scully and Pablo Picasso. Nearby on Inchicore Road is the must visit Kilmainham Gaol. This former prison, built between 1792 and 1795 played a role in virtually every act of Ireland's painful path to independence. The uprisings of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916 ended with the leaders' confinement here, but it was the executions in 1916 that most deeply etched the jail's name into the Irish consciousness. Of the 15 executions that took place between May 3 and May 12 after the revolt, 14 were conducted at Kilmainham Gaol. An excellent audiovisual introduction to the building is followed by a timed entry guided tour of the eerie prison. The tour finishes in the gloomy yard where the 1916 executions took place. Note: the fantastic Daniel Day Lewis film, In the Name of the Father was filmed here.
For another sort of museum guide (the liquid version), Dublin has several 'educational' institutions to help you become more familiar with a few of its top exports. Start where most others start - at Saint James's Gate and the Guinness Storehouse. The most popular visit in town is this multimedia homage to Guinness in a converted grain storehouse that is part of the 65 acre brewery. Across its seven floors you'll discover everything about the black stuff before getting to taste it in the top floor Gravity Bar, with its panoramic views of the city. Arthur Guinness founded the brewery in 1759 and at one point the operation had its own railway and there was a giant gate stretching across Saint James's Street - hence the brewery's proper name, Saint James's Gate Brewery. Go for the Connoisseur Experience where a designated barkeep goes through the histories of the 4 variants of Guinness - Draught, Original, Foreign Extra Stout and Black Lager - then provides delicious samples of each. If you'd like to learn a little more about another of Ireland's most famous tipples, spend an hour at the Irish Whiskey Museum. Located at 119 Grafton Street, this tour is all about uisce beatha (water of life) and gives you a chance to taste at least 3 different types of whiskey. The premium tour option includes a 4th whiskey tasting. There are 2 distilleries in town worth a visit and they are the Old Jameson Distillery and the Teeling Distillery. The Old Jameson Distillery is on Bow Street and does a fun post tour tasting. If you're really serious about whiskey you can deepen your knowledge with the Whiskey Makers or the Whiskey Shakers, two 90 minute masterclasses that deconstruct the creation of Jameson whiskies and teach how to make a range of whiskey based cocktails. If you're just buying whiskey go for the stuff you can't buy at home such as the excellent Red Breast or the exclusive Midleton, a very limited reserve that is appropriately expensive. The Teeling Distillery (13 Newmarket) is the first new distillery in Dublin for 125 years. Teeling only began production in 2015 and it will be several years before any of the distillate can be called whiskey. In the meantime, the distillery allows you to come see, smell and experience a real operational distillery and interact with the people making Teeling whiskey.
WHERE TO EAT
Dublin has a number of great places to eat and countless spots to drink. Start your day at Beanhive, it's a bakery and coffee shop located at 26 Dawson Street. They do a full Irish breakfast along with freshly baked pastries and some darn good coffee. For lunch, head to The Bank on College Green, across the way from Trinity College at 20 College Green. This restaurant and bar is housed in a former bank and was awarded the best pub for food award 2017. The farm to table menu is locally sourced and the atmosphere is relaxed. Try the homemade shepherd's pie or the fish and chips - wash it down with an O'Hara's stout. Be sure to notice the stained glass ceiling, mosaic tiled floors and if you ramble downstairs to the nether regions you will find the old bank vaults. If you're a fan of soup (as I am) then Soup Dragon is the place. Situated just north of the River Liffey at 168 Capel Street, this stylish venue does delicious globally inspired soups, stews and sandwiches. The soups change daily, but the chunky chicken and corn chowder was superb. They also do an all day breakfast which is nice. A very cool spot is Eatyard which can be found at 9 South Richmond Street, beside the Bernard Shaw Pub. It's a food market that features over 20 rotating street food vendors. It is open Thursday through Sunday at 12p and admission is free. There's always seasonal produce and plenty of craft beer options. A few of the vendors I enjoyed included Leno's Sausage Grill and Zuko's Bakery. Take your food and beverage next door and chill in the beer garden of the Bernard Shaw. For some delectable treats, make your way to Dublin Cookie Company (29 Thomas Street) and Murphy's Ice Cream (27 Wicklow Street). Dublin Cookie Co does outstanding artisanal cookies made fresh all day right in front of you. It's always experimenting with new and exciting flavors and offers strong, aromatic coffee and chocolate or cookie flavored milk. I destroyed several classic chocolate chippers (made with Belgian chocolate) and some white chocolate with cranberries. Murphy's Ice Cream might be the best ice cream shop in Ireland. Everything is handmade with fresh ingredients from Dingle, home to the first branch of this mini chain. Flavors rotate, but the Dingle Gin ice cream is always popular and the sorbets use distilled Kerry rainwater - pretty cool.
When the dinner bell rings, run don't walk to Chapter One. Housed in the basement of the Dublin Writers Museum at 18 Parnell Square, this Michelin starred restaurant does flawless haute cuisine in a relaxed and welcoming setting. The food is French inspired contemporary Irish, the menus change regularly and the service is top notch. It’s a special occasion restaurant where chef Ross Lewis uses the best ingredients from Ireland’s fields, farms and waves. The 4 course dinner is the way to go and highlights include Irish cauliflower with fermented horseradish, Jerusalem artichoke with hazelnut and Sika Venison with pickled walnuts. For dessert, I recommend the Irish tart with black tea ice cream and candied ginger. Note: the restaurant is closed Sunday and Monday and reservations are essential. Another top choice is The Greenhouse, located at 21 Dawson Street. Chef Mickael Viljanen might just be the most exciting chef working in Ireland today thanks to his Scandinavian influenced tasting menus, which have made this arguably Dublin's best restaurant. Wine selections are in the capable hands of Julie Dupouy, who in 2017 was voted third best sommelier in the world, just weeks before the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star. I enjoyed the foie gras royale with apples, mackerel tartare with oyster cream and the chocolate hazelnut tart. Dublin is a city by the sea and the best seafood restaurant in town is Fish Shop (6 Queen Street). The menu changes daily at this tiny spot (only 16 seats) to reflect what's good and fresh, but you'll have to trust them - your only choice is a 4 course tasting menu. The salmon was superb and the wines are served by the glass. They recently opened a fish and chips shop nearby at 76 Benburb Street. If you fancy some modern Irish grub then be sure to visit 101 Talbot on Talbot Street. This Dublin classic has expertly resisted every trendy wave and has been a stalwart of good Irish cooking since opening more than two decades ago. Start with the seafood chowder then move on to the slow cooked lamb shank with mashed potatoes and winter vegetables. They are open for both lunch and dinner and are closed Sunday and Monday. An additional place that does a fantastic lunch and dinner is L Mulligan Grocer at 18 Stoneybatter or Manor Street. This classic Dublin pub presents creative menus tucked into children's books and features seasonal options using Irish ingredients along with whiskey, beer, cider and gin. The Scotch eggs are yummy as is the Dexter beef burger. All desserts are paired with a whiskey - I enjoyed the Irish cream cheese chocolate brownie with the Highland Park 12.
It is safe to say that Dublin is a great drinking town and pretty much has a pub on every corner. It is difficult to narrow them all down, but I'd like to share some of my favorite spots. Begin at the Temple Bar Pub, smack dab in the middle of the Temple Bar district at 48 Temple Bar. It's probably the most popular and certainly the most photographed pub in Dublin - and also a good starting point for your pub crawl. This legendary venue is a good time with a buzzy atmosphere, traditional musicians and a beer garden. You can expect a lengthy list of beers and whiskeys along with big crowds at the Temple Bar. Reputedly Dublin's oldest pub, the Brazen Head (20 Lower Bridge Street) has been serving thirsty patrons since 1198 when it was established as a Norman tavern. This historic, lantern lit pub hosts live music each night and was referenced in James Joyce's Ulysses, "you get a decent enough do in the Brazen Head." A solid locals pub near Saint Patrick's Cathedral is John Fallon's "The Capstan Bar" at 129 The Coombe. This old fashioned bar has been serving a great pint of Guinness since the end of the 17th century. The Old Royal Oak is located at 11 Kilmainham Lane, not far from Kilmainham Gaol. Locals are fiercely protective of this gorgeous traditional pub which opened in 1845 to serve the patrons and staff of the Royal Hospital (now the Irish Museum of Modern Art). The clientele has changed, but everything else has remained the same which makes this one of the nicest pubs in the city in which to enjoy a few pints. My 3 preferred spots around Grafton Street are Kehoe's, The Long Hall and The Stag's Head. Located at 9 South Anne Street, Kehoe's is a fine example of a traditional Dublin pub. Inside this beautiful Victorian bar you can view stained glass mahogany doors, old Irish snugs, partitions and take in the entire homely feel throughout the welcoming pub. The Long Hall is at 51 South Great George's Street and this Victorian classic is one of the city's most beautiful and best loved pubs. Check out the ornate carvings in the woodwork behind the bar and the elegant chandeliers. Note: Phil Lynott of the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy used to frequent The Long Hall when the boys were back in town. The Stag's Head can be found on the corner of Dame Court and Dame Lane. It was built in 1770 and has not changed much since then. This picturesque Victorian pub with wrought iron chandeliers, polished granite, old barrels and ceiling high mirrors often appears in films. It has traditional Irish music and is a superb pub. A stone's throw away from the River Liffey is the excellent John Mulligan's at 8 Poolbeg Street. This no nonsense, 18th century pub is a cultural institution and has hosted the famous James Joyce, John F Kennedy and Michael R Lichtstein. Mulligan's is renowned for the quality of its Guinness, so much so it is known as "the home of the pint." Last but certainly not least and probably my favorite pub in Dublin is O'Donoghue's. Located at 15 Merrion Row near Saint Stephen's Green, this is the pub where traditional music stalwarts The Dubliners made their name in the 1960s and it still hosts great live music nightly. Locals and visitors alike gather for the excellent pints and superb ambience - in the old bar or the covered coach yard next to it.
If you are in the mood for more live music then I would suggest checking out the following 2 venues. Vicar Street is located at 58 Thomas Street and has a capacity of around 1000. Due to its intimate size, it's a favorite of both fans and acts. Spread between the table service group seating downstairs and a theater style balcony, it offers a varied program of entertainers - from comedians to jazz, folk and rock music. Notable performers include Bob Dylan and Neil Young. The Olympia Theatre is a lovely Victorian auditorium at 72 Dame Street. It opened in 1879 and has a capacity of 1500. It specializes in plays, an annual Christmas pantomime and it also hosts some terrific live shows. It has played host to many well known artists over the years such as Charlie Chaplin and David Bowie. The beauty of its interior alone is worth the price of admission.
WHERE TO STAY
Dublin offers a number of places to call home during your stay. There are 2 superb hotels in particular that I highly recommend. They both provide exceptional service and comfort while being close to the finest parks in the city. The first is The Merrion, a beautiful property in a prime location on Upper Merrion Street. Set in a restored Georgian building, this sophisticated hotel is a short walk from the National Gallery and Merrion Square. Decorated in neutral tones and country style furnishings, the elegant rooms feature flat screen TVs, free WiFi and Nespresso machines. The acclaimed Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud has 2 Michelin stars and overlooks the gardens. There's also a cocktail bar, an 18th century wine vault turned pub and an eatery offering traditional Irish fare. The Tethra Spa offers various treatments and includes an infinity pool along with a steam room.
A second option is The Shelbourne, located at 27 Saint Stephen's Green. Overlooking the lovely park, this stately 1842 hotel has an ornate facade. It's close to Trinity College and the awesome O'Donoghue's Pub. Posh rooms with classical styling feature elegant fabrics and pillow top mattresses as well as marble bathrooms. All come with complimentary WiFi, flat screen TVs and iPad/iPhone docks. Amenities include The Saddle Room restaurant, the Horseshoe Bar and Lord Mayor's Lounge for high tea. The Spa at The Shelbourne provides many relaxing services.
Dublin has a remarkable history, great people, cobbled streets and classic pubs. Until our next pint together, slainte!