Explore Dublin: top things to see and do, best hotels and where to eat
Dublin is one of the world’s most intriguing literary cities. The cobbled streets that hug the lifeblood River Liffey are awash with ghosts of the greats of Irish literature, from WB Yeats to James Joyce. And their intoxicating legacy palpably lives on in the Irish capital’s famous craic-fuelled pubs.
Key neighbourhoods in Dublin
The Temple Bar
With the River Liffey fronting it to the north, Trinity College on its eastern fringes and St Stephen’s Green directly to the south, this bustling quarter is the heart of tourist Dublin. Many of its boisterous pubs boast live music every day, and it's here where you'll experience friendliness like nowhere else – not to mention a top night (or day) out.
St Stephen’s Green
This trim central park south of the Temple Bar is very much the green lung of choice for Dubliners. It is alive on sunny days with office workers munching sandwiches and students enjoying more leisurely picnics. Surrounded by stately buildings, plenty of hotels and classy restaurants tempt you in.
The beating heart of literary Dublin, this is an academic colossus renowned the world over. Stroll its hallowed grounds and you can imagine everyone from Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift, through to Edmund Burke and Bram Stoker, doing the same. Founded by Queen Elizabeth I back in 1592, it is still very much a working university, its current crop of youthful students enjoying their rich lineage.
North of the Liffey
Although the Northside can be accessed by a couple of dozen bridges, it is often ignored by tourists. Doing so would be to miss the General Post Office, which played such a pivotal role during the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule. You should cross the old world pedestrianised Ha’penny Bridge (made famous by U2 in the 1980s) or the modern Millennium Bridge to discover a world of pubs and restaurants that often offer much better value than the Temple Bar area.
Stroll around Trinity College
This is a must. Some first-timers complain that Dublin doesn’t have the immediate visual appeal of Edinburgh or Bath. But once you’ve taken a wander in and around the college and soaked up the literary scene, the city really starts to come alive. Don't miss The Long Room in the main chamber of the college's Old Library, where 200,000 books line the shelves. And for a small entry fee, you can see the Book of Kells exhibition.
Visit the EPIC Irish Emigration Museum
This impressive new museum sits fittingly next to the Liffey, as it was by sea and river that so many Irish people emigrated over the years. The EPIC Irish Emigration Museum tackles and illuminates many of the issues behind the Irish Diaspora. With plenty of interactive exhibits, it helps to keep the minds of kids and big kids alike stimulated as you learn about events pivotal to both Irish history and the city’s development.
Savour a literary pub crawl
Taking a literary tour of Dublin is a brilliant way to really get to the heart of the Irish capital, as guides show you how literature and pub culture are inexorably bound together. Dublin Literary Pub Crawl tours are led by actors who know how to really turn on the blarney. You could, of course, concoct your own literary pub crawl. James Joyce devotees may have already read about Davy Byrnes in his work, Jonathan Swift fans should check out the Brazen Head and Bram Stoker disciples will enjoy Toners.
Explore Powerscourt Estate
Head out of the centre to lose yourself in one of Europe’s grandest country houses. This palatial dame is almost topped by its remarkable grounds, where a trim English garden rubs shoulders with Zen-like Japanese designs – get your cameras ready! An excellent café is on hand in the house too, and the estate also has a hotel on site.
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Best hotels in Dublin
Most hotels are sprinkled around the city centre on or back from the banks of the River Liffey, with the highest concentration around St Stephen’s Green. Of the stately five stars the Westbury, a palatial oasis that delivers real luxury and smooth service, seldom disappoints.
The Westbury Hotel/Booking.com
If you’re after that achingly hip vibe then The Dean is for you. Think exposed light bulbs and vintage record players. Some cheeky décor and switched on staff stop it becomingly overbearing on the goatee scale.
If you want a taste of the lush emerald isle, but still to be in touch with the Dublin action, Powerscourt Hotel is ideal. A 55-minute journey from Dublin, the lavish house reclines in its own grounds in a bucolic setting in the hills. Think fine dining, champagne and stunning mountain views – and that's just from your room, sorry, suite.
What to eat in Dublin
In those famous pubs, the whiskey flows as freely as the music and that famous black stout. Guinness fans should have a pint at Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse, a fascinating museum experience that goes beyond merely explaining its production. You also get to pour your own pint to perfection and enjoy it in the Gravity Bar, which boasts 360° views across the city. The Irish Whiskey Museum is the place to head for those wanting to know more about the country’s gorgeous whiskeys. Everyone has their favourite pub, but this author’s favourite is the Stag’s Head in the touristy Temple Bar district.
Twenty-first century Dublin offers much more than just hearty grub in its pubs. It now sports many a Michelin star in a new wave of fine dining gastronomic restaurants, which are augmented by fresh bistros offering creative takes on Irish cuisine thanks to a crop of young chefs. The slickly run Greenhouse offers the best of both worlds with an affordable five-course tasting menu conjured up by mercurial chef Mickael Viljanen in a divine setting.
Of the new wave of eateries Balfes is a bright brasserie, with delicious starters such as Castletownbere crab cocktail with avocado and Granny Smith apple, backed up by meat and fish dishes cooked on the Josper Grill. Dublin boasts a flurry of steak restaurants and they don’t come any better than relative newcomer Cleaver East. As well as a variety of local cuts, it also offers Australian-bred Wagyu beef.
Your Dublin itinerary
Check-in to: The Westbury. The central location means it’s easy to explore no matter what time you arrive, both sights and nightlife swirl all around.
Get your bearings: with a stroll along the famous River Liffey. Day or night you will never be lonely as you wander with the ghosts of George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett and take in some of the city’s grandest buildings.
Dine at: Let’s get this cliché nailed. Head into the ultra touristy Temple Bar and choose any of the busy old pubs that catch your eye or ear, if you want to judge by the level of great craic and live music. Order your first real pint of Guinness – the Irish are right, it does taste better here – and don’t make the first-timer error of trying to rush the bar staff. Your Guinness will be ready when it’s ready. Order a heaving plate of Irish stew and you are living a gloriously enjoyable cliché.
Spend the morning at: the National Gallery of Ireland. Explore the country’s finest collection of art with everything from European Masters such as Caravaggio, Velazquez and Vermeer, right through to paintings by Jack B Yeats, brother of poet WB Yeats. The gallery also stages regular talks and cultural events, which are flagged in advance on its website.
Lunch at: Fade Street Social. Renowned chef Dylan McGrath is at the helm of one of Dublin’s new wave of hip eateries. Try one of the delicious flatbreads (the beef fillet, rocket and truffle is the standout) or share chateaubriand for two.
Go shopping at: the Design Centre. For 20 years this glamorous oasis has been showcasing the work of local and international fashion designers with some genuine unique creations on offer.
Sip whiskey at: Bowes Pub. If you are very lucky you will bag the wee snug in this atmospheric boozer. With cosiness in spades, good craic and great whiskey, you won’t want to leave.
Brunch at: Meet Me In The Morning. It doesn’t take reservations, but it offers superb coffee and a whole host of treats that are ideal for brunch right through to 3.30pm. Many dishes lean towards the healthy with lashings of fresh fruit and vegetables, though the delicious doughnuts are the stuff of local legend – how about a doughnut filled with blood orange curd and vanilla creme patisserie?
Head out of town to: Take the DART train to the relaxed fishing suburb of Howth and enjoy an aperitif of Guinness to wash down half a dozen local oysters at one of the seafood joints lining the busy harbour.
Enjoy a slap up seafood feast: Call ahead to snare lobster at Howth’s Aqua down by the water’s edge. A window seat is a must at arguably Dublin’s best seafood restaurant.
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