March 14, 2019
A cosmopolitan capital with a torrid history still writ large across its streets, Dublin is shaking off the shackles of a hard-hitting recession and regathering the easygoing buzz that made it a popular tourist haven.
Much here centres on the ‘craic’: pubs are ubiquitous and distinctive, music seems woven into the city’s very core, and ageing but carefully-upheld traditions give the city an atmosphere that’s distinct from any other European capital.
Here’s how Dublin resident James Hendicott suggests you should spend your time in Ireland’s liveliest corner if you’re travelling on a budget.
The Dublin hotel market isn’t known for its gentle treatment of the wallet, with even the Irish government acknowledging that there simply aren’t enough beds to keep up with peak rate demand. There are still a few sneaky bargains to be had, though, particularly by opting to stay on the less-fashionable north side of the Liffey River.
The Clontarf Castle Hotel – a short bus ride outside the city in the direction of the airport – offers a great luxury to price ratio, and has a kooky feel with coats of armour and wonky walls set alongside conceptual fusion teas and fresh, modern rooms.
Staying at the Leeson Inn means you’ll be right in the heart of the city on a relatively modest budget – the hotel offers smart but basic rooms alongside St Stephen’s Green, while Gardiner Street is the home of anonymous, no-frills bargains.
The huge, modern and slightly impersonal Gibson Hotel in the Docklands area is another spot often priced well considering its abundant facilities, high-end (and TV famous) restaurant and convenient position almost on the tram lines.
The best way to grab a bargain? Avoid traveling the same weekend as major sporting events or big gigs – particularly events that are likely to fill Croke Park or the Aviva Stadium – and book as far ahead as you possible can.
Dublin’s foodie scene has improved dramatically in recent years, both in the adaptation of the traditional ‘meat and two veg’ pub grub and in some memorable imports.
Some of the very best options are the most straightforward: Temple Bar Food Market (Saturday’s only) features a great line in lemon-drenched oysters and fresh-from-the-farm concoctions, while nearby Gallagher’s Boxty House goes heavy on the traditional: coddle (a kind of sausage stew) is particularly enticing.
If you’re going to splash the cash a little, FX Buckley – a butcher turned restaurateur – serves the best in Irish beef and will let you pick your cut from a huge tray of high-end options. The spicy DIY option of the Mongolian BBQ is the best value meal in the city, with the authentic-feeling Lebanese of the decoratively-tiled Cedar Tree not too far behind, while out-of-town Howth is a must-stop spot for seafood lovers.
Alongside at least a few pubs, you’ll really want to drop in on Guinness – book online in advance to save up to 30%. The Storehouse sits alongside the riverside factory to the west of the city centre, and as well as indulging thirsts, tells of the black stuff’s substantial impact on areas of Irish culture, ranging from transportation to social welfare. It has the best view of the city from the panoramic bar at the top.
The Storehouse also recently opened an experimental aside called The Open Gate (Thursday and Friday evenings only, booking essential); it’s the only place in the world where examples of the brewers’ newest work can be sampled.
Grafton Street and the area to its west are the core shopping areas in town, with manicured city centre park St Stephen’s Green at its south end. Either side of the shopping district are the key cultural sights.
Many of Dublin’s museums are free, with the memorable Museum of History and Archaeology (viking artifacts, ancient butter, Egyptian relics and leathery, preserved bodies pulled from bogs) and the revolving exhibits of the Chester Beatty Library (in Dublin Castle’s back garden) the best of them.
The musty taxidermy of the Museum of Natural History and both Trinity College and it’s regal library (which contains the priceless 9th Century partial bible, The Book of Kells) also offer memorable moments.
Phoenix Park – which also contains the impressive Dublin Zoo and the house of the President of Ireland (tours available through advance booking, Saturday’s only) – is Europe’s largest walled garden, with huge flocks of deer to be found within.
Dublin’s main public transport options are bus, commuter train (DART) and a tram system misnamed using the Irish word for speed, luas. With most things of note within walking distance of the city centre, though, the majority of your getting around can be done on foot.
The DART runs along the coast from north to south, and includes some great opportunities to see a little bit of nearly-rural Ireland. The climb above Killiney, the harbour at Dalkey to the south, and the cliff walk in Howth to the north, are all worth extra effort in good weather. Of public transport options, only the bus travels to the airport. The easiest way to get to the Irish capital is by plane, with flights to Dublin departing from most major UK airports.
Never stir an Irish coffee, unless you want the barman to hate you. The famine, and also that least Irish of all drinks, the ‘Irish Car Bomb’ are not subjects for Dublin comedy. Try to bring the weather with you; there’s nowhere better in sunshine.
In all seriousness, Dublin has to be one of the friendliest and most engaging capitals in Europe, and you can’t go too wrong throwing yourselves into the heart of it. Try to stay away from overly touristy areas – Temple Bar in particular, although you should probably go for at least one pint – as the locals broadly deride both the place and the prices.
In summer, join the crowds hovering in tiny Dame Lane instead: it turns into an early-evening al-fresco party outside the pub back doors.
You can’t go far wrong with music. While it’s in every tourist guide, O’Donoghue’s (home of the Dubliners) is still one of the best trad experiences in the city, while Smithfield’s The Cobblestone is a less well-known but equally old-school hub.
If you want a quirky shopping experience, the Liberties area – in particular Meath Street and Francis Street – feel like they haven’t changed in a generation. The former is full of tatty markets and chic coffee shops, while the latter is more antiques and charity outlets, and both are conveniently placed on the way to the Guinness Storehouse.
Dublin doesn’t shut down on a Sunday, but it certainly tones it down, and in decent weather that’s the time to explore the surrounds. The drama of the Great South Wall (the world’s longest sea wall) is a great hangover cure, as is a plunge in the city’s bathing spot, the icy sea bath of Sandymount’s Forty Foot.
There’s also a great kitesurfing scene at North Bull Island, sporting intrigue in the local twin passions, gaelic football and hurling, and mummies in the basement of both Christchurch Cathedral (animal) and St Michan’s (human).