- While I’m not the most seasoned traveller you’ve ever come across, I have got around quite a bit over the last number of years. I’m lucky to have sunbathed on the sandy shores of Sydney, dived in the clear blue waters of Koh Tao in Thailand and wandered aimlessly through the labyrinthine streets of Dubrovnik.
But what I find strange is the fact that I’ve never upped and left my apartment for some of Ireland’s (the place where I dwell) more favourable attractions with travellers. So recently I asked myself a few questions – have I ever been to Cliffs of Moher? Um, no. Did I ever visit Dingle, famed as the residence of Fungi the Dolphin? Eh, can’t say I’ve been there either. And have I ever kissed the Blarney Stone? Despite my ‘gift of the gab’ (what you are allegedly awarded for planting a peck on this worn stone), I haven’t been there either. In fact, I’ve never really taken on the role as a tourist in Dublin, where I have laboured and studied relentlessly over the last nine years. Recently I changed that and took some time out to put myself in the hiking shoes of a backpacker and see how I could amuse myself for a couple of days.
See it all in one day
As walking Dublin’s city centre is far from time consuming, and covering its entirety in a few hours is more than achievable, before diving head-on into a dose of attractions, it’s nice to take time out and get a feel for the city. Both the north and south sides, each easily identifiable by unique traits, are separated by the River Liffey. On the north side the main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, is said to be Europe’s widest street. Adorned by a gleaming ‘spike’ which was endearingly christened ‘the Stiletto in the Ghetto’ by locals, the street is lined with a string of fast-food outlets, shoe shops and amusement arcades, but is still a nice place to begin exploring.
Across the murky waters of the Liffey lies Grafton Street, the south side’s busiest. Pedestrianised and constantly buzzing with activity, it is home to a lot of the city’s most exclusive and popular shops, but the eclectic combination of street performers and buskers which can be found every couple of hundred yards ensure a leisurely stroll along its red bricks is a pleasurable one.
Three of Dublin’s national museums (which are also free of charge) are just a few minutes from Dublin’s illustrious shopping strip. Closest is the National Museum of Archaeology and History (Kildare Street; open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2pm-5pm) which has artefacts dating from as far back as 7000BC right up to the 20th century. Just as impressive as the collection on display is the domed rotunda at the entrance which is 19 metres high.
Parallel to Kildare Street is Merrion Street where you will find the remaining two museums. Depending on which route you take, the National Museum of Natural History (open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2pm-5pm) should be the first you encounter. Known locally as the ‘Dead Zoo’ as a consequence of being filled exclusively with deceased animals, it is fascinating nonetheless to see just how enormous some of the creatures which roamed Ireland’s hills were. Beside this is the National Gallery of Ireland where paintings from Ireland and Western Europe adorn the walls.
But of all Dublin’s national museums it is National Museum of Decorative Arts & History (open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2pm-5pm) which prevails. Located a mere 10-15 minute walk from the city centre in an old barracks, exhibitions here focus on everything from Irish silver and period furniture to the way Irish people attired themselves in the past. A further ten minutes down the banks of the Liffey is the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Royal Hospital, Kilmainham; open Tues-Sat 10am-5.30pm, Sun 12pm-5.30pm) which among other things, has an intriguing piece of art involving nothing but thousands of grains of rice and neon lights.
The great outdoors
Good weather might not be something you initially partner the Irish capital with, but when it does make cameo appearances, museums are the last place you should be. St Stephen’s Green at the top of Grafton Street is the city’s most popular but it gets quite crowded during summer months. When this is the case make a beeline for Merrion Square which faces the national gallery. Here you can bank on the space you would expect from an open green. When it looks like evening is on the way and the skies are slowly going to metamorphisise from bright blues to fiery oranges, get the DART from Pearse Station to Dun Laoghaire where the sunsets can be mesmerising.
This fair city has a good mix of restaurants, but some of them can work out to be quite expensive. Temple Bar is where the best mixture of restaurants are to be found, but as this is where the highest number of tourists converge on a daily basis, finding somewhere to eat out for under €10 can prove to be quite a task. If it’s just something small you require to fill the gap in your stomach, then the chicken wings in the Elephant and Castle (18 Temple Bar) will set you back €10.50 but will fill two. Also in Temple Bar on Parliament Street is Zaytoon where €8.90 will get you a shish kebab meal that will fill even the most ravenous.
The best value when it comes to eating out in Dublin is found when you get the ’early bird’ menus. In Steps of Rome on St Andrew’s Lane you can get a starter, main course and glass of wine for €7.80 between 12-6 daily, while in Ciao Bella Roma on Parliament Street they do the same type of deal but it will cost you €8.50 and the can be purchased up until 6.30pm.
A city which comes alive at night
Dublin is buzzing at night, no matter what day of the week it is. The liveliest of all parts of the city is Temple Bar, but as it is populated by nothing other than stag (bachelor) and hen parties over the weekend, on Fridays and Saturdays it can become a bit much. The imaginatively titled Temple Bar in the heart of the area is one of the most popular haunts and, as it is one of the larger pubs, attracts a hearty crowd every night. If you want to do the real ‘Oirish’ thing, the Oliver St John Gogarty’s (Anglesea Street, Temple Bar) has traditional music bands playing seven nights a week.
If you want to steer clear of tourist traps such as Temple Bar there are plenty of other parts of the city which are littered with pubs. On Georges Street there is one every 50 yards. The Globe (11 Georges Street) attracts a funky crowd, and this pub connects to Rí-Rá which is kicking every night of the week. SoSuMe just across the road and the Market Bar (Fade Street, across the road from Hogan’s) are just two of a host of other pubs in this area.
English author Mary Wollstonecraft once wrote that Dublin was “the most hospitable city I ever passed through” in letters written during a short residence in Sweden 1796. She wasn’t wrong. From the people you encounter in pubs to the locals running street stalls, everybody has something to say. Stop here for a few days and you will find it feels familiar quicker than you expect.
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