It’s famed for being boozy, good craic, expensive, but beyond the stereotypes what is the real Dublin like? Over the past 18 months this blog has visited many tourist destinations in Dublin and its surrounds. I’ve visited many with tourists, others on standard Saturdays. This mix of perspectives and experiences has provided insight into Dublin’s key tourist traits and given a flavour of some of the best experiences to be had.
1. New or movable tourist attractions are not well advertised – For a popular European capital city, it’s surprising how few websites show what’s on in Dublin. Many of the city’s newer and more interesting museums, galleries and exhibitions are often discovered by keeping open your eyes and ears. Look out for flyers. Talk to locals. Hunt out the information offices.
Suggestion: visit the Shackleton exhibition in Dún Laoghaire. Even if you’re not maritime minded, this is a must for the quality of the tour and the story.
2. The city of walking tours – Whether it’s the Irish love of history (particularly with the centenaries upon us) or the fondness for a bit of banter and storytelling, walking tours seem to be all the rage these days. You won’t be long without seeing one advertised.
Suggestion: the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Far from crawling since 1988, this is hilarious, informative and unroudy!
3. Don’t just do Dublin by day – Under its normal cloudy skies, Dublin has a good mix of things to do and places to eat or drink. By night the capital is a different animal. You don’t have to be a stag or hen to enjoy the buzz on Grafton Street or nearby with their milieus of buskers, banter and nocturnal joie de vivre. Ireland’s pubs are second to none and even if you don’t drink they’re worth experiencing for their atmospheres.
Suggestion: have a drop in a bar off Grafton Street then walk down the newly paved said street, soaking in the sounds and sights. Snake along College Green, Dame Street and the lively Temple Bar before catching a glimpse of the Ha’penny Bridge en route to another bar.
4. A tale of three cities – Whether you love mountains, sea, metropolises, suburbia or exurbia, Dublin has everything. The city’s highest points, the breezy coastline and Dublin Mountain’s peaks each reveal different complexions of a low-rise city and suburbs cushioned by mountains, a peninsula and a bay.
Suggestion: climb Croke Park stadium’s roof the respectable way with the Skyline tour before getting the DART to Howth for its views of the bay. The DART can then bring you to Dún Laoghaire, where you’ll get a great view of the mountains opposite. If you’ve got a car, drive up to the peak of Three Rock Mountain via Tiknock Wood – the view is superb.
5. The Guinnesses shadow everything – It’s not that Ireland’s most famous drink is the black stuff, or that the storehouse is the most popular fee charging attraction. It’s that virtually every stately home or anecdote about old Dublin has some connection with the Guinness family. This clan of bankers, preachers and brewers were real movers and shakers in old Dublin. It’s claimed that when one of the Guinness family members died in Britain, the windfall duties from his estate allowed Winston Churchill to cut income tax by a penny.
Suggestion: visit Farmeigh House. Its opulence, history and surrounds give you a glimpse of the State-Stout relationship.
6. A good sport to all – Dublin has a lot to offer both kinds of sports lovers, participant and spectator. Whether you’re looking for indigenous or universal sport, there’s always live sport to enjoy or game event about to obsess with the locals. Professional and community-based sports are easily found. Lovers of outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, sailing or windsurfing will find a city with much more to offer than a decade ago.
Suggestion: go to a local GAA game. It’s on Saturday or Sunday mornings, standing pitch-side watching 30 young people play, that you’ll see the skill, dedication and passion of those on and off the field who sustain these amateur games.
For a small city, I’ve been surprised at how much there is to do, how much of it is not well known and the wealth of its cultural, social and political history. Like any city worth discovering, it’s about hunting out the information about what’s to discover. Next month this blog will take a new path to places on where Dublin’s history and culture often meet.