FX Excursions

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Ireland’s Capital City Hums with Activities for Visitors of All Ages

by Irene Rawlings

Feb 9, 2023

PHOTO: © AITOR MUñOZ MUñOZ | DREAMSTIME

January/February 2023

Steeped in history, Dublin dates back to its origins as a Viking settlement in the ninth century. It boasts a spirited pub scene, a rich literary tradition and a current population of just more than 1.2 million. In the past few decades it became the European headquarters for multinationals like Meta, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Airbnb, Twitter and LinkedIn. As one of the biggest beneficiaries of Brexit, which caused more than 130 financial firms to relocate from London, Dublin has more than 50 new hotels in the pipeline and dozens of new world-class restaurants redefining Irish cuisine.

© CATALINA ZAHARESCU TIENSUU | DREAMSTIME.COM

From the stately Georgian architecture and quiet, manicured parks around Merrion Square to the party-all- night atmosphere of Temple Bar and the excellent eateries of Ranelagh and Rathmine and the charming seaside villages of Howth and Dalkey, each of Dublin’s 10 unique neighborhoods is worth exploring. The city center is compact (most of the main attractions lie within walking distance of each other), but you can see more and more quickly on two wheels. Dublin offers more than 100 miles of paths for cycling. Rent from Dublin Bikes, a self-service bike rental system with stations located throughout the city. Dubliners also get around town and out to the coast via an excellent and reliable tram/light rail system called Luas (Irish for “speed”).

For the best time to visit Ireland, think spring (March– May) or autumn (September–October). Summer, also a lovely time, is more crowded and more expensive. An umbrella always proves a good idea but especially in winter when there is more rain (making Ireland so lush and green). However, you’ll find much lower prices for lodging and attractions at that time of year.

Nearly every visitor to Dublin stops at Guinness Storehouse, and you should, too, especially if you’re interested in how the brewery makes its famously dark stout. The tour offers a seven-story immersive experience topped off with a complimentary tasting at the 360-degree Gravity Bar with panoramic Dublin and River Liffey views. To avoid the crowds, buy a timed ticket close to the end of the day when all the tourist buses have gone. In addition, several smaller, independent breweries are worth a visit, including Diageo’s St. James’s Gate Brewery, Five Lamps Brewery and The Porterhouse Brew Co. For sipping spirits, don’t miss the Jameson Irish Whiskey Experience, where you can sign up for a tour and tasting, cocktail-making classes and even an opportunity to bottle your own whiskey — straight from the barrel. Explore other possibilities for innovative tastings at Teeling Whiskey, Pearse Lyons Distillery (in a converted church on James Street) and Roe & Co Distillery (in the former Guinness power station).

Another must-see is Trinity College (established in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I) with its cobblestone courtyards; ancient libraries (kids will love the Harry Potter-esque Long Room in the Old Library); and the stunningly beautiful Book of Kells, widely considered the oldest book in the world.

No trip to Dublin is complete without stopping into a local pub for a pint and a bit of traditional Irish music. O’Neill’s Pub & Kitchen, just around the corner from Trinity College, features live music and dancers in an oh-so-Irish setting: cut-glass snug screens, ornate wooden carving, comfortably worn leather chairs and dozens of Irish craft beers on tap. O’Donoghues has been around since 1789 and is as traditional as it gets. The Dubliners, a beloved Irish folk band, got its start here. Enjoy live music seven nights a week with bands from across Ireland. The Cobblestone (in Smithfield, one of Dublin’s oldest neighborhoods) is not fancy but authentic; locals come here for good beer and traditional music. Most sessions start at around 9:30 p.m. — or whenever a few musicians gather — and last until 12:30 a.m. During the day, especially on Sundays, many pubs start sessions at 2 p.m. Kids are welcome in most Irish pubs until 8 p.m.

Dublin proves the ultimate kid-friendly city. At the museum attached to Christ Church Cathedral (founded in 1030), costumed performer bring the city’s Viking and medieval history to life — including a full chest of period clothes for children and adults to try on. Older kids will enjoy a spine-chilling descent into the crypt at Saint Michan’s Church to see the nearly 1,000-year-old mummies. The National Leprechaun Museum is not just about little men in green outfits; it spotlights the magic of Irish folklore and storytelling. A big plus: a quirky room with a mythical and spooky forest and another with oversized furniture designed to make you feel, well, as small as a leprechaun. In 1,700-acre Phoenix Park (twice the size of New York’s Central Park) kids will enjoy exploring the medieval tower house of Ashton Castle, visiting Dublin Zoo and catching sight of the resident fallow deer. According to Irish lore, fairies meet among the bush-like hawthorn trees lining the park’s walled perimeter.

PHOTO: © MADRUGADAVERDE | DREAMSTIME.COM

A designated UNESCO City of Literature, Dublin was home to Nobel laureates W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and, of course, James Joyce, whose novels Dubliners and Ulysses immortalized the city. Independent bookshops abound. Ulysses Rare Books features a remarkable selection of first editions by Joyce, Yeats and Oscar Wilde (he also lived here). Sweny’s Pharmacy, mentioned in Ulysses, also proves an excellent source for second-hand books. The Winding Stair is a treasure trove of new and used books and, even better, you can order a fried- cod platter at its restaurant overlooking the River Liffey’s iconic Ha’penny Bridge.

Dublin boasts more than 700 pubs, forming the cornerstone of the city’s social life. As well as appearing in famous literary works, such as Joyce’s Ulysses, Dublin’s pubs served as homes-away-from-home for some of the world’s most celebrated writers. Joyce liked to hang out in Davy Byrne’s, Brendan Behan frequented Neary’s, and W.B. Yeats favored Toners. Sign up for a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, guided by actors who offer literary history sprinkled with famous quotes and punctuated by a pint or two along the way.

According to the National Museum of Ireland, more than 6 million Irish emigrated to America since 1820, and more than 25 percent of the current U.S. population claims Irish ancestry. You can trace your roots at the brilliantly interactive EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. As you enter the exhibition, you receive a stamped passport then follow a path through 20 themed galleries to discover why people left Ireland and how they influenced the world. Alongside the museum in Dublin’s Docklands, board the tall ship Jeanie Johnston, an exact replica of the original three-masted famine ship that, between 1848 and 1855, successfully transported more than 2,500 passengers from Ireland to North America. Journey back in time to learn the real-life stories of the passengers who embarked on this grueling journey.

LODGING

The Dean Dublin
Hip and stylish with an unstuffy vibe, The Dean offers in-room Smeg mini fridges and record players with classic vinyl like John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and the Beatles. Enjoy nightly revelries at Sophie’s rooftop bar with watercolor views of Dublin.
33 Harcourt St., Saint Kevin’s, Dublin
$$$$

The Merrion
Doormen in top hats welcome guests to the stately and serene hotel spread across a row of converted 18th-century Georgian townhouses. Guestrooms feature antiques and enormous marble bathrooms. Indulge in high tea and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Upper Merrion Street, Dublin
$$$$$

The Shelbourne
From the opulent entrance to grand, high-ceilinged guestrooms, The Shelbourne exudes 5-star elegance and old-world charm paired with exceptional, family-friendly service. A full-time Genealogy Butler helps you trace your Irish roots. The Lord Mayor’s Lounge serves a famous afternoon tea.
27 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin
$$$$$

DINING

Delahunt
Enjoy cozy, contemporary dining and attentive service amid vintage accents in a historic building. The sitting room-style cocktail bar features sink-into chairs, crystal chandeliers and a fireplace.
39 Camden St. Lower, Saint Kevin’s, Dublin
$$$$

L. Mulligan Grocer
Dublin’s first true gastropub, housed in a beautifully preserved grocer’s shop, purveys simple, fresh, creative food. The menus nestle inside vintage books, and the bill arrives in a classic candy tin. Large list of craft beers and ciders.
18 Stoneybatter, Dublin
$$$

Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud
White-gloved waiters at the 2-Michelin-starred restaurant serve Irish cuisine with a French twist. Dinner menus change seasonally; lunch menus change daily. Eight-course tasting menu includes wine pairing.
The Merrion, Upper Merrion Street, Dublin
$$$$$

INFO TO GO
Fly into Dublin Airport (served by all major airlines), located approximately 6 miles north of downtown. A taxi to city center costs about $35, depending on traffic, number of passengers and time and day. Dublin Airport is accessible by more than 1,000 buses and coaches daily, reaching areas in and around Dublin and towns and cities across Ireland. Seven car rental companies are located on site or in close proximity to the airport.

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