Of all the cities I’ve visited, Dublin is the one that has most frequently been graced with my presence. Given that my Mum was born there and my family and I would frequently visit our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for weekends or holidays, this top ranking on my destination list is a given. I even briefly lived there for a year while completing my MA – a fact sometimes omitted from my memory because it seems like so long ago now.
But before I proceed any further, a little disclaimer. I’m about to talk about how much I love Dublin, how it has always been a special place for me ever since I was little and I thought it was so big and exciting. But before I do I must say this; it could, and never would, quite match my love for Donegal!
These days I’m only a short flight away and I go when I can to check in with that ever-expanding family – now with two nieces, three nephews plus another on the way, gender unknown, oh and two brothers-in-law of course – for what is always a busy weekend. But it’s the good type of busy. I absolutely treasure those days spent just doing normal family things like having dinner together, or loosing badly at foosball to my seven-year-old nephew – things that I don’t get to do very often.
I’ve wanted to write a piece about Dublin since I started this blog. Everyone I meet who has been to Ireland has usually, not always, but usually, been to Dublin and they recount memories of trips to the Guinness Storehouse and Temple Bar and other places along the city’s tourist trail that has me pleading with them “…but there is so much more!”. And so, this post includes none of the typical things you have heard about when researching a trip to Dublin. I’m sharing some new discoveries for me, but some older, some that I’ve known since I was a kid and I hope you might find something of interest that will divert you from the typical places most guidebooks will usher you to.
And beyond what Dublin can offer the solo traveller, which is indeed a huge amount, do, if you have time, explore more of this incredible little island. There is so much beauty to be discovered particularly along the west coast and I love meeting people who have travelled outside of Dublin to find out what they have seen and done – they even give me ideas for trips to places I have never been to!
Until next time…
Dublin is certainly riding high on the coffee shop revolution that has swept across European cities and the venue that I am particularly fond of is Hatch Coffee located in the Sandycove area, south of the city centre. I love their welcoming neighbourhood hospitality and obvious knowledge of coffee that is exuded by those who work here. Modelled on the coffee shops of Melbourne where one of the three sister founders first fell in love with the art of coffee making, the menu will appeal to any discerning coffee drinker with the added bonus that their beans are roasted locally in Dublin.
Hatch really understands the craft of coffee making and also how to grasp customer temptation with an array of enticing snacks and treats at their counter. Besides coffee, there is a lovely tea selection from Wall & Keogh and a signature Valrhona hot chocolate that will satisfyingly put any chocolate cravings to bed.
The fact that you are likely to be served by a member of the Hatch-founding Tarrant family on any given visit makes a detour here a unique opportunity to experience the genuine passion this family has for coffee.
Park it at
The People’s Park, Dún Laoghaire
A beautifully serene park overlooking Dún Laoghaire Harbour, Howth Head and the Irish Sea, the People’s Park offers a glimpse of neighbourhood life in south Dublin as the area is frequented by locals who clearly adore this spacious and thoughtfully-designed park.
Every Sunday the park hosts a vibrant farmer’s market with fresh fruit and veg for sale, an array of stalls cooking international dishes to feast on and local businesses selling handmade crafts, chocolates and baked goods. I’d highly recommend a visit to the lovely Fallon & Byrne restaurant located at the far end of the park in a quaint conservatory-esque building for some food or a coffee – they have a takeaway deli section as well if the weather will kindly allow you to sit outside!
Dún Laoghaire itself is one of my favourite parts of the city, proudly showing-off just what an incredible location Dublin boasts on the eastern coastline of Ireland. Whenever I visit I always try and go for a walk along the harbour pier for an invigorating dose of fresh air, taking the route right down to the picturesque lighthouse at the far end and back.
And finally, I couldn’t direct you to this part of the city without mentioning the infamous Teddy’s ice cream shop – please do go, you will be tasting a little sweetness from history! Founded in Dún Laoghaire in 1950, Teddy’s brings back lots of nostalgic memories from our childhood trips here and it says so much that despite the never-ending trends for fads to contend with, this tiny shop has prevailed and does a roaring trade to locals and visitors alike. The main shop is right near the People’s Park and they also have a van on the pier so there is no excuse not to try their classic 99 cone!
I have a particular affinity for Killiney Hill and the surrounding neighbourhoods because my grandparents used to live nearby and my fond memories of visits here have cemented my affection for the area to this day.
For visitors, I would highly recommend taking some time to walk, or jog if you are ambitious, to the top of the hill. The stunning 360 degree views you get of the city, surrounding coastline and countryside are quite simply unrivalled anywhere else.
My favourite route starts off around the Sandycove area, loops around Coliemore Harbour and then up along Victoria Road where you can enter the back of the park and start your ascent. Afterwards you could stroll to Dalkey Village which is a lovely street lined with nice pubs, restaurants and delis.
St Stephen’s Green
One of the city’s best-known green spaces, St Stephen’s Green is the perfect place for a wander, a picnic (weather permitting of course), or just some downtime after touring the city or spending your Euros around the nearby shopping hub of Grafton Street.
During the summer months the park is a haven for office workers on their lunch breaks and if you are there at that time of day, there are free concerts taking place so check out the park’s website for further details before you go.
A beautifully maintained garden, I used to intern in a nearby office and frequented one of Merrion Square’s benches for my lunch – when it was dry of course! Originally constructed in 1762 this really is the heart of Georgian Dublin and the square is surrounded on three sides by traditional Georgian redbrick buildings, while the fourth side opens out to the National Gallery, the National History Museum and Leinster House (the seat of the Oireachtas – the Irish parliament).
There is a fantastic political and cultural history to Merrion Square encapsulated by the fact that significant figures from Irish life including Daniel O’Connell (Irish political leader from the 19th century), Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats all lived here at one time or another.
Chester Beatty Library
Established to house the wealth of artistic collections formerly owned by Irish-American mining tycoon Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, a visit to the only museum in Ireland to have been awarded ‘European Museum of the Year’ – in 2002 – is a must for culture fans visiting Ireland’s capital.
Admission is free and you will find a wonderful array of manuscripts, prints, drawings and rare books from countries across Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Alongside these permanent collections there are many rolling temporary exhibitions taking place so check the website for upcoming and current displays. Afterwards, The Silk Road Café is on hand to quench thirst and hunger pangs with a menu influenced by Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine.
National Gallery of Ireland
Admission is also free to the National Gallery and it offers peaceful spaces to explore a fantastic international artistic collection. From powerhouses such Caravaggio and Monet, Turner and Vermeer, to Irish greats like Jack B. Yeats, this is a gallery that every culture vulture can while away many pleasant hours in.
After all that you may be in need of some refreshment and the lovely bright Gallery Café is the perfect place for a pit stop with breakfast, lunch and afternoon treat times all catered for.
As a kid whenever I visited Dublin with my family and we ventured to the shopping mecca of Grafton Street, the Brown Thomas store always exuded, from the outside in, the epitome of luxury and beautiful things. As a student living in the city many years later it was somewhere I would never have even dreamt of setting foot in – when you are student, pretty much everything is the epitome of luxury and beautiful things you cannot afford.
So if I’m ever in the area these days, I like to pop in for a look (not that I’d be splashing my cash much because luxury is still pricey) and I love how the flagship Dublin store has retained its sense of sophisticated shopping and stands at the fore of fashion in the city with it’s range of international designer brands. If you are travelling elsewhere on your trip there are also smaller Brown Thomas branches in Cork, Limerick and Galway.
The Powerscourt Centre
I absolutely love the airy Powerscourt Centre, located on South William Street just off Grafton Street, with its array of boutiques, restaurants, bars and beauty hubs, all of which are housed in a stunning Georgian building.
If the weather is particularly grim, which is a distinct possibility anywhere in Ireland at any time, this is a lovely space to while away a few hours and besides clothes shopping you’ll find antiques, jewellery, home and interiors and handmade crafts for sale. I’d encourage a little stop by The Pepper Pot café that sits on the second floor which specialises in homemade organic dishes.
If you are looking for a special dining experience in the heart of the city then Bang is certainly high on my list of recommendations. The staff are incredibly friendly, skilled and attentive despite often busy lunch and dinner sittings and the restaurant itself is fairly formal, but nonetheless relaxed and atmospheric.
I had the most divine duck breast for my main course – a meat I only order if I know I am somewhere that will do an excellent job of cooking it – and the preceding seared tuna and avocado mousse starter also hit the mark for flavour and presentation. Bang is in a great location right beside St Stephen’s Green and you could do no better than to stroll across the street to The Shelbourne Hotel (see below) afterwards for a post-dinner cocktail.
I literally dream about Avoca sometimes and if anyone I know is visiting Ireland I always implore them to find a branch. There are a few in and around the city – the central one on Suffolk Street is the best known and here you can combine dining at the top-floor café, with a browse of their beautiful store on the lower levels. I personally love their Salt Café in Monkstown – the perfect detour if you take the journey out to Dún Laoghaire – which has a lovely restaurant and a fantastic deli section that is a haven for takeaway items.
If you asked me what one thing I can only find in Ireland that I miss the most, apart from my family and friends of course, it would have to be Avoca scones. They are not just any type of scone, they are probably the best and I have a particular love of their sun-dried tomato and cheese variety. If you do make a visit try one or take one away for another time, you won’t be disappointed!
Taste at Rustic by Dylan McGrath
I had the pleasure of dining here with my family earlier this year and on a Saturday night this central Dublin restaurant was bustling with diners. I loved the open-plan kitchen that invites you to be a part of all the action as the chefs bustled over dishes nearby and it added to what was overall an experience as much as it was a meal out.
I must say when first presented with the menu it seemed a little daunting as there were so many dishes to choose from – all inspired by the flavours of Japan, Spain and South America – and especially in a larger group we found ourselves a little unsure about what and how much to order. In the end it turned out to be just the right amount of food, all beautifully presented and incredibly tasty – a selection of wasabi-flavoured potato croquettes were a real highlight around the table!
The dessert menu is divine and I took a little leap of faith in ordering something I wouldn’t usually – a crème brûlée – but this was an unusual green-tea flavoured version with pistachio, yogurt mousse, white chocolate and yuzu ice cream. Not to be missed!
Drink or afternoon tea at
The Shelbourne Hotel
A visit to the historic Shelbourne Hotel right next to St Stephen’s Green is quite the experience and while for most the rooms might be out of budget, there is nothing stopping you visiting the exquisite bars for a drink any time of the day, or plan ahead and book a coveted table for one of their renowned afternoon tea sittings in the Lord Mayor’s Lounge.
The hotel has two main bars, The Horseshoe and No. 27 Bar & Lounge which are both sophisticated venues with ornate décor and character. Their delicious cocktails and extensive wine list are unrivalled and you will be in fantastic company mixing with locals and international guests alike. The Sunday Jazz Brunch held in No. 27 is hugely popular with two sittings at 12noon and 2.15pm – make sure to book ahead.
Train it to
I always encourage visitors to the capital to venture beyond the usual and take the train ride out to Bray (around 45 minutes depending on where you get on). The journey is one of the most beautifully scenic train rides as the route meanders right along the coastline. A morning or afternoon in Bray will be well spent wandering around the seaside town, exploring the local beach or taking a walk along the scenic cliffs.
Further south you also have the village of Greystones where you’ll find one of the most popular cafés on the east coast, The Happy Pear. Having originally started life as a small veg shop run by twin brothers Dave and Steve, The Happy Pear has grown over the last decade into a thriving plant-based dining institution. The emphasis here is on wonderfully nutritious, healthy and tasty dishes with locally-sourced ingredients and this family business has now spawned two cookbooks and built a digital empire incorporating a YouTube channel and thriving Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
And if you are in the area around sunrise why not join Dave and Steve for one of their invigorating morning swims in the Irish Sea – follow one of their social media accounts for further details!
Have you been to Dublin? Do share your stories, all comments welcome!