A lively, cosmopolitan and walkable city, Dublin is a perennial favourite but there are more reasons to come here now than ever before. Immigrant influence – from Chinese dumpling restaurants to Polish grocery stores – has added colour and variety to an already vibrant culture of Irish food, crafts and booze.
Dip into James Joyce’s Ulysses notebooks at the new Museum of Literature Ireland and then relax with a glass of natural wine; shop for modern Irish linen and locally roasted espresso; and follow an into-the-wee hours traditional music session with a next-morning shakshuka (a tomato and egg dish from the Middle East) breakfast.
Irish art has always leaned heavily on tragedy, and Dublin’s historic cemeteries and jails are worth visiting for enlightenment into what has fuelled the country’s often-melancholy nature. But it’s the local sense of humour – occasionally dark as it can be – that’s what most visitors take away from a visit to the capital.
- 3pm: Prison explorations
The imposing Kilmainham Gaol (8 euros, or about S$12, for the tour, which is the only way to view the site; best to book in advance) has been a tourist attraction for a surprisingly long time: Since 1966, when the jail was reopened after years of restoration by a hardworking group of volunteers.
The hour-long tour of the cells and stone-breakers yard, where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising – an armed insurrection against British rule – were executed, demonstrates the grim role the prison has played in Ireland’s history. It housed rebels arrested during every uprising against British rule, and was a holding place for convicts awaiting deportation to Australia.
The tour ends in an informative museum, which lays out details of the Easter Rising, War of Independence and Civil War. If certain aspects of the prison look familiar, it might be because scenes from the movies In The Name Of The Father and Michael Collins were shot here.
- 5pm: Smoke and strong whiskey
You can smell the Teeling Whiskey Distillery well before you can see it. The first new distillery to open in Ireland in 125 years, it’s located in The Liberties, a neighbourhood accustomed to the smell of barley and hops because, in the 19th century, it was home to dozens of distilleries and breweries.
Teeling’s hour-long tour (starting at 17 euros per person; includes a tasting) details the long history of Irish whiskey-making and takes you through the working distillery, where you can watch the “wort” fermenting in wooden fermenters, and whiskey being distilled in giant wooden stills. The tour ends in the bar, where the guide leads you through a tasting of single grain, small batch and single malt whiskeys.
- 7pm: Cocktails by the green
In the green heart of the city’s south side, lively St Stephen’s Green, you’ll find students lounging on the lawns, tourists feeding the pigeons, and office workers taking a break.
Stroll around the ponds and flowers, stopping in the northeast corner to see the tribute to Wolfe Tone, an 18th-century revolutionary considered the father of Irish republicanism. Note the slabs of stone lined up behind his statue; Dubliners, who love to nickname public monuments, have dubbed it Tonehenge.
Stroll down Dawson Street toward an aperitif at Peruke & Periwig, a cozy and atmospherically lit bar. Chatty bartenders whip up some of the city’s best cocktails (around 13 euros each) with spiced gin, local whiskey and enhancements like apple-wood smoke. The cozy second floor, with its velvet chairs, oil paintings and windows looking down onto the bustling street, is an excellent place to sequester yourself for an hour or two.
- 9pm: New Irish cuisine
Book ahead for dinner at Clanbrassil House, where the chef Grainne O’Keefe brings a new approach to old ideas in dishes like Killary Fjord mussels from the west of Ireland, bathed in a spicy XO broth, and smoked trout layered onto charred sourdough and topped with pickled cabbage.
This small restaurant opened in 2018 and serves some of the most innovative plates in Dublin: Sausage made in-house from pork cheeks; marmalade ice cream; and hash brown fries with an onion mayonnaise. Interesting, Eurocentric wines are served by the glass, and the family-style option, in which the kitchen sends out a range of small plates, starters, mains and desserts, is a fun way to snack around the tempting menu. Dinner runs around 120 euros for two, including wine.
- 9am: Creative breakfasts
When you just can’t face another Irish fry, grab an early brunch (around 30 euros for two) at Brother Hubbard South, which has one of the most inventive breakfast menus in the city. Middle East-inflected dishes like a crispy halloumi sandwich with pickled tomatoes, or Turkish eggs with whipped feta, are made with ingredients from local producers, and the coffee is roasted on-site. They even make their own cola. Despite rave reviews, it remains unpretentious and welcoming, and the large patio is a popular spot for al fresco breakfasts when the weather is up to it.
- 11am: Midday Joyce
Leopold Bloom, perhaps the most famous character in Irish literature, makes a visit to Sweny’s Pharmacy in James Joyce’s Ulysses, where he purchases a bar of “sweet lemony wax” soap that accompanies him around the city. The same soap is still on sale (5 euros) in this pharmacy, now a small, tchotchke-filled museum run by volunteers, who happily discourse on Joyce, and hold daily readings and discussion groups on the author’s works.
Saturdays between 11am and 1pm are for the Ulysses reading, which anyone is welcome to come in and enjoy – or contribute. The pharmacy (in business from 1853 to 2009), with its wooden fittings and dusty bottles looks, one imagines, exactly the same as it did in Joyce’s day.
- 12.30pm: Arts and crafts
A short stroll from the museum are two studios showcasing modern Irish workmanship. Jennifer Slattery Textiles’ Irish linens are embroidered with care and whimsy, with items like finely woven napkins (78 euros for four) adorned with a tiny knife and fork. Thin, brightly coloured trays (45 euros each) of embroidered linen brushed with resin, make fabulous gifts.
Next door, Flock Studio sells toy sheep, mice and other animals, made with Irish wools and merino that’s been turned into felt by hand. A 10-minute walk brings you to Arran Street East, a small corner studio, cafe and shop that makes its own beautifully glazed range of small cups, pitchers and plant pots, all in muted primary colours. They run workshops (starting at 50 euros) as well, if you want to try your hand at the wheel.
- 1.30pm: Fish and espresso
The Dublin 7 neighbourhood is home to an increasing number of excellent restaurants that are well off the tourist trail. Stop on Benburb Street and hop onto a high stool at Fish Shop, where the catch of the day (sustainably fished) becomes a truly excellent battered fish and chips (lunch for two, around 40 euros).
There’s a selection of natural, organic and biodynamic wines by the glass. Follow lunch with a “Night and Day” at Proper Order, a cheerfully staffed coffee shop with beans from esoteric European roasters like Square Mile and Fried Hats. The “Night and Day” (4.50 euros) is a pair of espresso shots, one black and one with milk, that comprise a sort of mini tasting menu, with enough caffeine to power you through the rest of your day.
- 3pm: The history of a candlestick
Occupying buildings ranged around the vast inner courtyard of the former Collins Army Barracks, the fabulous National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History (free admission) is home to some of Ireland’s greatest treasures. In addition to exhibits on Irish history, the galleries are home to expertly curated displays on Irish fashion through the years; a millennium of Irish coinage; a huge collection of Irish silver and much more. The signs accompanying everything from a poplin dress from the early 1900s to an iron-wrought candlestick to a chair made from straw impart incredible amounts of fascinating detail; you’ll learn more than you ever expected.
- 7pm: Dinner and a session
L Mulligan Grocer, in increasingly cool Stoneybatter, is the best kind of neighbourhood restaurant: Locally sourced ingredients, a lengthy and interesting list of local and international craft beers, and a lovingly curated whiskey list with descriptions that are almost poetic.
The food, from high-end versions of Scotch eggs that feature pickled onion and Dijon mayonnaise, to delicately braised lamb with juicy carrots and a black-pudding-and-potato croquette, doesn’t look far from home for inspiration, but the execution and ingredients are exemplary and have created a loyal local fan base.
After washing down your Irish cheese plate with a specially paired whiskey, stroll over to the trad session in The Cobblestone, a busy pub with live fiddlers and uilleann pipers going hard every night, where you can sink a Guinness while the talented musicians do their thing.
- 11.30am: Graves and gravediggers
You can learn an astonishing amount of Irish history from a general history tour (13.50 euros) of Glasnevin Cemetery, where most of Ireland’s politicians, revolutionaries and luminaries are buried, including many who were jailed at Kilmainham.
The efficient, well-informed guides take you to the graves of people like the revolutionaries Michael Collins and Countess Markievicz, delivering a neat summary of each person’s place in history, as well as explaining the intricacies of Ireland’s civil war and what happened after the Easter Rising in 1916.
Following the tour, exit through the southwest corner and enter the John Kavanagh pub, colloquially known as The Gravediggers, for a pint where (apocryphally) the cemetery workers used to refresh themselves during particularly long wakes.
- 1pm: Eats and treats
While away your afternoon snacking around Eatyard, an open-air, gravel-floored courtyard with food stalls selling everything from wings dipped in sauces flavoured with Irish whiskey to vegan fish and chips (made with a plant-based meat substitute) to locally made ice cream. The space also plays host to playful events like potato chip festivals (complete with impassioned debates on the best flavours).
Eatyard officially closes in the winter, though it opens frequently for special events. If it’s shut, settle in next door at the Bernard Shaw, a cheerfully ramshackle pub with a tendency to play world music all day long, for a hemp ale or an IPA brewed by the owners as well as a good selection of other locally brewed beers and high end Irish gins.
Dublin’s easy to get around, but staying near the city centre will save shoe leather: Look for rentals in ZIP codes D1 and D2. One-bedroom apartments rented through Airbnb cost around US$120 (S$166) a night; more in summer and less in winter.
The chic Iveagh Garden Hotel (doubles from 180 euros) has rooms in a range of sizes, decked out in green and blue velvet accents and with generous bathrooms. The hotel backs onto the lush Iveagh Gardens and is walking distance from many city sights.
Rooms at The Dean start off tiny (the smallest sleeps one or two, and starts at 109 euros) and go up to penthouse size, with a glass-walled rooftop bar and restaurant that offers great city views. The service is extraordinarily friendly, even for a city famous for its warm welcomes.
By Nell McShane Wulfhart © The New York Times