DUBLIN: The great Irish writer Brendan Behan once said that Dublin is “a city where there’s familiarity without friendship, loneliness without solitude.” He had a point.
Dublin manages to be both big and small at the same time — a cosmopolitan port city, it also retains a small-town feel, with the friendly locals contributing in large part to that. The city is divided by the River Liffey, with the Southside traditionally being seen as the more well to do. The Northside has come into its own in recent years however, with areas such as Stoneybatter filling up with cool cafés, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and lots of cultural activities.
For more culture, head to the Little Museum of Dublin, a converted Georgian townhouse which overlooks St. Stephen’s Green in the center of the city. Set over three floors of a Georgian townhouse, it tells the story of Dublin through photographs, memorabilia and artifacts donated by the general public. The collection includes the lectern used by JFK on his 1963 Ireland visit as well as the letter given to the Irish envoys to the treaty negotiations of 1921, whose contradictory instructions were at the heart of the split that resulted in the Civil War.
Across town at 14 Henrietta Street is another museum, this one dedicated to the history of Dublin’s tenement buildings. On the guided tour, you’ll learn how these magnificent houses — once home to the rich elite — were used to accommodate the city’s poorest inhabitants, sometimes squeezing more than 100 people into a single house.
Dublin is a great city for walking, but if you want something more challenging get on the Dart (the train line that hugs the coast) and head to Howth. It’s only about 15 minutes from the city center, but Howth Head offers a wonderful cliff walk with spectacular views, as well as some of the best fish and chips in the country at the harbor. If you still have the energy, take the Dart south to Killiney, which offers even more breathtaking views, as well as some of the country’s nicest houses (U2 frontman Bono is one of the more well-known residents). Killiney village is a lovely place for a meal or a coffee, before the 20-minute train journey back into town.
Art fans should visit the National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square. The building is looking superb after its recent renovation. It is home to more than 14,000 artworks from the likes of Monet, Rembrandt and Picasso, and also houses numerous Irish artworks from the past 300 years. Allow yourself half a day at least to soak it all up. If modern art is more your thing, head west to IMMA in Kilmainham, which is Ireland’s leading modern art gallery. Housed in a stunning building first opened in 1684 to house retired soldiers, the lush grounds alone are worth a visit.
All that walking is sure to create an appetite, and while the Irish capital has never been known as foodie central, the quality of restaurants has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. If you really want to treat yourself, head to Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud at the Merrion Hotel, Ireland’s only two-star Michelin restaurant, which features a modern twist on Irish cuisine alongside impeccable service. For something a little less formal, check out Bunsen, a small but perfectly formed burger joint that does amazing hamburgers. That’s literally all they do — the menu is about the size of a business card — but they do it spectacularly well.
Dublin is not renowned for its hotels but there are two — one old and one new — that deserve a recommendation. The Shelbourne has been around since 1824 and offers impeccable service, glorious views over St. Stephen’s Green and one of the city’s best steak restaurants in The Saddle Room. For something completely different, head to The Dean on Harcourt Street where the boutique rooms come with Smeg fridges, framed street art on the walls and turntables with a curated selection of vinyl.
Dubliners are known for their quick wit and friendly nature, and the city is very welcoming to visitors. Whether you stay in the capital or use it as a base to visit the rest of the country, you are sure to have a wonderful time.