Dublin is a city that has retained the mentality of a village where locals are generally very friendly, open and willing to engage with anyone they meet. Dubliners are great storytellers who love self-deprecating humour and “pulling the leg” of the person they are speaking with.
While it’s a capital city with all the associated trappings, the city centre is compact and easy to navigate. We asked Aoife, a Dublin local to share some insider tips and advice.
Where can one get the best view of your city?
Dublin is a low-rise city and it’s relatively flat so there aren’t many great vantage points. One suggestion is ‘Gravity Bar’ in the Guinness Storehouse but the view isn’t free and Guinness isn’t for everyone. A personal favourite is to walk to the end of Dun Laoghaire Pier (a south Dublin suburb that’s easily accessible by both train and bus) and look back across Dublin Bay towards the city.
If you’re feeling a bit more energetic, go to the north Dublin suburb of Howth and take the coastal cliff walk (it’s fairly easy but has some uneven ground) for stunning views over the city and Dublin Bay. Howth is also easily accessible by train and bus. Both suburbs have charming village centres, and Howth is a particularly good place to visit if you like seafood.
Photo credit: Aoife O’Meara
What areas should be avoided in terms of tourist traps?
Temple Bar, Temple Bar and Temple Bar. I’d avoid it at all costs as the food and drinks are overpriced and largely of a poorer quality than you’ll find elsewhere in the city. Plus, very few locals will venture there for a night out as it’s over-hyped and full of tourists, especially at night. During the day Temple Bar offers some worthy cultural pursuits such as the Photographic Archive, the Irish Film Institute, the weekend food market and book markets to name but a few, but once the sun goes down its time to get out of there.
Photo credit: Kevin Gibbons
What should I take home as a souvenir?
Ireland has a tradition of nurturing its artists and craftspeople so there are many shops selling unique handmade items. There’s a craft market in Cow’s Lane every Saturday, and a few shops located nearby selling items from the market and more during the week.
Where do the locals head on a sunny day?
When the elusive (usually watery) sunshine does make an appearance, St Stephens Green fills with workers making the most of their lunch breaks. Phoenix Park is another very popular spot to spend a sunny day. Here you can walk for miles, hire a bike, watch wild deer, visit the zoo and much more. Dublin has a few beaches but they tend to be windblown blustery affairs not for the faint-hearted. Closest to the city there’s Bull Island and Sandymount Strand, and further afield in north Dublin you’ll find a good beach at Portmarnock.
Photo credit: Michael Foley
What’s the top event of the year for locals?
In recent years the local authorities have been holding events marking the New Year. There’s a big concert (cheap tickets are usually available from November right up to the event) and other family friendly events such as a parade of lights.
Of course Ireland is famous for St. Patricks Day (March 17th) when a colourful parade snakes through the city. Festivalgoers usually end up at one of the many pubs, so the city centre isn’t necessarily the nicest place to be once the sun has gone down (especially if you’re travelling with young children).
Dublin also hosts the All Ireland Finals of both Gaelic Football and Hurling. Hurling in particular is quite a spectacle to behold. The fun starts with the semi-finals in August and the finals (on consecutive weekends for each sport) in September. Dublin fills with fans from the competing teams and if the Dublin team is lucky enough to be competing, the city will almost come to a standstill at match time.
What places would you recommend outside of Dublin?
Ireland is small so it’s very easy to go on a day trip from Dublin to virtually any part of the country. Other cities include Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway – each offers something a little bit different and is easily reached by train or bus. Much of Ireland is rural and can be explored by car, or if you’re more energetic, by bicycle. The weather is notoriously fickle so check the forecast before committing to too many outdoor pursuits.
Photo credit: *jr
What foods are loved by locals in your country?
The pay off for all the rain is the green grass, which means we have great dairy products and exceptional quality local meat. We’re an island surrounded by rich fisheries so our seafood is unbeatable, especially if you find a restaurant where the chef knows how to treat it properly. There are exceptions but in general we aren’t great with providing information (menus, explanations in museums etc.) in foreign languages. All our official signs are written in English and Gaelic although few people speak Gaelic fluently.
What are Irish people like?
We are a friendly and resourceful bunch who will always find common ground with you no matter your country of origin. Know that we aren’t British or English even though English is the first language of the vast majority of the population and spoken by everybody. There are no leprechauns and we don’t generally say “Top of the morning to you!” – unless you ask very nicely. Don’t be shy about approaching locals to ask for help or just to start up a conversation. If you’re standing at a street corner puzzling over a map, don’t be surprised if someone offers to help you find your way.
What places would you recommend to a… culture buff?
The National Print Museum is a gem and The National Gallery is worth a visit – they also run a good programme of events for children. The Science Gallery has ever changing but always interesting (and sometimes hands on) exhibitions. Smock Alley Theatre is an interesting venue with a good programme of events covering all age groups.
…architecture or history lover?
The National Museum has two locations in Dublin and both are worth a visit – Collins Barracks for Decorative Arts and History, and Kildare Street for Archaeology. The Irish Architectural Archive is currently open only to researchers but it is hoped to re-open to visitors in the future.
Dublin has retained its Georgian core and has many fine buildings – Merrion Square is a fine example of this style of architecture. The Casino in Marino (don’t be fooled, it’s not for gambling) is well worth a visit to see the optical illusions and clever use of perspective.
Dublin has a few Michelin starred restaurants. Boasting two stars, the restaurant Patrick Gilbaud will require the entire contents of your wallet. Chapter One requires booking in advance – look out for their excellent value pre-theatre menu. L’Ecrivain similarly requires advance booking.
Not Michelin starred but very well worth a visit are The Winding Stairs, Locks Brasserie and its sister Pearl Brasserie. You’ll get some of the best seafood in Dublin at Matt the Thresher. The charming and unique La Peniche and Fade Street Social are also worth checking out.
Photo credit: psyberartist
…a budget traveller?
There are lots of cheap eats in Dublin with most restaurants offering good value lunch menus and an ‘early bird’ menu to diners from 5–7 pm or so. Cheaper again are the likes of Pitt Bros, CrackBird or Yumi Falafel on Dame Street (no website, it’s almost opposite CrackBird).
In terms of culture, Dublin has a good programme of events running throughout the year – many are free but some require advance booking so check an online event guide once you know your travel dates. The National Museum, The National Gallery and the Natural History Museum are all free to enter. There are various walking tours that are either inexpensive or completely free – topics covered include history, literature and food. You can even join a pub walking tour!
Nightlife largely centres on the pub scene and while there’s no entrance charge, drinking in Dublin, especially at Temple Bar, is not a cheap hobby.
…families with children?
The Viking splash tour will keep most kids entertained, but it isn’t cheap. As mentioned, the National Gallery has free events, and Dublin’s annual cultural programme also has many family friendly events.
Feeding the ducks at St. Stephen’s Green is popular, as is a visit to Dublin Zoo. Over recent years a lot of hard work has gone into improving the habitats of its residents. Inquisitive minds can be kept occupied at workshops run at Make Shop for very little money and sometimes for free.
The idea of offering children smaller portions of regular main courses in restaurants hasn’t really taken off in Dublin yet, although some restaurants do offer this option. Many still have relatively plain and boring children’s menu options. It’s worth asking the staff if small portions are an option for children as it varies from place to place. A good bet for dinner with children, especially younger ones, is the Milano Pizzeria chain which provides crayons and paper for the kids to doodle on while they wait for their food.
Photo credit: Simon