I’ve just returned after my four-day city break to Dublin (actually to Dundalk first and then Dublin)! My first time ever in Ireland, which means I can add it to my list of countries visited so far, reaching the count of 39 (applause, epic Oprah music, confetti shower, hand waves with teary eyes).
Dublin, a capital that is so full of character and so human-friendly, with a pace of life distant light years from rat-racey London. A city that maintains a village feel, with its buildings that don’t aim to scrape the sky, its evergreen pub culture, its coloured doors. Oh those lovely doors! History says it was a way for the residents to put their personal flair to the strictly structured Georgian constructions; legend wants that it was an easy trick to be able to find their house when drunk, on the way back from the pub.
Immersed in tradition, but at the same time a city that is undergoing a huge development, especially in the zone around the Grand Canal Docks: after a long walk surrounded by red brick houses and swans gliding peacefully on the waters we reach an area that reflects (still in its own particular way) the structure of London docklands, with modern buildings of multinational companies and mirror-windowed offices, flown over by flocks of seagulls. The feeling is that, after the surely risky and clumsily conducted Brexit manoeuvre, many important international companies are now transferring their operational headquarters from the UK to Ireland, setting up the country to a huge renaissance in terms of jobs and economic opportunities.
I want to thank my wonderful locally based friends Herachya and Gianluca, that made me feel at home and made my Irish days memorable, helping me discover the best of places, food and things to do. So, would you guys know what I saw and did in Dublin and what I recommend? Cool, first of all…
You really shouldn’t miss this. The University’s green and cobbled internal yard is luxurious (especially on a sunny morning, and I was so lucky with the weather on those days, can’t believe it!) and you can breathe in the magnificence of the elegant buildings where Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett have studied. The College’s Library treasures original medieval gospel manuscripts (go and see the exhibition about the Book of Kells! Entrance is 13 euro, but you can see the incredibly detailed creation process of the book, from the stretch of calfskin to create the vellum, to the decorating work), and one of the most impressive book chambers worldwide: it’s called The Long Room (long indeed: 65 metres) and it houses two hundred thousands original books. You enter the room and you smell history. And the jawdropping arched ceiling, raised in 1860, will allow you to take stunning pictures!
I’ve asked my friend Gianluca “where shall we meet?”, and he promptly replied “where all the people in Dublin meet: at the Spire!”. In O’Connell Street it’s impossible to miss this huge stainless steel monument. 120 metres high, like a gigantic whale tooth that rises to the sky (not really matching the style of the surrounding buildings, to be honest, but it’s an interesting contrast), the Spire replaced Nelson’s Pillar, destroyed by an IRA bombing in 1966. The monument illuminates the night sky in Dublin… and its tip swings when the wind is strong, sometimes up to 1,50 metres! (It’s perfectly safe, I just wanted to scare you a bit). Oh, don’t even bother trying to take a full picture of it, if not from a ridiculous distance (and even at that point, it will just look like a random lamp post).
Temple Bar is the area on the south bank of the river where the most of Dublin’s artistic and cultural life takes place: live music, theatre, cinema and multimedia institutes and events, and a vibrant night life. Hallmark of this gorgeous area is of course The Temple Bar Pub , another to-go place in Dublin if you really want to get the feeling of the city.
Statues of Dublin
Dublin is literally full to the brim of statues! It could be a nice game to play, walking around with friends and trying to spot them first. The James Joyce statue seems to stare at the Spire with a skeptical face, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find Oscar Wilde chilling on a rock in Merrion Square. Fun fact: Dubliners love to give quirky (and sexual) nicknames to statues and monuments, so that the statue of Molly Malone (heroine of a traditional Irish song) is often called “the Tart with the Cart”, James Joyce is addressed as “the Prick with the Stick” and the huge Spire column is commonly known as “the Pole in the Hole”, “the Stiffy at the Liffey” or even “the Erection at the Intersection”.
The National Gallery
What a gem! I highly recommend to spend a couple of hours admiring this amazing collection of the finest artworks by artists such as Perugino, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, and of course some real Irish masterpieces by Jack B. Yeats. I was mesmerised by the colour tones of two of the big rooms (one red, one teal), and how this precious gallery manages to merge a stunningly modern architecture and overall concept with timeless art from the past. Absolutely beautiful and FREE ENTRY (subscriptions are of course welcome).
Embrace the pub culture to the fullest
Basically all the blogs and guidebooks list a visit to the Guinness Storehouse as a must-do thing in Dublin. Well, sure, if you are interested in seeing the whole process of preparation of this iconic beer it might be a nice experience, but tickets are quite pricey (around 18 euro) and it would take a chunk of your time in the city that you might prefer to use for other activities on a budget. What I suggest you is to scrap the Guinness Storehouse, and instead have your dinner meals at pubs that brew their own selection of beers: don’t miss for example the pubs of Galway Bay Brewery Company , that offer a delicious chocolate stout and vibrant red ales, along with finger licking pub food. If you have the chance (and if you feel young and reckless) sign up for a pub crawl. Pubs tell you a lot about the spirit of this city, the big heart of the people who live in it and the traditions of the whole country.
And a few more tips:
- Stroll in St. Stephen’s Park – it’s a gorgeous green space, and if you’re lucky with the weather it would be one of the most pleasant moments of your holiday.
- Churches and Cathedrals – they are fantastic, I wish I had more time to visit all of them properly…
- Enter Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre – the interiors of this mall look like a giant liberty style train station. Very Instagrammable.
- Support local art – I already mentioned live music and theatre events, but if you want to bring home some exclusive pieces of Irish art & design I suggest you to visit the Jam Art Factory in Dublin zone 2, where you find fine art prints and decorative objects for a very affordable price!
- Go for one-day getaways: Dublin is the perfect starting point to go and explore other marvellous areas in Ireland, reachable by train in one hour or so. The stunning Cliffs of Moher, Connemara and Galway City, Glendalough, Newgrange… If you have more than three days to spend in Dublin you might consider a day for one of these trips, you’ll be rewarded.
And this is all for now, but I can’t leave you without a little video-diary I’ve prepared for you while walking up and down the city. I’ve chosen to accompany the images with the voice of the extraordinary Dolores O’Riordan, Irish icon and one of the biggest idols of my adolescence, with a song that would give me the same shivers it gave me when I was 15, even if I listened to it thirty years from now.
Enjoy and… visit Dublin!