The Irish capital’s rich history and artistic tradition seep from its streets, discovers Michelle Mannion
1. Kilmainham Gaol
There are cheerier places to start a tour, but for a powerful insight into Irish history, Kilmainham Gaol museum can’t be bettered. Built in 1796, the cold stone walls of the jail housed men, women and children guilty of crimes and misdemeanours, as well as many of the rebels at the forefront of Ireland’s struggle for independence.
Access to the jail, which is about 3.5km west of the city centre, is via guided tour only and these run every 15-25 minutes, lasting an hour. Your guide will lead you through the narrow corridors, explaining the grim conditions people were kept in and pointing out the cells that were occupied by various patriots, such as Eamon de Valera, who went on to become Irish president. You’ll then be led out to the courtyard, where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were shot – including Joseph Plunkett, who married his sweetheart Grace Gifford inside the jail hours before his execution. The altar at which they said their vows is still intact.
If the building looks familiar, that’s because you may have seen it on screen – Kilmainham has been used as a set for films including In the Name of the Father and the original version of The Italian Job. Be warned that the jail can get very cold in inclement weather. Open 9.30am, last admission 5pm (Oct-Mar 4pm). Entry €6. Inchicore Road, Kilmainham; tel +353 1 453 5984; heritageireland.ie
2. Guinness Storehouse
Head back into the city via the home of its most famous export. Located in the St James’s Gate brewery complex, the Guinness Storehouse is a high-tech visitor attraction that explains the process behind making the perfect pint. Enter the seven-floor building and you’ll find yourself at the foot of a giant atrium in the shape of a glass that could hold 14.3 million pints.
As you ascend, you embark on a hands-on journey through the brewing process, from malting the barley to adding the yeast to fermenting the beer – and, of course, to sampling the finished product in the tasting laboratory. Learn about the history of the Guinness family, and make sure you visit the advertising section, which documents the company’s inventive approach to marketing over the years. Finish your visit at the top-floor Gravity bar, where you can enjoy a pint (included in the €15 entry fee) and take in the fantastic 360-degree views of the city. Open 9.30am-5pm (Jul-Aug until 7pm). Tel +353 1 408 4800; guinness-storehouse.com
3. River Liffey
Cut up Watling Street to the River Liffey and stroll into the city centre along the quayside. The Liffey is the city’s tranquil heart, dividing north from south (in Dublin, it’s all about the postcode). You’ll pass the Four Courts, an imposing domed structure with a rich history. Built at the turn of the 19th century, it was bombarded first by British troops in 1916, and then six years later by the fledgling Irish government during the Civil War, when it was almost completely destroyed. It reopened in 1932, but the bullet holes remain.
Further on you’ll come to two of Dublin’s most stylish hotels, almost facing each other on opposite sides of the river. Both the Clarence, owned by U2’s Bono and the Edge, and the John Rocha-designed Morrison are popular haunts of visiting musicians, and it’s been known for rock stars to wave at each other from their respective penthouses across the Liffey.
The city’s tourist magnet, Temple Bar, is just off here too – full of bars and restaurants, it teems with visitors. If you’d like refreshment in a less frenetic environment, pop into the Morrison’s bar and take a seat under the huge painting of Bob Dylan. Visit morrisonhotel.ie; theclarence.ie
4. O’Connell Street
Now turn on to O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare. One of Europe’s widest streets, it’s lined with grand neoclassical buildings, many of which were rebuilt following destruction in the War of Independence and Civil War. Highlights include the General Post Office, from where the 1916 rebels proclaimed the Irish republic, and Clery’s, one of the world’s first purpose-built department stores when it was first constructed in the mid-19th century. The elegant lobby bar of the Gresham hotel at number 23 is a good place to stop for a little people-watching over afternoon tea (served from 2pm-6pm, €25). Visit gresham-hotels.com
5. Dublin Writers Museum
Ireland is famed for its literary tradition almost as much as for its brewing capabilities, and on Parnell Square, at the top of O’Connell Street, you’ll find a delightful museum dedicated to the wordsmiths the country has produced. Open since 1991 in an attractive Georgian townhouse, the collection includes first editions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, James Joyce’s Ulysses and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, as well as more unusual exhibits including Samuel Beckett’s telephone, James Joyce’s piano and Patrick Kavanagh’s death mask. Open 10am-5pm Mon-Sat, from 11am Sun. Entry €7.50. Visit writersmuseum.com
6. The Merrion
If your artistic appetite hasn’t been sated, head back across the river to Merrion Square, once the address of a couple of other famous Irish writers, W B Yeats and Oscar Wilde. The elegant Georgian square is home to the Merrion hotel, which, as well as boasting Ireland’s only eatery with two Michelin stars – Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud – has one of the country’s finest private collections of 19th- and 20th-century art. Works hung in the public areas include pieces by Jack B Yeats and Sir John Lavery and, in the front hall, a series of murals by Martin Mooney.
The hotel encourages people to look around whether they are staying, dining or simply browsing, and a private tour with a guide from the National Gallery can be arranged. If your wallet doesn’t stretch to the Guilbaud, the hotel’s Cellar restaurant and bar are excellent choices for an end-of-tour drink or meal. Visit merrionhotel.com
See visitdublin.com for more information. Kilmainham Gaol, the Guinness Storehouse and the Writers Museum are included in the price of a Dublin Pass, which starts from €35 a day. Visit dublinpass.ie