From the crowded pubs of Temple Bar to the elegant architecture of Trinity College, there’s no shortage of entertainment in Dublin. Tom Otley dives into the Grand Canal and wets his whistle in Grafton Street.
1. St Stephen’s Green
Dublin’s most historic square, surrounded by elegant Georgian houses and several hotels, including the Fitzwilliam and the famous Shelbourne, is a good place to start this tour of the city’s Southside. St Stephen’s Green is a peaceful green place apart from the traffic encircling it, yet there’s plenty of evidence of a turbulent history. Depending on your interests you could concentrate on writers and poets (a bust of James Joyce, a Henry Moore statue of WB Yeats), or on Countess Markievicz, who led the insurgents during the Easter Rising. Several buildings remain scarred from the fighting which took place, but sitting on a shaded bench in summer, it’s hard to recreate all of this. Instead, marvel at the counter-intuitive way traffic has been made to flow around the Green (in places running anticlockwise) to cure the congestion, then take your life in your hands and cross at the north corner into Grafton Street.
2. Grafton Street
One of the few pedestrianised streets in Dublin, and all the more welcoming for it, Grafton is like London’s Covent Garden, with lots of history, street entertainers, and even a few good shops. The most famous are the upmarket department store Brown Thomas (brownthomas.com), Weir’s jewellers (weirandsons.ie) and Belwey’s Café (bewleys.com). Keep Grafton Street as your orientation, and you won’t go far wrong – explore the side streets for pubs and cafés, or take one of the many James Joyce walking tours. For restaurants, turn left for those centred around South William Street. At the north end, you’ll wind up at the statue of Molly Malone (“the Tart with a Cart”).
3. Trinity College
At the end of Grafton Street, look right and you’ll see the perimeter wall and buildings of Trinity College (tcd.ie). Founded in 1592, the college boasts a list of former students which reads like a who’s who of Ireland and its literature: Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, to name just three. The college is entered from College Green, a fearsome traffic junction, but once inside you enter a different world, albeit one where tour groups seem to outnumber students. Perhaps the latter are still in bed. If you have time, you can tour the 40 acres of grounds and look over the shoulders of the crowds at the Book of Kells. Alternatively just wander through the various Squares (Front, New Library and Fellows’) examining the statues and, weather permitting, walk through to the sports ground where you can enjoy a rest.
4. Temple Bar
Cross College Green to find Temple Bar, the historic centre of Dublin. Running alongside the river, this area is characterised by its cobbled streets, dozens of pubs, bars and restaurants, and, most evenings, by tens of thousands of people having the time of their lives. Assuming you are visiting in daytime, there’ll be the chance to have a half of Guinness in one of the pubs – try The Temple Bar (47-48 Temple Bar, tel +353 1 672 5286, thetemplebarpubdublin.com), or The Ha’penny Bridge Inn on Wellington Quay. If you need something more substantial, The Quays Bar (11 Temple Bar, tel +353 1 671 3922) is a good choice for food.
5. Dublin City Tour
The excellent Dublin Pass gives access to 30 attractions in the city, including Dublin Zoo, the Guiness Storehouse, Kilmainham Gaol and The Old Jameson Distillery – if this was a six-day guide rather than a four-hour, there would easily be enough to keep you busy most afternoons for a week. The Dublin Pass also gives discounts on various transport options, including the hop-on, hop-off Dublin City Tour (€12.50 with a Dublin Pass). A 24-hour ticket allows you to split the 75-minute, open-top bus tour into up to 21 stops. It’s quite a quick way of getting around the city, and since the pass also includes a one-way trip into town from the airport (or back out from Dublin) with Aircoach, it’s probably worth investing in, even when your leisure time is restricted to an afternoon. One, two, three or six-day options are available, starting at €31 for a day (dublinpass.ie).
6. Viking Splash Tour
This is a silly but fun thing to do, particularly if you are exploring as a group, allowing you to tour the city without the effort of walking. The format is recognisable from several other cities running similar tours, including both London and Boston (where they are known as Duck Tours) and involves driving around the city streets in an amphibious bus. Everyone on board is asked to wear plastic Viking hats, in honour of Dublin’s medieval invaders, and the tour ends with bus and passengers taking to the water in the Grand Canal Basin. There are two departure points, one at Bull Alley Street next to the gardens of St Patrick’s Cathedral and one at St Stephen’s Green North. Tickets can be bought by phone (tel +353 1 707 6000), online (vikingsplash.ie), at the St Stephen’s Green departure point, or at the Dublin Tourism Centre on Suffolk Street. Prices: adults €20; children €10.
7. The Westbury/ Radisson SAS Royal
If you’ve worked up a thirst, but don’t fancy braving the crowds in Temple Bar, a couple of new hotel bars have recently opened in the city centre. The Radisson SAS Royal on Golden Lane has introduced the brand’s Sure bar concept, a modern take on a traditional Irish pub and a great place for a peaceful pint of Guinness. Alternatively, if you simply can’t face another mouthful of the black stuff, the Marble Bar is a glamorous new venue at The Westbury on Grafton Street, serving cocktails and fine wines by the glass. Visit lhw.com/westburyhotel, radissonsas.com.