Ireland’s affable capital city wears its age well. Its Georgian townhouses and well-trimmed squares show off its elegant side, while the chatter of its pubs and street markets produce its famously expressive, down-to-earth charm. The mood is rampant at times, soulful at others, and while the city may lack the blockbuster sights of many other European capitals, it compensates with ample helpings of cultural history, artistic heritage and Liffey-side charisma. The country’s financial problems have been well documented in recent years, but they haven’t stopped Dublin staying true to its reputation as a gregarious, enjoyable city.
The coastal suburb of Howth is well worth a trip from the city centre at any time of year – particularly at weekends, when an excellent farmers’ market takes place on the harbour – but come summer its salty-aired, village-like atmosphere takes on fresh appeal. Back in town, the lawns of St Stephen’s Green become prime picnic territory as soon as the sun comes out, not least because of their location just steps away from busy shopping streets. Where events are concerned, the June to September period gives a platform for everything from the Fringe Fest to the LGBTQ Pride Festival.
The broad waters of the Liffey River cut right through central Dublin, making it straightforward to find your bearings by foot in the heart of town. For outlying sights and attractions, however, there’s an extensive public transport grid, including the DART (a train service which covers the whole of Dublin Bay), the centrally focused Luas tram system and a citywide bus network. Bike hire is another obvious option – the city’s dublinbikes scheme is one of the most successful in Europe – while if you’re anywhere even remotely central you’ll rarely have to look far for a taxi. Fares are metered.
Top cultural sites
Dublin’s reputation for producing intellectuals and artists is best explored at Trinity College (College Green), Ireland’s most prestigious centre of learning ever since the college’s royal charter was granted in 1592. Among its hugely attractive squares and buildings is exhibited the 1,200-year-old Book of Kells. And as well as being the birthplace of the likes of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, it’s hard to escape the fact that Dublin is also the hometown of Guinness. The Guinness Storehouse (St James’s Gate) leads visitors on an interactive journey through the history and manufacturing process of the black stuff, culminating in a tasting session in a panoramic bar.
Best for families
Kids are well catered for in Dublin, with top family-friendly attractions ranging from Viking Splash city tours – which cover land and water in amphibious vehicles – to Dublin Zoo, long one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland. The zoo is located in Phoenix Park, which itself has playgrounds, ice-cream kiosks and flower gardens. Creatively minded kids can custom-design their own pottery at the Artworks Café (The Stables, Strand Road), while those with a sweet tooth won’t need much persuading to visit Butlers Chocolate Experience (Clonshaugh Business Park), which looks behind the scenes at a working chocolate factory.
Best for couples
At the best of times, there’s a genuine romance to Dublin’s riverside walks and time-polished backstreets, which when taken in tandem with the city’s leading hotels, pubs and restaurants makes it a superb destination for couples. There’s a traditional night out to be had at pubs such as Long Hall (51 South Great George’s Street), while the likes of the Octagon Bar (The Clarence, 6-8 Wellington Quay) or Dakota (8-9 South William Street) show a smoother, more contemporary side to the city. Food is a serious business in Dublin these days, of course, and a table for two at the Citron Restaurant (Fitzwilliam Hotel, St Stephen's Green) will show you why.
If you love a thrill
Dublin loves its sport, and it’s through the traditional games of hurling, handball and Gaelic football that this passion finds its most unique outlets. A ticket to a big match at Croke Park is guaranteed to be an eye-opener, while team-building company Experience Gaelic Games offers a fast-paced day in which the three sports are explored hands-on – it’s ideal for groups. Slightly out of town, there are white-water rafting trips available on the inland reaches of the Liffey River, while back in the city there remains a big-night-out allure to the high-octane, if not always authentic, pubs and clubs of Temple Bar.
Best hidden gems
Dublin’s cultural scene reflects the city’s rich, eventful, and at times troubled, past. Take time to visit the poignant Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship & Famine Museum (Custom House Quay), which uses a working replica of a 19th-century ship to highlight the transatlantic journeys made by countless local men and women. Delve into further stories of the past at the Glasnevin Cemetery Museum (Finglas Road), or join one of the Hidden Dublin walking tours, which focus on everything from ghosts to Guinness. To unearth some of the city’s food highlights, Fabulous Food Trails offer on-foot explorations of tucked-away cafés and markets.