In honor of St Patrick’s Day, Andy Mossack – a British travel writer and the creator and presenter of BBC Radio’s “Where in the World is Andy” travelogue series – gives us the rundown on how to best visit Dublin.
The Vikings definitely knew a thing or two about travel. They also had pretty good taste when it came to looking for a place to live. Let’s face it, if you were going to settle somewhere hundreds of miles from home, you’d want a few of your creature comforts wouldn’t you? When they sailed into Dublin Bay up the Liffey all those years ago, I bet they thought they’d died and gone to heaven. Rich pickings to be had: loads of pillaging opportunities, ample stocks of drink and plenty of fair maidens.
You might think that today not a lot’s changed, but you’d be wrong. Yes, of course Dublin has its pubs and clubs (particularly around Temple Bar), and many Irish will be the first to agree that drinking “the black stuff” and having fun is what life’s all about. But there is a lot more to Dublin’s fair city. There’s real heritage behind this charming city by the bay, from its medieval foundations to the stunning Georgian squares and cobbled streets that intoxicate you in a very different way.
What to Do and See in Dublin
James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and Samuel Beckett are just a few of the famous literary geniuses who walked these very streets for inspiration, and many of the pubs and cafes they frequented are still in use today. One of these is an absolute must visit: Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street has been a cherished listed Dublin landmark for over 80 years. Mention “the black stuff” to people and they will think Guinness, but most Dubliners who like coffee equate Bewley’s to the other black stuff!
Trinity College, a bastion of education since the 1600s, was the location for the film “Educating Rita.” It is also the home of The Book of Kells, one of the few remaining illuminated Bibles in the world. Transcribed by Celtic monks in 800 AD, it’s a masterpiece of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of hand-painted illumination. It’s also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure.
In fact, strolling around this easily walkable city, you can’t fail to find something historically significant, no matter what direction you choose, and the River Liffey dividing the city neatly down the middle is an excellent way to ensure you keep your sense of direction. You’ll find yourself stumbling across all kinds of hidden gems like The Dawson Lounge on Dawson Street, reputedly the smallest pub in the world, and only 10 feet wide at the front. My particular favorite is just down the street from there, St Ann’s Church, which today still upholds an age-old custom of free bread for the needy by putting loafs out on the Breadshelf, although I can’t vouch for the freshness. It was on this street in the Round Room that the Irish adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1909.
On the other side of the river is The Custom House, a magnificent building once the nerve center of all shipping traffic coming into port. A little further down is a grim reminder of Ireland’s worst natural disaster, the potato famine, which wiped out half the population and led to many people fleeing by ship to America and Canada. Along the quayside you’ll see statues depicting families who waited on that very spot desperate for a place on one of the emigration ships. This area, once run-down docks, is now undergoing immense regeneration not dissimilar to London’s Docklands and is fast becoming a major venue for living, dining and entertaining.
The best way to first orient yourself though is by taking one of the many tours around the city. You can take an open-top hop-on, hop-off bus; or to get a bit more adventurous, don a Viking helmet and opt for the Viking Splash Tour, a 1940s amphibious vehicle that will give you a taste of road and river at the same time. Alternatively you can embrace Irish music aboard the rock and roll bus, a genuine band tour bus where you can see and hear all about The Dubliners, Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher and of course U2 while you drive around the city.
No trip would be complete without a visit to the Guinness Storehouse building right next door to the brewery. You can learn just about everything to do with Guinness here, and even pull your own pint at the end of the tour. Many people believe that Guinness does taste different in Ireland, and you’ll find out here why that may well be true.
So what would The Vikings make of Dublin today? I think they would be patting each other on the back thinking that, as travel agents go, they certainly had the Midas touch!
Feeling inspired? Flights to Ireland from cities across the United States are now available starting at just $698 roundtrip, including taxes. Plus there are tons of things to see and do in Dublin for free!
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Featured Image: River Liffey in Dublin (Shutterstock.com)