DUBLIN, AN INSIDER’S GUIDE
Your genial Editor, Cliff Carlson, has tasked me with the impossible – to provide an Insider’s Guide to Places to Go in Dublin in 1200 words. It simply can’t be done, not even in 12,000 words! Obviously I could list the places I like to (re)visit, the restaurants and pubs I frequent, but much of this is personal to me – the memories associated, the people I know, the sports I like to watch and play, the music I like to hear, and wouldn’t necessarily translate – and might even disappoint – for someone else. So I’ll eschew the task and present instead more of a type of Outsider’s Guide for the casual or first time visitor.
Dublin is a great city, and as a native I never tire of it. There are parts of it, moreover that I hardly know and I still enjoy exploring. But in this era of Trip Adviser and other on-line forums it would be presumptuous of me to give opinions or to attempt to compete with the Lonely Planet or the many other available guide books. What follows is an attempt is to sketch out a template of how to explore Dublin in at least some of the many possible ways. I’m assuming a minimum of a week’s stay, with a value-for-money tag. But be warned; there are so many places that are “must see” or “must do” that fitting them in in one week (or even two) cannot realistically be done. So a return visit will be necessary (my pitch on behalf of Dublin tourism!)
Starting with the basics, Dublin is a relatively compact city in that most of the main tourist attractions are centrally located, and can be visited on foot or by public transport, while the coastal suburban attractions are easily accessible by rail. Dubliners may complain about their public transport but for the visitor it is regular, not too pricey, quite efficient, and safe, but be prepared for crowding at rush hours. The available options are bus, light rail and train. Taxis are plentiful and also quite reasonable to reach places (and at times) that public transport won’t. Dublin is a fairly safe and friendly city, with the caveat that there is always some crime and it behoves everybody to take some care.
Dublin pubs are world famous and come in every shape and size. Prices for drink can vary though generally the spread in bars is quite limited (plus or minus 20-30%), even in tourist venues like Temple Bar. The current rate for the ubiquitous pint of Guinness is €5.20 on up, with lager and craft beers about €1-1.50 more per pint). Prices in cocktail lounges and Five Star hotels will be considerably higher. Wine in both pubs and restaurants is generally expensive – an indifferent bottle will set you back €20, a “glass” for €6 up – not surprising, given that taxes on alcohol are among the highest in Europe. Pub grub varies widely in both price and quality but can normally be relied on for a snack at least, with some pub fare rivalling that in restaurants. Word of mouth can be important here.
The inward migration of the last two decades has transformed eating out in Dublin, with every variety of ethnic restaurant and food now available at prices to suit all. Dining out is not cheap but, at the lower and medium end, good value is to be had. Many of the smaller restaurants offer two course lunches for around €10 and many more offer “ Early Bird” evening menus (normally before 19.30 or 20.00) for roughly double, with restricted choices at a considerable discount over a la carte. It’s worth remembering that prices normally include service, so tipping for good service is very much a matter of choice, though most people round up. Anyone on an expense account or to whom money is no object will find top class restaurants at top class prices.
So. What to eat? With only a week to explore the culinary options, a different ethnic meal every day is one option. Another is to pursue exclusively good Irish food, now more available than ever. Lamb and fresh fish tend to be excellent, though Irish stew with lamb might be difficult to source – as also corned beef. Steaks are good, ditto burgers but there is a health ukase against serving rare cooked meat. As in other cities, restaurants packed with people are a good guide to quality.
What to see offers a wealth of potential experience. Any first time visitor, and even others, could do worse than take one of the walking or bus tours to get familiar with the city and its layout, as well as the time taken to move between locations. Dublin’s climate is mild but it can rain a lot so appropriate precautions should be taken (raincoats and/or umbrellas). Don’t try to cram in too much and above all pace yourself. And don’t forget to factor in lunch and dinner wherever the fancy takes you.
Begin with the “Must See’s.” Thirty minutes on the Internet, supplemented by a guide book and a map, will yield around a dozen recommendations from several sources. The list is familiar, with most probably already flagged by relatives or friends. Most cost money and some require advance booking. Next sort out transport modalities and purchase tickets – again there are discounts available. The “Dublin Pass” is worth looking at since it includes free admission to many attractions as well as a bus shuttle between sites. Queries and further information can be got from the nearest Tourist Office (there’s one in Andrew Street, 200 m from Trinity College, as good a place as any to start exploring).
When they’re out of the way (or pencilled in on the calendar) I suggest spending a Day on the Bay, visiting and exploring the various coastal suburbs on Dublin’s North and South coasts. Malahide, Howth, Blackrock, Dun Laoghaire, Dalkey and Greystones are some of the places to be found along Dublin’s rapid transit DART system, which features spectacular scenery as it runs along the coast. My particular favourite is the fishing village of Howth, which could be a holiday destination in itself, with some superb seafood restaurants and pubs with musical entertainment. But all the venues mentioned are interesting in themselves with plenty to see, explore, eat and drink.
Another day, at least, should be spent visiting Dublin’s excellent – and free – Museums and Art Galleries, all user friendly and packed with fine exhibits and art. My favourites are the Hugh Lane Gallery in Parnell Square and the Chester Beatty Library within Dublin Castle, though the National Gallery, with a Vermeer, a Caravaggio and a fine collection of Irish Art should not be missed. This is not to neglect the other fee-charging venues which also merit attention but will probably require advance booking. And spend one evening in Temple Bar for the convivial atmosphere and the music.
Running out of time? Try visiting the main parks, cemeteries, churches and cathedrals. Try the Ginger Man tour, the James Joyce pub tour, the 1916 Tour, the Brewery and Distillery tours, Moore Street, and more….. Oh, well.There’s nothing for it but to plan another visit!