Dublin’s tourist allure is infectious. People make you welcome, the vibe is relaxed, when it rains there’s always a warm pub a few steps away. There’s plenty to see and a hop-on-hop-off bus links the most popular tourist sites. In principle you get off where you choose, explore, and then hop on the next bus.But chances are you’ll find the-board commentator so entertaining you might just stay on.
I visited the city for the first time decades ago and, in a sense, never did hop off. Dublin is home now. Visitors ask me what to see, and I’ve drawn up a list (given below). But I still recommend the bus tour. It’s the best way to get an overview and decide what to visit later. I’ve known people to be in despair because they failed to visit Dublin Castle which, as it happens, isn’t on my list at all.
Here are the things that are on my list:
Grafton Street — particularly on a sunny Saturday when buskers dot the busy thoroughfare. The street music can range from a string quartet to a tin whistle. I wouldn’t bother with the shops, though — they’re mostly branches of British stores. You might make an exception for Brown Thomas with its famous doorman.
Archbishop Marsh’s Library near St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a perfectly preserved scholars’ library established in 1701. Its most important manuscript — Lives of the Irish Saints -written in Latin, dates from 1400. Marsh’s is closed on Tuesdays and Sundays, and times of opening on other days require forward planning. But it most emphatically repays the effort. www.marshlibrary.ie
Dublin Writer’s Museum on Parnell Square is a shrine to the writers who have made Dublin famous and is well worth the pilgrimage. Plenty of books, letters, portraits and personal items. There’s a bookshop and a pleasant coffee shop, too, all housed in a magnificent 18th century mansion.
The GPO on O’Connell Street was the main stronghold of the Irish Volunteers during the Easter Rising of 1916. You can still spot the bullet holes on the pillars outside. And inside, plaques capture the significance of this historical focal point.
The Trinity College quadrangle is a popular tourist attraction where time stands still in the centre of the capital city. Join the queue to see the 9th century Book of Kells now enshrined in an orientation centre on the Trinity campus.
Call in at the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen’s Green for afternoon tea in the Lord Mayor’s Lounge. Afterwards, wander into the Shelbourne’s Museum, a little treasury of artefacts from the hotel’s long history. White cotton gloves are provided for you to wear when turning the fragile pages of the old guest books.
Dublin Writer’s Museum on Parnell Square is a shrine to the writers who have made Dublin famous.
The cobbled precincts of Temple Bar are also a must. Wander, check out the shops but keep an eye out for Merchant’s Arch. Pass under it and you’re at the famous Ha’penny Bridge, one of the dearest relics of Dublin’s long history.
The Georgian House, “Number 29” at Merrion Square, offers a wonderful insight into the domestic world of the well-off middle classes who lived in the elegant buildings which line so many Dublin streets.www.esb.ie
The Little Museum of Dublin, just a minute’s walk from Grafton Street, is in a beautiful Georgian townhouse at 15 St. Stephen’s Green.A sort of ‘people’s museum’ of 20th century Dublin, every item has been donated by a member of the public. Look in for a glimpse of the interior plus memorabilia of U2, James Joyce, JFK. There’s a flight of steps up to the front door . Wheelchair users are invited to telephone 661 1000 in advance for assistance.Open seven days a week from 11 am to 8 pm.
The Chester Beatty Museum, behind Dublin castle, is an 18th century clock tower with modern extensions. It contains a unique legacy — thousands of priceless manuscripts and precious items amassed by Ireland’s first honorary citizen, the New York-born Chester Beatty. He left it all to the Irish people on his death in 1968. The Islamic Collection is world-famous. www.cbl.ie
But let’s say you see none of the above and you also miss the Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Chalice, plus the finest horde of prehistoric gold in Europe, all at the National Museum, as well as the dazzling Millennium Wing at the National Gallery and Christ Church cathedral with its hallowed remains.
And let’s say you do spend your day wandering aimlessly, enjoying the streetscapes, perhaps browsing for antiques or second-hand books. And in the evening, venture into a shabby-looking pub where there’s Irish music going hammer and tongs and you order a pint and let the evening slip by as you talk to the locals or let them talk to you. Because if you do, chances are you’ll come away feeling you know Dublin well. And no one would argue with you, least of all me.
The Best of Irish Dublin
Little by little, Dublin has evolved into a European city. Where once it was difficult to discover the Irishness of Dublin beneath its colonial legacy, it’s now a challenge to discern it under its European one. But there it surely still remains.
Where to stay: I like the Clarence at 6/8 Wellington Quay. On the edge of Temple Bar, on the banks of the River Liffey. It’s an authentic “arts and crafts” building, restored to the height of quiet sophistication by the Dublin rock group U2. www.clarence.com
Where to eat: European restaurants abound, but for a taste of traditional Irish dishes, it’s the Old Dublin on Francis Street or the Boxty House in Temple Bar.
Shopping: For superb contemporary Irish design and craftsmanship in jewellery, textiles and turned wood, visit the gift shop at the National Museum, Kildare Street. For Irish woolens with flair, including things for children, Avoca Handweavers on Suffolk Street. At the end of Johnson’s Court — off Grafton Street — you’ll find the Powerscourt Townhouse, a shopping centre devised from Lord Powerscourt’s 18th century mansion. On the top floor, the Design Studio is a showcase for Irish-label high-fashion. The antiques gallery on the first floor is a good place to hunt for Irish silver. On the north bank of the river, at 5 Lower Ormond Quay, the Irish Historical Picture Company stocks hundreds of old postcards and photos of Ireland, organised by place name.
Tours: Choose between literary pub crawls, a musical pub crawl, a 1916 Rebellion walking tour and a number of other historical walking tours. Commentary is authoritative, amusing or both. In addition to the hop-on-hop-off bus, there’s a manic outing in an amphibious craft which rumbles around Dublin for 55 minutes, than splashes into the Grand Canal harbour for another 20, weather permitting. The Viking Splash Tour encourages passengers to wear Viking headgear and roar at pedestrians. More fun than I’m prepared to admit.
Day out: If you have time for only one excursion, make it Glendalough, the ruins of a monastic settlement south of Dublin set in the misty hills of Wicklow. Its stone-roofed chapel, round tower, high crosses and ancient cemetery lie wrapped in the solemn atmosphere of 6th century Ireland. It’s even more beautiful in the rain.
For details of locations, opening hours, and tours, visit the Dublin Tourism Centre, Suffolk Street, which is also just off Grafton Street. www.visitdublin.com