The last time I went to Dublin, it was for 24 hours on a RyanAir flight that cost 99p. Retrospectively, it wasn’t the best decision in terms of our carbon footprint, but we were students and the promise of a bargain was just too tempting.
Unsurprisingly, we squandered most of our time in Temple Bar, better known as stag-do central to the uninitiated. Quite frankly, it was not a cultured affair. We may as well have been in Magaluf (only with vastly better architecture).
So while I’ve technically been to Dublin before, I haven’t really. At least, I’d never experienced the city’s true charms. It was time to renew my acquaintance with the Irish capital, and what better time to do it than the season of spring? Far more appealing than the grey winter months, Dublin’s Georgian streets come alive as the weather becomes more hospitable and festival season begins to start.
Take the International Literary Festival Dublin, for example – one of Ireland’s premier cultural events that attracts top international literary talent to the city every May. But you don’t have to sit through countless bookish talks to appreciate Dublin’s strong cultural roots. Instead, you could while away the time in one of the cities 772 pubs – as much an important part of national identity as shamrocks and Guinness. Our favourites were on Dame Street, a convenient distance from the castle if you decide to visit. The Victorian, wood-panelled Stag’s Head is the more aesthetically pleasing, but for atmosphere head to The Dame Tavern, which is packed to the rafters with punters watching the racing. (This is Ireland, after all).
Of course, to really get to know the city you’ll need to take a break from propping up the bar and head out to explore it on foot. If you’re short on time, skip the castle which can be dry at times, and head to The Old Library at Trinity College instead – a truly astounding sight. Afterwards, head to The Little Museum of Dublin which provides a potted history of the city in just 30 minutes. Feeling very much like you’ve stepped inside someone’s sitting room, it’s also the cosiest museum in the capital. Afterwards, we popped down to Hatch & Sons below for a blaas – a traditional white bap made from Waterford wheat that’s far more enticing than your usual sarnie.
If you’re not here to sightsee, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Dublin’s prowess as a shopping destination. The best approach is to swerve the main drag on Grafton Street and head to the creative quarter based around Drury Street instead. Here you’ll find the cream of the city’s independent boutiques filled with local wares – from Irish fashion designers at Om Diva to traditional handicrafts at the Irish Design Shop. The latter is small, but its goods have a more artisanal edge than what you’ll find in its larger, mainstream equivalent, House of Ireland. Pop into for coffee at Kaph – one the increasing number of independent coffee shops popping up as Dublin’s coffee culture grows – or have a glass of wine as you peruse the gastronomic wares at Fallon & Byrne.
Afterwards, we wander past Molly Malone – the statue of the enigmatic Irish heroine who has the recently been at the centre of feminist debate thanks to tourists honking her breasts in their holiday snaps. I read this in the morning papers over a full Irish breakfast at The Merrion, a traditional Georgian townhouse hotel in the most picturesque part of town.
With more than a whiff of old-school elegance about it, it’s easy to see why The Merrion is a favourite with septuagenarian Americans set on rediscovering their lost Irish heritage. But it’s something of a cultural hub too. The hotel’s Art Afternoon Tea takes place in the refined drawing room where exceptional contemporary art adorns the walls. Incidentally, The Merrion has one of the finest private collections in Europe, which the curator of the National Gallery will take you on a tour around if you ask nicely.
In fact, head out past the gold button-clad doormen, and it’s only a five-minute walk to the National, where you can pay homage to Jack Butler Yeats (that’s the brother of poet William and son of painter John in case you were confused. Industrious family, that one.) What’s more, Ireland’s only two Michelin star restaurant is conveniently situated next door should you fancy fine dining followed by only the briefest of stumbles home.
We choose to dine round the corner at Etto instead, an intimate bistro comprising just 38 covers, where the flavoursome menu of seasonal local produce changes daily. Afterwards, we walk down towards St Stephens Green for a drink at recently-opened The Grayson, stopping off at O’Donoghues on the way, a lively pub where traditional Celtic music spills out into the street seven days a week. It’s a far cry from the Temple Bar crawl we did over a decade ago, but rest assured, it’s still good craic.
Rooms at The Merrion start from €310 per night including VAT. For more information, call +353 1 603 0600 or visit merrionhotel.com