Dublin is a magical brew, with the key ingredient its warm and outgoing people. From the immigration officer whose melodious voice first gave me a friendly welcome to the chatty locals offering sightseeing tips at breakfast, each person I encountered left a positive imprint on my recent trip – my first to the Emerald Isle. It seems silly now, but for a long time I avoided traveling to Ireland, preferring to visit destinations that felt more “foreign.” My family, like many in America, comes from Scots-Irish stock and Ireland just seemed like an extension of home – albeit with a prettier accent. Then Ryanair offered a flight deal that was too good to pass up and I was off to Dublin for four glorious days.
My first stop was Trinity College to behold the Old Library and Book of Kells, a 9th century manuscript of the New Testament and Irish national treasure. Two volumes of the intricately illustrated book were on display under heavy glass and a watchful guard ensured no photos were taken. Still, it was impressive to see, and the adjacent museum was very informative. I had more freedom to wander and gape at the collection of dusty old books – 200,000 to be exact – contained inside the Long Room of the Old Library. A bibliophile’s dream come true!
After a quick walk around the historic campus and some window shopping on bustling Grafton Street, it was time for dinner at the Pig’s Ear. One of the best rated restaurants in the city, the Pig’s Ear offers modern Irish cuisine in an intimate setting, and the 3-course “early evening” menu is surprisingly good value at €26.95. I devoured the pork croquettes, oat-crusted duck leg, and the fantastic cheesecake which was adorably served in a small mason jar. Highly recommend!
Day two began with a chilling yet engaging tour of Kilmainham Gaol, the infamous prison where the country’s political prisoners were held and some were executed. The guide was a fount of information on Ireland’s tumultuous history and managed to be humorous, hospitable, and respectful all at the same time. This was definitely one of the better tours I’ve been on!
To buoy my spirits, I headed to the nearby Guinness Storehouse, a seven-story monument to Ireland’s most famous beverage. The Storehouse is shaped like a pint glass, with a humongous shop at the bottom and a bar at the top offering 360-degree views of Dublin. In between you’ll find interesting displays on the brewing process taking place in the factory next door, several dining options, and vintage advertisements perfect for goofy photo ops. I bought my ticket online and it included a free glass of the “Black Stuff” in the top floor Gravity Bar – and I have to say, that was the freshest, tastiest pint of Guinness I’ve ever had!
In the mood for something a wee bit fancy for dinner, I deposited some euros at the Bank on College Green, a bar and restaurant located inside a former British bank. The setting couldn’t be more luxurious and, even though the vast space was packed to the gills, dining there still felt intimate. The Bank prides itself on a farm-to-table menu and my Irish beer battered fish & chips with mushy peas was a testament to local ingredients.
Never one to skip dessert, I made it to famed bakery Queen of Tarts just before closing and the gals were kind enough to pack my sweet treats to go – complete with a cup of whipped cream! I enjoyed my delectable apple crumble in the cozy parlor of my B&B, Ariel House. Located in three converted Victorian townhouses in the elegant Ballsbridge neighborhood with a convenient DART station nearby, Ariel House was a great base for exploring the city. It also serves up some of the best breakfasts in Dublin!
Day three saw me at the National Gallery of Ireland, admiring works by Rembrandt, Bruegel, Monet, and many others. Although much of the museum was closed for renovations at the time of my visit, the many masterpieces and free admission made it a worthy stop.
Around the corner in Merrion Square Park, flamboyant Irish writer Oscar Wilde reclines for all eternity. Known for his love of beautiful things, it is only fitting that his gaze is permanently fixed on the row of fashionable Georgian townhouses lining the square. Oh, those doors!
Rain soon chased me inside the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland where I discovered to my horror and amazement – bog people! The museum has heaps of interesting artifacts ranging from Viking weapons to Celtic gold, but the real prize is the mummified bodies dug up from Irish peat bogs. You won’t be able to look away!
The rest of the day was spent
hiding from the rain drinking all the beer at Against the Grain, a hip craft beer pub on Wexford Street. My favorite brews were the Ginger Porter and Chocolate Milk Stout, which paired extremely well with a rich chocolate brownie. A bowl of Beef & Stormy Porter stew is a must!
On day four I ventured north of the River Liffey to the Hugh Lane Gallery, a museum of contemporary and modern art. The Gallery’s original collection of artworks was bestowed to the city of Dublin by Sir Hugh Lane, a successful art dealer and philanthropist who lost his life aboard the Lusitania in 1915. He believed that the best art should be on public display and essentially founded the world’s first modern art museum with his generous gift.
A few (beautifully painted) doors down is the Dublin Writers Museum, a celebration of the Irish literary tradition. The ground floor features in-depth descriptions of Ireland’s most famous writers, including Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, and William Butler Yeats. Visits to the museum are enhanced by a free audioguide, though I didn’t give myself nearly enough time to enjoy it.
I continued my tribute to art and literature at the Winding Stair, an Irish restaurant tucked above one of the oldest bookstores in the city. The waiter described the food as being made from the very best ingredients of Ireland and it certainly didn’t disappoint. My scallop appetizer with black pudding, chorizo, potato pancakes and sea-herb butter was sensational!
No visit to Dublin would be complete without a stop by Temple Bar! Interestingly, the popular nightlife district didn’t take its name from the pub, but rather from Sir William Temple, provost of Trinity College and wealthy landowner.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Dublin?
How would you spend four days in the Fair City?