My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by spending a week in Dublin, Ireland this month. While we have very different tastes in vacation destinations (I like the outdoors, she likes history and great restaurants), we’ve found common ground by vacationing in “walking” cities, like London, Edinburgh, and now Dublin that have lots of history and good food. This was our first trip to Dublin, but I’m sure we’ll go back. We had a wonderful time.
Why Dublin? There’s a direct flight from Boston on Aer Lingus. That was a big reason. I also didn’t want to do any driving on this trip through the Irish countryside (too stressful), and Dublin is big enough for a week’s worth of interesting adventures. We also popped up to Belfast for the day, in Northern Ireland (part of the UK), and visited the Giant’s Causeway, an area of 40,000 interlocking hexagon-shaped basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.
Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland which makes it a very cosmopolitan city, full of visitors and diplomats from around the world. We stayed in a boutique hotel, called The Dylan, in the quieter south side of the city, surrounded by many international consulates, but still within easy walking distance of many historic and touristy destinations.
The Dylan is a great hotel. Clean, quiet, with great service, good food and drink. We lucked out. It’s located just south of the Grand Canal, about a 10 minute walk from St Stephen’s Square.
Being Ireland, the local currency is Euros, which currently have a decent exchange rate with US dollars. We got our Euros from banking machines in Dublin using our normal Cirrus-network bankcards – just notify your bank that you want to do this in advance before you travel. Chipped credit cards work also fine here, even ones without a pin code. We used pounds in Belfast that we had left over from a previous trip to the UK.
We walked most places during the day, except for a few more distant destinations that we took cabs to. You can’t hail a cab easily in Dublin, so don’t bother trying. They queue up at taxi stands and hotels around the city and it’s best to hire them there. Tourist buses are also available that will drive you from one attraction to another on a circuit, but we like to walk, so we didn’t use them. You can also hire bikes to ride on in town, and the next time we visit, I plan to bring a bike helmet.
Dublin is a walkers’ city with great Georgian boulevards, wide sidewalks, and large city parks to enjoy. We walked until we couldn’t walk anymore and then walked some more. Every street is mixed business and residential, so there are plenty of things to see, stores, cafes, and pubs to pop into, and no shortage of visual stimulation. We explored the city widely and walked all over.
It rained almost every day, but never very hard, and never for very long. We wore sweaters every day and rain jackets, but the rain was never really heavy enough to need rain pants. Temperatures were in the 50’s and 60’s and really quite pleasant, with a few partly sunny days. With all the rain, it’s no wonder all the vegetation is so green in Ireland.
We like to take walking tours when we visit cities since my wife and I both like learning the history from local experts. We had good luck on this trip with walking tours given by Trinity College students and post graduates. The guides are quite knowledgeable and personable and I consider the fees well worth the value. You buy tickets and meet up with these tours at the main entrance to Trinity College.
Google maps rule. I love paper maps, but Dublin is a medieval city and the paper tourist maps we had access too lacked sufficient detail to navigate the tiny streets, allies, a closes of the city. Google maps has the detail you need to get around as long as you can get GPS access (no cell data access needed).
Free wifi is everywhere. I brought my iPhone as an internet browser/email client mainly and didn’t even bother getting local phone service. You don’t need it.
Food and Drink
The original Guinness Brewery is in Dublin and I drank a lot of Guinness. There are lots of varieties available that you don’t get in the states too, like a Guinness Porter and a Golden Ale. Never got bored quaffing the stuff. We took the Guinness Brewery tour of course, and it’s definitely worth doing, even if you know a lot about brewing beer already. You get a free pint too, when it’s over.
The best restaurants in Dublin are booked weeks in advance and we didn’t get to go to them because we didn’t plan ahead. No worries. We still found a lot of interesting and quirky places to eat. The best deals are the pre-theatre specials early in the evening, which is when we like to eat dinner anyway. Trip advisor, google, and yelp reviews are useful for finding good restaurant recommendations, but there’s a certain amount of “grade inflation” you need to factor in when reading other peoples’ reviews.
Historic and Scenic Highlights
We saw a lot and did a lot in Dublin, but did it in a relaxed way. Still there’s an excellent “density” of things to see and places to visit.
- Trinity College
- Book of Kells
- Old Library
- Chester Beatty Library
- National History Museum
- National Archeology Museum
- Trinity College Zoology Museum (we got to touch a Narwhal tusk and Mastadon teeth at this tiny museum)
- Kilmainham Gaol
- Guinness Storehouse
- Giants Causeway
- Titanic Museum, Belfast
- Marshes Library
- Merrion Square
- St Stephen’s Green
- Dublin Castle
Yes, I brought a Tenkara Rod to Dublin and did a little fly fishing here. My wife made a joke about it when we were packing, so I looked up fly fishing in Dublin and it’s perfectly legal to do without requiring a fishing license. Further googling identified some areas with good river access and I had myself a little adventure (on the border of Phoenix Park.)
I had to walk about 5 miles to find a decent place to access a river, but the walk was well worth the effort to fish in a big city. Chris Stewart, the TenkaraBum, would be proud!
Struggle for Freedom
All fun aside, I learned a lot about the Irish peoples’ struggle for freedom on this trip that I didn’t know. It’s sobering to realize just how long it took the Irish to break free from British Rule, how brutal the conflict was, and just how recent the struggle has been. The wounds are still very fresh in Dublin. This trip has been a good reminder for me as a US citizen, how lucky we are to have the freedoms we have and the sacrifices that people in other countries are willing to make to fight for them.