Over the last few decades, Dublin, Ireland has catapulted itself into the cosmopolitan city scene. It’s never been truly under the radar, however thanks to a surge in Irish tourism, it’s enjoying a lingering moment in the spotlight. I adore Dublin.
My first visit was as a teenager, with my parents and brothers on a trip around Ireland. We walked the narrow streets of Temple Bar and went to Trinity College to view the Book of Kells. As a student living in Scotland, I went over several times. Dublin was just a short hop across the Irish Sea. I’ve since gone back to Ireland a few times, but hadn’t returned to Dublin until just recently. And wow, was it different!
Dublin, Ireland is simply not your typical Irish town. It’s vibrant, witty, eclectic, and comfortable. The people are wonderful, the history is long and varied, and there is so much to see and do in Dublin.
Getting to Dublin is easier than ever, with all three major US carriers flying across the pond and two budget carriers also making the hop. There are luxury hotels affiliated with Marriott and Starwood, as well as boutique hotels and castles only an hour away.
Dublin is also a great place to travel on points and miles. There are luxury hotels affiliated with Marriott and Starwood, as well as boutique hotels and castles only an hour away. There are plenty of opportunities, for instance, to take advantage of the whopping 100,000 points signup bonus that Marriott is offering on its new card — more than enough to take care of a week’s worth of luxury hotel rooms in Dublin.
It’s possible to book Aer Lingus flights at great rates through the United MileagePlus program. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, currently offering a 50,000 mile signup bonus on a fee of just $95, pack enough punch to score a business class Aer Lingus seat to Dublin.
What to See and Do in Dublin
From the Guinness Storehouse to the Book of Kells, there’s something for everyone to do in Dublin. Personally, from a travel advisor standpoint, I suggest at least two to three days in Dublin, either at the start or end of your trip. This allows you a day to take it easy following your arrival, then a day or two to really dive into the city’s attractions.
Arts and Culture
Dublin has a number of excellent museums, some in unlikely places. The National Museums and Galleries of Ireland are all in Dublin, of course, along with a whole host of others. Ireland’s National Museum is spread across three buildings in the city: Kildare Street, Merrion Street, and Colin Barracks, Benburb Street. A half-day is sufficient to explore all three. The National Gallery, at Merrion Square, boasts a beautiful European art collection that includes Caravaggio, Titian and Van Gogh. Its Irish art collection includes Paul Henry, Roderic O’Conor, Walter Osborne, and Evie Hone.
In 2017, Trinity College’s Old Library, where the Book of Kells is located, saw nearly 950,000 visitors. That number is expected to rise; the Book of Kells is Ireland’s fifth most visited attraction. Of course, the library itself – the Long Room with its fabulous vaulted ceiling – is one of the world’s most famous libraries. The tour includes a viewing of the famous 9th century illuminated manuscript as well as other rare manuscripts.
Dublin Castle is just a few minutes walk from Trinity College, on the way to Christchurch Cathedral. Dating back to the 13th century (1204), the castle houses two museums, a Gothic chapel, beautiful gardens, the Chester Beatty Library, and government offices. Since 1938, the inauguration of Ireland’s president takes place in St. Patrick’s Hall.
Some other museums that I recommend if you have time include the Irish Museum of Modern Art, EPIC Immigration Museum, The Dublin Writers Museum, Dublinia, and the Irish Rock n Roll Museum.
Food and Drink
I truly can’t say enough great things about the outstanding food in Dublin! From the fresh, local dishes to the incredible array of flavours, every meal I ate was spot on. While 80% of Irish food producers live in West Cork, there are still a significant number of them in and around Dublin. A lot of restaurants source food from across the island, though, making the western producers very important! I promise you, you will be amazed at the new and exciting food scene in Dublin.
One morning, I met up with a local guide for a food walking tour. Kevin, whose family owns a pub outside of the city, is also a historian by education. He works for one of my favorite tour suppliers and is incredibly knowledgable about how the history and food of Dublin are inextricably intertwined.
Ten years ago, food in Dublin was stodgy and boring. It was heavy, bland, and sometimes over-salted. Not today! Here are some suggestions for excellent foodie experiences in Dublin.
Enjoy Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea is not your grandmother’s afternoon tea. At Dublin’s luxury hotels, like The Shelbourne or The Westbury, sandwiches are prepared with home-baked bread, in-house smoked salmon, locally grown tomatoes and fresh herbs. The Merrion hosts one of the more creative afternoon teas, using local Irish art as inspiration for cakes and sandwiches. Art Tea is quite popular, so plan ahead if it’s on your list! Tea menus offer so much more than just Earl Grey and Twinings. Champagne graces most of the menus, as do craft cocktails made with homemade bitters or infused liquors. If tea isn’t really your thing, head for Bewley’s Oriental Cafe, a Grafton Street institution which serves fresh coffee, cakes, and chocolates (and tea).
Go Gourmet Grocery Shopping
For a truly unique Dublin food experience, head to Fallon & Byrne’s gourmet grocery store. Located on Exchequer Street, this shop has local produce, cheese, meats and fish, as well as a huge variety of gourmet treats from around Ireland and Europe. In the basement of F&B is their wine bar, a kind of local secret. The far wall is lined with wine from around the world – mostly France, Italy, and Spain, although they do carry both US and Australian wines.
Take a Food Tour
For an immersive experience, take a food tour of Dublin. I prefer smaller groups so we get faster service and a more personalised experience. Every tour is different since the host caters to dietary restrictions or allergies. In addition, restaurant closures and market openings can impact the tour itinerary. Regardless, you will learn about the history of Dublin’s culinary scene and how its changed over the course of the last two hundred years.
Have a Pint or a Dram
Since everyone will tell you that you cannot go to Dublin without having a Guinness, it’s imperative that this be on your list. The Guinness Storehouse, which is located in the original brewery, opened in 2000 and has already had over 18 million visitors. It is Ireland’s most popular attraction. The museum is a seven-story experience that begins with learning about the history of Guinness and ends in the top level Gravity Bar where your ticket gets you a half pint of Guinness. Of course, the local bars also serve the black stuff, and any good bartender worth his salt knows how to pour it.
Across the river, near Smithfield Square, you’ll find the Jameson Distillery. In 2017, Jameson underwent a multi-million euro renovation that saw the implementation of experiences designed to attract millennials. These new experiences highlight the brand, the whiskey, and the consumer’s connection to Jameson.
Popular sports in Dublin include rugby, football and Gaelic Games. Gaelic games, as the name suggests, are sports native to Ireland. These include hurling and Gaelic football. Women play a version of hurling called camogie. Croke Park, in Dublin’s north suburbs, hosts most Gaelic games, which occur between April and September.
There are a few highlights I couldn’t put into a category above! Popular Dublin highlights that you’ll only spot while walking around the city include the famous Molly Malone statue (The Tart With A Cart), James Joyce statue (I’ll leave the nickname out of this), and the Ha’penny Bridge, named for the toll people paid to cross. Of course, if you’re out for a stroll, you’ll likely wander down Grafton Street; don’t miss the colorful flower sellers. And, at the end of Grafton Street is St. Stephen’s Green, a verdant expanse of green surrounded by stately Georgian homes and offices.
Where to Stay in Dublin, Ireland
Dublin has plenty of places to stay, including quite a few luxury hotels. Two of these luxury hotels in Dublin are iconic. Both The Shelbourne, a Renaissance Hotel (Marriott) and The Merrion (above) boast both a long history in Dublin and prominent addresses at St. Stephens Green and Merrion Square. The Westbury, one of the Doyle Collection hotels, is tucked away in a nook off Grafton Street.
Travelers who would like to use hotel reward points for a hotel in Dublin have a few options. The Westin, a five-star Starwood property, is just around the corner from Trinity College. Aloft, another Starwood brand, is opening on Merchant Quay in November 2018. The Conrad Dublin (Hilton Honors) lies across St. Stephen’s Green from The Shelbourne.
There are also some lovely boutique luxury hotels. The Marker and The Dylan are chic, modern luxury hotels. The Marker is near the Docklands while The Dylan is in the ultra-swanky Ballsbridge neighborhood.
How to Get to – And Around – Dublin
Dublin, Ireland is a very easy city to get to. All major US carriers fly directly to Dublin Airport from various places in the US. Budget carriers Norwegian Air and Aer Lingus also fly directly into Dublin from a number of US airports. When you fly home, you clear US Customs and Immigration in Dublin, rather than on arrival into a US airport.
The airport is located north of the city and is serviced by two airport-city express shuttles. The 757 runs a slightly different route to the 747, but between the two they stop near most of the central city accommodation. Uber is prevalent in Dublin, as are city cabs.
Depending on where you are staying, Dublin is incredibly walkable, although they do have a good tram line and bus system. I always walk around cities to get a feel for it, and Dublin is no different. Walk in the footsteps of great writers, follow the trail of the 1916 Easter Rising, tread on the ancient Viking paths … walking in Dublin allows for curious exploration.
Dublin Light Rail
The light rail/tram line is called the Luas. There are two lines, the red and the green, and each line has a number of zones. Most visitor attractions are within the central zone, although if you have to catch a train from Heuston Station or are heading to Croke Park for a game you need to make sure you have the right ticket. If you plan to spend a day outside of Dublin, you can use the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit). Unfortunately, there isn’t a train line out to the airport.
Purchase Luas tickets or weekly passes at one of the ticket machines located at the station platforms. You cannot purchase Luas tickets onboard the tram. The machines take coins or a chip/pin card. For travelers planning to use the Luas often, or maybe use a combination of the DART, bus, and Luas, the Leap card is a great option. Children’s Luas tickets and Leap Cards are available.
Dublin, Ireland is a fantastic city to visit, and at just six hours by flight from the US East Coast, a great short getaway! With a lot of unique experiences and genuine Irish hospitality, Dublin has something to offer every traveler to the Emerald Isle.
Sarah is a luxury travel advisor and avid traveller. When she isn’t writing for Point Me To The Plane you can find her crafting custom itineraries for clients or exploring the far reaches of our wonderful planet. Read more about her adventures at The Girl With the Map Tattoo.