I have a pretty stupid confession to make. I don’t drink, and that’s why it took me so long to make my way to Dublin. From the seven-floor Guinness Storehouse to the number of pubs per capita, this is a place that knows how to put the “happy” in happy hour. So I couldn’t help but wonder if Dublin would be fun for someone who wasn’t going to imbibe. Well, it turns out Dublin has plenty to offer. If you’re planning your first trip to Dublin, here’s what you should add to your to-do list.
1.Find interesting ways to learn about Dublin
No amount of research can replace experiencing a new city firsthand, but it always helps to lay down a foundation once you’re there. There are many ways to learn about Dublin, but here are a couple of fun ways to go beyond the guidebook:
The Little Museum of Dublin
The Little Museum of Dublin is located in a charming Georgian townhouse on St. Stephen’s Green, almost making it the Dublin-est thing you could do. In a Hoarders-meets-History Channel sort of way, artifacts donated by the Irish people weave together a portrait of the city. From photographs to letters to a signed portrait of Maureen O’Hara, the guides highlight particular items and tell you the story behind them. My guide was particularly passionate about the role of women in Dublin’s history, and her tour reflected that. Her enthusiasm and humor made for a perfectly entertaining session.
Pro Tip: The guided tour is required and starts every hour on the hour, so time your visit accordingly. You’re free to roam through the exhibits on your own afterwards.
Vintage Tea Tours
Vintage Tea Tours makes multitasking fun by combining sightseeing with afternoon tea. The restored Routemaster double decker bus–which dates back to the 1960s–offers premium views of Dublin’s major sights like Merrion Square, Phoenix Park and O’Connell Bridge. Everything about this tour experience feels personal, from the cheeky-yet-informative tour to the cute guide book and tumbler illustrated by a local artist. Do you know the story behind Dublin’s colorful Georgian doors? Or all the nicknames for The Spire? In a short 80 minutes, you’ll learn those secrets and see most of Dublin’s treasures, all while noshing on finger sandwiches and sipping on tea.
Disclosure: Vintage Tea Tours provided me with a complimentary tour, but the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
2. Live out your bibliophile fantasies
Dublin produced such literary giants as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, so avid readers will have plenty to geek out on. Whether you want to join a literary walking tour or simply visit the same pub your favorite writer frequented, the options are endless. Here are a couple you shouldn’t miss:
The Book of Kells and the Long Room
The Book of Kells dates back to the 9th century and is considered Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure. It’s housed in the Trinity College Old Library, where an accompanying exhibition explores the manuscript’s history and art of calligraphy. Explore the Long Room afterwards, where the smell of old books hits you the second you walk through the door. The high ceilings and rows of weathered tomes make it an Instagram favorite. Marble busts of great writers and philosophers line the room, so this is also a popular spot for that #ShakespeareSelfie.
Pro Tip: Off-Peak discounted tickets are available online only before 11:00 am and after 3:00 pm every day.
Chester Beatty Library
The Chester Beatty Library was easily one of my favorite stops in Dublin. Located on the grounds of Dublin Castle, it houses the private collection of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, a New Yorker who relocated to Dublin later in life. The mining magnate’s love for collecting started humbly with stamps, and continued to grow in tandem with his net worth. When he passed away in 1968, he left his entire collection to the Republic of Ireland. The library-museum hybrid contains several floors of precious manuscripts and rare artifacts, with many treasures from faiths and religions around the world.
3. Check out the local street art
Street art is something we’re always keen to check out, and Dublin has ample variety around Temple Bar, Dame Street and along River Liffey. One of my favorite finds was the giant 3D squirrel on Tara Street by Portuguese artist Artur Bordalo, who also goes by the moniker Bordalo II. The piece is part of the artist’s “Trash Animals” series, which aims to draw attention to environmental issues. The mural incorporates waste and recycled material collected locally in Dublin and highlights the plight of the red squirrel in Ireland.
Also keep an eye out for decorated traffic light boxes courtesy of Dublin Canvas, a public art project with the goal of brightening up the city. Many of the boxes were designed and painted by Dublinites.
4. Stop for plenty of coffee breaks
Dublin is known for a different dark liquid, but no one should underestimate the amazing coffee scene here. From classic restaurants to trendy cafes, coffee lovers will have an easy time locating a good cup of joe. Here are some fabulous spots for a coffee break:
Love is Art atelier
Love is Art atelier has a cozy living room vibe, with mismatched furniture and vibrant pieces of art hanging on the walls. There’s an abundance of reading material on the shelves and the tables, inviting you to linger for as long as you please.
Two Pups has a distinct Brooklyn coffee house vibe, thanks to the light-colored wood bar and tables, chalkboard menu and hanging plants. It offers a light menu of baked goods and basics like–you guessed it–avocado toast. There’s a distinct sense that many of the patrons are locals, and the low-key vibe is in stark contrast to some of the touristy spots in other parts of town. Stroll along Francis St when you’re done, which is heavily populated by retail stores selling quirky antiques and vintage goods.
Cafe en Seine
Cafe en Seine has been referred to as Dublin’s first superpub, but a recent redesign combines its delightful deco legacy with a number of fresh updates. The giant space feels open and light, and its most talked about feature is the indoor-outdoor garden with a retractable roof meant to mimic the streets of Paris. If you’re looking to turn up the volume on your coffee break, this is the perfect place to do it.
Bewley’s has been a Dublin institution since 1840, and it’s located on the famous shopping mecca of Grafton Street. The beautiful restaurant has been around since 1927 but recently went through a multi-million dollar renovation. There are ample seats on its three floors, so you can choose to sit by the stunning Harry Clarke stained glass windows, near one of the many open fireplaces, or with a view overlooking Grafton Street. The space is classic in every way, but the menu is not. It features high-end French pastries, handmade ice cream and a number of dishes that accommodate dietary restrictions. And let’s not forget the coffee: it’s sustainably sourced and absolutely delicious.
5. Explore the diverse food scene
Sampling local delicacies is part of the joy of travel, but Dublin’s food scene is so diverse that “local delicacies” takes on a new meaning. Dublin has blossomed into a foodie haven, where you can find Michelin-starred restaurants as easily as great Thai food. Here are some fun ways to sample the great variety Dublin has to offer:
Traditional Irish food
Traditional Irish food is filled with hearty staples like Irish Stew, Boxty and Colcannon. You can find samples all over town (though it might be wise to schedule a nap afterwards). At Hatch & Sons, I opted for the Double Baked Eggs served with Roast Tomato and a side of Soda Bread, but Porridge and Beef & Guinness Stew are also on the menu.
There is an abundance of locally sourced seafood in Dublin, making it easy to find oysters, lobster or some other catch of the day. Fish Shop on Queen St has received Michelin notice for its tasting menu, but they have a fish & chips shop on Benburb St that’s more accessible and still worth a visit. The focus on the fish is noticeable: they offered me three options. The adorable Pepper Pot Cafe in PowersCourt Town Centre is known for its in-house baked goods (including an amazing scone!), but the smoked salmon I had on my freshly baked bagel was the star of the show.
When a girl is left to her own devices, she might succumb to the charms of Póg Cafe. Neon sign with a motivational saying? Check. Trendy Instagrammable lattes? Check. But honestly, Póg is the perfect place to grab a light bite, particularly when all you’re looking for is a salad or a bowl of porridge. There are plenty of healthy options, which might be just the thing you need if you’re trying to feel better about all those stops at the donut shops.
There’s nothing wrong with visiting Dublin for its rich drinking culture and history. But if you’re interested in delving deeper into this fun destination, perhaps sprinkling a few of these options into your itinerary will make that first (or return) visit more memorable.
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