Dublin has long been a magnet for visitors, but many will not realise it is a city of villages, each with their own style and mini-culture.
Stand still for a few moments on the famous Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey and you will see and hear dozens of nationalities. Most of those people will be making a beeline for the Temple Bar area, a hub for out-of-towners.
There are some amazing restaurants and pubs offering great Irish hospitality and it is rare not to hear a mass sing-along happening at any time of the day.
Whilst Temple Bar is renowned as “tourist central”, prices reflect that reputation. Many people go there and think they have experienced Dublin and all it has to offer. As good as Temple Bar is, they are really missing out.
Dublin is made up of a myriad tiny streets and alleyways, many of which are being refreshed with interesting street art and boutique restaurants and coffee shops. My advice to anyone visiting is to wander around as much as possible and don’t follow the crowd.
One of my favourite areas is Smithfield and Stoneybatter. Regeneration has been fervent in this part of the city. With that has arrived quite a hip and young vibe, even though I am on the wrong side of 40 to claim to be either hip or young!
The Generator Hostel is a big draw to the backpacker community, which means this area is a hive of activity. With restaurants like Token, which serves up great food and retro Arcade machines, or Pifko, which offers traditional Czech cuisine alongside many others, there is quite a choice for the hungry visitor.
The Jameson Distillery is also part of this area as well as the Lighthouse Cinema, famous for showing Irish and international films. Stoneybatter is one of Dublin’s original villages and you can still feel a proud community spirit as, through a period of regeneration, the area has welcomed students and many new businesses.
A wander down the banks of the River Liffey is also a must-do. I recommend looking at the buildings you pass by as many are grand and still show hints of their past use.
Starting at Heuston Station, the walk to the 3 Arena along the riverbank is about three miles. The first sight you will see is the famous Guinness Storehouse, offering a 360-degree view of the city.
Here you can learn about the art of pouring a pint of the black stuff and leave with a certificate to impress your friends! The Decorative Arts and History section of National Museum of Ireland is on the opposite side of the river, in the former Collins Barracks, a perfect location to learn about Ireland’s military and revolutionary past.
Further along the river, at Epic, the Irish diaspora is studied through the stories of Irish emigrants who became scientists, politicians, poets, artists and even outlaws all over the world.
Venturing south of the river is an eye-opener for many visitors. Whilst the hustle and bustle of Grafton Street is just a few minutes’ walk away, there is a very relaxed feeling in the area around St Stephen’s Green. The 22-acre urban park features a waterfall and Pulham rock work, an ornamental lake and numerous statues.
Close by, we discovered a home away from home at the Wilder Townhouse. The hotel facilities are exclusively for residents only, so the service in the bar and lounge area is second to none. They offer the best toasted ham and cheese sandwich I have ever tasted and, to be fair, I have had quite a few over the years!
The rooms are very comfortable and the staff take a genuine interest in their guests. That superior service was amplified at the award-winning Dax Restaurant, which offers fine dining with a French flair. The spectacular menu was accompanied by matching wines in truly stunning surroundings.
After our meal, we took a walk along the nearby Grand Canal. The area was so calm and serene, we nearly forgot we were in the middle of a major city.
While there are a number of Covid-related restrictions in place at the time of writing, the city is relatively quiet at the moment due to the lack of international visitors, so an ideal opportunity to enjoy and appreciate Dublin the way locals do.
Try to visit Iveagh Gardens. Surrounded by buildings, it’s a little hard to find, but worth the search if only to see the cascade waterfall that features rocks from all 32 counties of the island of Ireland.
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