Getting to know a city the size of Dublin can be difficult. Exploring culture, history and meeting locals for a bit of “trad” and Guinness can be a fog of rushing from place to place while spending more time in buses and taxis than discover Dublin.
My suggestion? Whether you have a day or a week to explore, limit your activities to one neighborhood. Dig and dive into a remarkable pedestrian area.
I suggest the Temple Bar area. I promise you will fall in love with this central area of Dublin brimming with modern and traditional Ireland. Temple Bar is the “cultural center of Dublin”. Within one square mile are 15 museums, galleries, studios, colleges, churches, parks, and performing arts schools. The night is the life of the party.
1. Sunrise Art and Architecture Walk
Put a sunrise walk along the River Liffey on your itinerary if you’re a sunrise lover. It’s relatively quiet at sunrise, especially in the summer. As a result, car and bus traffic is reduced. Sunday morning is ideal.
Walking east along Bachelor’s Walk, you’ll see an eclectic mix of architecture and art to your left. Surprising modern designs sit alongside 400-year-old warehouses still in operation. Sculptures and monuments along the way recall the history of Ireland.
On your right, the Liffey flows on its course towards the Irish Sea. The boats are moored along the quay, and some are getting ready for their day’s work. Some boats are for excursions and one is a restaurant. On the other side of the river, more modern and traditional architecture huddle together.
I suggest starting with Frank Sherwin Bridge. Then walk east along Bachelor’s Walk on the north side of the river. Take your time, stop for a coffee at the kiosk, then enjoy it on a bench. The walk ends in Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea for a total of approximately 3 miles one way.
2. Walk through the heart of Temple Bar
The inner heart of the Temple Bar district is Temple Bar. So what is a Temple Bar? Good question. The true origin of the name is unclear. In the early 1600s the Temple family built a house and gardens in the area, which may be the source of the name. But others say it was named for the Temple compound in London, which has similar street names to those in Dublin.
At night, the central core of Temple Bar is the center of nightlife, particularly appealing to younger audiences. In the main streets are pubs, restaurants and nightclubs with a tourist vocation. Take a side street to find quieter places to eat or drink.
If nightlife isn’t your cup of tea, visit the inner district for lunch or an afternoon libation. It’s a totally different personality, perfect for sipping, wandering around, window shopping and finding the souvenirs you want to take home. There’s a good chance that street musicians will perform, giving a taste of traditional Irish music.
The century-old quarter is bordered to the north by the River Liffey, to the south by Dame Street, to the east by Westmorland Street and Fishamble Street to the west.
Pro tip: Stop at the Temple Bar pub. It’s a great place for a pint and a selfie.
3. Live the EPIC experience
If you only have time for one thing in Dublin, you must visit EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum. The World Travel Awards have named EPIC “Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction” for 3 consecutive years. Plus, EPIC gets my vote for “Best Museum I’ve Been to – Ever”.
EPIC’s exhibitions and galleries are not a passive encounter. The story of 10 million Irish people who emigrated from Ireland is told through multimedia using historical films, photos and recordings combined with newly created materials. It’s spectacular. The stories are passionate, hopeful and filled with grief. While some exhibits will make you proud and joyful, others will touch your heart with sadness. Come prepared with tissues. EPIC – The CHQ Building, Custom House Quay, Dublin.
4. Explore a castle
Dublin Castle was the seat of the English/British from 1204 to 1922. The towers and walls guarded the residence of the Viceroy of Ireland and were the ceremonial seat of government.
Today the castle is owned by the Irish government. It is primarily used for state events, but has many spaces open to the public. Museums, galleries, gardens, state apartments, shops and restaurants occupy the vast grounds.
A tour led by an experienced guide is a great way to start your castle experience. After the visit, you can return to the areas where you want to dig a little deeper. There is also an audio guide available which can be downloaded to your phone for a self-guided tour. Dublin Castle is located off Dame Street in central Dublin.
Pro tip: The castle gardens are idyllic for a picnic.
5. Enjoy some black stuff
Guinness Storehouse is the most visited brewery in the world, and it’s easy to see why. There is a lot to do. You can tour the brewery, visit the Gravity Bar for a 360 degree view of Dublin, have a connoisseur experience, join the Guinness Academy or have your selfie printed in the froth of your pint. If that’s not enough, you can visit their distillery and explore modern Irish whiskey with cocktails, tastings and workshops. Last but not least, sample pub and small batch ales at the Open Gate Brewery. Guinness Storehouse is on St. James’s Gate in Dublin.
6. Cross a bridge or two
The River Liffey runs through the middle of the Temple Bar district. 21 bridges cross the river carrying pedestrians and automobiles. Each bridge has a different style and function. As you criss-cross the area, walk to the middle of a bridge for a great photo op. Two of my favorites are…
The Ha’Penny Bridge (official name is Liffey Bridge) is a footbridge built in 1816. The whimsical cast iron arch bridge was built in Shropshire, England. Ha’Penny was the first pedestrian bridge to cross the river, increasing ferries. The name, ha’penny, comes from the halfpenny toll charged to cross the bridge.
Vehicles and pedestrians cross the Liffey on the Samuel Beckett Bridge. The movable bridge swings horizontally, allowing boats to move up and down the river.
[07-St Stevens Green – Dublin ©Mary Charlebois.jpg]
7. Explore an oasis of calm
Saint Stephen’s Green is in the center of Dublin. It’s an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of Dublin. Yet Saint Stephen’s is more than a park. It is a repository of 400 years of history, sculpture and landscape.
The landscaping of the park has been retained in its 1880 Victorian style. There is a formal garden in the center of the green. The paths and lawns are symmetrical, leading to the heart of the park, two granite fountains. More than 750 trees, seasonal flower beds, border plantings and pathways fill the rest of the 22-acre park. I was lucky enough to be there in the spring when the early spring bulb gardens were at their peak.
Throughout the Common are sculptures and memorials honoring Irish heroes and artists. Also, bandstands often have performances. Spectators bring a blanket and sit on the lawn for free events.
Urban wildlife is abundant. I loved the graceful white swans on the lakes. While Saint Stephen’s is a birdwatcher’s paradise, mammals are often spotted – squirrels are the most common. Yet foxes, mice and rats live unseen by most park visitors.
An ideal way to discover the park is the audio guide. 10 stops takes around an hour with the guide on your phone or tablet. Here is a small sample. I think you will find it informative and fascinating.
8. Lunch at the epic
Located in the CHQ building, the EPIC is a world-class museum. At the top of EPIC in the CHQ building is an exceptional dining, shopping and lifestyle mall. Lunch here can satisfy all tastes, even a group with different tastes.
I have found TOSS’D Noodles & Salads irresistible – more than once. As the name suggests, noodles and salads are the house specialties. Thai coconut chicken soup (tom kha gai) was a frequent choice. Creamy, sweet, spicy, tangy and delicious. The huge under 10 euro bowl of slurpy goodness was just what I needed for a foggy afternoon of walking.
If you plan to fly, you will arrive at Dublin International Airport (DUB). You can drive, take a taxi or take a bus to get to town.
If you are coming from England, take a car or passenger ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. You can walk, take the bus or take a taxi to Temple Bar from the port.
I suggest not driving. Like any big city, traffic can be a bit stressful, especially if you’re new to driving on the left. In addition, parking is scarce and expensive. A taxi will cost around 36 euros and take 30-45 minutes. A bus from the airport to Temple Bar area costs 8 euros and takes around 45 minutes. The bus has plenty of luggage storage, Wi-Fi and toilets on board.
Dublin’s public transport is efficient, inexpensive and safe if you want to travel far from Temple Bar. A Visitor Leap Card is the cheapest way to get around. It can be purchased online and used with your smartphone. Find out more about Dublin’s bike-friendly buses, trains, trams and public transport at Dublin Public Transit.
Pro tip: Make it a walking holiday. Spending time on the streets and sidewalks connects you to so much more. Temple Bar is made for walking. It’s safe, well mapped and covered in Ireland’s history and future.
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