By Rebekkah Adams
The call of Ireland is one that attracts many over the ocean, whether that call beckons for enjoyment of the country's history, culture, libations, scenery or cheeky humor. For the independent traveler wanting to really understand the Emerald Isle, Dublin is the city to include on your itinerary. As part of a short vacation, long weekend getaway, or business trip, your time in Dublin provides an easy opportunity to see beyond shamrocks, green hills and pints of beer, to a deeper understanding of what it means to be Irish.
Below are some of Magazine BLU's favorite Dublin stomping grounds, the ones we believe you should include on your list of places to visit in this magnificent city:
Social HotspotsIf you consider yourself hip and artsy, the Temple Bar area should be at the top of your list. During the day, wander in and out of shops, pubs and galleries. At night, this area is the happening section of the city. Bars, clubs and even restaurants resonate with music, both traditional and modern. Make sure to hit up John Gogarty's, an award-winning bar and restaurant. With space upstairs, downstairs and outside, you can select your atmosphere and choice of Irish music. Or, try out O'Shea's Merchant Bar where you can find a traditional atmosphere coupled with live music nightly. After a few pints, get out on that dance floor for an Irish jig. Keep in mind, many places close a lot earlier across the pond, so ensure you get out early. Clubs that carry a "night license" may be open as late as 2am, but prepare to pay a cover charge.
A Historic PerspectiveAfter a night on the town, add some educational spice to your fun. Dublin has a fascinating history, dating back over a thousand years. That history is now reflected in the city's sites and museums. We recommend the National History Museum of Ireland. There you can immerse yourself in the rich culture of the Druids, Celts and Vikings. If you are up for something really interesting, take a look at the "Bog People" display. These ancient sacrificial remains were left undisturbed for centuries, only to be discovered by construction crews.
Now that you have the basic history lesson about Dublin, you can explore countless special interest historical sites around the city. Kilmainham Gaol, a prison turned museum, reveals the darker side of the Irish fight for independence. Tours are offered a few times a day. For another piece of revolutionary history, check out the General Post Office, the site of the famous 1916 Easter Rising. To round out your own Irish history, visit the Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. One of the best preserved and elaborate illuminated manuscripts, it's an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Dublin. Some other spots to check out include Dublin Castle, from which the English ruled over the Irish for generations; Dublina, a replicated Viking village; and St. Patrick's Cathedral, the National Catholic Church.
Walking, Riding and TouringFor those of us who like the outdoors, Dublin is home to countless parks, waterways and walking tours. Walking tours are the ideal way to explore the city. St. Stephen's Green is in the heart of Dublin, a greenbelt offering historic markers, monuments, exquisite flowers and a peaceful pond. You may also stroll along the River Liffey. Ensure you stop by the Ha'Penny Bridge. For 10-12 Euros, you can join a guided tour to explore landmarks around the city. One such example is the James Joyce Walking Tour, which features many places included in Ulysses and other famed novels. Alternatively, grab a guidebook and lead yourself to the numerous statues all around Dublin, many of which have been given humorously odd nicknames by the locals. For example, the James Joyce Statue at the Ha'Penny Bridge depicts him holding a cane. With true Irish humor, the locals have nicknamed the monument to one of their greatest writers, "The Prick with the Stick."
Food and DrinkNext, head over to Grafton Street, where you can combine shopping and sightseeing with eating and drinking. Sit in an Irish pub and watch the street performers, here called "buskers," as they show off their talents outside. Or, sing along to a traditional Irish jam session. Most pubs will have at least one guitarist or singer during lunch and dinner hours.
Remember that in Ireland, Guinness goes great with every meal. If you really like your stout, the Guinness Storehouse is located right inside Dublin and is open to the public. At the top of the brewery, enjoy your free pint while soaking in a 360-degree view of Dublin. Jameson's Whiskey Distillery is another option if liquor is your style. More of a teetotaler? Bewley's Café on Grafton Street is a historic alternative, a great stop for a spot of afternoon tea or cup of coffee.
For some easily authentic Irish fare, head to Burdock's, where you can indulge in Dublin's best fish and chips. Vegetarian? No worries. Despite the culture of beef stew and Shepherd's Pie, there is almost always a no-meat option. Try Cornucopia, an all-veggie restaurant two blocks from Trinity College. It's the perfect lunching spot, even during swamped peak hours. It's completely normal to share a table in Ireland, so feel free to sit with strangers or welcome them when they join you. You might even meet a nice lad or lass with a sexy Irish accent!
Many bars have an Irish theme but are geared towards tourists. These can be great places to meet a fellow traveler or interesting local. If you are in the mood to see how the locals really live, however, find places that are off the beaten path or underground. Just remember that Dublin - like any large city - has areas a tourist may wish to avoid.
Dublin offers both independent and group travelers many things to do and see. These include distinctly unique pursuits one will only find in the Irish metropolis, all with the comfort of a shared language in a picturesque setting. Although you may find it a little difficult to initially understand some of the locals' brogue, a pint of Guinness, snort of whiskey and flirtatious attitude will likely have you feeling easily kindred in no time.