My first trip to Ireland exceeded my expectations in every single way. While I started my trip in Killarney, I spent the last four and a half days of my trip to Ireland discovering Dublin. The city quickly won me over with its brilliant food, museums, architecture and people. Dublin is nothing if not creative and dramatic and you can’t help but fall for this vibrant and fun city.
The day we arrived in Dublin by tour bus we headed directly to Queen of Tarts in Cow’s Lane. Queen of Tarts is cute and quirky and has a royal theme mixed with an Alice in Wonderland vibe. Their food was great, but their service knocked my socks off. Occasionally I mention when I travel that I need to be careful with certain foods. While not a true allergy, my stomach doesn’t do well with seeds. My salmon tart took a bit longer to arrive and when it did I was told they cooked everything separately and without any sesame seed oil or seeds. That was unexpected. Queen of Tarts truly went above and beyond.
Our visit to Dublin was all about the food, drama, history and culture. And it was also enlightening, educational and even emotional at times. Completely dramatic.
After leaving Queen of Tarts we headed down the street to Smock Alley Theatre and our cultural experience began in earnest. The Smock Alley Theatre offers tours of its buildings during its own in house productions. Constructed in 1662, it was originally the Theatre Royal and was also a church for many years. The first scenes of the film My Left Foot were shot here.
In the entryway you will find artifacts and old programs and a guide will tell you all about theatre habits and etiquette, or lack thereof, back in the days when oysters were served as theatre snacks. Imagine performing on stage as oyster shells rained down from the seats! The smell alone would have made me cringe.
From there we headed to our first art gallery in Dublin. Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane has many impressive pieces that will draw you in. The impressionists are exhibited here. Inside, the mix of art is both modern and contemporary, but the real showstopper for me was the Francis Bacon studio, transported to the gallery.
During an evening meal at Angelina’s we got to know our hosts and the other bloggers on the trip. Angelina’s is on Percy Place. It opened just two years ago and the wines that we sampled, a Lacoste white and red, are from a vineyard that is the owner’s fathers. Tip – Parmesan Fries are amazing.
During our visit, the Dublin Theatre Festival was on and we made a quick trip to the Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar area. Towards the end of our stay we would later see Ulysses at the Abbey Theatre. If you love theatre, you might consider timing your trip to coincide with the festival.
Mespil Hotel Dublin was our home away from home when touring the city. The welcome and service was excellent and the location was perfection. While Mespil faces a busy road, I had no trouble sleeping. More on the Mespil Hotel next week.
Day 2 in Dublin was electric – literally. I’ve zip lined and surfed and done a few crazy fun activities over the years as a travel and lifestyle writer but this was my first adventure on an electric bike. Lazy Bike Tours was an incredible way to see highlights of the city. Highly recommend doing this, even in the rain. Our guide knew so much about the history of the city. We even heard a few quirky trivia bits about the local graveyards and legendary director Bram Stoker, Irish of course.
At first, when we hopped onto the electric bikes I was a bit worried about riding on the roads all over such a busy city. But traffic seemed pretty used to bikes and tourists too.
Lunch at ONeills Pub on Suffolk Street is a must do. The cobb salad I had was the best cobb salad I have ever eaten. The fare here is hearty stick to your ribs kind of food in a posh pub atmosphere. We had a room off to the back and it was perfect for a larger group, especially after biking in the city. Bring your appetite.
Any trip to Dublin has to include a visit to Dublin Castle. There are so many castles all over Ireland that you could spend weeks exploring them. This was one of my only castle visits while in Ireland. The architectural details on this, one of the most important buildings in Irish history, are outstanding.
Dublin’s street art, taking statues, and graffiti are a wild blend of old and new. The museums and historical features are also surprising. From the established landmarks like Chester Beatty Library to the brand new Epic Ireland, The Irish Emigration Museum, the range of styles, use of technology and even the architecture of the buildings they reside in, are an eclectic mix. Modern, contemporary and historical all coexist under the umbrella of this culturally exquisite city.
With many interesting collections from around the world, The Chester Beatty Library is a bit of a hidden gem. On the top of the library there’s a rooftop garden and a viewing point from where you can see the Dubhlinn Gardens, within the grounds of Dublin Castle, right next to the Library.
Here, on the rooftop you can take part in a traditional form of meditation called Qigong. A visit to Dublin wouldn’t be right without a stop for dinner at the extremely dramatic Fade Street Social, which I cover a bit more in a post about Irish food. Trust me when I tell you make a reservation and do dinner here before going to the theatre one night.
Before I even arrived in Dublin, there were a few things on the itinerary that piqued my interest. On the way into Ireland, a customs agent asked me what I was most looking forward to seeing and doing when here. This is what I told him. There’s a quirky Dublin Literary pub crawl I can’t wait to do and Killarney sounds pretty fantastic. Well, as you already know I enjoyed Killarney’s charm. Had a great day exploring Dingle too. Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawl didn’t disappoint. In fact it was one of my favourite experiences in Dublin. Watch for a bit more about that in My Top Five Dublin Experiences post later this month.
This Literary Pub Crawl starts at the Duke Pub and winds its way around the city. Brilliant way to see the city. Because my undergraduate degree is in literature and my kids are extremely into drama, I was STOKED. A song starts the performance and then it launched quickly into a scene from Waiting For Godot. Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, and Oscar Wilde and more are all highlighted. The duo seen above act out biographical details, and scenes from their works and lives, and the landmarks that you see at night on this tour are stunning.
Do not miss the Literary Pub Crawl. Book those tickets before you go. It is very popular.
The morning of our third day in Dublin we woke up and took a quick drive to The Little Museum of Dublin on St. Stephen’s Green. Built in 1776, every single piece in the museum was donated by Dubliners and there’s a U2 exhibit in the upstairs area of the museum. Don’t miss the Talking Statue on the main floor. In fact, look for them all over Dublin. Brand new adventure there. Download the Talking Statues app then take a photo of the QR code attached to each statue. Wait for it…..in 2-3 minutes a phone call comes in from the famous historical figure you just spied in statue form.
In a lot of ways the Talking Statues were symbolic of everything I loved about the city. They are a creative use of art and technology bringing history to life and making it relevant again for generations of tourists and Dubliners. Such a creative idea, done well, and also accessible to all.
Of all the museums and exhibits we toured, none moved me, or inspired me more than Epic Ireland, the Irish Emigration Museum. The entry to Epic Ireland appears to be a subway or a train station. You receive a passport when you enter and collect stamps along the way at numerous interactive exhibits. From the instant you set foot on the island of Ireland as depicted here you will see yourself reflected in history. The use of reflective surfaces is intentional and the technology applications inside this museum are a topic I could write essays about. This space is poetry. Epic Ireland is one of my top 4 or 5 museums I’ve ever visited anywhere.
I bet you will be surprised to learn how many Canadians and Americans have Irish roots. In St. Stephen’s Green on a nice day you can see all sorts of Dubliners taking their lunch break, or simply cutting through the park on the way to work. Take some time to capture some photos and relax.
Not far from St. Stephen’s Green is Peploe’s. The day we stopped in for lunch I didn’t even know I was hungry. But again the food and the presentation was superb. Crab meat crust sea trout, with cockles knocked my socks off. The more I travel the greater my understanding of the ways in which textures combine to build a layered and impactful dish. This was one of those dishes – textured, multi-layered, fresh and artful. Stunning.
Dublinia is the spot where you come face to face with vikings and learn all about their history in Ireland. Our tour guide was energetic and sweet. Of all the museums we visited in the city this is one of the most family friendly. The viking story in Ireland is engaging and will appeal to your sense of adventure.
Marsh’s Library is unchanged for over three centuries, with more than 25,000 rare books. Not the kind of library where you check the books out. In fact the books are so rare that to prevent people from leaving with them or damaging them, there are cages for borrowers. Nothing leaves Marsh’s Library, other than the people who work there.
Inside St Patrick’s Cathedral we were treated to a private rehearsal performance of the boy’s choir. All of the choir members are youth so photos were not permitted but the choir was pitch perfect and truly impressive. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, is the National Cathedral of The Church of Ireland, remarkable, both inside and out.
Into folklore? Visit the Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub and do their Folklore and Fairies show and dinner. Not far from the Guinness Brewery.
On our last full day in Dublin we began with a photo tour led by Darren from Panoramic Ireland. I’ve never done a photo tour and enjoyed this thoroughly. Again, a really great way to cover a lot of the city by foot. Darren helped us to see the details, landmarks and buildings we might have missed. You can in fact book him to do a photo tour with you if you plan to visit.
Over Dublin’s many incredible bridges and down the streets through alleys, we were treated to many of the hidden treasures we’d never have found on our own. After a morning spent walking and learning, we had lunch at the Woolen Mills, followed by a music lesson at Walton’s New Irish School of Music in Dublin City Centre.
Our final dinner of the entire tour was at The Church bar and restaurant, a repurposed church turned restaurant. Big fan of this particular rejuvenation of churches. The setting here is everything. Walk around and explore then enjoy your meal. Walking distance to The Abbey Theatre.
Ireland was such a wonderful host to our group. This was a magical trip and I was reluctant to leave. Dublin will impress you and leave you wanting more. It’s reminded me how incredible and creative a city can be. Don’t forget to throw in a tour of the Guinness Storehouse and go see the Book of Kells at Trinity College before you leave as well.
The Drama of Dublin
There are direct flights from Toronto to Dublin. The trip itself was an easy direct flight. Ireland is a destination you should add to your bucket list. But don’t leave it there on the list. Make it happen and be sure to visit Dingle, Killarney and Dublin.
I was a guest of Failte Ireland while visiting Dublin this Fall. My accommodations, food, transportation and activities were complimentary. My opinion is all my own and my stories are truthful.