After decades of tumultuous change, a more refined wave of affluence has reached Dublin, where visitors will find a restaurant renaissance, musical creativity and a glorious sense of history.Video by Fritzie Andrade, Max Cantor, Chris Carmichael and Aaron Wolfe on November 12, 2014.
Dublin’s been through tumultuous change in recent decades, from the Celtic Tiger years, when BMWs were de rigueur, to the post-crash depression, when the cacophony of incessant building suddenly went silent. Today, signs of economic recovery are emerging, but it’s a more refined wave of affluence than what the flashy boom years had to offer. The city is finding a new way to exist — neither ostentatious with wealth nor bowed down under debt. A hugely popular bike share program has replaced the “beamers,” craft beer is gaining precedence over elaborate cocktails, and Dublin restaurants are undergoing a creative renaissance that prioritizes imagination and Irish ingredients over heavily stylized and overpriced dishes. Throughout it all, from its centuries-old pubs to its Georgian architecture to the stately Trinity College at its center, the city has retained its glorious sense of history.
1. Begin in the Bog | 3 p.m.
The National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street (free admission) is worth multiple visits, thanks to a well-signed archaeological collection that provides an excellent background for a visit to Ireland. Bronze Age gold jewelry dug up during turf cutting, Viking swords and medieval farming tools are all on display in this handsomely decorated Palladian structure that dates back to 1890. The stars of the show, however, are the “bog people” — preserved corpses of men who were killed (presumably sacrificed) and tossed into peat bogs during the Iron Age. The preservative qualities of the bogs ensured that the bodies are in remarkable condition — one still has nearly a full head of curly hair.
2. Craft on Draft | 5:30 p.m.
The craft beer scene has exploded in the last few years, with bottles of Irish-made lagers, ales, stouts and ciders now standard issue at almost every city watering hole. For one of the biggest selections of craft brews, head to Against the Grain, an unpretentious pub on Wexford Street with hundreds of offerings, including Irish-made bottles from O’Hara’s, Eight Degrees Brewing and Mac Ivors. The pub is owned by the Galway Bay Brewery, which produces its own range of delectable drafts.
3. French-Irish Cuisine | 8 p.m.
The Green Hen, a much-lauded restaurant on buzzy Exchequer Street, has won many admirers with its combination of French atmosphere and Franco-Irish cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients. Try the pan-fried duck breast, which comes with a purée of parsnips and a celeriac mash, and be sure to order a side of bread, a moist, dark version of classic Irish wheaten bread, made with Guinness and black treacle. Dinner for two, about 80 euros, or about $100, at $1.21 to the euro.
4. Late-Night Tipple | 10:30 p.m.
Down the street from the Green Hen is Fallon & Byrne, a hybrid food hall, deli, restaurant and wine shop, housed in a former telephone exchange, that specializes in high-quality produce and artisanal food. The basement houses the wine cellar, a chic and convivial space where you can pull bottles off the shelves lining the walls and enjoy them at the communal tables scattered around the cozy room, along with a menu of bar snacks like cheese, crostini and oysters.
5. Medieval Cathedral | 10:30 a.m.
Much of Ireland’s history can be read in Christ Church Cathedral, which dates back to circa 1030. William of Orange came here to give thanks after he ensured the Protestant ascendancy at the Battle of the Boyne; it houses Strongbow’s tomb; and parts of the television series “The Tudors” were filmed inside (admission, 6 euros). The medieval crypt is full of treasures, including a mummified cat and rat discovered stuck in an organ pipe (so iconic they rate a mention in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake”). The belfry tour (4 euros; 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.) provides a beautiful view from the top and an up-close look at the flying buttresses, as well as the chance to try bell-ringing. If you want to go even farther back in time, get the combination ticket (13.25 euros) that includes the Dublinia museum, the Viking “experience” connected to Christ Church by bridge, where hokey but entertaining exhibits impart an extraordinary amount of information about Dublin’s beginnings as a Viking settlement.
6. Bikes by the Bridges | 1:30 p.m.
Dublin got a bike share program in 2009, and its enormous popularity (it’s now one of the most successful such programs in Europe) has led to the creation of a number of city center bike lanes and a cycling-friendly culture. Grab a bike from one of the many stations (locations at dublinbikes.ie; 5 euros for a three-day ticket after which every ride of 30 minutes or less is free) and cycle down the banks of the Liffey River, which slices through the city. Stop at one of Dublin’s famed bridges, each of which tells a story: the Ha’penny (the city’s first pedestrian bridge; payment to cross was once a halfpenny), the O’Connell (a part of Dublin life since 1794, said to be unique in Europe for being wider than it is long), and the newest, the Rosie Hackett (named for a trade union activist involved in the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Easter Rising, and the first to be named after a woman since 1792).
7. Go for a Guinness | 3 p.m.
Craft beer may be the new thing, but a pint of “the black stuff” is still required drinking on any trip to Dublin. The enormous Guinness Storehouse museum (admission, 18 euros), set amid the cobbled streets and imposing buildings of the St. James’s Gate brewery, explains how the stout is made and gives the history of the company, along with a selection of the familiar “Guinness is good for you” advertisements. The best part of visiting the storehouse comes near the end, when an employee supervises visitors in pulling a proper pint of Guinness (it’s a strictly adhered-to method involving holding the glass at the correct 45-degree angle and waiting 119.5 seconds before topping it off). Take it up to the top floor Gravity Bar, where the 360-degree view of Dublin is worth lingering over.
8. Restaurant Renaissance | 7 p.m.
Forest Avenue is a new addition to Dublin’s booming culinary scene, and it might just have the most exciting food in the city. The owners, John and Sandy Wyer, opened this small, airy spot in November 2013, and it’s been getting rave reviews for its tasting menus. Dishes like a salad of Annagassan crab with smoked salmon and chilled zucchini, and beef carpaccio with smoked oyster mayonnaise, pickles and horseradish quietly impress with their flavor and innovation. Changes appear on the menu weekly, but with food at this high a standard, that’s just more reason to return. Dinner for two, about 120 euros.
9. Beyond ‘Trad’ Music | 9 p.m.
Live music is in Dublin’s blood, but just about the only Irish accents you’d hear in a city center pub advertising traditional music are either on the stage or behind the bar. Leave the renditions of “The Fields of Athenry” for the countryside and head instead to the Sugar Club, a central venue with an eclectic calendar of live music and a fun-loving vibe. Anything from indie-folk to soul to country music to hip-hop can be found most nights of the week, along with the occasional high-energy comedy, burlesque or cabaret night.
10. Go North | 11 a.m.
The “north side” of Dublin (meaning north of the Liffey) has traditionally been more working class than the upscale south side. A stroll around offers glimpses into lives that haven’t changed much in half a century, from the hawkers selling fruit from baby carriages to the elderly ladies pulling their wheeled shopping bags behind them. Begin with a coffee and homemade pastry at Brother Hubbard, a bright and welcoming cafe on Capel Street then stroll down Henry Street, the north side’s main shopping precinct. At O’Connell Street, check out the towering silver Spire of Dublin, built for the millennium and nicknamed, in classic Dublin fashion, “the stiletto in the ghetto.” It’s just up the street from the General Post Office, an earlier incarnation of which was occupied by rebellion leaders during the 1916 Easter Rising. Whether the holes in its pillars are bullet holes from that historic conflict has been long debated, but even the suggestion is enough to stimulate the imagination.
11. Gaelic Games | 3:30 p.m.
There are a few “Gaelic games” unique to Ireland, and two of them are played at Croke Park, Dublin’s 82,300-capacity stadium. Gaelic football, which has the highest attendance of any sport in Ireland, is played with a ball similar to a soccer ball that can be picked up as well as kicked, while hurling, possibly the fastest field sport in the world, uses wooden sticks called hurleys and a small leather ball that can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour. The atmosphere at a Sunday afternoon match — matches are played March through September; admission 10 to 15 euros (standing and seated) — spent cheering on teams from all over Ireland in the company of their passionate fans, is unbeatable.
The Marker (Grand Canal Square, Docklands) is Dublin’s hottest new hotel, drawing trendsetters to its rooftop bar and tourists to its comfy, colorful, modern rooms. It’s part of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Grand Canal Square in Dublin’s new tech hub.
Dating back to 1824, the Shelbourne (27 St. Stephen’s Green) is an elegant historic hotel overlooking St. Stephen’s Green. Its Horseshoe Bar is a Dublin landmark; anyone who’s ever been anyone in Ireland has stopped here for a drink.