Dublin in Irish means “black pool” as the city sits at the mouth of the River Liffey which can look very dark indeed. The effect is heightened in January when the wind is cold, and the rain is coming down sideways, and the sun has sunk beyond the horizon by four in the afternoon. But if one has the stamina, other months of the year can compensate sweetly. June and July can be brilliant. The sun is strong, the air is fresh and clear, and light lingers until past eleven. But regardless of the season, there are so many cool things to do in the charming capital of Ireland. And everything on my list is within easy walking distance of each other!
First, walk down Grafton Street. It’s pedestrianized and filled with tourists and Dubs alike, musicians, street performers, and flower vendors. It’s beautifully alive; the people watching is sublime. The stores are good too…Brown Thomas, Cath Kidston, and Ted Baker live resignedly next to McDonalds. Brown Thomas is the premier department store with three gorgeous floors, including Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and a cafe. If you’re missing home, there is a TK Maxx at the little mall at the end of the street, the Irish version of our TJ Maxx. Marks and Spencer (M & S) is a fantastic grocery store perfect for making a picnic or grabbing a quick meal. They have the best prawn cocktail crisps, a potato chip that has no equal. It’s just so civilized that they carry a great selection of wines as well. And for the piece de resistance there is a rooftop cafe with fabulous views of the whole street.
Next, at one end of Grafton Street is the entrance to St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin’s Central Park. At twenty-two acres it is open all year long. The park is always beautiful regardless of the season, but Christmas time when its gorgeous crafts market opens is my favorite time to walk around and shop while surrounded by nature.
At 15 St. Stephen’s Green, the street just to the left of the park, is the Little Museum of Dublin. It’s charm incarnate. The museum is in an 18th century town house, and it is filled with more than 5,000 artifacts that remember the past and tell the remarkable story of Dublin. A guide will talk you through the place every hour on the hour, but I like to wander around on my own. It’s free to enter every Wednesday from 1:00 to 5:00, and if you stop at the cafe first, the price is discounted. (I think you must be noticing at this point that every place has a cafe!) At this one I can recommend the apple cake with whipped cream. (I think I need to talk a little bit about the whipped cream in this county…it’s real, it’s fresh, and it’s delicious.) But the real reason I love this place is one big room dedicated to U2, the little band made up of four lads from Dublin. The photographs from the 70s when Bono, the Edge, Adam, and Larry were just so young and good looking were my favorite, but everything, including a life size model of Bono as Mephisto, is just pure nostalgia. All of the items have been donated by fans, with a particularly nice man, Harry from Greece, supplying the majority. And the curator reports that Bono and the Edge have signed the guest book, but no one noticed them when they visited. Really? Seriously? It’s a very Irish thing to ignore the famous and talented when they walk amongst the rest of us, but that’s beyond the Pale! (And by the way, I feel the need to let you know that U2 just announced that they will be back home performing in Dublin on November 23 and 24. Please let there be an extra ticket for me.)
Stopping to enjoy tea or coffee (the proper stuff) is part of being in Ireland, and I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Clement and Pekoe on South William Street as my favorite spot to do just that. I stopped in for a cappuccino and toffee apple cake almost every day for a month. The front is a coffee bar by a huge window, and the back is filled with benches and books if you want to hide away from the madding crowd. But there are so many gorgeous cafes throughout the city with the classic Bewley’s probably being the most famous. Bewley’s even has a lunchtime theater show. (Well of course they do! All cafes should!)
At the other end of Grafton Street is the inspirational Trinity College. It was founded in 1592 and its notable alumni include Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, and Dominic West. (Yes, I know I threw in an actor with world famous authors…I just really like Dominic West.) Just walking around will make you feel smarter. Charming college students take tourists around for a little history chat, but it’s just as much fun to walk around and discover the place on one’s own. And the world famous Book of Kells is on display in one of the halls. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin created in AD 800. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and is widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. Of course it’s only open to one page for display, but it’s still awesome. (And the gift shop is really nice too.)
Of course walking and taking in the culture of Dublin is no fun at all without food, so I’m recommending Jo Burger as the one place where you can’t go wrong. First, you pick the burger – the choices include everything from 28 day dry aged Irish beef to a veggie burger with sweet potato, roasted red peppers, and mushrooms. Next, you pick a style, from caramelized chili banana, bacon, and goats cheese, to chipotle, pineapple, balsamic relish, and rocket. Finally, you choose your add ons, from a fried egg to smoked applewood cheese. Nothing else needs to be said.
I’ll finish up where I started, with a walk by the Liffey. On the way to the river, you can walk through Temple Bar, an area filled with pubs and cobblestoned streets. Many of the pubs have live music, but my favorite is the Merchant’s Arch on Sunday evenings. The scenes from the river are so different depending on the day, but everyone needs to walk across the Ha’ Penny Bridge. The bridge was so named because each pedestrian crossing it was required to pay a half penny toll. Take lots of photos.