The city of Dublin may be synonymous with drinking holidays and rowdy stag-dos, but there is so much more to the Irish capital than beer, Guinness and pubs.
This beautiful city is steeped in culture (the area of Dublin Bay has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times) as well as brimming with entertainment. The mix of museums and nightlife make for a well rounded trip.
The city itself – known affectionately as the Fair City – is home to around 550,000 people – around 10% of the whole population of Ireland – and, for many, remains the heart and soul of Irish life.
Running through the heart of the city is River Liffey; the lifeblood of the city, and perhaps the country itself, with around 60% of its flow abstracted for drinking water and to supply industry.
Any visit to Dublin will be largely based around the river and travellers get the opportunity to cross over it on one of its many bridges; with perhaps the most famous of these being the Liffey Bridge, more affectionately known as the Ha’penny Bridge which dates back to 1816.
So what can a first time visitor expect from Dublin during a long weekend in the Irish Capital and what should travellers note before departing?
Well the first thing to note is that Ireland is on the Euro. At the time of writing £1 could be transferred to around €1.10. Add the poor exchange rate – if you are coming from the UK anyway – to the fact that Ireland in general isn’t the cheapest place to be, then spending money can be eaten (or drunk) away pretty quickly.
To give some context, the average pint of larger will set you back in the region of €6. If you’re buying a round for a few people then you will quickly spend a hefty amount of money. Also note, if you are drinking in the more ‘touristy’ areas such as Temple Bar then these prices can be even higher.
The next thing to pay attention to is the weather.
Similar to much of the rest of northwestern Europe, Dublin experiences mild-warm summers, cool winters, and a lack of temperature extremes. July and August give average highs of around 20ºC while the winter months will see temperatures dip below 10ºC.
Temperatures in April – I will be basing this blog on travel in April – can be in the early teens so it is advised to dress appropriately for the conditions.
It’s not just the heat that travellers need to take note of when venturing to Ireland as all year-round there is a reasonable chance you’ll experience some rain during a three-day stay in Ireland.
Most months of the year experience an average rainfall of between 10 and 12 days rain so chances are at some point in your trip you will get wet. Always take an umbrella with you to Ireland.
As you’d expect, the language for an English speaker is not an issue and from mine and Holly’s experience in Dublin we were welcomed to the city by a wide range of cheerful and larger-than-life characters.
It is worth remembering though that the English and Irish haven’t always made for the best of bed-fellows with the two nations experiencing a somewhat difficult past together. While, for the vast majority, this is now in the distant past, you can expect to be on the receiving end of some good natured jokes and banter from your Irish hosts.
My advice is to give as good as you get and you’ll not go far wrong (although obviously remember there is always a line not to cross).
As mentioned, Holly and I took a short weekend break in Ireland during an April. Our plan was to see as much of this city as we could in the day time while also enjoying a selection of the bars and restaurants it had to offer during the evening.
Here’s my selection of must-sees and can-be-missed activities that can make for an enjoyable long-weekend in Ireland.
Flying to Ireland from the mainland of the UK is a simple affair with most British-based airports providing a number of flight options to different locations in Ireland; including Dublin.
Our plan was to make the flight as easy to organise as humanly possible. To do this we wanted to make the short 45 minute to an hour flight from London to Dublin from the closest airport to home that we could.
There were plenty of options for us to choose from. For instance British Airways flies to Dublin from London City or Heathrow, while Aer Lingus goes from Heathrow and London Gatwick.
For us thought, it turns out, the airport closest – and the one with the best timed flights – was London Southend with Irish airline Ryanair; who also have routes from London Gatwick, Luton and Stansted.
While many don’t like flying with this low-budget airline, they do provide a quick and easy route to many of Europe’s top destinations and for just £60 Holly and I were able to get return flights to the Irish capital.
London Southend is a small, single-terminal airport, but it has to be said is extremely well organised and a pleasure to travel from. There are a few small shops inside the terminal to spend your time in and you can grab some food from one of the coffee shops also available.
Arriving in Dublin International Airport was problem free. This giant, two-terminal hub welcomes around 33 million travellers to its doors each year and is situated around 10 miles to the north of the city centre.
Originally opened in the 1940s, Dublin International Airport has seen a great deal of development over the years and is now a modern, comfortable airport on the Irish mainland.
Having left London Southend at 6:30am on a cold, wet Saturday morning in April, we were landing in Ireland just an hour later having just enough time onboard to listen to a single podcast and grab a few extra minutes of much needed sleep.
But while the journey out was problem free the return journey was anything but. After arriving at the airport we suddendly saw flashing lights cruising across the tarmac towards our terminal where it appeared that a passenger had collapsed due to a suspected heart attack. Hopefully, the man in question has since recovered.
Our plan that evening was to leave Dublin late on the Monday and make the short hop back to London Southend before collecting our car and driving home.
The weather had other ideas for us though.
When you go to Ireland you can expect a very changeable weather front at the best of times, but it was actually the weather in Southend that was causing us the problem.
Thick fog had set in and we only found out about this after our plane had taken off from Dublin. Despite our pilot’s best efforts when we made it to the Southend area, it just wasn’t safe enough for us to land there so he took us to the closet available, clear, airport which happened to be London Gatwick.
The only problem we had with this was that our car was stuck in Southend and we were now near Crawley at around midnight.
After a few urgent phone calls, Holly’s father kindly drove to pick us up and take us to Southend to collect our car meaning we got home at around 4am!
So while I would say we were unlucky with our flight, it is worth noting that this can happen at London Southend due to its location. However, I still would be happy to travel from there again should I need to in the future.
Where to stay
There are plenty of hotels, B&Bs and hostels in and around Dublin and the same is true for AirBnBs.
We wanted to stay centrally when we were in Dublin to avoid having to travel in and out of the city so we picked an AirBnB just off the upper end of O’Connell Street; the main thoroughfare in the city centre.
This cosy little apartment gave Holly and I a great base to explore Dublin from as it was just five minutes from the main street.
Based in a small residential block of flats, we paid £230.48 for two nights in April.
After arriving in the city we made the short walk from the city centre with our hand luggage to the apartment building. The streets, while busy during the day time, get emptier at night, and the building is surrounded by places to grab food or a few essentials for a city break stay.
Inside, the apartment is stylishly decorated. Having made our way in after picking up our keys from the lock box on the street, we were pleasantly surprised by the space we had to ourselves.
To the left of the entrance way there is a medium sized living room fit with comfortable sofas and a TV that comes with Netflix. Take note, that the exposed brickwork that you can see in the pictures is actually rather well designed wallpaper. I’ll be honest, that one fooled me for a bit!
Just off the living room is a compact kitchen with all the basics we’d need for a short stay in Ireland.
Back into the hallway, the bedroom sits directly opposite the front door and is a nice, light design with an inviting double bed at the heart of the room. There was also ample space for us to unpack our few items and make ourselves comfortable in.
The other door off the hallway takes you into the shower room which again has been well designed and was spotlessly clean during our visit.
I’ll say it again, while you could spend more money on a fancy hotel somewhere else in Dublin, we wanted to have a comfortable base to settle into during our trip. After all, it was our plan to be out and about for as much time as possible in Ireland so it felt pointless spending too much money on a room that we were not planning to be in for any great period of time.
All the said, we did make the most of this AirBnB and because it was so nice and peaceful inside it we found it easy to curl up on the sofa one night, stick on some Netflix and relax.
Dublin International Airport is located around seven to eight miles outside of the city centre.
While you can hire a car from the airport, or get a transfer company to pick you up, we decided to choose the cost effective transport option provided by Dublin Bus.
The quickest and cheapest way to get from Dublin International Airport to the city centre (getting off at O’Connell Street) is to jump on either the 747 towards Heuston Railway Station or the 16 heading towards Ballinteer.
Dublin Bus provides a good, safe and efficient service from the airport to numerous places in Ireland – as well as Northern Ireland. You simply walk out of the airport, to the bus stops located nearby and pay for the ticket you want for the location you are travelling to.
At just €7 per adult each way, this is a great cost effective way to travel to the city and takes about 50 minutes with moderate traffic. This journey, while not the quickest of ways to travel, gave Holly and I time to sit back and enjoy our new Irish surroundings.
Once you’re in the city my top suggestion is to explore it by foot. Walking is both safe and easy to do in Dublin due to its quite compact size. Having a car here is more likely to cause you problems with parking and pretty much everywhere is accessible within 30 to 40 minutes on foot.
It also allows you plenty of opportunity to explore little side roads, cross bridges over the lovely River Liffey, stop off at traditional Irish pubs and bars and generally get a real feel for life in Dublin.
With so much to try and squeeze into a long weekend in Dublin, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what will give you a varied, yet authentically Irish experience. Hopefully this can help travellers with a few ideas.
The first thing to do is sort out any pre-bookable activities, and it would be remiss of any first-time visitor to Ireland to not make a trip to the legendary Guinness Storehouse.
Located on just south of the river on St James’ Gate, this area of Dublin is like a monument to one of its finest exports.
Arriving in the area, the cobbled streets, imposing warehouse buildings and iconic Guinness signage gives the feeling you’re entering a Dickins novel rather than a brewery.
And for just £15 per-person – when booked in advance online – you get a memorable experience which can be enjoyed by even those who don’t like the famous product itself.
For this I can speak with experience. While Guinness has become a drink of choice for me, for Holly it remains a somewhat abstract concept. She really has not got the taste for it. Yet, while she doesn’t enjoy the drink we both did enjoy the tour we received of the Storehouse.
Once inside, at your appointed time slot, we met a knowledgeable employee who gave us an interesting overview of the facility. After that, we were free to look around the Storehouse at our own pace, read up on the history of the Storehouse before sampling a pint of the good stuff at their Gravity Bar which gives great views of the surrounding city.
Well I say it gives great views, but whenever Holly and I seem to get anywhere where there is a view to be enjoyed, the clouds descend, the fog comes in and our views become a thing of guesswork. It’s become a bit of an ongoing joke for us, and again this happened to us here. So we got great views of about six feet; but I hear on a good, clear day you can see much further!
The next stop I’d recommend is an old favourite of ours; an escape room. Yet, to avoid things becoming stale, we found an escape room based on the water onboard a boat!
The aptly named Escape Boats was our game host and can be found to the east of the city centre in the Grand Canal Quay.
For €70, two people can enjoy a game on their barge which is surprisingly spacious and has a lot more to it than initially meets the eye.
Given it’s location on the water, Escape Boats do a great job of utilising the surroundings and making this a challenging – yet fun – escape room experience.
There are plenty of puzzles to work out (although I’ll be honest I hate ones that involve Morse Code – for which there is one here – because I’m awful at hearing the difference in tones) and the game is a logical and well thought-out affair.
One tip – which doesn’t give anything away – is to not think certain items are just props as we did. Some items of clothing – for instance – are actually useful elsewhere and will stop you just sitting on a shelf (as we did for about five minutes) while things happen around you.
As escape rooms go, this one was so very different to others we’ve played and I cannot recommend it enough. The hosts were a pleasure to play with and made for a really enjoyable hour’s game.
Venturing back to the centre of the city, visitors will no-doubt have walked past the impressive Trinity College which plays host to The Old Library and the Book of Kells.
Situated just south of the river if you cross O’Connell Bridge from the main O’Connell Street, you need to walk into the stunning grounds of Trinity College to find this tourist attraction.
It’s easy to forget, as you meander your way through the grounds, that this is a fully functioning college with students coming and going from lectures, so being respectful here should be must.
Holly and I ended up visiting here as a last port-of-call during our trip to Dublin. We’d walked past the college numerous times and seen the queue for the Book of Kells and the Old Library – located in the Long Room – but had not joined it as it was stretching quite far around the building.
On our last morning in Dublin, we bit the bullet and joined the queue to see this stunning piece of history and architecture.
Paying the €16 entry fee each, we were a bit concerned that this was going to be anti-climatic and a waste of money. Fortunately that wasn’t to be the case.
The visit starts with a walk around a number of artifacts the College has in its possession which are interesting to see before taking you to the first of the two big-ticket items; the Book of Kells.
The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together . It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland and is believed to have been created c. 800 AD.
This 9th Century wonder sits in pride of place in the exhibition area and draws a crowd to see it. Be warned, you’re not allowed to take photos of the Book of Kells itself and security are present to stop people doing this.
Once we’d taken in the Book of Kells we made our way through to the Old Library – or Long Room.
Built between 1712 and 1732, the Long Room at Trinity College’s Old Library holds the collection’s 200,000 oldest books. The distinctive and beautiful barrel ceiling was added in 1860 to allow space for more works when the existing shelves became full.
This room clearly inspired works of fiction, such as Harry Potter, with its dynamic ceilings and rows of books adorning the walls. It really is a marvel to behold and it’s easy to lose time here as you slowly make your way up and down the room taking in the spectacular surroundings.
Now it would be remiss to come to Dublin and not sample its energetic and welcoming nightlife. And there is no better place to do this than in the city’s Temple Bar neighbourhood.
First thing to clear up, the Temple Bar is not a single pub. Far from it. It is an area on the south bank of the River Liffey and is bounded by the Liffey to the north, Dame Street to the south, Westmoreland Street to the east and Fishamble Street to the west.
It is also promoted as Dublin’s ‘cultural quarter’ and, as a centre of the city’s nightlife.
This area is full of pubs, bars and restaurants and comes to life as the lights go down each day. Some of the pubs you can get a drink in include The Temple Bar Pub, The Porterhouse, The Oliver St. John Gogarty, The Turk’s Head, Czech Inn, The Quays Bar, The Foggy Dew, The Auld Dubliner, The Stag’s Head and Bad Bobs.
This is a colourful and vibrant area of the city and really has a great sense of fun about it.
Most bars will have some form of entertainment on offer which ranges from resident DJs to live Irish music. Drinks will flow aplenty and the streets will end up awash with happy revellers as the hours of the day tick by.
Even if you are not a big drinker, it’s worth spending a bit of time in the area to get a really authentic Irish experience.
One great way to spend a bit of time in Temple Bar – as well as many other places within Dublin – is to join onto one of the daily Dublin Free Walking Tours.
Meeting at the Spire on O’Connell Street – look out for the yellow umbrellas – these southside tours run at 11am and 2pm every day while a 3:30pm tour explores the northside of the city.
We did one of the southside tours and got an enthusiastic tour of some of the city’s top sights including Trinity College, Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, Christchurch Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
As the tour would suggest, technically it’s a free affair. However, these great guides rely entirely on tips so it’s done on the basis of paying for whatever value you feel you got from the two hours you spend hearing about the city. There really is no pressure to pay a fortune so you can pay whatever you can afford.
These tours are a great way to get to grips with the city’s layout so I’d suggest doing one early in a stay so you can really get a feel for Dublin.
The final must-see is a slightly sombre one but worth making the effort to see; The Famine Memorial
The memorial, which stands on Customs House Quays is in remembrance of the Great Famine (1845-1849), which saw the population of the country halved through death and emigration.
This memorial is a key reminder to a major piece of Irish history and is a stark reminder of the struggles experienced in Ireland during the 1840s.
Take a few moments to see the sculptures and apricate the artwork that has gone into creating them. It is a bold reminder of the tough times this beautiful country has experience in the past that now allows us to today enjoy its warmth and plenty.
Where to avoid
While I would thoroughly promote going to the Temple Bar neighbourhood, for me you can also get an suitably Irish experience without going to the famous The Temple Bar Pub.
I’ll say from the off, I didn’t go inside, but the reason for that is that this pub was absolutely rammed full of people no matter what time of day or night you happened to pass it by.
When people think of Temple Bar it’s this bar that automatically springs to mind. It’s famous red and black exterior is well known and usually adorns any travel book that explores Dublin. However, the Temple Bar is a lot bigger than one pub and is more about the area as a whole rather than just this place.
Tip here is to grab your photos of the outside of this bar and then make your way around the corner to one of the other lively pubs available that has more room inside its walls.
At the Temple Bar Pub itself, from what I could see, it looked like an enjoyable experience for those who did manage to get inside and get a drink. Personally, I really didn’t fancy being stood up for hours and constantly having to move as people try and squeeze past to go to the bar.
My other one that can be missed is the Chester Beatty museum.
Again, it may seems slightly harsh given that entry is free – and that the museum is described by some as the best in Ireland – but it just didn’t have a wow factor for me.
The museum itself is the pre-eminent Irish museum promoting the appreciation and understanding of world cultures. It has many exhibits including manuscripts, rare books, and other treasures from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
But while history buffs may be in their element here, you really have to have a niche interest in some aspects of certain histories to really get a full appreciation of what’s on show.
Again, there is nothing wrong with how the museum is presented and the staff are extremely helpful, but should I be back in Ireland again in the future, I won’t find myself rushing back to this museum for a second visit.
Great places to eat
There are literally hundreds of great places to eat and drink all over Dublin, with many visitors making their way for the previously mentioned Temple Bar Pub as a first port of call.
However for me, there are two must-visit stops for any first time traveller to Dublin that give both great local food and drink and an entertaining, lively evening to boot.
The first of these is the wonderful Lundy Foots.
Located in the Temple Bar district, Lundy Foots can be found on the corner of Essex Gate and Exchange Street Lower.
This lively pub serves a multitude of good-value food options from Irish Angus beef burgers and chips to curry, fish and chips and Caesar salads.
The drinks menu is even more impressive. Vast arrays of whiskey, gin and draft beers will tempt even the mildest of drinkers and it would almost be criminal if you left this bar without sampling at least one of the local products.
Do note however, that Lundy Foots can get extremely busy in peak times. Holly and I found that it was best to try and arrive at this place early as seating was at a premium and tables went quickly. If you are planning in advance a visit then I’d suggest booking a table to make sure you don’t end up being disappointed.
Amazingly, on our visit we managed to grab a table in the centre of the bar on the raised, stage platform area where were found ourselves in a great spot to enjoy the Irish dancing performance by two of the bar’s talented staff while listening to the live music filling the air with its Irish charm.
Just around the corner from Lundy Foots is my second pick; the sinisterly named Darkey Kelly’s.
The red arched doorway to this infamous pub can be found on the slope up Fishamble Street; one of the oldest streets in modern Dublin. Inside, the rather ominous doors is a welcoming, if tightly-packed restaurant based around a central bar.
Darkey Kelly’s remains one of the best known pubs in Dublin for traditional Irish music. On top of that it is also the home to one of the most enduring legends surrounding Dublin; that of the woman by whom the pub is named – Darkey Kelly.
For generations Darkey Kelly was known in Dublin’s folk memory as the woman who was burned at the stake for witchcraft but new evidence uncovered suggests that although she was innocent of witchcraft she still had a dark side to her character. The discovery of bodies under the floorboards of the brothel she ran in 1761 suggests she may have been Ireland’s first serial killer!
This morbid tale is now the theme of the pub near where Darkey Kelly’s brothel once stood.
Putting aside this gruesome past, the pub itself is full of fun, laughter and charm. A wholesome menu including numerous traditional Irish dishes will warm your insides. If you get the opportunity, leave space for one of their fantastic desserts also. It’s well worth it and will make for a fulfilling evening during any Irish adventure.