Dublin may be one of Ireland’s oldest cities, but it’s definitely young at heart. Sure, the Irish capital’s 1,000-year history is evident almost everywhere you look—from its Viking remains and medieval castles to its Georgian-era homes and Huguenot cemetery—but its youthful exuberance (half the city’s population is under 35) and forward-looking appeal are just as apparent. They can be found in the Temple Bar nightlife area, at the leprechaun museum, on campus at Google’s European headquarters and in the free public Wi-Fi that’s available throughout the city’s streets.
While most of Dublin’s 1.8 million residents live in surrounding suburbs, it’s the city’s 10-square-kilometre core that really shines. Divided into a handful of districts and separated into north and south by the River Liffey, Dublin’s city centre is the only place in the world where visitors can step aboard Daniel Day (that’s what Dubliners call Luas, their light rail system), where just about everybody has a U2-sighting story and where craic can be found around every corner.
Craic, by the way, is an Irish word that means enjoyment and fun—and that’s what you can expect to find in downtown Dublin.
What to see + do
Home to restaurants, buskers and that infamous statue of Molly Malone (the title character of the city’s unofficial folk anthem, “Cockles and Mussels”), Dublin’s lively, pedestrian-only street is the heart of the shopping district. Head to Ireland’s own Brown Thomas department store, browse the country’s rich literary output at Dubray Books and check out Jig, an Irish dance museum and show on Clarendon Street (about a block away). Another nearby must-see for music lovers is Tower Records, the country’s largest independent record store.
Christ Church Cathedral
This church was built circa 1028 under Norse king Sitric Silkbeard. Now it houses Strongbow’s tomb (he led the Anglo-Norman invasion of Dublin in 1170) and medieval stone carvings. Its large 12th-century crypt displays artifacts from the church’s history and outfits from The Tudors, which was partially shot in the cathedral. Don’t miss “Tom and Jerry,” the mummified remains of a cat and mouse from the 1860s that were mysteriously preserved in an organ pipe, made famous in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. History continues across the street at the Dublinia museum where kids (and adults) can trace their names in Norse runes and play traditional games at a medieval fair.
Inhale and take a mouthful of Guinness. The malt hits the tip of the tongue while the beer’s other flavours tickle the rest. At the pint glass-shaped Guinness Storehouse, visitors learn how to appreciate this national drink and can also try their hand at the 119.5-second, six-part pouring process. “The black stuff’s” history is told through high-tech interactive displays and museum-like exhibits. Try a sample of Guinness Chocolate Mousse, then have a drink at top-floor Gravity Bar, which offers a 360-degree view of the city.
Ireland’s oldest post-secondary institution, Trinity College contains a number of enchanting attractions, including the Science Gallery that features creative, innovative and always-changing exhibits. The highlight of the historic, centuries-old campus, though, is the Old Library, which houses the 9th-century Book of Kells, a medieval gospel manuscript, and the 65-metre Long Room upstairs. Marble busts and an ancient harp delight the eyes, but it’s the smell of 200,000 old books that makes this place special.
Where to dine
The Cake Café
It may be hidden down an alleyway at the edge of the shopping district, but the Cake Café is worth the trip. Part of Dublin’s burgeoning café culture, the shop’s floral tablecloths and jam-filled cakes make it a great spot for afternoon tea. The open-face sandwiches—including goat’s cheese on cranberry relish—are divine, and pair well with a Prosecco Mimosa. The selection of mini desserts, served on fine China, round out the meal.
Sandra Bullock and Bruce Springsteen know where to get the city’s best fish and chips. Leo Burdock has been serving “Dubliners’ caviar” for more than 100 years at its original location on Werburgh Street. The shop is too tiny for chairs and tables, but, after the server dashes salt and homemade vinegar on your huge portion of cod, he’ll suggest Christ Church’s courtyard—just up the street—as the perfect outdoor dining spot.
The Church Café, Bar, Restaurant and Club
The former 18th-century St. Mary’s Church of Ireland is now serving hearty food to Dublin’s souls. Located in the northern Jervis shopping district, the church has three floors, each with its own experience. Try Guinness stew at the main-floor bar, or enjoy it in the traditional beef pie at the upscale restaurant in the church’s gallery. The basement is delightfully more edgy, with its modern decor and creative cocktails (Jameson Irish Whiskey is used in abundance). Take the self-guided tour around the property, which includes more than 30 memorial tablets and a 200-year-old organ once played by Handel.
Ely Gastro Bar
After taking in a play at the nearby Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, or a concert at The O2 in the Docklands, head to the very popular Ely Gastro Bar, where celebrity sightings are common (Beyoncé and Shakira have both been spotted there). Though the place is always crowded, Ely’s servers are friendly and attentive, and they’re happy to dole out advice on which of the bar’s wines or 200 Irish beers and whiskeys complement the kitchen’s organic pork neck or Irish sea cod. Finish with the caramel panna cotta with pear sorbet and crushed hazelnuts.
Where to stay
The Shelbourne Dublin
Located on the edge of the Georgian district, this historic property dates back to 1824, and is so famous, it hardly needs to namedrop. Still, everyone from J.F.K. to Jonathan Rhys Meyers has stayed here. The hotel’s Horseshoe Bar was immortalized in James Joyce’s writing, and it also happens to be where U2 frontman Bono enjoys his drinks. The coolest amenity, however, is the genealogy butler who helps guests trace their Irish roots. (€190)
This family-run, boutique establishment consists of two beautifully restored buildings—a historical Georgian townhome and a coach house—centered on a lovely, lush garden. Located in the heart of the Georgian District and a five-minute stroll to St. Stephen’s Green, Number 31 makes guests feel right at home thanks to its friendly owners, Noel and Deirdre Comer. The townhome (or guesthouse) boasts 21 stylish rooms, and each stay includes a can’t-be-missed hearty breakfast (think eggs Benedict, porridge or the Full Irish) that will likely keep you going through to dinner. (€175)
The Dawson Hotel & Spa
Each of this boutique hotel’s 28 guestrooms features its own unique decor, ranging in styles from Eastern to Classical French to Moroccan. The plush Persian velvet throws, marble sinks and fresh fruit in every room add to the recently renovated Georgian townhome’s charm. Located in the shopping district, the Dawson Hotel & Spa is surrounded by great restaurants, including The Dawson Lounge, Dublin’s smallest pub. (€120)
Just over a year old, The Marker is an ultra-modern, 187-room hotel located in Grand Canal Square, the Docklands, a business district that is quickly becoming one of the trendiest parts of Dublin city. Boasting views of Google’s and Facebook’s European headquarters, the rooms are appropriately equipped with free Internet bubbles (individual Wi-Fi for higher speed and security). Heated bathroom floors, a rooftop bar, a spa and an indoor pool just add to the luxury. (€239)