It’s always the locals who make a destination special, and Dublin is no exception to this rule.
Here are five unmissable things to do in this fair city, where the maids are so pretty … but whatever you do, start with the DoDublin bus tour to gain the best overview of the attractions you’ll enjoy most.
And when you need some time out and space, just head to Café en Seine at 40 Dawson Street for a coffee, snack, meal or cheeky vino at any hour of the day.
Ronan is bursting out of his skin as he tells tales of Dubliners of today and yesteryear.
I’m on the first floor of the Little Museum of Dublin, on the corner of Dawson Street, opposite the green lungs of the city, St Stephen’s Green.
For those who like their history in humorous bite-sized chunks, here is the best starting point.
Housed in the four main rooms of a Georgian townhouse, it takes an hour, maximum two, to gain a great overview of Ireland’s past struggles and the people who played a part.
Much of the 19th and early 20th century was spent trying to achieve home rule, with the Easter Uprising in 1916 creating a major turning point in popular support. (If you visit the General Post Office on O’Connell Street you can still see the gunshot marks in the colonnades.
After WWII (or ‘The Emergency’ as it was known), the two states of Ireland became separated by a border. But a shared love of fine craic, song and literature still unites the Irish spirit. As does a strong desire for reunification. Hear the stories of the local heroes and heroines who helped make Dublin the world city of today.
Open 9.30–5pm daily: seniors’ tickets are 20 per cent off (€8)
Declan, our Do Dublin Hop-On-Hop-Off driver and raconteur is deadpan. He is guiding a full coach around Dublin’s top 30 sites in a jolly green bus. As he pauses in front of the Guinness Storehouse in St James’ Gate, he warns merrymakers leaving the coach to sample this famous Dublin brew, “It’s important to drink responsibly”.
They turn around.
“In Ireland, that means don’t spill any!”
And that sets the tone for the next 90 minutes as he weaves in and out of traffic, chatting, cracking jokes and sharing the stories behind the sites. The attractions we visit are too numerous to list, but all the famous ones are there – and, yes, that means the ‘Harry Potter’ library, in fact the Old Library at Trinity College where the Book of Kells resides.
Buy a 72-hour travel card for great value – and don’t forget to ask for the 10 per cent seniors’ discount.
If you enjoy both the famous and infamous, then the Vault’s live performances are for you.
Set in a 17th century girls’ school in the Liberties district, the Vault’s 60-minute introduction to Irish history and culture is both riotous and raucous. Here actors fill the roles of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, sweet Molly Malone, sister Brigid and rampaging Vikings as they tell their tales and interact with visitors. I am alternately thrilled, scared and amused. So after all the drama, I’m happy to head to The Parlour which offers delicious treats, tea, coffee or a tipple.
Book online and save 20 per cent (€20)
Dublin Writers Museum
Located in yet another Georgian townhouse, this time at 18 Parnell Square, the Dublin Writers Museum offers a glimpse into town life in the 1800s, as well as the lives of the literati, including Swift, Sheridan, Yeats, Joyce, Wilde and Shaw. With no fewer than four Nobel Prize-winning authors, the museum, library and gallery celebrate the way Irish wordsmiths have always punched above their weight, through manuscripts, books, memorabilia, portraits and quotes. One small quibble is that the exhibition is limited to writers who are no longer alive, so the more modern scribes are missing in action, except for in the bookshop.
And all the while I am wandering around absorbing the Irish literary canon, the most delicious fragrances of home cooking, soup, chowder tease my nostrils. I head off in search of the source only to discover, housed in the basement, Chapter One restaurant. As staff are preparing for an evening meal, the restaurant is closed, but I note the pre-theatre meals and promise myself a treat when I visit the Abbey Theatre the following day.
Dublin Writers Museum open daily except some public holidays
Chapter One pre-theatre open Tuesday to Saturday 5pm/5.30 pm–7.30 pm
I’m in luck. Back in the 1960s, Edna O’Brien was one of the most controversial writers in Ireland due to the publication in The Country Girls in 1960. It was a book of its time and times – and remains a favourite classic of mine. A barely disguised autobiography, it was immediately banned as it told the story of nice Catholic girls who had sex. Undaunted, she wrote two more novels, which form the Country Girls Trilogy. So imagine my delight when I find that the Abbey Theatre has a special production of Country Girls while I am in town. Considered Ireland’s National Theatre, The Abbey was founded in 1904 and rebuilt in the ’60s following a fire. It describes its program as ‘urgent’ and that word encapsulates the energy of the drama, I am privileged to watch a great performance. The theatre is packed, the performances are strong, and the voice-over is none other than Ms O’Brien herself – now aged 88. So if you are lucky enough to be visiting Ireland sometime soon, make sure you check out the plays at The Abbey, you’re bound to uncover a local gem.
Consider booking before you depart Australia – most performances sell out quickly.
Kaye Fallick travelled as a guest of Tourism Ireland.