Between the mountains and the sea
Gregarious, energetic Dublin has turned its face to the world ever since the Vikings established a trading settlement here in the ninth century. Today, it continues as a vibrant urban centre and a developing international transport hub, as well as a European national capital with a cultural infrastructure to match. Come here to appreciate an evident way with words, a distinctly youthful energy and a growing multicultural vibe. Most visitors make for the Temple Bar district, with its narrow cobbled streets and cluster of cultural attractions: but don’t miss the city’s classical Georgian squares and terraces, its regenerating docklands – and the fine seaside sweep of Dublin Bay, with its harbours, cliff walks, wide skies and bracing air. Add good coffee, excellent eating and a new wave of artisan Irish whiskey distilleries – and you have all the ingredients for an excellent experience.
Hot right now . . .
Neil Hegarty, our resident expert, offers his top tips on the hottest things to do and places to drink and stay this season.
Don’t miss 1824, a wonderful residents-only bar at the venerable Shelbourne Hotel (27 St. Stephen's Green; 00 353 1 663 4500). If you love high-Victorian style, all polished oak, leather and tweed, then you’ll adore this newly installed space – complete with an outdoor terrace.
'Listen Now Again' is the National Library of Ireland’s excellent new Seamus Heaney exhibition. The work of the Nobel-winning poet is explored with intelligence and sensitivity at the Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre on Westmoreland Street.
Urchin is a lovely addition to Cliff Townhouse (22 St. Stephen’s Green; 00 353 1 638 3939), one of Dublin’s smartest boutique hotels. Even if you're not staying here, pop in for the stylish, delicious cocktails – and an excellent tapas menu – in a bright, contemporary St Stephen’s Green basement. Al fresco artisan G&T, anyone?
£355pp 3 nights £119 per night Check availability Provided by Inspired Luxury Escapes
48 hours in . . . Dublin
Kick off a morning with a visit to the Little Museum of Dublin (15 St. Stephen's Green; 00 353 1 661 1000) which offers a window into a century of the Irish capital’s everyday life and social history. This is an endlessly fascinating place; one of the very best of the city’s museums. It’s housed in a fine Georgian townhouse, complete with exquisite stuccowork, overlooking St Stephen’s Green.
Explore the thousands of objects and artefacts here (don’t miss the U2 Room, unmissable if you’re a fan) and finish off with an excellent lunch under the vaulted roof of Hatch & Sons (15 St Stephens Green; 00 353 1 661 0075), the museum’s pleasant basement café. Their blaas (soft white rolls from Waterford), filled with all manner of goodies, are delightful.
Stroll through historic and beautiful St Stephen’s Green (pausing to admire the sculpture by Henry Moore, a tribute to WB Yeats), and around the corner to Marsh’s Library (St Patrick's Close), which is something of a hidden gem in Dublin. It’s tucked just behind St Patrick’s Cathedral and it’s the country’s oldest public library, dating from the early 18th century – though today it doubles as a wonderful little museum, surrounded by mature, fragrant gardens.
Marsh’s is a real treasure chest: inspect the venerable book stacks and ever-changing displays – including the cages into which light-fingered readers of yore were locked to stop them stealing the books.
Nearby, explore family-owned Teeling (13-17 Newmarket; 00 353 1 531 0888), best of the new wave of superb artisan Irish whiskey distilleries now springing up. Plunge into the wonderful world of whiskey: take the tour, check out the shop, and finish with a tasting of silky Teeling in-house drams.
57 The Headline (56/57 Lower Clanbrassil St.; 00 353 1 532 0279), with its vast range of craft beers and its brilliant gin bar, is surely the best of the city’s bars. The staff will be happy to guide you through the multitude of options, both bottled and on rotating draft, so drop in for a drink before a fine dinner at Delahunt (39 Camden Street Lwr.; 00 353 1 598 4880), which is celebrated both for its marvellous contemporary cooking and its conserved Victorian interiors.
Round off your evening with a drink in the restaurant’s lovely 1950s-style upstairs bar – or move on for a last stylish nightcap to Gatsby-style The Sidecar at The Westbury Hotel (156 Pembroke Rd.; 00 353 1 607 0070), with its cosy Donegal tweed throws, outside terrace and general air of 1930s comfort and decadence.
Book online for Kilmainham Gaol (Inchicore Rd.; 00 353 1 453 5984) which is simply an unmissable Dublin attraction. Several centuries of civic and national life are encapsulated within the high walls of this restored former prison, and the excellent guided tour illuminates many electrifying episodes in Irish history. The adjoining former courthouse is now a top-quality visitor centre, with regularly changing displays, a fine bookshop – and a spacious and pleasant café with good coffee and savoury dishes.
Nearby lie the Lutyens-designed Irish War Memorial Gardens (Islandbridge; 00 353 1 475 7816) with their fine riverside paths, circular rose gardens and granite-set formal areas designed to honour the dead of two world wars. It's a moving place, and very much worth exploring.
Alternatively, simply cross the road from the Gaol and into the demesne of the Royal Hospital, a gracious and symmetrical 17th-century building which now houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art/IMMA (Kilmainham; 00 353 1 612 9900). Visit the changing exhibits and the impressive permanent collection of cutting-edge art, and do take time to explore the formal gardens.
A 10-minute walk brings you to theGuinness Storehouse (St James's Gate; 00 353 1 408 4800). This is one of Ireland’s most popular visitor attractions – a vast multi-storeyed place, designed to educate all comers on every single aspect of the wonderful world of Guinness.
Sniff the roasting barley, discover the Guinness family and its influential role in Irish national life, learn how to pull a pint of the black stuff yourself – and finish off your tour with a glass of stout up in the Gravity bar, with its glass walls offering a vertiginous 360-degree view of the city. Don’t rush your tour – and do book online to skip the queues.
Time to stroll back into town, just in time for a pre-theatre dinner at the Trocadero (No. 4 St. Andrew’s St.; 00 353 1 677 5545), which is a famous city institution. The Troc is beloved of the theatre crowd: glance at the red-painted walls where photographs of famous actors are clustered thickly and you’ll see all the evidence you need. The cooking here is mildly retro – and all the better for it.
Then whisk off to the Abbey Theatre (26/27 Lower Abbey St.; 00 353 1 878 7222) for an evening at Ireland’s national theatre. The main Abbey stage has witnessed some marvellous productions over the years – but don’t miss the smaller black-box Peacock stage, where new and innovative works find a natural home. Arrive early for a pleasant drink in either Abbey bar – and make sure you check out the art on the walls.
Where to stay . . .
The Merrion exudes period charm from its prime position in the heart of Dublin – don't miss the sensational collection of Irish art: you could spend hours admiring the pieces on display. Service is highly efficient and courteous, with a welcome note of Irish informality. The Garden Room restaurant is a lovely spot for dinner while art-themed afternoon tea can be taken in the Drawing Room.
Doubles from €280 (£248). Merrion Square; 00 353 1 603 0600
Fitzwilliam Hotel has 139 rooms, so it’s a little large to be classed as boutique. But all the same, there’s a cosiness and charm here. The glossiness of the atrium is offset by warm tones of purple and mauve, comfortable sofas, stone walls and a glowing fire. The bedrooms are delightful. A small number of rooms look east across the treetops of St Stephen’s Green, and these come in elegant tones and with furnished balconies.
Doubles from €199 (£170). St Stephen’s Green; 00 353 1 478 7000
For a budget option, the award-winning Ariel House impresses with its relaxed and elegant charm. Two beautifully conserved red-brick Victorian properties enclose a mature garden and the comfortable sofas and grand piano (which guests are free to use) in the gracious drawing room make it feel cosy.
Doubles from €99 (£86). 50-54 Lansdowne Road; 00 353 1 668 5512
What to bring home . . .
Famous and classy Sheridan’s Cheesemongers (00 353 1 679 3143) sells a galaxy of world-beating Irish cheeses in its climate-controlled store on South Anne Street. Sample, admire – and depart happy.
The Irish Design Shop (41 Drury St.; 00 353 1 679 8871) trades in pure authenticity. Come here for a sleek and stylish selection of Irish design-led crafts: ceramics, wood, jewellery, throws and more. You’ll be spoiled for choice.
When to go . . .
The weather is famously changeable in Ireland, including in Dublin. In general terms, May, June and September tend to be the sunniest months, while July and August can be a washout – and crowded to boot. Winter-time Dublin, with its contrast between chilly streets and a cosy, indoor culture, can be charmingly atmospheric.
Know before you go . . .
British Embassy: 29 Merrion Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 (00 353 1 205 3709)
Emergency services: 112 or 999
Tourist information: ireland.com
Tourist office and information: Dublin Tourist Centre (00 353 1 605 7700), Suffolk Street, Dublin
Tipping is the norm in restaurants – 10-15 per cent of your bill, if satisfied with the service.
Taxi tipping: Round up to the nearest euro.
Public lavatories – and those in some bars and restaurants – display the Irish names for men and women, 'Fir' and 'Mná' respectively.
Though you’re unlikely to hear much Irish spoken in the city, all Dublin Bus services display the destination in both English and Irish. The Irish name for the city is Baile Átha Cliath.
Originally from Northern Ireland, Neil has lived in the heart of the Irish capital for almost 30 years and has written books on the history of Dublin and of Ireland.
Experience Dublin with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel's best hotels, tours, cruises and holidays in Dublin, tried, tested and recommended by our Dublin experts.