Dublin really is all it’s ‘craic’-ked up to be. See what I did there? In case you haven’t heard the term craic before, there’s no direct translation, but the closest word in English would probably be ‘fun’, and is used to talk about gossip, news, fun, or anything entertaining. The Irish really do know how to have a good time, and a good time in Dublin tends to involve a pint of Guinness and some lively Irish trad tunes.
If you’re coming from Europe or further afield you may well pass through the British capital of London on your way to the Irish city. As you start to explore the streets of Dublin’s fair city (where the girls are so pretty… if you don’t get that reference, YouTube the song ‘Molly Malone’ and begin your Irish cultural education), you’ll notice that these two cities, although so close to one another, have completely different, distinctive personalities.
Unfortunately, what is similar in both these two capitals is the prices. Dublin doesn’t quite match the excesses of London, but compared to the rest of Ireland the price of a pint is pretty hefty, especially in the traditional but touristy Temple Bar area. Be prepared to part with at least 8 euros a pint. If you’re only there for a weekend, though, prepare yourself mentally for your wallet to take a bit of a hit and just let your hair down, as there’s nothing quite like a Guinness-fuelled night of attempting to Irish dance in a packed pub in Temple Bar.
To help you make the most of your precious hours in Dublin I’ve put together a list of the highlights of the city centre, in my own humble opinion.
1. St James’ Gate Brewery: Guinness
Dublin isn’t a destination for those looking to try lots of different types of beer. Those looking for variety should try Belgium instead, but if you’re a fan of Guinness, you’ll be in heaven. Guinness is a world-famous brand and their original home at St James’ gate is now an incredible homage to the black stuff (or the ruby-red stuff as you’ll learn on the tour).
They’ve done a stunning job with the self-guided tour which takes you through the history of the beer, the process and the company’s distinctive branding and how it’s evolved over the years. You can then hop in on a tasting session in which an expert will give you a tiny glass of beer and guide you through the flavours. The price of the tour includes a pint of Guinness. In the past, you could only get this in the bar at the very top of the brewery which has panoramic views of the city.
The last time I was there, however, they’d wised up to the possibility of getting more money out of their visitors and opened another bar on the next floor down. Here, bands play traditional tunes to punters and you can get something other than Guinness to drink after you’ve had your free pint, or buy another pint of the same. Nothing tastes quite like a beer drunk on the very spot it’s been brewed.
Tip: If you’re a real fan of Guinness you can usually find groups of people that will get their pint just for the photo and then hand it on to someone that will actually appreciate it. I’m not encouraging excessive day-drinking, naturally!
2. Jameson Distillery
Now while we’re on the topic of alcohol, I couldn’t leave out Ireland’s other famous exports, Jameson Whisky. Whether whisky’s your tipple or not, seeing the old distillery and hearing about the history of this well-known brand is fascinating.
This is a guided tour, unlike at St James’ Gate, and the knowledgeable guides will explain the processes in detail before taking you into your tasting. If you’re not a fan of whisky neat or on the rocks, you can have it with a mixer.
3. Temple Bar
The Temple Bar is an area just south of the River Liffey which is full to bursting with traditional Irish pubs, some of which are almost 200 years old. Sure, this is tourist central, and some puritans turn their noses up at the pubs which put Irish music on to lure in those looking for a taste of the ‘real’ Ireland, but if you can get over the tourist prices then you can have an awesome night out in this charming corner of Dublin. The Temple Bar Pub itself is one of the most popular spots in this area and is usually crammed full, especially at weekends, but if you can squeeze in then the music is always ‘craic’-ing (sorry, last time I promise) and everyone’s friendly and up for a good time. This should be where at least one of your nights in the city is danced away.
4. Trinity College
Okay, now we’ve got past the alcohol-themed section (it’s Dublin, what did you expect?) let’s have a look at a few sober sites you can enjoy in the Irish capital. Trinity College is a wonderful place to start. This is the University of Dublin’s only college and was built in 1592 as Ireland’s answer to Oxford and Cambridge.
It’s an extremely prestigious university and you can stroll around the courtyard freely admiring the architecture and watching the students milling around the place. This is also home to the legendary Book of Kells, an Irish national treasure, a religious tome which is intricately decorated and dates from 800 B.C and is on display in the library for you to gawk at.
5. Dublin Castle
Luckily for weekend visitors, Dublin Castle, in the heart of the city, is open to visitors 7 days a week. Built in 1204 on the remains of a Viking settlement, this was the base of the British monarch’s representative in Ireland until it gained its independence. It was largely destroyed by fire in the 17th century, but you can still visit parts of the medieval and Viking structures. It’s well worth taking one of their guided tours to get a real picture of the history of this fascinating structure.
6. Pheonix Park
Feeling like you need to blow the cobwebs away after a weekend of excesses? Take a stroll along the picturesque River Liffey as far as Pheonix Park, which is a huge expanse of green space just outside the centre of the city. There are plenty of things to explore within the park, such as Dublin Zoo and the Wellington Monument, but this is also the spot for you if you just fancy stretching your legs and getting a bit of fresh air.
That should be more than enough to keep you occupied during your weekend in Dublin, with plenty of stops to sample Dublin’s café culture and exceptional restaurants to get some food in you and soak up all the Guinness and whisky you’ve knocked back in the name of discovering the Irish culture. As you wander the streets of the city centre you’ll discover lots of hidden gems and you’re bound to come away with a few top tips of your own.