While in the United Kingdom to visit my brother and his family for summer, I decided that I wanted to make a quick visit to another European country to add another tick off my ‘Countries Visited’ list. It had to be a short visit, as I only had three days to spare out of my (honestly, it was a really chill-out summer itinerary with almost the entire 2 weeks spent in Manchester and surrounds) schedule. Dublin came up because one, it’s just a quick ‘hop’ away; and two, the tickets on Ryan Air were pretty cheap. But at the end of it all, I’m so glad that I finally got to visit Ireland’s capital — its a lovely, bustling and historically rich city; and I had a wonderful time.
Ireland‘s capital and largest city, Dublin, is located on the east coast of the country within the province of Leinster. It is believed that city was established around the 7th century, when it became a settlement for the Vikings — who left a whole lot of their remnants in the city’s castle and cathedrals. They named the city as well — calling it Dubh Linn (in Gaelic) which means black pool. Dublin later became the second largest city of the British Empire during the 17th to 18th century — and they also left their traces in the city during their 800-year rule. After years of power struggles, demonstrations and rebellions; the Irish Free State (later Ireland) was established in 1922. We heard a lot about the Vikings and the British rule in Dublin’s historical tours and museum.
To me though, Dublin (and Ireland as a whole) will always be about shamrocks, and leprechauns, and sheep, and green meadows… and Guinness.
I traveled to Dublin, Ireland with my mother and my younger brother. We left Manchester just after noon on our 1-hour Ryan Air flight to the Dublin International Airport, arriving in the mid-afternoon. At the airport, we bought a round-trip ticket on the Airlink Express Bus for €12 (US$13) to take us into the city. The bus service has many stops all throughout Dublin — and our journey from the airport to our stop at the Christchurch Cathedral took about 45 minutes. From there, it was just a short walk to our accommodation in Dublin for the next three days, Handel’s Hotel.
Handel’s Hotel by The Key Collection
One of the reasons I chose to stay at Handel’s Hotel by the Key Collection was because of its close proximity to Temple Bar, but not being right next to it! I have to say that I was pretty satisfied with the hotel — a comfy three-bed room (with a coffee machine and free cookies), commendable service (the lady at the reception was very helpful and even helped me print out my boarding pass), and most of the attractions in Dublin were just a short walk away. So after check-in and upon leaving our luggage in the room (and freshening up after the fllight), it was time to explore the city!
Lunch at Bittersweet Cafe on Dame Street
We were famished so we decided to stop for a little snack at one of the cafes just at the junction from our hotel. The Bittersweet Cafe is located along Dame Street, and serves coffee as well as sandwiches and pastries. We ordered a croissant and a quiche to share — and I have to say it was good coffee on our first day in Dublin!
And then it was time to visit one of Dublin’s most significant landmark — the Dublin Castle. It was only a 5-minute walk from our hotel, and a good stop on the first day in the city. We arrived in the late afternoon, and joined the 4pm guided tour — a 40-60 minutes tour of the Medieval section and the Chapel Royal of the castle for €12 (US$13.50). It was an insightful and educational visit into the bowels of this 13th century castle (and its Viking remains); and after the tour, we also walked about the State Apartments ourselves.
Dublin Castle Gardens
We didn’t know about the gardens until we looked at through one of the many windows of Dublin Castle state apartments. And only upon visiting this free-to-enter garden did we learn of its significance. It was once the site of the Black Pool, which was called Dubh Linn in Gaelic — that eventually gave the city it’s name. And to think the pool was literally black, from all the human washing and waste. Not much to see in the garden except for some flowers, but it is an important site nonetheless!
Come evening, it was time to experience in the hustle and bustle at one of Dublin’s busiest area — Temple Bar. This nightlife center buzzes with restaurants, bars and clubs — and we decided to just walk through the area on our first day. We stopped by The Temple Bar Pub (one of the most photographed pub on the street because of its name and its bright red color) for a couple of pictures, and to just witness the long queue outside the pub!
Ha’Penny Bridge Over River Liffey
From Temple Bar, we walked over to the oldest bridge over the River Liffey — officially named Liffey Bridge, but has came to be known as the Ha’penny Bridge. The name was derived from the half penny toll that was charged to anyone crossing the bridge when it was first constructed; and only dropped more than 100 years later. Built in 1816, this white-colored cast iron pedestrian bridge was rebuilt in 2001, and then 2012 — and we walked across it to the other side of Dublin city.
And then it was on to O’Connell Street. The street stretches about 500m, and is the city’s main thoroughfare — filled with tram lines above and below, as well as monuments and public art. There are also tons of restaurants and shops along both sides of the street. The main reason we were here though, was to see the highest street art in the country, and a landmark visible from almost anywhere in the Dublin — the Spire.
The Spire of Dublin (Monument of Light)
The Spire of Dublin, officially named the Monument of Light stands in the center of Dublin’s O’Connell Street at 120 meters. Just like most street art — it really doesn’t serve any significant purpose; and what’s more, the Spire is basically just a long pin-like stainless steel structure pointing towards the sky. We came to see it, and well, see it we did. And just touched its base.
Dinner at Thai Orchid
By the time we were done walking along O’Connell Street, it was almost 8pm. The sky was still bright though, as we were visiting in the midst of summer. We made our way back over the river to the southern side of Dublin city — and after a quick stop at the Hard Rock Cafe Dublin for some souvenirs; we decided we’d love an Asian dinner while walking by the Thai Orchid Restaurant. So Thai cuisine it was! Food was pretty alright considering we were on the opposite ends of earth — but to us, it’s always a treat to have dishes reminding us of home when we’re on the road. A lovely way to end our first day in Dublin, too!
Second day in Dublin, and because it was our only full day in the city, it was going to be a long long day with lots of walking involved. It’s great that the city is a good enough size to walk around in, and with the lovely summer weather… even more so! Today was going to be all about learning more about Dublin by visiting its museums, and that included a story-telling tour too!
Breakfast at the Queen of Tarts
By 8am, we were out and about the city! Our hotel was located on one end of Dame Street, and since our first stop was going to be Trinity College on the other end — we began the day by walking along one of the city’s busiest thoroughfare. Along the way, we stopped for breakfast at the Queen of Tarts, a small award-winning (judging from all the plaques outside) cafe. The omelette and salmon breakfast I ordered was really good, and so was the coffee. The cafe got pretty packed while we were there, and I overhead the waitress tell the incoming patrons that there is another branch nearby.
The Book of Kells
Ireland’s most prestigious college, the Trinity College of the University of Dublin is home to one of the oldest and most famous gospels in the world — the Book of Kells. I booked my tickets online for the 9.30am session, paid €11 (US$12), and managed to avoid the long queues. Once inside, there is a small museum-like area that details everything about the book (and other gospels as well), so that we had a little insight (of this 9th century illuminated manuscript of the four gospels of the New Testament in Latin) before heading into a small dark room to see the actual book. It is opened on one page, and kept in a glass case.
Trinity College Library and the Long Room
One floor above the Book of Kells is the Trinity College Library, a legal depository that keeps a copy of every Irish publication. Everyone comes here to see the 65m Long Room that keeps almost 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. It also has two rows of marble busts of the great men of our time, and displays the “Brian Boru Harp,” the oldest Irish harp from the 15th century.
Molly Malone Statue
From Trinity College, we headed down south towards Grafton Street, and our first stop was at the famous Molly Malone Statue. Molly Malone is a character in a popular song set in Dublin, and her statue was revealed to the city in 1988. The color on the statue’s bust has faded, because apparently many people like rubbing it for good luck — I really can’t understand why, though! Anyhoo, here’s the first verse of the song:-
In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone.
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh.”
And then it was on to Grafton Street, one of Dublin’s two main shopping streets. It runs from College Green in the North to St Stephen’s Green to the South. Along the street, we passed by high-end shops, restaurants, department stores; and the occasional busker attracting a small crowd of listeners. I think I walked into one too many souvenir shops to look for the perfect gifts to bring home to family and friends. And then half way though, we decided to rest our weary feet and stop for coffee at — well, none other than Starbucks!
St Stephen’s Green Mall
The St Stephen’s Green Mall is located towards the southern end of Grafton Street. I remember seeing a picture of this pretty mall, and decided to head in to have a look around and for some pictures. I was totally mesmerized with its greenhouse-like interior — it is painted in a light green, with a glass roof and a glass clock; and circular balconies too. Totally insta-worthy!
St Stephen’s Green Park
And then we arrived at the end of Grafton Street, where the St Stephen’s Green Park lies. The park is the largest public park in the city that opened in 1880. At 22 acres, locals use the park to cut through from one side to the other; and visitors come to enjoy a little greenery while exploring the city. There are lakes, flower gardens and several monuments dotted around the park; and we decided to join in the crowd lying on the grass to soak in some summer sun. Even if only for a little while.
Lunch at KC Peaches
We were a little too hungry to lie down on the grass for too long — so it was off to look for lunch. Upon leaving the park, we spotted KC Peaches from across the road. It was the delicious looking cakes and pastries at the window that made us enter, but I think it was the selection of dishes laid out in a buffet line that made us stay. I liked the all-you-can-stack concept of the restaurant — we get to choose a plate size according to price and just stack as much food as we can on top of it! The food (salad, pasta and chicken) was really good too!
The Little Museum of Dublin
After lunch, we headed to the Little Museum of Dublin, just a block down from the restaurant and opposite the park. I booked a 2.30pm slot for their timed tour online for €10 (US$11) — and honestly, the museum experience actually took me by surprise. It was more of a 40-minute storytelling journey about Dublin’s history from the 18th century till today; where our guide, Eamon, used antiques, pictures and memorabilia donated by the general public to entertain the group. The museum also has a u2 exhibit on the highest floor of this 18th-century Georgian town house.
National Museum of Ireland – Archeology
After the little museum, we walked towards the bigger museum — the National Museum of Ireland’s Archeology Museum. It was almost 4pm by the time we arrived, so we had just a little over an hour to walk through the many exhibits — showcasing relics from Dublin’s Viking past, from prehistoric and medieval Ireland, as well as religious artifacts and gold collections. Despite the short time we had to explore the museum, we decided to drop by anyway because entrance is free and at least we get walk around till it was time to go!
Dinner at The Quays Restaurant, Temple Bar
We went back to our hotel in the evening for a short rest and to freshen up before dinner. At about 8pm, we walked towards Temple Bar — in search for a traditional Irish meal, and some drinks! After much contemplation on the crowd situation and the menu choices of the many restaurants around the area, we decided to settle for dinner at The Quays Restaurant. Located on the 1st floor, the restaurant has a very cozy and wooden interior (with a loud merry atmosphere from it being really packed). We ordered the recommended Coddle and Irish Stew, as well as the Beef and Guinness Stew; and of course, I ordered myself some Guinness as well. A pure Irish gastronomic experience on our last night in the city!
Third and last day in Dublin, and Ireland! So far, we have visited the attractions towards the East side of our hotel; so today we explored the West! Our flight back to Manchester was in the evening, so we had most of the day to do and see as much of Dublin as we could before we had to say goodbye.
Breakfast at Copper Alley Bistro
Just down the bend from the Handel’s Hotel is the Copper Alley Bistro, where we stopped for breakfast. So far, most of the random cafes and restaurants that we have visited served pretty good meals; and the yummy traditional Irish breakfast I ordered that morning was no different. Coffee was good too. And location wise, if you want to be early enough to beat the crowds for an empty shot in front of Christ Church Cathedral — the restaurant is located right beside the cathedral.
Christ Church Cathedral
So when we stepped into the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral at opening time at 9am that morning, there was no one around. I like visiting old buildings at times like this — it gives it a more authentic feel, rather than it being swamped with people like a typical tourist attraction. We bought our combination ticket with Dublinia next door for €14 (US$16) per adult. Founded in the early 11th century, the cathedral showcases beautiful Gothic and Romanesque exterior and interior, houses the heart of Dublin’s 12th-century archbishop Saint Laurence O’Toole, and is filled with religious treasures in its largest crypt in Ireland.
A stone bridge at the west end of the cathedral connects it to Dublinia (formerly the cathedral’s Synod Hall). There was a €1 discount on the entrance fee during our visit because a portion of the museum was closed for renovation. Dublinia is a living history museum on Dublin’s Viking and Medieval past using interactive exhibits, mannequins, recreations of scenes and buildings, and reenactments by costumed actors. I have to say I learned a whole lot about the Vikings and Medieval Ireland here! At the end of the visit, we also got to climb up the old St Michael’s Tower for lovely views of the city.
Guinness Storehouse – St James’s Gate Brewery
And then it was off to our final destination that day — the Guinness Storehouse at the St James’s Gate Brewery. From Dublinia, we took a 20-minute stroll along Thomas Street towards the brewery. I have to say, this was the one place I was looking forward to the most on my trip to Dublin; and the initial 2 hours I allocated for the visit wasn’t enough. We ended up spending more than 3 hours here, and it could have been longer if we didn’t have to catch our flight home! I booked the entrance tickets online and managed to secure tickets for €18.50 (US$21) for the 2pm entrance, but we arrived early and was allowed to enter anyway (we didn’t have to queue).
The Guinness Storehouse is enormous! The building covers seven floors and has so much attention to detail in providing the perfect Guinness experience — from showcasing the entire beer-making process, to introducing us to its advertising and marketing, and even teaching us the right way to enjoy Guinness in the Tasting Room. The self-tour ends at the Gravity Bar on the highest floor and offers 360 degree views of Dublin, where we got to enjoy a free pint of Guinness (or the lager). And then after that it was back down to the ground floor’s souvenir shop to buy and bring home all things Guinness!
We lost track of time at the Guinness Storehouse, so we had to cab it back to the hotel to save time (there were tons of taxis waiting in line outside the brewery). From there, we collected our luggage and waited at the bus stop for the Airlink Express Bus to whizz us straight to Dublin International Airport, in time to catch our Ryan Air flight back to Manchester.
Thank you Dublin, I had an amazing three days in the city with my mum and my brother — and the next time I return, I promise to stay longer to see more of Ireland and to drink more Guinness (and whisky)!