The Irish capital boasts hundreds of years of rich history, making it a destination that allows you to explore the present and the past in equal measure.
As the Celtic tiger economy of Ireland has returned to rude health in recent years, the cultural and culinary traditions of the city also have boomed – plus it hosts unique national and international shopping destinations.
You will almost be overwhelmed by the choices on hand for a short break in this confident, friendly city. With playwrights such as W B Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey and more recent talents such as Martin McDonagh and Enda Walsh, it’s no surprise to find the Irish capital boasts a wide variety of theatre options.
The Smock Alley Theatre (www.smockalley.com) still occupies a space on the south Dublin Quays that housed its first incarnation, the Theatre Royal, since 1662, albeit with a hiatus of 225 years when the building was a Catholic church.
In a Victorian building off the historic St Stephen’s Green, the Gaiety Theatre (www.gaietytheatre.ie) offers a range of jukebox musicals and pantomime during the winter. Opened in 1871, it features a wall of handprints of some of the Irish and international stars who have performed there, including opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and local legends such as Maureen Potter and Niall Toibin.
The Abbey (www.abbeytheatre.ie), Ireland’s national theatre, was founded in 1904 by Yeats, and has been the standard-bearer for Irish culture over the years, holding premieres of plays by the likes of J M Synge and, more recently, Roddy Doyle. It puts on Irish language plays, as well as hosting touring productions of Tony-winning shows such as Come from Away.
A comfortable bed
Dublin is a city defined by the river that runs through it, the Liffey, and the best place for any traveller to base themselves is along it. The Spencer (www.thespencerhotel.com), a boutique hotel, is on the northern bank and is just minutes’ walk from the centre of town, near to tram routes that will take you farther afield. Some of the light and airy rooms have balconies giving great views of the Dublin Mountains far to the south, while the smart, modern building conceals a decent-sized pool, a spa complex and gym, and a restaurant serving excellent Asian-inspired cuisine. Parking is available in nearby underground spaces. There are a wide variety of elegant and stylish rooms and suites, all of which have air conditioning and Nespresso machines, as well as power showers and docking stations. Expect to pay from about €200 (Dh846) per night for a double room.
Book a table
The food scene in Dublin has exploded in recent years: local food blog Lovin Dublin nails it when they wrote recently that “long gone are the days of hmm-ing and haw-ing over whether to go to ‘the Italian’ or ‘the Indian’ for dinner on a Saturday night; the problem right now is trying to choose between the 40 or so really, truly super restaurants in the city centre”.
Taking its name from a dish prepared for Beckett as he was recuperating from being stabbed in Paris in 1938, Assassination Custard (www.facebook.com/assassinationcustard) is a tiny, two-to-three-table restaurant in south Dublin, near St Patrick’s Cathedral. Chefs Ken Doherty and Gwen McGrath take their inspiration from the Mediterranean, from southern France through Sicily and the Middle East. The menu changes constantly, but the pair have riffed on such classics as vitello tonnato and homemade labneh. Prices are cheap, with a meal for two of five dishes setting you back less than €40. Booking is essential.
Take a trip back in history at Delahunt (www.delahunt.ie), a Dublin favourite on Camden Street (fast becoming a must-visit location for foodies), which James Joyce referenced in Ulysses: “But wait till I tell you, he said. Delahunt of Camden Street had the catering... Lashings of stuff... to which we did ample justice. Fast and furious it was. After liquids came solids. Cold joints galore and mince pies…”
Comprising three venues, the restaurant, sitting room and cafe, head chef Dermot Staunton’s menu at the restaurant always offers “three starters, three mains, three desserts, and rotating specials”. For €34 to €44 (Dh144 to Dh186) per person, the menu features the cream of Irish produce, including home-smoked salmon and native fish and beef, served under vaulted ceilings and amid the original features of the Victorian building.
Find your feet
Steeped in the history of the country’s centuries-long struggle to throw off the shackles of British rule (which eventually led to independence in 1922), Dublin proudly celebrates its role in that fight. Visit Dublin offers a series of apps (www.visitdublin.com/see-do/dublin-discovery-trails) that will guide you across the city in the footsteps of the Irish rebels who took part in the Easter Rising in 1916 that is widely credited with revitalising the national movement that resulted in self-determination six years later. The two-hour tour takes in Dublin Castle, from where the British ruled Ireland, to the General Post Office, where the rebels made their final stand. Other walking apps also explore the capital’s literary, military and cultural history.
Another innovative way to soak up the city’s inimitable characters is to take the Talking Statues tour (www.talkingstatuesdublin.ie). Walk a route that brings you past ten of Dublin’s most famous statues – as you pass them, check in with your smartphone to receive a call back from such luminaries as James Joyce (written by Roddy Doyle and voiced by Gabriel Byrne) or Oscar Wilde.
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Meet the locals
The neighbourhood of Stoneybatter, which sits just to north of the Liffey and the city centre, has been described by some as Dublin’s “Little Williamsburg” – in reference to the hipster Brooklyn suburb of New York. Bordered by Phoenix Park – one of the largest urban spaces in Europe – the red-brick streets of this formerly working-class district have seen a blossoming of cultural and culinary establishments.
Avoca began as a wool mill in County Wicklow in the 1720s, and became a leading weaver of local fabrics. Over the years, it has developed into a clothing, retail and food brand – an “Irish Cath Kidston”. Located on Suffolk Street in the heart of Dublin, the brand has a seven-storey department store (www.avocahandweavers.com) which was listed by Vogue UK as one of the best 100 shops outside of Great Britain. You can browse from fashion to home furnishings; there is also china and vintage furniture. It has been described as “a mixture of Heal’s for homewares, Selfridges Foodhall, Bettys tea rooms, Ghost for womenswear and Daisy & Tom for kids clothes and toys.”
The Poolbeg Stacks excite great debate among Dubliners – the 200-metre-high towers at the Poolbeg Generating Station have been decommissioned since 2010, but are an unofficial icon for the city. U2 filmed their Pride (In the Name of Love) video using them as a backdrop. The Great South Wall at the Port extends more than four kilometres into Dublin Bay and affords astonishing views of the stacks and across the region.
Emirates (www.emirates.com) and Etihad (www.etihad.com) fly direct from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Dublin, in about eight hours. Return fares cost from Dh3,200, including taxes.