In early summer, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to fly from New York City to Dublin for a 72-hour immersion in the city's history and culture with my then-13-year-old daughter, Clara. With bargain carriers offering great fares to Ireland (including Norwegian Air's upcoming $69 one-way fares from the Northeast), there will be more and more of these opportunities for Budget Travelers. I was also inspired by this spectacular VIDEO shot by former Creative Director Chalkley Calderwood, Easy & Affordable Dublin. I jumped at the chance. After all, I'm half Irish (my Dowd and Kilker ancestors left the Ermald Isle more than a century ago for opportunities in America), Dublin is one of the world's great literary cities (Clara is an accomplished middle-school poet and fiction writer and I'm a travel writer and playwright), not to mention that I, of course, get paid to check travel destinations off my bucket list. But I was absolutely certain I'd made the right decision when I realized that Dublin has named one of the bridges over the River Liffey after playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett, who was born here in 1906. The harp-shaped Samuel Beckett Bridge commemorates the author of Waiting for Godot and other mid-20th-century classics. Over the course of our three days in Dublin, Clara and I came to love all the ways in which ancient, Viking, European, and modern influences surprise visitors around every corner.
While Dublin, with its winding streets and extremely welcoming residents, is a superb city for walking (perhaps the best walking city I've ever visited), we were reminded at every turn of the city's seafaring roots. The River Liffey flows through the heart of town, offering not only distinctive bridges and beautiful illuminated spectacles such as the tall ships above, but also the opportunity to visit a 19th-century "coffin ship," such as the Jeanie Johnston (jeaniejohnston.ie), which carried starving emigrants to America during the Great Famine.
(Daniel M. Cisilino/Dreamstime)
Sure, Grafton Street is decidedly touristy. Go anyway. Especially if you're traveling with kids. The street juxtaposes old Dublin's Georgian storefronts with new Dublin's upscale shops, gelato (yep), and street performers. It's always a party, and it was, for us, an ideal place to get acclimated after our flight from NYC. While my daughter and I are both big fans of pub grub (more about that later), for our first meal in Dublin we "ate like locals" at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (gbkinfo.ie), a New Zealand chain just off Grafton, on South Anne Street, whose ginormous burgers, fries, and milkshakes are extremely popular with young Dubliners.
The bronze sculpture of legendary fishmonger Molly Malone on Grafton Street commemorates the subject of a well-known Irish folk song, in which Ms. Malone is said to have cried "cockels and mussels, alive, alive-ho!" Hop on one of Dublin Bus's Hop on, Hop-off tours (the three-day Freedom Ticket gets you unlimited travel) and your driver/tour guide will almost certainly provide a rendition of the song for you, along with other pieces of Dublin lore and legend.
"Is this a good school?" my daughter asked as we passed under the iconic arch at Trinity College (tcd.ie). I realized that, although she's now an eighth grader and a few years away from seriously considering college applications, Trinity was, from a certain point of view, her first "college visit." Talk about setting the bar high: Founded in 1592 by Elizabeth I, the college's alums include authors Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels), Oscar WIlde (The Importance of Being Earnest), and Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot), and it is home to one of the world's most important illuminated manuscripts, the Book of Kells. Even with lines of visitors waiting to see the fabeled manuscript, the campus is a quiet oasis just off some of Dublin's busiest thoroughfares. I also thought that the Trinity College gift shop, packed with great literature, hand-crafted jewelry, and high-quality clothing, was one of the coolest I'd ever shopped in.
Sure, we'd seen the photos of the Trinity College library's legendary Long Room (it's on the cover of Dublin guidebooks and was even featured in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones), but nothing prepares you for climbing the stairs and walking through the doorway to experience the real thing. The galleried bookshelves and rows on busts feel a bit like entering a literary sacred space, and the sheer scale of the place will certainly remind you of a cathedral.
Pages from the Book of Kells are the star attraction at Trinity College's library. Dating back to 800, when monks devoted their lives to hand-copying the Gospels and "illuminating" the pages with colorful illustrations, the book is thrilling to behold. But you'll find that the set of galleries devoted to elegantly lit fascsimiles of the book's illustrations and comprehensive historical and artistic notes are engaging in their own right. The galleries are almost always crowded, and you'll likely have waited more than a half-hour to get in, but please be assured that it's worth the wait.
(Print Collector/Getty Images)
St. Stephen's Green is startlingly serene in the midst of Dublin's busy streets, easily accessible through an arch at the southern end of Grafton Street. Here, you'll find acres of lawns, stone bridges, monuments to Ireland's literary and political giants (the Oscar Wilde sculpture is especially popular for photo ops), and the perfect setting for a picnic. (If it's raining, just wait 10 minutes or so. Dublin's weather is pleasantly dynamic.)
(Tim Clayton/Getty Images)
Our stay at the Brooks Hotel (brookshotel.ie), just steps from Grafton Street, St. Stephen's Green, and Trinity College, demonstrated the essence of Irish hospitality. We were welcomed at the front desk as if they'd been looking forward to our visit for years. Rooms are spacious by European standards, and the lounge and restaurant in the lobby serve modern riffs on Irish favorites like lamb stew and "champ" potatoes (mashed with green onions).
(Courtesy of Brooks Hotel)
Winding down at the end of each day in our room at the Brooks was always a treat, and I found that ordering a pint of Guinness and a bowl of mashed potatoes from room service each evening helped me get over my jetlag.
(Courtesy of Brooks Hotel)
Dublin boasts a pub on every street. That's not a generalization or a metaphor. It's a fact, and it lends the entire town a particular flavor, with convivial crowds gathered at all hours of the day and well into the night at these traditional watering holes. The Hairy Lemon (thehairylemon.ie) is next door to the Brooks Hotel and was jumping during our visit thanks to major European soccer matches. I joined the crowd one evening and enjoyed that classic pub vibe that combines a comfy living room feeling with great food (traditional coddle, bangers & mash, cottage pie, and much more) and an endless flow of first-rate beer, ale, and stout.
(Courtesy of The Hairy Lemon Pub)
O'Connell Street, north of the Liffey, stands in impressive contrast to the smaller, winding streets that characterize much of Dublin.
I loved how the James Joyce Bridge resembles an open book, a sly tribute to perhaps the greatest of all Dublin chroniclers. From his early collection of vivid short stories, Dubliners, to his more experimental semi-autobiographical novels, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, Joyce focused exclusively on the city of his birth, the lives of its citizens, and, most significantly, on the uniquely musical way in which Dubliners employ language to shape their reality. You'll hear it on the streets of the city each day. In his final experimental, poetic masterpiece, Finnegans Wake, Joyce transformed Dublin into a kind of microcosm of life on earth. Walking the city's streets and hearing the lilting music of conversation, one phrase in particular from Finnegans Wake reminded me of my own Irish heritage: "They lived, they laughed, they loved, they left."
Davy Byrnes (davybyrnes.com) is a pub that appears prominently in James Joyce's Ulysses. The literary association is commemorated with a plaque, and, along with the pub's sleek interior design, traditional Irish stew, seafood, and pints of Guinness, continues to draw visitors nearly a century after the novel's publication.
(Macduff Everton/Getty Images)
Kilmainham Gaol (kilmainhamgaolmuseum.ie), first built in 1796, housed most of the leaders of the 1916 uprising against British rule that eventually led to the founding of the Republic of Ireland. Touring the building, including the execution yard where the rebels were shot, is a moving and sometimes brutal reminder of Ireland's troubled history.
Dublin's General Post Office was the center of the 1916 uprising. Adults and children alike will learn that the history of Irish independence is extremely recent in the memory of today's Dubliners: Bullet holes riddle the building's facade to this day.
Yes, Saint Patrick was an actual dude, and he's commemorated by one of the city's most striking cathedrals. Saint Patrick's Cathedral (stpatrickscathecdral.ie) is a vibrant parish church and a tourist attraction that offers tours and more.
When Clara and I were planning our 72-hour Dublin trip, I asked her what she most wanted to see. "A castle!" was her quick reply. Well, she didn't expect anything quite as impressive as our visit to beautiful Malahide Castle (malahidecastleandgardens.ie), a short train ride up the coast from Tara Street Station. Founded in 1174 (yes, you read that right), this site has been home to a fortification since the time of Henry II, who gave the land to Richard Talbot. Back then, the "castle" wasn't much more than an earthen mound, but the land remained in the Talbot family well into the 20th century (when descendent Rose Talbot sold it to the Republic of Ireland), and the castle grew to its current stature. Tours are fun, a little spooky (ask about the ghost of Puck, the castle's jester who died of a broken heart), and the adjoining grounds boast gorgeous gardens.
Malahide Castle's grounds are huge, and the day of our visit happened to be the day of a national piper's competition, so we got the rare opportunity to walk to the castle to the absolutely appropriate accompaniment of bagpipes and drums. After our castle tour, we enjoyed exploring the beautiful gardens, gift shop, and exceptional snack bar.
Iveagh Gardens was one of our "locals know best" discoveries, thanks to Dubliner Caroline Wall (a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook). Founded with donations from teh Guinness family, it's a wilder, lesser-known Dublin park, located just off Harcourt Street, with all the charm of its bigger rivals but the virtue of fewer crowds.
(David Soanes/Getty Images)
Another "locals know best" tip from Caroline led us to Listons Food Store (listonsfoodstore.ie), on Lower Camden Street. Listons will strike Americans as a Dublin version of a good New York deli, so bring a hearty appetite. Dubliners line up at lunch hour for awesome salads and sandwiches. You should grab a picnic lunch here and bring it to nearby Iveagh Gardens.
(Courtesy of Listons Food Store)
Christ Church Cathedral (christchurchcathedral.ie) dates back to the 11th century, the time of a Norse king known as Sitric Silkenbeard who, contrary to what you might think, boasts only the second-coolest nickname associated with the cathedral. The coolest nickname belongs to the 12th-century Norman magnate Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow, who is buried in the cathedral's crypt. Fans of TV's The Tudors will recognize Christ Church's grounds, where many scenes from the popular series were shot.
The National Museum of Ireland Archaeology (museum.ie/archaeology), on Kildare Street, offers free admission and a stroll through Ireland's history from prehistoric times to the present day, including artifacts from Dublin's Viking days.
The Stowe Missal is one of the important artifacts of medieval Christianity on display at the National Museum of Ireland Archaeology. We also loved the "cottage pie" at the museum's restaurant, which afforded us a nice opportunity to discuss Ireland's history and the archaeological finds we'd just seen.
Your kids may not put the Guinness Storehouse (guinness-storehouse.com) at the top of their bucket list (my daughter sure didn't), but the engaging, upbeat tour and exceptional exhibits are entertaining for visitors of all ages. I'm personally a fan of "the black stuff," the world-famous stout that's been brewed here at St. James's Gate since 1759. Back in the States, the occasional taste of a pint of Guinness brings back happy memories of our whirlwind trip to Dublin, and I can't wait to return soon. When you're ready to make your trip, visit tourismireland.com.
(Catalina Zaharescu Tiensuu/Dreamstime)