From in-the-know breakfast spots to tucked-away public gardens, Ben Lerwill suggests some of the best places to get under the skin of Ireland’s ever-evolving capital.
Start the day in the cosy basement space of Hatch & Sons (15 St Stephen’s Green, 01 661 0075). There’s a strong focus on Irish produce – breakfast options include double-baked eggs with bacon, sausage and roast tomato with soda bread, or organic Kilbeggan porridge with toasted seeds, milk and honey. It’s open from 7.30am on weekdays, later at weekends.
Directly upstairs from Hatch & Sons is The Little Museum of Dublin (15 St Stephen’s Green, 01 661 1000), a wonderful alternative to the cavernous civic galleries found elsewhere. Telling the city’s story through an idiosyncratic collection of artefacts and memorabilia, it was recently named the best museum in Dublin by The Irish Times. A new U2-themed exhibit was opened here in 2014. Fifteen minutes’ walk away, the Chester Beatty Library (Dublin Castle, 01 407 0750) is another of the city’s more absorbing attractions. It showcases a vast range of artworks, manuscripts and rare books, all collected from around the globe by one man – Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. You might chance upon anything from ancient copies of the Quran to documents from the Renaissance era.
Stroll along the banks of the Liffey River and then cross to the north side of the city via the spectacular Samuel Beckett Bridge. Inaugurated in 2010 and designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, its audacious lines were inspired by an Irish harp. Pick up a bike at one of many dublinbikes stations dotted around the city, then pedal west and cross over to the south bank via the freshly unveiled Rosie Hackett Bridge. Named after a prominent trade union activist – and the first Dublin bridge to be dedicated to a woman for more than 220 years – it leads you onto Hawkins Street, which snakes through to Trinity College (College Green, 01 896 1000). Alma mater to everyone from Oscar Wilde to Bram Stoker, the institution remains a stirring place to visit.
You’re in the right part of town to book a table at one of Dublin’s hippest new restaurants, Forest Avenue (8 Sussex Terrace, 01 667 8337). A contemporary “neighbourhood dining room” run by a husband and wife team, its lunch menu changes regularly, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Expect anything from roast cod with charred leek to braised pork neck with squash and capers. There’s also a tasting menu, with the option of ordering matching wines for each course.
St Stephen’s Green is the largest of central Dublin’s five Georgian garden squares and one of the city’s most enjoyable parks. Seek out some of its more interesting features, such as the bust of James Joyce, which faces the Georgian townhouse where he used to study, and the WB Yeats Memorial Garden, where you’ll find a Henry Moore sculpture. Tucked just behind the green is the little-known Iveagh Gardens (Clonmel Street, 01 475 7816), a restored Victorian-era haven dotted with benches and criss-crossed by gravel paths. It’s a great place to take a break from the hustle.
Grafton Street might be Dublin’s premier shopping street, with its swish department stores and fashion outlets, but no less absorbing is the so-called Art & Antiques Quarter on Francis Street, a short walk to the west. Call in at the opulent Martin Fennelly Antiques (60 Francis Street, 01 473 1126) to browse everything from porcelain to furniture, wander down to Gallery Zozimus (56 Francis Street, 01 453 9057) to pick up a unique piece of contemporary Irish art, or delve back into the Georgian era at O’Sullivan Antiques (43-44 Francis Street, 01 454 1143), with its beautiful collection of mirrors, clocks, bookcases and more.
Dublin has long had a reputation for its pubs. Traditional time-burnished venues such as Mulligans (8 Poolbeg Street, 01 677 5582) – once a shebeen (unlicensed drinking hole) and legal since “only” 1782 – exude real character and pour some of the best Guinness in town. But today’s Dublin offers far more than the chance to sup a pint of the black stuff. The craft beer-focused Against The Grain (11 Wexford Street, 01 470 5100) is a case in point. Run by the Galway Bay Brewery, it has a vast range of Irish ales, lagers and cider, in bottles and on draft. Try the brewery’s own Of Foam & Fury, an IPA that was named Beoir Beer of the Year in 2014. Elsewhere, there are fine views of the city and the neighbouring Daniel Libeskind-designed Grand Canal Theatre from the Rooftop Terrace Bar of one of the city’s newest hotels, The Marker (Grand Canal Square, 01 687 5100).
The area around South Great George’s Street has become one of the city’s go-to dining quarters. Looking for Italian food in Ireland with a New York twist? Of course you are. San Lorenzo’s (South Great George’s Street, 01 478 9383) is a self-styled modern Italian restaurant with a welcoming atmosphere and a creative menu. It’s co-owned by renowned Dublin chef Temple Garner, and also has an eye-catching cocktail list. On the other side of the Liffey, the renovated Chapter One (19 Parnell Square, 01 873 2266) has had a Michelin star to its name for seven years and counting. It offers a very Irish gastronomic experience – pig’s tail stuffed with Fingal Ferguson’s bacon and Dublin Bay prawn, anyone? – and takes its name from the fact that it sits below the Dublin Writers’ Museum. In addition, it’s very well placed for the grand Gate Theatre (Cavendish Row, 01 874 4045), a landmark drama venue that’s been standing since the 1920s. It stages high-quality productions, and has a close association with English playwright Harold Pinter, who appeared here as both an actor and director. Those in search of traditional music should look no further than the perennially popular O’Donoghue’s (15 Merrion Row, 01 660 7194), which has nightly sessions featuring an array of toe-tapping musicians.
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