Have you ever wanted a travel writer to design an itinerary just for you?
Keep reading. If you have been to Dublin before (or even if you haven’t) you may be one of the readers who has sent me an e-mail asking what to see beyond the major tourist sites. Once the Book of Kells and Trinity College and the Dublin Writers Museum have been explored, what’s next? This New Years, I’m crossing the pond back to Dublin, and my itinerary will include brief visits to all my favorite spots. Choose from the following options, or visit them all, to scratch beneath the surface of the Irish capital.
I’m often asked about the best restaurants in Dublin, and while I can’t claim to have eaten in every single restaurant in the city, I certainly have my favorites. When my flight lands at 7am, the first stop will be breakfast. My favorite is a tiny neighborhood spot called Juniors. Like most places in Dublin, it is associated with the nearest pub. As in, ‘you know, that little cafe, right next to Slattery’s pub on the corner?‘ and every taximan or local Dubliner will know exactly where you’re talking about.
There are just 8 tiny tables for two in this restaurant, and a few more outside (weather permitting). Junior’s first seduced me with their lunches – they make some of the best sandwiches in town for a reasonable €6 a pop. Some of the sandwiches (such as chorizo, goats cheese, and arugula) are so massive that you can easily pack up half for a snack later on in the day. And then I tried Juniors for brunch. Heavenly french toast is served with American style bacon (thin and crispy) alongside a spinach salad. From poached eggs with smoked salmon to a traditional Irish breakfast, it will be difficult to narrow down your options. First-time visitors might fall so in love with the place that they return for dinner – and you should – dinner is outstanding too.
Ever since I was a kid, the holidays was a time to go to the theater. My family always made a day of it, spending quality time together before the theater and enjoying a meal afterwards to discuss what we’ve seen. In Dublin, this night on the town won’t carry anywhere near the same price tag as a night of theater in New York. No matter what your budget is, theater in Ireland is accessible. The National Theatre is the Abbey Theatre, founded in part by the poet WB Yeats. Last Christmas season, I saw Conor McPherson’s ‘The Seafarer’, a strangely-festive play. I recommend anything by McPherson, whether it’s showing at the Abbey, the Peacock, or the Gate Theatre. If none of his plays are showing, look for something else by an Irish playwright. Tickets cost anywhere from €15 – €40.
When you travel to Dublin, this is a chance to taste the flavors of continental Europe as well. While I love brown bread and Irish stew as much as the next girl, I also love a little French restaurant called l’Gueuleton. Besides being located on one of the best streets in Dublin, this spot succeeds in evoking the feel and romance of a French brasserie. While the restaurant can be packed on the weekends (expect a short wait) during the week you can usually get a table no problem. If like me, you enjoy simple pleasures, skip some of the fancier appetizers in favor of a warming bowl of French Onion Soup. Then go fancy with your entree.
After dinner, you might be feeling a bit sleepy from the French red wine, but in true Irish fashion, you must have a night cap. Cross the street to Market Bar if you’re in the mood for a pint of Guinness and a good buzz, or head upstairs to the Bar With No Name (no sign outside, ask your waiter, but literally next door to l’Gueuleton). Half the fun of choosing No Name Bar is heading upstairs into a building that in a former life must have been a grand private home. I always feel slightly like a voyeur roaming from room to room. Comfy couches here are a great place to end the night, although sometimes the noise level makes conversations with large groups a challenge.
The next day it will be time to get out of the city. One of my favorite Irish traditions is walking, and the capital city is full of opportunities to catch a glimpse of the rolling countryside that this island is so famous for. One of my favorites is a hike along the coastline from Bray to Greystones. Both of these villages are located on the DART (train line) that runs south from Dublin city center. After riding the train from Dublin to Bray, it is possible to hike along the coast from Bray towards Greystones, for an hour and 1/2 excursion along the coast. The countryside itself is one of the best attractions in Dublin, so get outside of the city center to see it.
After a walk, it will be time to eat again. With a great location and options for fine dining or a casual evening, Fallon & Byrne is one of the best restaurants in Dublin. Upstairs you will find their dining room (reservations are recommended) and often 3-course prix-fixe options are available. For something more casual, head downstairs into the wine cellar, where you can sample cheese, charcuterie, and fresh-baked bread to accompany a variety of wines. This is one of my favorite places for meeting friends as no table reservation is necessary. Pulling up a stool to a big table allows for friends to come and go.
If I had a sweet tooth afterwards, I would head down the street to a little pastry shop called Leon. If instead the evening was turning towards dancing, I would turn down South William Street for Pygmalion. To top off a perfect weekend in Dublin, one more brunch would be necessary. Lennox Cafe is located on a quiet street in the Portobello neighborhood. Tables are worth the ever-present 15 minute wait. Strolling through this neighborhood will give you a good idea of local Dublin architecture outside of the grand Georgian buildings in the center of the city.
Once I return from Dublin in the New Year, I’ll be sure to share some more of my favorites. Consider this itinerary about travel to Dublin a little Christmas present from me to you.