After a twenty-hour nap taken as soon as I washed all of the Irish grime off of me at my French homestay, I finally feel capable of at least beginning to document the eight days I spent in Dublin. I thought I would do a day-by-day post, but that proved very unlikely once I was in bed at 11 p.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. every day—often leaving the hostel at 10 a.m. and not coming back for another 12 hours. So I’ll just write a ginormous post about my ten favorite parts about the trip and that’s that.
My Top Ten of Dublin:
1. Dublin Pass
-My friends and I bought the Dublin Pass, which is a card that lets you get into museums and most tourist attractions (Guinness and Jameson, for the best deal) for free and get deals or discounts at other places, like a free coffee and cake at the famous (and kind of fancy!) Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street. A lot of museums in Dublin are free, like the Natural Museum of Archaeology or the Chester Beatty Library, but with the Dublin Pass you got additional deals, like 10 free post cards. We got a deal for 6 days of sightseeing for about 60 euro and when we added up everything at the end of the trip, we more than broke even on it. So I highly recommend looking into it if you want to be a big-time tourist in Dublin.
I’ve kind of already mentioned this, but I didn’t know a lot about Guinness the beer and Guinness the brand, but this trip definitely took care of that. I didn’t have as many things I wanted to do in Dublin as some of the other girls I went with, but this was something I knew I had to do, even if I would have had to pay for it. I didn’t, because of the Dublin Pass, but I would have gone here without that incentive.
The storehouse is kind of out the way, as it isn’t anywhere near proper Dublin where all of the touristy things are. It was like a 45 minute walk from our hostel but it’s do-able, I guess. We had to walk through a rougher area of Dublin than the polished, visitor-friendly part that we were used to, so it was good that we got to see another side to the city. The Guinness storehouse really is the only thing to see in this area, though.
When you first enter, the first thing you see is the 9,000-year lease Arthur Guinness signed for the place in 1759. I don’t really understand how that is possible or how it works but it’s a good thing to know if you need to start a conversation over a pint of Guinness, I guess. You could even see the original document, but it was kind of hard to read.
The best part about the exhibit is that you’re walked through the four main ingredients of Guinness (water, barley, yeast, and hops) and how and why they are used in the beer-making process. There are slightly dated videos about how to make the beer that you can watch, and you can also see all of the equipment used with creating and then storing the beer. And then after all of that, you get a shot of Guinness where you’re encouraged to swish, sniff, admire, and sip the beer—basically treat beer like a wine and be all snooty about beer. Sign me up!
After walking through a history of Guinness advertisements through the ages, we then could either pour our own glass of Guinness or go to the Gravity Bar at the top to have our complimentary pint of Guinness poured for us. The girls I was with wanted to go to the Gravity Bar, and I kind of just went with it. I already had a basic knowledge of how to do it just from watching the bartenders do it in Ireland: tilt the special Guinness glass at a 45 degree angle and fill it ¾ of the way while rotating the glass so it stands straight by the time you hit the ¾ mark, and then wait a bit for the foam to settle before finishing it off. Once I read the sign that explained all of that but in more scientific and professional-sounding terms like “surge” instead of “foam,” I was good to go. The Gravity Bar gave a really picturesque view of Dublin, but what really added to the experience was the fact that there were labels for all of the big attractions you could see (like St. Patrick’s Cathedral or Trinity College). But after walking so far to get to the storehouse and then walking up seven flights to the top, it was nice to sit down and get down to Guinness and relax with a pint—even if it was only 11 in the morning!
I don’t know how, but the bartenders made four-leaf clovers in the foams of our beers. Maybe if I had known that they would teach you how to do it in the “Pour Your Own Pint” section I would have pushed for that, but overall it was an experience I’d definitely recommend, and not just for the free beer!
3. U2 Everything
I get a lot of flack for it, but I love U2. I know it’s Dad Music, I know Bono comes off kind of strong sometimes and their music sometimes isn’t that great. I get it. But I don’t care. I love U2. I was excited to go to Dublin because of the U2 connections. One of the things I wanted to see was the Clarence Hotel, which in person is really underwhelming and all but whatever, Bono and Edge are partial owners so it’s cooler than any hotel you could stay in, okay?
But U2 was everywhere, even if I didn’t have as many conversations about the band as I would have thought. The guide of the free Dublin tour didn’t remember Adam Clayton or Larry Mullin Jr.’s names when we were stopped outside of the Clarence Hotel—don’t worry, I unabashedly helped him out, and then again for a second time when we were at St. Stephen’s Green and he was talking about how since U2 has the keys to the city they could technically let their livestock graze on the grass thanks to an outdated but still legal law.
There were also wax statues of U2 members at the Wax Museum, which I expected. A couple of the pubs in Temple Bar area had pictures of the guys from when they stopped in for a pint. I expected that too. But what I did not expect was that U2 songs would be everywhere. The pubs, the cafes, the stores, the grocery stores, the hostels—if there was music playing, it would be U2 if you were there long enough. Most of it was old, pre-‘90s U2, which was fine by me. But yeah, if you listened to the music in a public place, then you were listening to U2.
I did see some anti-Bono graffiti. I don’t really understand it, and not just because I don’t understand why someone would take to the walls of Dublin to complain about the city’s most famous and prolific celebrities. But it was there.
-O’Neill’s is right across the street from the Dublin Tourism Center, and it looks like a big house that could be a hunting lodge or something. It definitely had to have been a house in another life, because there are so many rooms and stairs and nicks and crannies in the restaurant, which makes it a great bar to go to.
When we went here on the Halloween pub-crawl, they served mixed drinks with gummy eyeballs that were very creepy and festive (and deadly). There was also a live traditional Irish sessions band playing, and it was here that we were introduced to popular Irish songs like “Molly Malone” and “Wild Rover” (I just put up Dubliners videos, but every sessions band worth their weight in Leprechaun gold will know these songs, apparently; both of the sessions bands we saw at Temple Bar played these songs).
When we went for late lunch/early dinner a different day at O’Neill’s (we got a free beer there thanks to the Dublin Pass), there was a ton of people there watching football on all of the screens and we ended up sitting in the most isolated seat, which was good because we stuffed ourselves on the 12 euro carving station meal. It was easily the best meal I had all week. In lieu of waiters or menus, they have a “carving” station that basically functions as an upscale cafeteria line, or you can go to their sandwich station and get a big hearty sandwich. They also do breakfast, which I almost did but I didn’t want to go to the same restaurant twice during the same trip. I kind of regret that now, especially when writing this.
5. St Stephen’s Green
I went here four times. The first was with the free, guided tour; the second was with a friend who had missed the guided tour; and the third and fourth were by myself on my last day in Dublin, when I finally did a full turn around the park and then returned with a package lunch to eat on a park bench and people-watch. No matter the weather, it’s always picturesque and beautiful with the water and the fountains and the birds—and let me tell ya, I got to see it in the sun, in the fog, and in the rain. There are a bunch of memorials here if you want to be touristy and a lot of benches if you want to be creepy. But it’s so nice, especially with the rich autumnal colors of the leaves (the leaves actually turn warm colors here, as opposed to the pale green and yellow-green of Paris!) that I felt instantly uplifted and homesick for raking leaves every time I entered the park.
To be honest, I wasn’t super into the idea of this deal of eating a three-course meal at a pub and listening to Irish folk tales. Lily really wanted to do it and everyone else seemed okay with it and even though I wasn’t too happy about the 36 euro price tag, I just went along with it. I was glad I did. The food was really good—you had a choice of four or five things for appetizer and dinner and then a choice of two for dessert, and I got a “warm chicken salad” that was literally a skinless chicken breast on salad but it was so flavorful and delicious I completely forgot about its sparseness, a really spicy salmon that went really well with my two different types of potatoes, and then a chocolate cake that was, well, a really good chocolate cake. Plus, we got like a history of Dublin and Ireland from Viking Age to Great Potato Famine, and even though it was the same spiel we’d gotten from other tours and museums, it was presented in an interesting way. And the stories were great too. The origins of the banshee myth were explained, as long as stories with fairies and other popular folk tales.
If you’re interested, the organizer of the dinner sent everyone a 23-page Word document of all of the stories we heard that night, as well as book recommendations for further reading. So if you’re really into Irish folk tales, let me know!
7. Grafton Street
Grafton Street is well known for its street performances and stores. It’s a good, busy street that’s equal parts touristy and, um, not-touristy, I guess. There aren’t a lot of familiar shop names there but the clothing stores and shoe stores were fun to walk around in. I know this because I walked around here a lot looking for boots, since the only pair of shoes I had brought to Dublin, a pair of grey combat boots, had torn on the inside seam between the rubber of the bottom and the cloth area where my foot went—and the rubber bottom of one was cracked in two. These were the same boots that had both of the bottoms of the heel come of at Oktoberfest—and they are only a month old! Sheesh. Worst 40 euro ever. And it was so cold and drizzly in Dublin that before I found a good solid pair of boots, I would wear two pairs of socks. But I did find a good pair of sleeker, more feminine boots that were more Timberland than combat, but they were warm and do their job and don’t look like they’re going to be destroyed in a month.
My friend Lily would kill me if I didn’t mention this … apparently busking on Grafton Street is portrayed in the movie Once, which is all she talked about on our Dublin trip. It’s supposed to be very romantic, but I haven’t seen it. It’s on my to-see list. Wikipedia tells me that Damien Rice, Glen Hansard (from Once and his own bands, The Frames and The Swell Season), and Rodrigo y Gabriela used to busk there. Our tour guide from the free tour said that U2 used to busk there, but he also didn’t know the names of U2’s bassist and drummer and I didn’t see U2 listed on the Wikipedia page so I’m not sure who to trust.
But rest assured, the Phil Lynott statue is alive and well on Grafton Street! You have to keep an eye out for it, since it’s not actually on the main road and is placed outside of a random bar that actually was one of the bars Thin Lizzy played at when they were just getting started. But the map I picked up at the tourist center had the statue marked so it should be easy to find. I stumbled across it when I thought I was in the general area of the statue and a friend just pointed it out to me.
Not to sound like an alcoholic, but touring the Jameson distillery was really the other thing I was looking forward to doing in Dublin. And just like the Guinness Storehouse, it did not disappoint.
It was also above the River Liffey, which not many important tourist attractions are, so we had another interesting stroll in a part of Dublin we might not have seen. It was in a more industrial area of Dublin with a lot of big buildings and people in business attire. But we let loose once we went inside. We had the driest tour guide ever, and his sense of humor was such that sometimes we didn’t know if he was kidding. But the one time he wasn’t trying to be funny was the absolute best—he was waiting for everyone to settle down so he could start talking, and in the wait he just stroked his goatee and whispered, “I miss my beard” to himself. It was creepy, but creepier that we were the only ones close enough to have heard it.
This guy thought we were crazy. We were always joking and making each other laugh when it wasn’t laughing time. But he still picked me and Lily to become official “Qualified Irish Whiskey Tasters” at the end of the tour—though we did get him to smile when Lily dropped her hollow cardboard baton (that we would eventually use to put our rolled-up certificates in) twice during his presentation (earning a quip from him about how maybe he shouldn’t have picked her) and then during the tasting where I pretended to waft the tiny amount of watered-down whiskey in the shot glass instead of just sticking it under my nose like everyone else.
Oh yeah, the tasting. The Tasting. If you end up at the Old Jameson Distillery, you NEED to do this. It completes the whole trip. Plus, it’s more free whiskey so why not, right? When in Dublin…
So at the end of the tour, once we learned about the importance of the triple distilled and, like Guinness, what was used to make the alcohol, the four men and four women were assembled in the bar and set down at a table where there were three watered-down shots of whiskey: Irish whiskey (Jameson, obviously), American whiskey (Jack Daniels), and Scottish whiskey (I don’t know the brand, and that doesn’t bother me because I learned Scottish whiskey is absolutely disgusting). We had to try each one (after smelling it and looking at its color) and then pick which one we liked the best. Jameson was flavorful, in a good way compared to the smokey, earthy Scottish whiskey and the slightly less flavorful and sweet Jack Daniels. I felt lame saying that Jameson was my favorite, but it ended up being true.
So I’ll be a Jameson drinker now—and never, ever a Scottish whiskey drinker ever unless it’s like the only alcohol left on the deserted island I’m stranded on and Keira Knightley has already burned all of the rum and Johnny Depp has already asked, “But why is the rum gone?”
9. Jonathan Swift Everything
I didn’t end up going to the Dublin Writer’s Museum, but I knew coming into the city (and the country) that I could expect to see a lot of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce.
And I did! There were random little plaques of James Joyce quotes from The Dubliners or Ulysses about Dublin, like the Dawson Street plaque on Dawson Street from Ulysses. There’s also a James Joyce statue in St. Stephen’s Green and there’s the James Joyce Centre and the James Joyce Museum. There’s a lot for James Joyce, which makes sense for a guy that wrote a lot.
Oscar Wilde was much appreciated too. I expected that, just because he’s such a character. There’s a memorial to him in Merrion Park right across the street from his childhood home—which is actually now American College Dublin so you can’t tour it, which stunk. I’d never even heard of that College but you could only get a B.A. in liberal arts there so maybe that’s why. Seems sketchy but a BA in Liberal Arts would be worth having if it meant taking an Oscar Wilde class in Oscar Wilde’s childhood home.
But I didn’t think good old Jonathan Swift would be so involved in Dublin history and pride, and that made me very excited for the guy that most people, even in my English-major classes, only know as the eat-babies guy. HE IS MORE THAN THAT and I was glad that Dublin felt the same way too.
For example, Jonathan Swift was the Dean of St. Patrick’s, so when we visited that we were treated to a lot of Jonathan Swift history and artifacts, like a casing of his skull and his face as well as one of his writing desks. He’s buried at St. Patrick’s along with his friend and possible lover Stella. I always liked their “are they-aren’t they” relationship, since Stella grew up always being friends with Swift and some people think they were secretly married or secretly in love. All I know is, Swift had one romantic relation that he broke off because of Stella and he was so heartbroken when she died that he petitioned to have her buried at St. Patrick’s so they could be together forever when he died.
Not only were we given access to what essentially his workplace at St. Patrick’s, but we also got to trace his steps through 18th century Dublin. Apparently he thought it would be wasteful to take a carriage to Christ’s Church Cathedral, Dublin’s other medieval church (something I agree with, since I walked from one to the other on the same day and they’re only like four blocks away), so he used to walk up a passageway of 40 stairs by Dublin Castle to get to the church. The passageway used to be filled with beggars, and Swifty would use the money he would have spent on the carriage to give to the beggars—so obviously after a while the beggars caught on and the place then became so overfilled with hobos (and their stench) that Swift had to change his route. But according to the Dublin ghost tour that we took, sometimes you can still see his ghost walking up the stairs at night and modern-day beggars sometimes sleep in that corridor in the hopes of waking up in the morning and finding an antiquated coin in their cup, which apparently has happened.
Such a good guy! And such a good writer too!
10. Tower Records
-It’s not lame to recommend a record store abroad when it’s one like Tower Records. It’s two stories tall and has a café in it called “Sound Bites Café” and is promoted by the tagline “Sex, Drugs, & Sausage Rolls.” There weren’t any available seats when I looked but the food was all artisanal and organic and, well, kind of the food you’d expect a record store to put out in the age of Portlandia.
I didn’t buy anything so I probably annoyed the hell out of the workers because I spent like an hour and a half just looking through everything. They had a really good selection of Irish folk music, which I really looked through because I don’t know anything about that outside of The Dubliners or the Pogues. I was very pleased with their David Bowie selection, as well as their differentiated American folk/American country/American sections (the genres were that in-depth).
It reminded me so much of Newbury Comics (the New England-based record store I used to work at during my senior year of high school and every December after that) that I kind of wanted to name-drop it and have the cool people behind the counter like me. But alas, I just went through all of the Irish music and took pictures and pretended to be a hip spy.