A Weekend in Dublin – as a first time visitor
To date, I have not been very good at travelling to and exploring places closer to home. I always believed that I would always have time to do so later in life and therefore preferred the longer voyages.
So, it may come as no surprise that I had never visited Ireland before! It was a trip that I had deferred on many occasions as its climate is so similar to the UK’s with no guarantee of sunshine but a guarantee of lots of rain! But, with another spring bank holiday approaching, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make that trip over to Dublin!
En route to Dublin
From London to Dublin is approximately one hour by plane which makes it ideal for a weekend break. I had therefore landed in Dublin from the Aer Lingus flight before I knew it!
I had purchased tickets for my airport connections in advance on the Air Coach website, which travels into the city centre and beyond, as I prefer to book as many items as possible in advance of a trip, if I can. The bookings need to be made by 5pm on the day prior to travel with a return to the St Stephen’s Green area being EUR 13.50. Alternatively, the tickets can be purchased from a customer service’s representative prior to boarding and buses arrive at a frequency of every 15 minutes.
As I walked to my accommodation, Hilton Dublin, I passed some delightful Georgian houses which are definitely Instagram worthy! In fact, the entire area by the Grand Canal is rather pretty and was rather calm for a Saturday afternoon compared to London! The trade off, however, for staying within such leafy environs is that the journey to the city centre is approximately 20 to 30 minutes away. This may be suitable for longer walks when the weather is mild but may be inconvenient should there be inclement weather.
The Solely Blues Club
One of the two events that I had managed to organise in advance of arriving in Dublin, was to join a meetup.com group for an evening at a live jazz and blues venue. The location, however, was at the opposite end of town closer to the Guinness Storehouse in Smithfield! I was still orientating myself with the location and therefore whilst the Luas tram station Charlemont was nearby, taking a taxi was the more convenient option for me. The locals tend to use the My Taxi app which is an equivalent to Uber however, it is also quite easy to hail a taxi outside from the streets. The taxi drivers that I used were all very friendly indeed and proud of their city!
The blues club is above Arthur’s pub and the open mic session occurs on the fourth Saturday of each month with free entry and the doors open at 9pm. I would advise arriving earlier, if the preference is to have dinner, as I found to my chagrin that the pub’s kitchen closes around 9pm and there is no food option at the jazz club upstairs!
The venue itself is slightly off the tourist track for a Saturday night and so it was good to meet some locals during this fleeting visit. The ambience itself is very mellow and akin to some of the Parisian jazz lounges and therefore was perfectly suitable after a flight. The musicians were of varying abilities playing pre 1960s music, but one crowd pleaser was a musician that had a one stringed instrument in his repertoire! It was also very fascinating to be amongst blues and jazz singers and musicians within the meet up group.
The blues night finished far too early for me however, around 11pm, and so fortunately the quirky bar Thomas House was nearby as I was very much in holiday mode! To me, this bar almost seemed to be paying homage to some of the bars in Camden Town back in London! Again, this was a non-touristy venue and whilst there were many posters and signs of the stout, ‘Guinness’, there were also posters for gigs in Camden. Indeed, the dark décor and narrow bar reminded me of many a Camden ‘dive bar’ venue! It was here that I sampled the smooth Irish gin, Micil, for the first time.
Apparently, I had missed a lot of the excitement in Dublin on the night before as the Spice Girls had been performing for one of their tour dates. It certainly seemed to explain why the flights were so busy at this time!
A day of Sightseeing
I had not appreciated just how close the hotel was to St Stephen’s Green as it is only a ten-minute walk away! The hotel was perfect in that respect, as I had been advised to stay on the south side of the river Liffey, and it served a hearty Irish breakfast with lots of conveniently located plugs in the room!
St Stephen’s Green contains a water feature in its centre and so it is perfect for that Sunday stroll. I would recommend visiting late morning after breakfast at your hotel or other accommodation in order to miss the sightseeing crowds. It was only upon my return that I have realised that I did not venture to all corners of the park as I missed the oft photographed corner with Fusilier’s Arch.
However, I did prefer walking through parts of Merrion Square which seemed to have been left in its natural state without the over pruning of the vegetation. It is within this park that a statue of a very leisurely Oscar Wilde can be found as a memorial to the author!
As there wasn’t a rain drop in sight on that Sunday afternoon, it was also perfect weather for a longer stroll further along the canal which had some picture-perfect settings and a few barges. A lot of the locals could also be found undertaking a Sunday stroll in this area or a cycle ride and so it was clearly the thing to do!
A visit to the long room in the library of Trinity college and the Book of Kells featured at the top of my list of sights to visit in Dublin. Fortunately, there was not a very long queue to enter but discounted tickets can also be purchased online in advance. The entry fee for the Book of Kells and the library was EUR 14.
Whilst waiting within the queue, I noticed the Sphere within a Sphere sculpture out of the corner of my eye and so couldn’t resist capturing a shot of its unique design.
Photography, however, is not permitted within sections of the exhibition of the Book of Kells, a Latin manuscript, which has the unique design on its cover and contains the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is believed to have been created circa 800 AD. It was indeed fascinating to view the detailed calligraphy employed for such texts.
Fortunately, there is not the same photography restriction within the long room which houses over 200,000 books and busts of philosophers such as Socrates. Its vaulted ceiling is very impressive indeed!
The grounds of Trinity College are quite vast and so it is worthwhile spending some time to explore. For me, the sightseeing continued thereafter as the second event that I had organised in advance was that of a whisky tasting at the Jameson distillery!
The intention had been to walk between Trinity College and the distillery, as I enjoy longer walks to truly appreciate a city’s spirit, and so my colleague had navigated the way up to the river to cross the renowned Ha’Penny bridge. The views from the river reminded me of Paris and the Seine in many ways.
It seemed natural for me to gravitate towards a whisky tasting as an alternative to visiting the Guinness storehouse. Indeed, I did have a sense of déjà vu as it is within an area close to the jazz and blues club that I had visited the previous night. I had purchased a timed voucher online for the distillery, at EUR 22 for the afternoon slots, which is exchanged for a ticket and it is therefore necessary to arrive earlier than the allotted time.
I was impressed by the tour as it was very efficiently organised from the start with different queues for the timed slots. An introduction to the history of the Jameson family and the whisky making process is outlined at the start before examining some of the techniques utilised to enhance the flavours which I found fascinating.
It was then time for a whisky comparison session! Even though I am not especially partial to whisky, I must admit that the comparison of a Scotch whisky, Jameson and an American whisky was very interesting. The Jameson whiskey did stand out compared to the others with a very smooth taste which might be connected to it being triple distilled! I have also now adopted the Irish spelling for whisky when describing the Jameson brand! The ambience at the distillery is so relaxing and so it is tempting to while away an afternoon there after learning about the history of the Jameson family.
Fortunately, at the end of the spoken tour there is the opportunity to purchase some of the whisky sampled, for those souvenirs, before arriving at the bar to claim a complimentary drink of whisky. Whilst whisky on the rocks and neat whisky are on offer, I opted for the whisky cocktail which was combined with ginger ale. It was a very smooth, refreshing drink and there are other cocktails on offer at the bar whilst perusing the different whisky bottles on display or even arranging for a whisky tasting certificate to be sent by email! As the day was so warm, it would equally be quite pleasant as well to enjoy a whisky cocktail or two in the courtyard!
A stroll through Dublin
Eventually, I managed to tear myself away from the buzzy ambience at the Jameson distillery to embark on a slightly longer walk to return to the Grand Canal area. This walk perfectly captured some of the other sights that had featured on my list such as Christ Church cathedral and St Patrick’s Cathedral.
I had previously spotted Christ Church looming in the distance when visiting the Smithfield area and I was still impressed by its architecture and its gothic bridge, the bridge to Synod Hall, that can be spotted in the distance. Apparently, this bridge had been created during the 19th century restoration of the cathedral.
Unfortunately, as my timing clashed with the church services, I was only privy to a small section of the cathedral but even those sections seemed stunning to me!
As usual, when I am abroad, my phone battery was starting to run out whilst I was navigating my return to the hotel! So, I passed through St Patrick’s park briefly with its ongoing festivities and admired the exterior of the cathedral. I will certainly aim to explore St Patrick’s Cathedral more on a return visit!
I was very pleased that it was still a mild afternoon as the walk took me through Wexford Street, which seemed very lively for a Sunday afternoon and so I made a mental note to add this area to my list of places to visit for my return to Dublin!
I had noticed The Barge when I initially arrived at the Hilton Dublin and so it seemed fitting to have my final meal there before departing Dublin. It certainly seemed to be the ideal spot to relax on a warm evening with outdoor seating! Its location may be further than the usual tourist route but that felt ideal to me to finish my journey to Dublin with a place that the locals frequent.
The food served is typical gastropub fare with fish and chips, onion rings and a super food salad appearing on its menu. A glass of rosé wine was at a similar price to the other bars at EUR 6.50. However, the staff were attentive and The Barge’s location opposite the canal and Charlemont Bridge is unparalleled! It is definitely worth a visit and was a lovely end to my weekend in Dublin.
I felt as though I have barely scratched the surface of Dublin as I did not venture over to Grafton Street and I did not spend a lot of time within its city centre, but those areas can form part of another trip to Dublin. I would similarly combine the sightseeing and non-touristy activities again and will hopefully travel to other parts of Ireland. Hopefully, this snapshot from my weekend will provide some tips for your trip to this enjoyable city!