Winning tip: Walking Dublin’s little known northside
The famous Fagan’s Pub in Drumcondra is where the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern stopped the traffic to bring Bill Clinton for a jar on his visit to Dublin in 2000, and where the photos on the walls document all the famous customers as well as the rich local history. Start there then take a short walk down Millmount Avenue to Griffith Park and follow the Tolka river to the National Botanic Gardens (free entry). The Palm House is breathtaking – look for the plaque marking the spot where the great philosopher Wittgenstein, who lived in Dublin for a couple of years after the second world war, liked to sit. The gardens allows direct access toGlasnevin Cemetery (entry free) – Dublin’s Père Lachaise – and a focal point of the1916 centenary commemorations. Exiting the cemetery at the south gate (not the main gate) you enter Prospect Square and can finish the walk with a pint in John Kavanagh’s pub, known locally as the Gravediggers. This is one of Dublin’s most atmospheric old pubs and a world away from the tourist trap that is the Temple Bar area.
My favourite area of Dublin is a collection of lively streets bounded by Grafton Street, Exchequer Street, George’s Street and Stephen Street Lower. While it may not be on the traditional tourist circuit, the area is being discovered by visitors and has recently acquired the title of Dublin’s Creative Quarter. Filled with boutiques, eateries, traditional pubs and arcades, it gives a taste of locals’ Dublin. A good place to start exploring is Om Diva (27 Drury St), a wonderful, friendly shop of colourful and affordable clothing, from vintage to new designs.
This is one of the less visited sites in Dublin. Marino Casino is a beautiful but small building designed by Sir William Chambers in the mid-18th century and is a fantastic example of neo-classical architecture. It is well worth a visit for anyone who is interested in architecture and its single room appearance will leave many surprised once they enter the building. Combine a trip here with Dublin Castleand the brilliant Dublin Zoo.
• €4, Cherrymount Crescent, off the Malahide Road, open daily 10am-6pm
The best place to enjoy a pint of the black stuff and a bit of craic is Grogans, a shabby old pub just off Grafton Street and close to St Stephen’s Green. There’s original art for sale on the walls (the owner has a great eye for up-and-coming artists) and great ham and cheese toasties to tuck in to. Try not to stay there all evening, as fantastic pubs like Kehoes, the Long Hall and the Stags Head are all within striking distance.
• 15 William Street South, groganspub.ie
The Cake Café
Not the easiest of places to find (you have to go through a stationery shop to enter) but the Cake Café is well worth the effort. The picturesque courtyard is a nice place to sit with a glass of wine, although the mismatched crockery and loud tablecloths may seem kitsch. The owners are very serious when it comes to the environmental side of the business – the cafe serves up ethically sourced coffee and home-baked cakes using only local ingredients. Disposable cutlery and napkins are avoided. Lovely people trying to make a difference but not allowing their product to suffer for it.
• The Daintree Building, Pleasants Place, thecakecafe.ie
The Kilkenny Shop
The ground floor range of arts, crafts and gifts at the Dublin branch of Kilkenny Shop is excellent, carefully selected and far from the usual tourist souvenirs you will find elsewhere. And the first-floor restaurant is a foodie’s dream, with a great range of hot foods, cold platters and homemade cakes. Try and get a window table to look out across to Trinity College.
• 6 Nassau Street, opposite Trinity College park, kilkennyshop.com
River rhino mystery
South Dublin’s river is the beautiful Dodder, famed for its rich and varied wildlife. Along its banks you can spot bats, kingfishers, otters … and, erm, the Dodder Rhino. He’s big, bronze, and beautiful. In fact, he’s turned out to be one of Dublin’s greatest mysteries. Back in 2002 he appeared overnight, without fanfare, within the Dodder’s waters. As luck would have it he’s situated very conveniently next to the Dropping Well (Classon’s Bridge, Milltown) – 2014’s Dublin Bar of the Year, no less – which denies all knowledge of how the rhino got there. There’s a lot we don’t know about him, but I love this rhino in the river.
The dead centre of Dublin
Glasnevin Cemetery is about two miles from O’Connell St and is a great place to learn about the history of Dublin and Ireland. Guided tours take in the graves of the famous and the nameless, to Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera ( close to each other in death) and include a performance of Patrick Pearse’s rebellion-inspiring oration. Check out the 2014 film by Aoife Kelleher, One Million Dubliners, for more on the fascinating stories behind the people buried here.
• Museum and walking tour €7.20, glasnevintrust.ie
In the mood for a groove
If you fancy a dance, head to Harcourt Street, which is lined with bars and clubs. One of them is Copper Face Jacks, an institution. Another fantastic place is theVintage Cocktail Club (15 Crown Alley) where High Tea means a concoction involving marmalade vodka and green chartreuse. It makes you feel as if you’re in the Great Gatsby!
Fantastic gardens out of town
For a fabulous day trip, visit the Powerscourt Estate, about 20 miles south of the city under the Wicklow Mountains. On the way you could stop off at the seaside town of Bray (Dart train from Dublin Connolly, €6.85 return) as we did, then jump on a bus to Enniskerry (€2.70) and walk up to Powerscourt House. The landscaped gardens are stunning and well worth the entry price. There are lots of small, themed gardens – a favourite being the Japanese garden. You can also buy a ticket to see Ireland’s highest waterfall for an extra €6, but this will involve a four-mile walk from the main estate, or a coach tour to get there. The Avoca terrace cafe is a lovely place to grab a coffee and some lunch and take in the beauty of the area, overlooking the estate gardens and the mountains beyond.
• Gardens entry €9.50, child €5, family €25, powerscourt.com