I ? DUBLIN
“When I die Dublin will be written in my heart.” – James Joyce
I made it! Hello Dublin, my new home, my writing oasis and springboard for creative projects, my muse. As Nick & I settle into life as Aussie ex-pats, I thought it timely to recount my Dublin experience so far – what I loved, what I didn’t love, what surprised (and delighted) me, what made me think. It’s been one hell of an amazing journey…and I’d love to share it with you.
So why Dublin?
Okay, so what’s the big deal about Ireland, anyway? Sure, it’s the land of shamrocks, Guinness, Riverdance, St. Patrick’s Day, U2, potatoes, and leprechauns, but there’s more to this Celtic beauty than stereotypes might suggest – especially in its capital of Dublin. Dublin, with its evergreen hillsides, world-renowned literature, loveably rebellious nature, and thriving creative scene, has fast cemented itself in my heart as one of my favourite cities ever. The people are friendly, the booze is delightful, the food is to die for, and the craic is, well, grand. Moving here was without a doubt one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. So just what was it about Dublin that inspired me to quit my job, pack my things, and leave my home to come here? What was my call to adventure?
For me, it was all about the writing. I’m a writer; I studied journalism at university, picking up creative writing along the way – which became my primary passion in life. My calling, if you will. So when I first started thinking about hot-footing it to Europe, Dublin was top of my to-do list. The Irish Writers’ Centre, James Joyce, The Long Room in Trinity College’s Old Library, Oscar Wilde, Dublin Writers Museum, Bram Stoker… Not to mention the Irish countryside, where I longed for a writer’s retreat. Folklore and storytelling are just part of the culture here. It’s accepted and valued, both as a tradition but also as a virtue on its own. As a fiction writer trying to make it in Sydney, with a Writers’ Festival without fantasy, horror, or science-fiction categories – basically all of my genres – Australia just couldn’t compete. And after an extended hiatus from writing following a gruelling year-long project (my first novel draft), it was time to get back on the horse. But I needed inspiration, alternating solitude and support…change. I could think of no better place to reconnect with my writing than Dublin. Never in my wildest dreams could I have anticipated how critical it would prove to be for my creative recovery.
But I digress 🙂
Getting to, in & around Dublin
My journey to Dublin started as a 7.5 + 11 hour flight from SYD to DUB via AUH (Abu Dhabi), so I was basically in the air for about a day. Plus there’s that whole time travel (sorry, timezone) thing where I ended up arriving before I’d actually departed in Australia…that was kinda cool, until about 8pm when the jet lag kicked in, and my body started shuffling like a zombie. Brutal.
Nick & I were picked up from Dublin Airport, but if scabbing a ride from one of your mates isn’t an option, you can get to central Dublin via taxi (you’re looking at around €25-35) or bus (a cheap and cheerful €6). There’s also a coach, but I’ve never needed it.
Getting around Dublin is easy. Walking is generally my modus operandi (be advised: take an umbrella as weather can be random), but you can also bus, train (the DART), tram (the Luas; get an electronic Leap card and you can do all 3), and even bicycle it around – Aussies, it’s kinda like Melbourne. You can still rent a car (or a motorcycle!) if you want to, but unless you’re planning a road-trip to the country, there’s not much point – the place is easily walkable. So go sightsee!
A little about Dublin
Dublin is an old-world city brimming with eclectic charm. From its native Celtic heritage to its European multiculturalism, medieval fortresses to ultra-modern architecture, Dublin’s character is inclusive, experimental, freedom-loving, and utterly unpretentious. And maybe just a little bit cheeky. If Dublin was a person, she’d be the stunning redhead who’s genuinely nice and loads of fun; super interesting, and with an appreciation of the more philosophical, spiritual sides to life. She’d also have the coolest vintage-inspired threads around. I’d totally want to be her best friend.
In terms of economy, the Celtic Tiger (Ireland’s period of radical growth) spirit lives on post-recession, and businesses are finally starting to claw their way back into the black. The current financial state of play also means that entrepreneurs and start-ups are now being seen as the future of Irish job creation, resulting in a booming arts and innovation scene that continues to showcase Dublin as one of Europe’s most progressive creative hubs.
Geographically, the city of Dublin is split through the middle by the River Liffey, creating a ‘Northside’ (I call it ‘north of the wall’ just so I can get a ‘Game of Thrones’ reference in) and a ‘Southside’. Talk to any local and you’ll generally hear the same thing – the north side can be a little rough, whereas the south side can be a little touristy thanks to the likes of Grafton St (the south’s main high street mall – the north’s is O’Connell St) and Temple Bar (the definitive heart and soul of Dublin). This is only a rule of thumb, though – one of my favourite pubs is on the north side – so don’t hesitate to explore the city in its entirety; the cute shopfronts and maze of alleyways make for some awesome treasure hunting.
There’s also life outside the city. When Nick & I first arrived, we were staying in Glenageary, one of County Dublin’s southern suburbs, about half an hour away from the centre of Dublin. If you have the time, I highly recommend jumping on the DART and heading south along the coast – any line to Bray or Greystones will do. There are a ton of little villages nestled along the way (Dun Laoghaire, Sandycove & Glasthule, Dalkey, Killiney, Bray to name a few), and some of the best meals I’ve had in Ireland have been at these local hideaways, and out of the city centre. Leave a comment if you’’re interested and I’ll give you my suggestions.
So which tourist attractions do I think you should check out? I’ve been in Dublin for 2 months now, and these are my top 5:
☘ Temple Bar – Dublin’s cultural quarter, and home to the underground arts and nightlife scene
☘ Saint Patrick’s Cathedral – one of the city’s loveliest landmarks. It costs to get in, but it”s beautiful inside
☘ Trinity College, especially the Long Room in the Old Library (yes, it’s worth the queue) – Ireland’s Hogwarts
☘ Powerscourt House & Gardens – the internationally acclaimed estate is jaw-dropping
☘ Wicklow Mountains – for an epic jaunt in the countryside
I always do a red bus tour when I visit a new city, just to kind of get my lay of the land – it’s useful for learning landmarks and getting your spacial awareness going to navigate unfamiliar streets. The tour here is pre-recorded, but it’s packed with historical factoids, meaning you’ll kill it at bar trivia if you ever need to know this stuff again. Winning, literally.
There’s nothing like Irish pub culture, so Guinness was my first stop after a shower, ensemble change, breakfast and mandatory coffee. But where? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered for the brown stuff, and more:
☘ The Brazen Head – Dublin’s oldest pub (we’re talking 1198 here) – any more character and it’d be penned into a Joycean novel…oh wait, it was!
☘ Slattery’s Bar & Early House – a traditional Irish pub, my shared favourite along with TBH
☘ The Shelbourne Hotel, No. 27 Bar & Lounge– these guys do an uber luxe champagne cocktail and rockerfeller oysters combo – absolutely magic
☘ The Black Sheep – funky interior design and speciality craft beers (and not in a stupid hipster way)
☘ The Marker Hotel, Rooftop Bar & Terrace – for a chic rooftop with a view
I need to of course mention the Guinness Brewery & Jameson Distillery tours here, which I still haven’t gotten around to yet – but I’ll get there eventually! Maybe in September. We also found Delaforce port, Nick’s family’s vineyard, at Drink Store on the north side, which was a happy surprise as you can’t get it in Oz.
Foodie culture has exploded in Dublin in the last couple of years; gauging its proximity to the rest of Europe, it’s not really that surprising…but let it be known – Dublin’s time has come.
After all the cuisine I’ve road-tested, I seriously doubt I can cull this list down to 5, but here goes:
☘ Fallon & Byrne, both Wine Cellar & Restaurant – the Cellar for slow-cooked roast beef that melts in your mouth
☘ Any and all of Joe Macken’s legendary eateries (Jo’burger, Crackbird, Skinflint, Bear) – Bear for your carnivores, Skinflint for a New York slice, Crackbird for buttermilk fried wings, and Jo’burger for, well, the obvious
☘ J2 Grill & Sushi – the best Japanese in Dublin
☘ The Pyg Restaurant – my go-to for gluten-free sandwiches and tapas (that Nick will eat!)
☘ ely gastro bar – try a gluten-free lemon chicken burger with hand-cut chips alongside Grand Canal
☘ Weafer & Cooper – on par with Fallon & Byrne, in Glasthule
☘ Kathmandu Nepalese Restaurant – Nepalese fine dining in Dalkey
☘ Lolly & Cooks – the savage (sausage) roll and gluten / dairy / sugar-free chocolate cake are staunch favourites
☘ Murphy’s Ice Cream – for Dingle sea salt, tart buttermilk, and Irish brown bread ice cream
Nope, you get 9. Enjoy!
I’ve also created a separate list for the other brown stuff, because, well, caffeine is my oxygen:
☘ 3FE – best coffee in Dublin so far – I could actually taste the individual flavour of the beans (fruity!)
☘ Il Valentino – best soy milk coffee (FYI: Dublin is not big on milk alternatives so a good one makes all the difference!)\
☘ Kaph – best non-dairy, non-soy (coconut) milk coffee\r\n\r\nNote: RIP Walter Mitty’s, you were my favourite coffee shop in Dublin.
This list is by no means conclusive – I’m still yet to try: Chapter One, The Chophouse, ely bar & brasserie, Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel’s Grill at the Castle, Marco Pierre White, Mourne Seafood, Pizza e Porchetta, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, and The Winding Stair – 3 of these, I’m tackling this week! We’ve also enjoyed Darwin’s for dining out with friends, The Art of Coffee for its view of the canal, Palais des Thés for loose-leaf tea (it’s the T2 of Dublin), and Staple Foods for cold-pressed juices and paleo fare (warning: the service can be a bit hit and miss). If you’re here on a Saturday, you should also check out the SuperNatural Food Market @ St Andrew”s Resource Centre, Pearse St – the girls at Orgasmic Organic make gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free snacks (yummy protein and coconut balls) and sides (lemongrass butter bean mash – it’s delicious).
Dublin’s retail scene is a quirky mix of enclosed malls, high streets, storefronts, arcades, and pop-up shops / market stalls. Contemporary design has prospered, a new shopping avenue for both tourists and locals alike, while Dublin fashion has reverted to cheap & chic post-recession, Dubliners sporting old faithfuls and prints paired with second-hand to lend an authentic, hand-crafted edge.
My shopping top 5 are:
☘ Folkster | Guild & Cage | Shutterbug Vintage – hand-picked vintage fashion from around the globe, with handy tags to tell you where from (NY, Paris etc.)
☘ The Winding Stair – the ground floor is a bookshop (the top floor is a restaurant), with an impressive collection of new and used titles – especially when it comes to art and the classics
☘ Industry – for curated Irish design and homewares – I literally had to leave this store to stop myself from buying all the things
☘ All Saints – not strictly Irish but I love it – novel minimalist, monochromatic fashion; biker jacket heaven
This one’s slightly touristy, but I also quite like Avoca for colourful scarves, jumpers, blankets, and adorable clothes (read: souvenirs) for kids; the deli is also excellent. The original Avoca Mill is in County Wicklow, so if you end up doing the mountain tour, you should try to catch them both.
Last but not least, these are my personal top 5 favourite things to do in Dublin – an insider’s guide:
☘ Le Cool Dublin Experience walking tour – coolhunting through Temple Bar, an enormously fun way to learn more about the arts, retail, hospitality, and entertainment precincts in TB
☘ Killiney Hill – this one came from Colin – the 360° view of the county and coast will take your breath way, especially at sunset (aside: we went on a day when the sea was blanketed in clouds – it was completely surreal. I then followed this by opening a bottle of wine with a shoe. Macgyver’’d)
☘ Creative Mornings Dublin – if you’re here a little longer, look these guys up – my first event, the last talk before the summer break, was inspiration gold
☘ Kung fu – I practice martial arts, so I need space to train outdoors – if you do too, try Phoenix Park (especially for running, it”s huge!) or Ringsend Park (lots of quiet areas to stretch and practice form). I’m thinking Yung Ling Academy will be my school of choice
☘ Skateboarding – I’ve taken up riding again, so for skaters, Vans, Jonny’s Skateshop, Skate City and Tribe (I picked up my Santa Cruz Jim Phillips ‘Screaming Hand’ deck there) will be your best bets for advice and supplies. Ramp-wise, there’s nothing in the city centre (although you see a bit of skating at Grand Canal), however, there’s apparently an indoor skatepark called Skatepark of Dublin (SofD) at Santry Hall Industrial Estate in Dublin 9. I haven’t made the trip yet, but it’s on my to-do list.
To prepare for the big move, Nick & I watched Anthony Bourdain’s ‘The Layover: Dublin’ before we left Oz, so we’d already sussed out our Dublin foodie hit list before we landed. But there are still so many things to do in this city (the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, Gaelic football, JJ Smyths, the International Comedy Club) that I doubt we’ll run out any time soon. And if we do, there’s still the rest of Ireland to explore (hello road bowls in Cork, Wexford Opera House, and the ‘Game of Thrones’ tour)! There are also a ton of festivals and events happening all throughout the year, so it’s a good idea to check out a site like Visit Dublin before you book, just in case you find something you like and want to wait – or hurry up! 🙂
A few last words
I adore Dublin. There are no other words. When you look at everything this city has to offer, it really is an amazing fusion of artists, food, drink, sights, and the most fun you’ll ever have. And for creatives like me, it’s a breath of fresh air – competitors collaborate; restauranteurs burn their business plans to give birth to a new culinary age; cogs of the 9-5 suffrage wheel lose their jobs, only to go out on their own in a blaze of indie glory (and clever, solvent ideas); expression is everywhere. Opportunity is all around…if only you have the eyes to look. And it’s an incredibly inspiring place to be, especially at a time when for the first time ever, I’m doing the same thing. It gives me hope. And the knowledge that so far as storytelling goes, my journey is just beginning. I have a lot to look forward to. And I have you to thank for that, Dublin. So thank you.
So what’s next? It’s time to start the next novel. Wish me luck!
Amy de la Force