I have come to know two types of people to be of the same calibre of welcoming, community value and real warmth; namely, the Spanish and the Irish. The charm of the Irish is not a well-kept secret, they are entertaining and always at the forefront of a good time in whatever country or situation you find them, but this is particularly true of their home turf. When it comes to Dublin, think of all the cultural, culinary and architectural value of London and combine it with the warmth and hospitality of an Apple Store Sales Assistant who has just spotted you eyeing up the newest and most expensive Mac Pro on the market. Dubliners are more than keen to assist and advise and get quite magnificently pissed as a fart with you.
Dublin was a sporadic choice for the annual squad holiday that has become a most welcome tradition amongst some of my closest friends, all of whom live in far reaching corners of the continent. Our weekend of wonder more than lived up to its promise of intrigue and much alcohol drinking, and, as a bonus, was a mere two-hour thirty-five-minute flight from Malaga. Dublin is the perfect long weekend get-away for culture vultures, city lovers, or even just to discover the wonders of living life the Irish way.
Bronze Age meets the Digital Age
Much of Dublin’s history is linked to the Norwegian Vikings, having been established by them in the ninth century as the ‘Kingdom of Dublin’. Overtime, the longest lasting Norse kingdom in Ireland became substantially influenced by Gaelic culture forging a peculiar link between the two heritages. Modern day Dublin is a thriving tech hub for some of the world’s most prevalent technology giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Dell and Paypal. Their European headquarters can be found in the area of the Grand Canal Docks, which has been aptly nicknamed ‘Silicon Docks’. Much of the incentive for these mammoth companies to set up shop in Ireland was the low corporate tax rate of 12.5%. Interestingly, the city homes headquarters for a myriad other big Internet names, from Etsy to Eventbrite. I had the opportunity to scope out the area of Silicon Docks myself on a charming Viking Splash Tour that whizzed us not only through the city streets, but also into the river itself for a delightfully freezing float around the Grand Canal, connecting to the River Liffey, the main body of water that flows through the city. Our tour took us on a Viking style hedonistic ride fronted by a deliriously amusing tour guide, we took in the sites, soaking up some of the archaeological wonders of the antiquated metropolis.
Situated in an interesting spot just shy of the eastern coast of the Island of Ireland, waving across at Wales, Dublin has a fascinating archaeological history with many Viking remains having been found there. Such findings include a site situated along the northern quays of Spencer Dock near the mouth of the Liffey. Here, five wooden fish traps were discovered dating back to the late Mesolithic era of 6100-5700 BC. Six burial pits north of the Royal Hospital were found to contain pottery vessels and burnt bones within a burial dating back to 1928 BC, nearly 4000 years ago. Other Bronze Age evidence includes a retaining wall on the riverside along Clancy Barracks, Islandbridge. More finds can be learnt about and marvelled at, at the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, which holds artefacts dating back to the Egyptian age. Dublin’s rich history literally runs deep through the city.
Also pointed out to us by our cheeringly accommodating tour guide was U2’s infamous riverside recording studios. To this day Hanover Quay Studios acts as the headquarters to Bono and his band of cheeky Irish lads. The building is the only remaining old structure in the now high-rise rich area. Smothered with unimpressive graffiti, the warehouse style studio offers an insight into the mostly lost street culture of the Dockside. After losing the site to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority in 2002, the band were able to buy back the site at which most of their most celebrated music was recorded in 2014.
True Irish pub culture
When visiting the city, one piece of advice I would offer is to be wary of the traditional ‘Temple Bar Pub’ tourist trap. Whilst the much hyped, quintessentially Irish pub exceeds every promise pertained to it, the cost of drinks and anxiety inducing squeezing you have to endure to navigate around the maze-like establishment hides much of its charm. The subsequent pubs around it offer the same aura of comradely that comes with traditional Irish pub culture, but with cheaper drink options, and more of a likelihood of running into a real Irishman. The Temple Bar area, particularly Fleet Street and the conjoining Essex Street, is where it all happens. Keen drinkers of every nationality stumble upon the brick ridden alleys, alight with the music of street performers on every corner. This is where you’ll find the real fire! Step inside one of the lesser-known pubs for a scene straight out of Titanic, Irish folk music emanating from a lively and animated stage band. It will be sure to warm your soul on a bitterly cold evening. Drink prices are reminiscent of London, but there are cheeky loopholes and special offers that can be taken advantage off. This is how I managed to spend my three days in a prosecco-fuelled daze.
Be sure to stop and enjoy the music swept street, and keep and eye out for Lewis Carroll’s walrus and carpenter at the window of Temple Bar, ‘sat down to sup’. Temple Bar area is thought to have acquired its name from Sir William Temple who settled there and built a house and gardens in the early 17th century. Sir William was a part of the expeditionary force of the Earl of Essex, and in his later life served as provost of Trinity College. Other tales suggest that the area was named after London’s Temple Bar, which similarly joins with Essex and Fleet streets. You can also find Temple Bar, in the daytime, to be a thriving hub for art and culture being home to the Irish Photography Centre and the Irish Film Institute, as well as Temple Bar Gallery and Studios and the Project Arts Centre.
Coppers: a Dublin institution
The next transition in an evening spent perfecting the jig and nursing your palms, raw from clapping, is to head to Copper Face Jacks, a real Dublin institution, and quite possibly the clubbing capital of the world (move over Ibiza, and you Berlin). I’ve been told many a story revolving around the mystical land that is Coppers ‘Nite Club’, particularly with regards to people meeting their soul mates within the dark and dingy depths of this maze of a club, as 90s pop hits rumble through the tinny speakers above. This spot is inconceivably popular with a queue forming basically around the block. Thanks to a ten-euro entry and a clearly un-strict dress code, who can be surprised? This is most certainly the perfect end-of-the-night location for anyone who wants to soak up the true culture of the city, or just listen to their favourite Boyzone tracks and get lost in the various levels of this confusing basement dystopia. Coppers has a real school disco vibe, add to that Ibiza super club drink prices and you’ve got a truly winning combination. Post Coppers, I must make note that the city has a wholly impressive ‘drunk food’ culture. Every street corner bares a Subway, usually within a small supermarket, perfect for all your sloppy, pre bed munchies desires.
Generally food is aplenty in Dublin as with most European cities. Big breakfasts are a speciality, but there are a couple of notable twists to the greasy fry-up in Ireland, most notably, the inclusion of white pudding. Similar to black pudding, it is made up of a medley of meat parts shaped into a sausage form. However, white pudding vetoes the use of blood, instead consisting of pork fat, suet, bread and oatmeal. Irish Breakfast, the only meal in the world made up of three types of sausage.
As is customary to all tourists, we tried our hands at downing a midday Guinness, and yes, it does taste better when it comes out of a local tap. Apparently, as a local explained to me, there is a science behind a good Guinness and it involves which gas runs through the barrels. Guinness contains bubbles of nitrogen as well as carbon dioxide, this lessens the bitter taste and makes the head of the beer last longer. Elsewhere in the world, the beer is only mixed with carbon dioxide like any other draft. Although we missed the opportunity to visit, you can learn the entire Guinness brewing process at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin’s most popular attraction. The converted brewery now acts as a museum for all things Guinness taking you through the history of our St. Paddy’s day poison of choice.
For all the cobbled side streets and beautifully antique allure, it is worth taking your own literary tour of the city, stopping in some seriously magical spots that were once home to scholarly marvels James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, ‘Dracula’s’ Bram Stoker, and the ever charming Jonathan Swift.
Now a museum of the American College Dublin, the beautifully Georgian architecture of playwright and infamously flamboyant character Oscar Wilde’s former home is open to anyone to admire, and try and draw some literary inspiration from. If you venture deep into the leafy canopies of Merrion Square, you are sure to find Wilde himself perched on a rock pondering life.
Many of Dublin’s most successful scholars spent their former years at the beautifully ornate Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest University. Located a few streets down from Merrion Square, super central and opposite the mammoth Irish Houses of Parliament and Central Bank of Ireland, we almost stumbled across the campus by accident. As you wander through the beguiling archways and into the quad, you are taken out of a city setting and placed in the centre of one of the world’s most beautifully ornate and classically designed University buildings, surrounded by imposing columns and the Campanile bell tower, the real star of Parliament Square. Within the quad, you can also find the Chapel and the largest research library in Ireland within which the famous ‘Book of Kells’ is kept. Dating back to the year 800, the gospel book is written entirely in Latin and is incredibly ornate. The Irish monks that penned it later buried it in an effort to hide it from the Vikings. Eventually discovered, it was sent to Trinity College in 1653 to be stored for safekeeping. A must see for any book buffs out there. Trinity is ranked number one in Ireland in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and 77th in Europe. I felt honoured to just have stood in the very square that once saw some of my literary heroes pass through it.
Next on the weekend’s agenda was Dublin Zoo, a near walk from our homey B&B, and quite possibly the highlight of the visit. Now, I wouldn’t call myself a zoo connoisseur as such, but I have seen my fair share of animal reserves. This city zoo however, is most certainly up there at the top of the list. The largest zoo in Ireland, situated in the beautiful Phoenix Park, promises an entire day of intrigue and wonder; from the roving giraffes to the particularly foul smelling yet joy inducing Humboldt’s penguins. The park is home to over four hundred species of animal, and although hugely popular, does not feel overly crowded by fellow creature admirers. Be sure to book your tickets online beforehand for discounts and to avoid the inevitable entry queues. One qualm I must draw your attention to is the lack of good food available in the area. I’d suggest bringing your own lunch to avoid the disappointment of what is available.
St. Paddy’s celebrations
March is quite probably the height of Dublin’s flow of tourism, as fans of the now world renowned St. Patrick’s Day celebrations flock to the hub of the festivities. Held on 17th March, the day marks the death of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Interestingly, St. Patrick was actually an Englishman, allegedly captured by Irish pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland where he looked after animals. Having escaped from his captors, he became a cleric and returned to Ireland where he served as a bishop. The long loved tradition of much alcohol consumption that many associate with St. Paddy’s Day comes from the Christian Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol being lifted for the day. Almost a national day for the Irish people, some of the traditions have spread across the world, from wearing green, to sporting shamrocks, blasting traditional folk music and glugging gallons of Guinness (13 million pints to be exact) and whiskey. It really is a homage to the Irish.
Dublin’s city centre plays host to a Festival parade of likes of New York City, following a cheery procession of spectacular floats, whimsical theatre and lively musical scores. It all kicks off at Parnell Square at midday. Across the city, events are ample, lasting for several days. During the festivities, you’re advised to be on the look out for prominent landmarks to be ablaze with green light, the Irish Craft Beer market, the St. Patrick’s Festival treasure hunt, which will have you stumbling across quirky city relics you weren’t even aware of. Also keep an eye out for the Irish University boat race on river Liffey.
Filled to the brim with culture and stoney, grandiose architecture, much like London’s city centre, the central point of Dublin is alight with goings on. The first point of call is the Spire of Dublin, a confusing and imposing giant needle like structure that literally penetrates the heart of the city. The abstract monument was meant to modernize the area, which had apparently afforded itself a declining reputation as the hub for fast food and bargain souvenir shops. Now, its most prominent use is to act as the point at which you and your tourist friends will insist to meet at if anybody gets lost. Standing at 120 metres, it can be spotted from far across the metropolis. From here, almost all of the city’s main attractions are within walking distance.
Taking a wander around allows you to stumble across all sorts of hidden gems, from quirky 1920s style gin bars, to artisan cake modelling craft shops, and every Gibraltarian’s favourite city stop, a very large and imposing Primark, for all your budget clothing needs. A city that fuses the antique and the modern, full of charm and warmth, despite its usually chilly climate, Dublin is the perfect spot for exploration. Without a solid itinerary, you are certain to stumble across a multitude of fascinating corners filled with their own curious stories.
words | Nicole Macedo