From having 'the craic' to exploring the villages on the outskirts of the city, Cathy McFadden rounds up the best alternative things to see and do in Dublin's fair city.
The friendly Irish capital has more to offer than hen weekends in Temple Bar and a tour of the Guinness Storehouse.
As a cultural hub with friendly locals and a cosmopolitan vibe, Dublin is a firm favourite for many travellers. Enchanted by the city since a teenager, Cathy McFadden shares her alternative Dublin to ensure that this ever-evolving city and resting place of St. Valentine captures your heart too.
1. THE CRAIC
Ireland is the birthplace of 'the craic’ (Irish for fun and enjoyable conversation) and there's plenty of it in Dublin, from lively banter and song in traditional pubs such as Grogans to live comedy throughout the week in various establishments around the city. The Irish are known worldwide for their wit - particularly, their dark sense of humour - having given us some of the funniest guys and girls on the planet.
Vicar Street plays host to world famous comedians throughout the year so be sure to buy a ticket in advance as gigs tend to sell out. However, it is the unknown that makes Dublin’s comedy scene exciting. You don't know who you will stumble upon performing new material in the streets and clubs in Dublin.
My favourite club is The International which was set up in 1993 and co-founded by Father Ted star, Ardal O’Hanlon. Perched atop a great bar, the club is everything a comedy venue should be: cosy, gritty and mysterious. Open from Thursday to Saturday every week you can buy a ticket in advance on the night. Enter wondering if you will experience new comedy talent such as Foil Arms and Hog (local lads done good), or see a comedy superstar such as Eddie Izzard and Jimmy Carr who amongst other heavyweights have graced the stage.
2. CITY MARKETS
Dublin has no shortage of high street shops or independent designer stores, but the real shopping charm is to be found in the city’s markets.
Every Saturday afternoon, Cow’s Lane is home to a cheerful market where local designers and artists showcase their crafts. The market runs along a pedestrianised street lined with permanent vintage shops and concept stores so there is plenty on offer in this little slice of Dublin. If you need a break from shopping, grab a coffee in Tamper or treat yourself to a slice of cake in the colourful Queen of Tarts.
George Street Market is housed in a majestic red brick Victorian arcade and the wares have not changed much in the last 20 years, making it a 1990s haven. Home to local photographers, vendors selling cutesy Japanese cats and the unmissable rockabilly fashion store, Retro.
The Temple Bar Book Market is held every Saturday and is a trove for book lovers. Take your time perusing the wide selection of classics and new titles on offer.
D-Light Studios host an exciting market on the first Sunday of every month. Bringing together craft and foodie delights in an industrial warehouse turned photography studio. This independent market has something for everyone including live DJs and a kids’ cinema.
Sample local history at the age-old Moore Street Market. However, this area is evolving. The famous fruit and veg barrow vendors, known for their charm and colourful personalities, proudly represent the old whilst welcoming the new. Moore Street Market is now a rich and diverse spot where you can have the craic with sharp-tongued Irish grocers and sample tasty vegetarian Indian food. Prices are reasonable but the banter is free.
If organic food is more your thing, you'll find plenty of fresh produce at reasonable prices every Thursday and Saturday at the Dublin Food Co-op Organic Food Market.
My favourite food market is the indoor produce hall at Fallon & Byrne. With an exotic selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, an impressive deli counter and a world class grocery section, this is the perfect picnic supply stop. It also houses a gorgeous French style patisserie and wine cellar so if it isn't picnic weather, pull up a seat at a rustic table, order a bottle of wine and cheese board and enjoy the bustling atmosphere of this unique market.
3. VILLAGE PEOPLE
Like London, there are many neighbourhoods which encircle Dublin’s city centre, all with their own personalities and village feel. These 'hoods are easily accessible by the LUAS (Dublin’s tram system) or by foot. However, (weather permitting, of course) I recommend that you cycle through the bike-friendly streets of Dublin taking in the Georgian townhouses and stunning parks en route.
Cycle along the canals from Portobello to the leafy suburb of Ballsbridge. Home to the RDS showgrounds, the AVIVA Stadium and the bulk of the city’s embassies, Ballsbridge also has a charming village. On a sunny day, cycle around Herbert Park or grab food to go from The Swedish Food Co. and enjoy lunch by the canal. If the rain clouds roll in, pop into the The Old Spot for a pint of the black stuff (Guinness) or sample their range of craft beers because it could be a while before that rain stops...
Head south of city centre to the quirky suburb of Ranelagh with its own village market, plethora of cafes and an excellent craft beer shop. Reserve a table for dinner in a converted butcher's shop, The Butcher’s Grill or, join a yoga class in the beautiful gardens of Dartmouth Square.
Linking the city centre to Ranelagh is the gritty yet fun Camden Street. Make sure you pay a visit to this young, lively neighbourhood morning, noon or night as Camden Street has so much to offer. Do not miss breakfast in Meet Me In The Morning, inspired by the Dylan song. This gem will take your breath away with its bright and airy interior and outstanding coffee. For afternoon tea, bag a table in the colourful courtyard of the wonderfully kitsch The Cake Cafe and be sure to end the evening with a flight of beer in craft bar, Against The Grain.
Only minutes from the city, the recently developed dockland area, Grand Canal Basin, is home to the Bord Gais Theatre, O2 Arena, modern housing and is a culinary destination in its own right. Join the locals and get in line for breakfast at Herb Street or enjoy pre-theatre drinks at Cafe Bar H.
4. HIT THE COAST
No visit to the east coast of Ireland would be complete without, well, a trip to the coast. Take the DART (Dublin’s local train system) to the pretty coastal villages of Howth, Dalkey and Dun Laoghaire.
Discover award-winning seafood in Howth, stopping by The Oar House to sample their famous chowder. Indulge in some celebrity-spotting in Dalkey (home to U2’s Bono and The Edge and a popular drinking spot for REM) and enjoy solace on the hidden shores of White Rock beach.
5. CITY OF CULTURE
As part of the European City of Culture alumni, Dublin acts as Ireland’s showcase for the works of its stars in the fields of visual arts, literature, film and music.
Follow the famous footsteps of Joyce, Wilde and Yeats on one of the many literary walking tours on offer or make a day (and night) of it by joining the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. If you want to discover the works of the greats yourself, get lost in one of the city’s oldest bookshops, The Winding Stair.
With three major art colleges, Dublin is a destination for art lovers and access to exhibitions, galleries and museums in the city is free of charge.
If film is your media of choice, enjoy local and international movies at the Irish Film Institute, an art house cinema tucked away on a cobbled street in Temple Bar. The IFI preserves and promotes film culture in Ireland and hosts festivals and critical reviews. The Light House cinema is also a great spot and is one of the venue's for the annual Dublin International Film Festival.
6. BRUNCH CLUB
Now it's time to get serious: let's talk brunch. Dublin is an exciting brunch spot with so many creative independent cafe owners offering their own take on the best meal time of the week.
My highlights include the breakfast salad in neighbourhood cafe, Farmer Browns. With its own vegetable garden and friendly staff, this Ballsbridge cafe is worth a visit. Be prepared to a queue, but order a coffee, pull up a bench and enjoy the wait, safe in the knowledge that it will be worth it.
On Saturday, do not miss brunch at health conscious The Fumbally (closed Sundays). This community cafe serves up delicious breakfasts and lunches (including grain and sugar-free dishes) to the backdrop of an eclectic and relaxed cafe. Share a table and feel a part of the neighbourhood while you enjoy signature dishes like green eggs and ham.
For brunch with a view, head to Sophie's. This hip newcomer offers delicious brunches and great cocktails with 360 degree views of the city. The stylish restaurant is perched on top of boutique hotel, The Dean, just off St Stephen’s Green, so afterwards enjoy a stroll around the beautiful city park or the lesser-known Iveagh Gardens.
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