Capital culture and quality craic: 48 hours in Dublin, Ireland
Words by Katherine Hodgson
While the Irish capital enjoys a culinary and commercial renaissance, it’s still the quality craic, friendly faces and first-rate watering holes that give this compact city its sparkle.
Day One: get your fix of culture, food and fun without travelling more than a mile
Spend your first day south of the river – where you’ll find Dublin’s undisputed epicentre (just don’t tell any north Dubliners that). One kilometre south of the Liffey is St Stephen’s Green, the site of a major skirmish during the 1916 Easter Uprising and now the heart of a buzzing shopping, culinary and cultural district. Running adjacent to the Green is Dawson Street, where you should start your morning with a shot of caffeine and fresh pastry from Tang Cafe.
After breakfast take a stroll through the park, catching a glimpse of the ducks in the lake before making your way to the Little Museum of Dublin. Here, you’ll get an informative and entertaining overview of Dublin’s history from the 1798 rebellion to present day – complete with a singing tour guide and quick-fire tests of your knowledge. Be sure to book in advance and arrive early.
You might be tempted to have lunch nearby at The Ivy – but don’t be. The Dawson Street restaurant is the first of the iconic chain to leave the UK but fails to live up to the hype, and standard, of the Soho original. It’s style over substance as a glittering bar, marble floors, and beautifully upholstered furniture are let down by slow, sloppy service and underwhelming food. A bloated menu offers little for vegetarians and vegans, while meat-eaters can expect more choice but little flavour and (astonishingly) heat.
The service leaves little to be desired as an army of waiters scurry across the restaurant in a frenzy, huddling round desks ten at a time before dragging bags of rubbish across the dining room floor. At The Ivy, quantity doesn’t equate to quality so don’t be surprised if you wait over 30 minutes for a drink and leave without a goodbye. And while it’s not unusual to see all 200 seats filled, it’s a sight that’s unlikely to last. Instead, walk for a further fifteen minutes to local favourite Hang Dai on Lower Camden Street.
After a filling Chinese, it’s time to unwind by walking north to The Buff Day Spa on King Street. Few places in Dublin can rival this unassuming spa, tucked above a party shop on a bustling thoroughfare, on professionalism and value for money. Treatments range from the standard – Dermatologica facials, massages, and pedicures – to the unconventional – ‘warm spiced mud wraps’ and ‘sea clay’ contouring treatments.
It’s not cheap; a basic facial will set you back €80 but when you factor in the time spent at the sauna and ‘tranquility room’ before and after, as well as all the free products you can test while quaffing down tea, then it’s really quite reasonable. Aim to spend at least two hours at this central oasis and melt into one of their thick, cosy robes for the duration.
Keep it simple for dinner and indulge in some ice cream at Sun Bear Gelato on Dawson Street before finishing off your night with cocktails at 9 Below, the swish and intimate basement bar at the Hibernian Club.
Day Two: stretch those legs and venture north of the Liffey
If you’re feeling particularly energetic rise before dawn and run to Phoenix Park, open 24 hours. Sprint from the front gate to the ‘white house’ (the residency of the Irish President) before catching your breath to take in the sprawling park around you and spotting its famous wild deer, who have called the 1,750 acre site home since the 1600s.
However, if the mere thought of an early morning run fills you with dread then try out Dublin’s ever-growing selection of boutique gyms. Hidden away on the third and fourth floor of an office building is UnderDog Boxing, which offers gruelling classes that focus on technique and cardio endurance to ensure you break a sweat while perfecting that jab, jab hook.
Their HIIT and Power Boxing classes are not for the faint hearted, and the 45 minute sessions are taught by former pro boxers. UnderDog Boxing will guarantee you a good workout and endorphins high, but don’t expect the works – it’s small and basic so bring your own towel, products and a full bottle of water!
Now that the hard work is done, walk north to the Dublin City Gallery (The Hugh Lane) where you can relax with plenty of free art. Start off at the charming Hatch and Sons cafe in the basement, where all-day Irish breakfast is served alongside freshly baked biscuits, scones and roasted coffee.
After your meal, head upstairs and take the time to ogle the permanent collection where there’s an impressive and diverse range of 19th – 21st century political paintings, and pieces by the world renowned Dublin-born painter Sean Scully.
From here it’s only a short walk to the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street where you can do more than just sample the whiskey made on site. The friendly staff offer tours of the distillery, (with sampling and cast drawing sessions for those partial to a dram) and provide blending classes.
But the best way to spend 90 minutes here is by taking a whiskey cocktail-making class. It’ll knock you back €50 but you’ll leave armed with a new arsenal of smooth drinks fit for any occasion – and no doubt rise the next morning with a bit of a sore head. If you’ve got the time (and the stamina), stay for another few drinks and don’t leave without sampling the dark chocolate old fashioned.
As a busy and boozy trip comes to an end, finish it off with an evening at NoLIta, one of Dublin’s top nightspots. Italian cuisine and New York inspired cocktails can be enjoyed against a background of live entertainment for a great finish to your trip that you will not forget!