The Best of Dublin 2018
Dublin is Europe's largest village. Charming, intimate and cultural, it's a place that will surprise you at every turn – as long as you keep an open mind. But the Irish capital is also full of bland international chain-stores. At the Little Museum we like to celebrate independence and quality. That's why we created this bad-tempered guide to the best things to do and see, as well as some fine places to eat and stay, here in our hometown. Welcome to Dublin.
ABBEY THEATRE • Dubliners love to criticise the National Theatre; ignore them. The Abbey is still a cultural powerhouse. No cultured visitor leaves the Irish capital without seeing a play here.
CHESTER BEATTY LIBRARY • An Irish-American mining magnate collected 3,000 rare books and 26,000 prints and drawings, from Biblical Papyri to Japanese painted scrolls: he was quite the hoarder. Free and beautiful.
CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL • This gothic masterpiece is officially claimed as the seat of the Church of Ireland and Catholic Archbishops of Dublin. It allegedly inspired the Transylvanian castle in Dracula. Worth a look.
DUBLIN CITY GALLERY THE HUGH LANE • Never mind the ridiculous name. This handsome art gallery boasts work by Renoir, Manet and Pissarro, as well as Francis Bacon’s studio. Bacon left Dublin as a teenager, vowing never to return; at last he gets the attention he deserves in his hometown. Nice café too.
THE GATE THEATRE • Founded by Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir, this northside gem continues to dazzle – and under new artistic director Selina Cartmell it is arguably the most exciting theatre in Ireland.
GUINNESS STOREHOUSE • Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction attracts more than a million people every year. Have a pint of the black stuff on the top-floor Gravity Bar, with its 360 degree views of this dirty old town.
THE LONG ROOM • Since 1801 this library in Trinity College has had the right to claim a free copy of every book published in these islands. But the main event remains the Book of Kells.
MARSH’S LIBRARY • Unchanged for three centuries, this perfectly preserved library of the early Enlightenment, with its original oak bookcases, houses more than 25,000 rare books. Just around the corner from St Patrick’s Cathedral.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF IRELAND • Caravaggio, Picasso and Goya can all be found in this very grand – and beautifully restored – gallery. Check out Jack B Yeats, brother of the poet W.B. (they didn’t get on). His Liffey Swim is perhaps the definitive Dublin painting.
NATIONAL MUSEUM • Free, huge, seriously impressive and typically overlooked by beer-swilling visitors. Ignore them. If you leave Dublin without seeing the Ardagh chalice you are a prize gobdaw.
NATIONAL LIBRARY • The William Butler Yeats exhibition is free – and fantastic. And we love the library itself, which features in Ulysses (but of course, you knew that, right?) and has hardly changed since 1877. Serenity and cultural smarts in a world gone Lady Gaga.
ROYAL HIBERNIAN ACADEMY • This stunning art gallery is where to see work by leading contemporary artists. Black poloneck not essential.
SCIENCE GALLERY • An exhibition space in which art and science are free, indeed encouraged, to make out together. Now they’re planning identikit branches all over the world. Clever, eh?
ST PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL • In Jonathan Swift’s time, Dublin was a colonial backwater. Swift is famous for Gulliver’s Travels, but we prefer the venom of his Modest Proposal. Pay homage in the Cathedral where he worked until his death in 1745.
DUBLIN'S BEST RESTAURANTS 2018
777 • This Mexican joint isn’t as authentic as it pretends to be, but it’s still a lot of fun, and yes, they do serve killer margaritas. Food isn’t really the point, but since you ask, try the sobritas.
CHAPTER ONE • Ross Lewis could talk for Ireland – and often does. The affable Corkman is passionate about seasonality, provenance, organic produce… things most Irish people don’t care about. His Michelin-starred restaurant is a culinary oasis in the desert of Dublin 1.
CLIFF TOWN HOUSE • This stylish hotel is one of the few places in town for decent seafood. We like sitting at the bar, nibbling at the fish pie. Other brunch treats include Eggs Benedict, posh fish and chips or a scrumptious rib eye steak.
CORNUCOPIA • There are many ways in which Ireland has yet to enter the 21st Century. (If you don’t believe us, just ask your waiter for the vegetarian option.) Cornucopia is all about hearty vegetarian cooking. Inexpensive and usually full of thin, interesting types.
ELEPHANT AND CASTLE • The king of diners. Their famous chicken wings have been widely imitated, but they still taste better (ie more decadent) here in Temple Bar. Beware: the portions are huge.
ETTO • Everyone loves this vaguely Italian joint on Merrion Row. Despite its location on the chic Golden Mile, it’s not that pricey, and there’s none of the attitude you get for twice the price elsewhere. Sit at the bar, meet new friends and order the suppli.
FALLON & BYRNE • Dublin's answer to Dean & Deluca, this much-loved institution is full of local artisan treats and (expensive) imports. The restaurant upstairs is smart, but we prefer the casual wine bar in the basement, where young professionals come to flirt and drink in semi-darkness. F&B also have outposts in Rathmines and Dun Laoghaire.
THE FUMBALLY • No, they don’t do anything as mundane as reservations, and yes, you will have to join that very long queue. But the food is truly fantastic: seasonal, organic, full of flavour and not expensive either. Probably the hippest scene in Dublin at this precise moment.
HATCH AND SONS • Domini Kemp and Hugo Arnold are food writers cum restaurateurs: not always a recipe for success. Their café beneath the Little Museum boasts great Irish cooking, the best coffee in town, a bustling atmosphere and good value. Present your receipt from the museum for a 10% discount.
THE MERRION • This is where the IMF stayed when they ran the Irish economy. Who can blame them? The Merrion is Dublin’s most stylish and comfortable hotel. This place has it all: superb service, good food, a warm atmosphere and an interior that doubles as the greatest hits of Irish art.
PATRICK GUILBAUD • Your serviette drops to the ground and the waiter is overcome with grief. In a moment he is back with a replacement. If that vignette pleases you, you will love this two-star Michelin. Probably the best haute cuisine experience in the country. Certainly the most expensive!
PEARL • It’s right next door to Patrick Guilbaud, the country’s poshest dining room, but Pearl is no slouch. Indeed this French/Irish kitchen is regarded by many foodies as a hidden gem. Great service and wonderful cooking in a smart, discreet basement venue.
PEPLOE’S • Dublin’s (rather parochial) answer to the Ivy, this basement bistro is full of lawyers. Don’t let that put you off. The food is unpretentious, the service is efficient and they have a great wine list.
SAN LORENZO • The late Seamus Heaney (poet and gentleman) was a fan of this New York-Italian place in bustling George’s Street. Unisex toilets and rather uncomfortable seats are eclipsed by ambitious cooking.
THE SHELBOURNE • Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor had one of their famous rows here. Alright, that’s not a fact, more of a supposition. They did stay in the Shelbourne. So, of course, did everyone else. It’s a Dublin institution. Go to the Horseshoe Bar and drink a toast to everlasting feuds.
WHITEFRIAR GRILL • Oh look, it’s brunch o’clock – where shall we go? Probably too late for the Whitefriar Grill. This place is often booked out weeks in advance. If your charm does the trick, order the truffle egg toast.
THE WINDING STAIR • Title of a very short book: ‘Classic Irish Recipes.’ When it opened a few years ago, the Winding Stair was hailed as the city’s first proper Irish restaurant. It’s a delightful fiction. Go. Eat. Enjoy.
THE BEST PUBS IN DUBLIN 2018
DOHENY & NESBITTS • In Dublin a secret is something you share with one person at a time. D&N is where political secrets are shared. If you ever find yourself intoxicated by proximity to power, you will get a buzz out of this place. Nice snug.
GROGAN’S • Bono, Amy Schumer, Judd Apatow… if you think Grogan’s sounds starry, you’re right. But don’t expect any velvet ropes. This is an old-school Dublin pub, and all the better for it. Best experienced with a pint of plain and a toasted cheese sandwich on a rainy weekday afternoon.
KEHOE’S • Old Mr Kehoe is long dead now, but his spirit lingers in this classic Dublin pub. You’ll feel it on the way down to the toilets. (Mind those stairs.) Indeed this poky treasure is still much-the-same-as-it-ever-was. Thank God.
THE LONG HALL • From the Fenians to Phil Lynott, they’ve all paid homage to the Long Hall. The owners have hardly touched this pub since 1881 (hence those engravings of the last Tsar) and it is to their credit. Friendly service and a good pint make this a sound bet day or night.
NEARY’S • Okay, this isn’t the friendliest pub in Dublin. The barmen won’t be hugging you anytime soon, but that’s probably just as well. This is a proper, handsome old public house, designed for good conversation. Hence there is no television or piped muzak. You can hear yourself think.
O’DONOGHUE’S • Safe bet for traditional Irish music. It’s where the Dubliners formed in 1962, and more recently folk legends like Christy Moore have played here. If you have too much to drink – or a voice worth sharing – you’re always welcome to sing a song.
THE PALACE BAR • Legendary Irish Times editor Bertie Smyllie did most of his work in this fine old pub. Despite its location on the edge of grimy Temple Bar – Europe’s largest open-air sewer – this Victorian jewel remains popular with locals.
THE STAG’S HEAD • Hard to find but worth the effort, this much-loved institution has an elaborate Victorian interior that is comforting any time of day, but best avoided on Friday nights, when swamped by Trinity students.
THE SWAN LOUNGE • Sean Lynch played rugby for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions. The Swan features a mini-museum of the great prop, which is now owned by his son, Ronan. While it’s not in the least bit trendy, there’s something very likable about this great Dublin pub, founded in 1897.
THE PORTERHOUSE • Under the late, great Oliver Hughes, the Porterhouse was one of the first of the growing number of independent breweries now prospering in Dublin. Still one of our favourite haunts. They also make very fine gin.
TONER’S • This is a museum where you are allowed to drink. Seriously. Toner’s received its licence first in 1818. According to legend, the poet W.B. Yeats had a sherry in one of the snugs. It remains a civilised refuge from anything so vulgar as the present.
SHOPPING AND STUFF LIKE THAT
APPASSIONATA • The only decent florist in Dublin? Not quite, but Appassionata is certainly the best. Beautiful bouquets every time. Plus, they care about the environment in a way that is all too rare, with sustainably cultivated flowers and plants.
GEORGE’S STREET ARCADE • Students and other malcontents love this arcade, where you can buy everything from Russian propaganda to vintage fashions. Good for vintage tchotchkes – old coins, prints, records. It also houses Stokes Books, our favourite second-hand bookstore.
DUBLIN BIKES • While these freeish bikes are not as user friendly as they might be for visitors, there are stations dotted all over the city centre, and cycling is much the easiest way to get around Dublin.
DUBRAY • The Duke of Wellington went to school on Grafton Street, which has lately been colonised by Tommy Hilfiger and Massimo Dutti. This quirky bookstore is among the few Irish stores left. Lovely staff, and they will wrap your gifts for free.
KILKENNY DESIGN • Is there such a thing as an authentic souvenir? Or is that an oxymoron? Don’t think too hard about this. Rather, take yourself down to the Kilkenny shop, where Irish Design is more than an aspiration. Not a bad spot for lunch either.
THE NATURAL CUT • Dublin’s most amusing hairdresser is a chap called Shane Boyd who will furnish you with society gossip as he trims your curls. His place of work is an oasis of calm in the city, more of a well-appointed drawing room than your average salon.
OPTICA • There’s something very un-Dublin about opticians Donal and Deirdre McNally. This husband and wife team have fantastic style. Here you will buy a pair of spectacles that are like jewellery.
POWERSCOURT TOWNHOUSE • Is it a house? No, it’s a Georgian mansion that thinks it’s a shopping centre. If only all temples to commerce were so elegantly housed. Think quirky shops, good-value restaurants and some of the best vintage jewellery shops in the capital.
SHERIDANS • There’s a mad whiff off this cheesemongers. It’s run with a passion that is all too rare in today’s bland retail environment. Edam! They have a great selection! This is where to go for properly obscure Irish cheeses. If they stink, all the better.
TOURIST INFORMATION • The best person to ask about Dublin is your waiter at lunch today. Failing that, try Fáilte Ireland (no, it’s not pronounced ‘faulty island’) on Suffolk Street. Lots of slick interactive multimedia, and if that doesn’t appeal, they also have some gloriously lo-tech leaflets.
THE WALDORF • Well over 80 years old, the Waldorf remains the pre-eminent barber in town. Getting your hair done here is an experience you will not easily forget. The whole vibe is gloriously retro – apart, that is, from the prices. Heck, you need to treat yourself now and again.
WHERE TO STAY IN DUBLIN
THE MERRION • This five-star hotel occupies some of the finest Georgian buildings in town. Its gracious public rooms with crackling peat fires epitomise the relaxed elegance for which Dublin is known, and a central location makes it great for exploring the city.
THE SHELBOURNE • Luxury knows no bounds at the Shelbourne. Housed in a 200-year-old historic building in the heart of the city, it sets the stage for an exceptional visit to Dublin. Close to famous attractions like Grafton Street, Dublin Castle and, eh, the Little Museum.
THE FITZWILLIAM • Mix traditional Irish hospitality with a stylish, contemporary, curl-up-in-a-nest-like setting; the Fitzwilliam makes a great vantage point from which to explore the city centre.
THE DRURY COURT • An independent 3 star boutique hotel that is highly rated on Tripadvisor, this place caters for business and tourist customers – nice little bar, too.
THE WESTBURY • Posh. Very posh. Think custom-woven Irish wool carpets, soft mohair-covered George Smith chairs and sumptuous silk blackout curtains. With two outstanding restaurants and a glamorous cocktail bar, you can enjoy all-day dining.
NUMBER 31 • Warm hospitality, excellent service and probably the best breakfast in Ireland. This little gem is half a classical Georgian townhouse, half a stunning modernist mews. It's where we tell posh relatives to stay when they come to sneer at our children.
THE DYLAN • Boutique luxury, great style, decent restaurant, not a bad location. In short, quite a good choice for anyone who has ever seriously contemplated spending two grand on a Bang & Olufsen hi-fi.
What are we missing? Please tell us if you, or someone you know, deserves to be on this list of the best things to see and do in Dublin today, by mailing jesse [at] littlemuseum.ie