From free art collections and budget hotels to the best fish-and-chips and the burger joint where Sinead O'Connor was a waitress (allegedly), here are my tips for getting to know Dublin cheaply
Dublin is one of the most enjoyable cities to visit in Europe. The centre is compact, so it's a breeze getting to most places on foot. The amenities are world-class: the museums, playhouses, shopping, restaurants and hotels can stand comparison with those in any major European city. Yet there is something very different and special about Dublin: everyone wants to have a good time. This, after all, is the city that brought the world Guinness.
Things to do
Most people know about the Book of Kells (the illuminated manuscript in the Old Library at Trinity College) and the Guinness Storehouse (at the St James's Gate brewery), which are great. However, here are two alternatives for escaping the tourist hordes.
Chester Beatty Library (+353 1 407 0750, www.cbl.ie). Lurking behind the walls of Dublin Castle in the city centre, this unexpected treasure trove houses manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings and rare books assembled by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. The collection comes from all over the world – Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Look out in particular for the earliest known copies of the four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, the Letters of St Paul, the Book of Revelation and other early Old Testament fragments. And the best bit? Admission is free.
The DART (www.irishrail.ie). Ride the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) commuter train from Howth to the city centre to Bray and back again for breathtaking coastal views of Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea. Stop off in Dalkey for lunch – one of the most pleasant towns in Ireland, and only minutes from the centre of Dublin. All this for the price of a train ticket (€4.20 return).
Where to stay
Dublin used to be an expensive place to visit, with hotel room rates among the highest in Europe. Luckily, that is changing and there are incredible bargains to be had – if you know where to look.
The location of the Arlington Hotel could not be better. It is right on the River Liffey, a few metres from the centre of Dublin – O'Connell Bridge. Even though it is so central, it retains a quiet and laid-back atmosphere. The rooms are large and clean, and the staff are really helpful. There is a lively bar (with Irish dancing nightly) downstairs. A good perk for drivers is that free parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis. I paid €80 per night, without breakfast.
The School House Hotel is located in Dublin's most exclusive area, Ballsbridge. It used to be an expensive place to stay but, since the downturn, has become very affordable. I paid about €90 without breakfast. The hotel, as its name suggests, is a renovated school and dates back to the 1860s. The rooms are full of character – interesting roof lines and windows unchanged since it was a school. Blackboards, desks and sharpened pencils abound, bringing back memories of their school days to nostalgic guests. Again, there is free parking.
Another cheap hotel in a great location, just around the corner from O'Connell Street, is Jury's Inn Parnell Street. More modern in character than the two above, it is reminiscent of a good-quality American chain hotel. Parking is not included but, from this location, you can walk to most of the main Dublin attractions. The hotel has a restaurant, bar and coffee shop.
The Ardmore Hotel is the nicest cheap hotel in Dublin, a 30-minute walk (or 10 minutes by taxi) from the city centre in the residential North suburb of Glasnevin. It provides clean, modern and spacious accommodation for a fraction of the cost of similar hotels (currently f€40) – great for longer stays, or if you are planning to rent a car. Underground parking is free, and facilities include a restaurant and a bar. Request room 301 or 401 – the largest, with corner floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Croke Park Hotel (+353 1 871 4444, www.doylecollection.com) is a four-star hotel that charges a two- or three-star rate. Located across the road from the national Gaelic Games stadium, Croke Park, this is a stylish hotel with large rooms. It is about a 20-minutes walk from the city centre. All the amenities are here: car parking, on-site gym, restaurant, bar and in-room mini-bar. I paid €70 for my room, but rates fluctuate.
Who would expect to find a castle on a list of cheap hotels? Well the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel is just that – and it's cheap. Set in Killiney, a seaside town just a 20-minute drive south of Dublin city centre, it has large, comfortable rooms with just enough castle charm without making you shiver. You will probably want a car if you stay here, and there is free parking – plus all the amenities you would expect of a large hotel: pool, fitness centre, two restaurants and a bar. I stayed recently for €70.
Where to eat
Eating out can be expensive in Dublin, but it doesn't have to be if you know where to look. If you're not close to one of these great choices, keep an eye out for "early bird specials" that offer great value if you order before 6.30 or 7pm.
Ristorante Romano (+353 1 8726868; 12 Capel St). This is good, cheap Italian food – pizzas, pastas, salad. The lunch special is legendary – €10 for two courses plus tea or coffee.
Leo Burdock's (+353 1 4540306, www.leoburdocks.com; 2 Werburgh St). Amazing fish and chips that have a real cult following among Dubliners – both regular Joes and famous faces (Bono, Liam Neeson). Eat your cod and chips on the go as you stroll around town.
The Bad Ass Café (+353 1 6712596, www.badasscafe.com; Crown Alley). If you're in the mood for a great, greasy burger, look no further than this – a Dublin institution that continues to proclaim (to anyone who will listen) that Sinead O'Connor once waitressed here. Good location, right in Temple Bar.
Where to drink
With all the money you've saved, you deserve a pint (or two). Here are my two favourites in the city.
McDaid's (3 Harry Street). Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh were regular visitors – and if you want to soak up some of their literary genius, there is still very much a writerly vibe in this fantastic, small pub just off Grafton Street.
The Gravediggers – aka John Kavanagh (1 Prospect Square, Glasnevin). Located just outside the city centre beside the Glasnevin Cemetery (hence the name), this pub hasn't changed one iota in decades (centuries, even, as it was established in 1833). Dark, warm, tiny – the perfect Dublin pub.