Dublin's hotspots

by Francesca.Syz

Dublin makes for one of the most enjoyable short breaks in Europe - and now, for the first time in a decade, there are bargains to be had

Few can dispute the friendliness of the Irish. It's no big mystery; they’re just nicer than the rest of us. And, in general, less uptight. While the current financial climate is hitting hard, they’ve weathered worse and they’ll weather this.
Visitors to Dublin are always shocked to discover that it’s every bit as expensive as London, but niceness and cheapness don’t necessarily go hand in hand. However, for the first time in a decade, Dublin hotels are dropping their prices. Book online and you’ll make an even greater saving. In that respect, there has never been a better time to visit.
Just an hour’s flying time from London, Dublin has it all. Gorgeous Georgian architecture, great art galleries, theatres, boutiques, restaurants and pubs and great swathes of coastline with proper sandy beaches just a short hop from the very compact, easy-to-navigate city centre. The River Liffey slices Dublin in half and provides a good navigational reference point, as does nearby Trinity College.

Where to stay

Ten years ago, Dublin had few great hotels to speak of but today, there’s something for everyone. Tucked down a leafy residential street a 15-minute stroll from Trinity College, the 44-room Dylan Hotel is Dublin’s hotel of the moment. Its restaurant, Stills, serves innovative modern Irish food in a decadent dining room and its bar is one of the most popular spots for a mojito. The night I was in there, we spotted Keira Knightley and Daniel Radcliffe at first glance.
For something more central, the Clarence Hotel is sandwiched between the River Liffey and Temple Bar. Originally opened and still part-owned by Bono and the Edge, it’s a sophisticated, understated establishment and is about to expand sideways into a neighbouring waterfront property. There’s always a party atmosphere at the ground floor Octagon Bar.
The Shelbourne Hotel, right on historic St Stephen’s Green, is a Dublin institution, which even gets a mention in James Joyce’s Ulysses. A recent refurbishment has kept the spirit of the hotel intact while giving the whole place a much-needed face-lift. Knock back champagne and oysters in the new Oyster Bar or hide away in the brilliantly moody, historic Horseshoe Bar, which hasn’t changed one bit.
It may be just 10 years old but The Merrion feels like its been there for centuries – in a good way. Inhabiting a row of four Georgian mansions, the hotel’s best rooms feature working fireplaces, vaulted ceilings and exquisite antiques and the ground floor is a series of elegant drawing rooms with open fires, perfect for afternoon tea.
For a wholly originally accommodation option, try the Irish Landmark Trust, which restores and rents out ‘at risk’ buildings of historic or architectural interest. The three-bedroom 25 Eustace Street is a fabulous Georgian panelled townhouse just moments from Temple Bar in the heart of Dublin, and comes with its very own grand piano.

What to do

For those who want to, there’s plenty to see and do in Dublin. Call in at the Hugh Lane Gallery,  home to Ireland’s foremost collection of modern and contemporary art and Francis Bacon’s wonderfully chaotic studio, moved piece by piece from its original London location when he died. Drop by the gallery café for a glass of wine on the way out. Head to The National Gallery of Ireland (on Merrion Square), which houses the national collection of Irish art and other international gems including an only recently-discovered Caravaggio and a great bookshop. You should also wander through Trinity College, where Educating Rita was filmed, to the Long Room at its Old Library, home to the Book of Kells, one of the world’s earliest surviving manuscripts.

Where to eat 

The city’s culinary scene has never been better. Native Dubliner and king of Irish cooking, Richard Corrigan has just opened an outpost of London’s Bentley’s on St Stephen’s Green; needless to say it's been an instant success. For delicious organic Irish food with French influences, head to Chapter One in Parnell Square. Others of note include Locks (1, Windsor Terrace); the tapas and wine bar, Port House (64A South William Street) and Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud at the Merrion Hotel, which holds two Michelin stars and serves modern takes on the Irish classics. For an atmospheric slice of historic Dublin, head to the excellent Winding Stair on Lower Ormond Quay, upstairs from a bookshop of the same name, selling new and secondhand books. If it’s a hangover cure you’re after, you can do no better than Elephant & Castle on Temple Bar, whose chicken wings with blue cheese sauce are legendary.

Where to drink 

No weekend in Dublin is complete without spending a good part of it in the pub, preferably drinking Guinness. Probably the city’s most famous pub is the Stag’s Head on Dame Court, where they’ve been pulling pints of Guinness since 1890. Even though everyone knows about it, it still feels like a hidden gem. Alternatively, try Kehoe’s (9 South Anne Street), a cosy local’s local with bags of character. For something more sophisticated, there’s Wine Upstairs (TriBeCa, 65 Ranelagh).

Out of town 

For a breath of fresh air, catch the Dart (Dublin’s over-ground equivalent of the tube) to Killiney, the fashionable south Dublin coastal suburb whose residents include Bono, the Edge and Van Morrison. Walk through Killiney Hill Park to Dalkey for a pint at Finnigan’s before hopping back on the Dart to central Dublin.