Ireland - modern day Dublin is not just about the noisy Temple Bar and overcrowded Guinness Storehouse. If you want to see the swanky and smart side of the city, head for the Docklands
About ten years ago the Docklands area in Dublin was derelict. Nowadays it shines with modern glass buildings, fancy lighting, and boasts trendy bars and restaurants.
Things to do and see
The Docklands quarter is only minutes away from the city centre. If you start your walk along the quays on the north side of the river Liffey, past the Custom House, you will see the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) on your left and the Famine Memorial on your right. Ahead of you will be the new harp-shaped Samuel Beckett Bridge, which connects the north part of the Docklands with the south side.
Once you cross the Samuel Beckett Bridge you’ll see the Ferryman Hotel and pub, a quaint little reminder of the old style Dublin. Pop in for a pint of the auld good black stuff but remember, the Docklands area is about modern urban living, so head past the elegant office buildings and apartment blocks in direction of the Grand Canal Square, which was build in 2007. There used to be gallows in this dock where they hang pirates and thieves well into the 19th century. Apparently, they left the bodies on view for up to a year!
No such things here these days and the square is the most relaxed and quiet in the Docklands quarter. On a sunny day (which happens in Dublin more often than you might think!) you can feed swans, ducks and the loud seagulls that live here, have a picnic on one of the benches and enjoy one of the most striking landscape designs in Ireland. In the evening, when the square is beautifully lit with blue and green pavement lights, and the blinking red sticks by the waterfront, it looks somewhat futuristic.
The ‘red carpet’ pavement leads to the new Grand Canal Theatre that is due to open in March 2010. It will present musicals, opera, ballet, and will have the facility to accommodate world class West End and Broadway productions for the first time in Ireland.
Beside the theatre is a new 5-star hotel that was once described by a national newspaper as a building that will “bring the champagne fizz back into architecture in Dublin”. It might have brought the fizz but with the current credit crunch it will be a while till it starts bringing any cash to the city.
Another glorious reminder of the Celtic tiger extravagance is the Alto Vetro, a splendid tower with 26 apartments in Grand Canal Quay, across the road from the square. It is Ireland’s first residential block made entirely from glass. The views of Dublin Bay and the city from the luxurious apartments are incredible but only appreciated by a few people as most of the apartments in the Alto Vetro remain unoccupied. In better days the penthouse dwelling in the building was on the rental market for 8,000 euros a month!
The only one-storey building left in the area is number nine, Hanover Quay, by the water. This is where the U2 recording studio is, however they were asked to vacate the premises as the building is going to be knocked down to make way for urban living, which is a shame as it is part of the city’s history. The old shabby building does look out of place in this swanky quarter but the bright graffiti by the band’s fans covering the wall across the road add to its character.
There is an official walking trail, which covers about 5km of the quarter. The Docklands Development Authority offers a map but it only gives a rough idea of the area without any indication of places of interest.
Where to eat
The Docklands seems to have the highest concentration of great eateries and young trendy professionals per square metre in the whole of Dublin!
The best pancakes in the city are made here, in Herbstreet (Hanover Quay, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin 2; 016753875; www.herbstreet.ie). Try the blueberry ones with orange and honey butter, and you’ll want to move into this neighbourhood! The restaurant does everything to be as environmentally-friendly as possible: they use mostly local ingredients, all the lights are energy-saving and the chairs are vintage.
A few doors up is ely hq (Hanover Quay; 016339986; www.elywinebar.ie), a gastro pub with a fantastic wine list. It is quintessentially modern Dublin: sleek and expensive. Their other venue, ely chq brasserie (Custom House Quay, Dublin 1; 016720010; www.elywinebar.ie) across the river on the north side of the Docklands, is based in a 19th century warehouse and is more atmospheric.
The continental style bakery and cafe Il Valentino (5 Gallery Quay; 016331100; www.ilvalentino.ie) is a family business that supplies the locals with artisan breads and pastries. Their rich Italian hot chocolate and scrumptious ricottini are unforgettable!
KC Peaches (Trinity Enterprise Centre, Unit 10A, Pearse St; 016770333; www.kcpeaches.com), across the road from Il Valentino, might not offer the meticulous craftsmanship and quality of their neighbour but they serve gigantic omelettes and generous salads that offer the best value in the area.
Where to stay
Maldron Hotel Cardiff Lane (Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2) is located in the heart of the Docklands and has spacious bright rooms from €59.
Clarion Hotel Dublin IFSC (International Financial Services Centre, Dublin 1) is only a short stroll from the city centre, however, make sure you are heading in the right direction as there are some seedy areas just nearby.
The Ferryman Hotel (35 Sir John Rogerson's Quay) is above the Ferryman pub. It is family-run and housed in two listed Georgian buildings. The 20 rooms are a little tired and very simple but offer the old-Dublin charm.