Arriving to Dublin Airport, the mysterious mist and fog welcomed me to Ireland. Once the car was hired, I was off to Dublin while enjoying the challenge always encountered when faced with driving on the left side of the road. Avis is always a great option with their loyalty programs and upgrades, so that between my membership with them and my FoundersCard membership, I received a nice upgrade to the BMW with built in navigation. Navigation is always priceless, and much better than the additional GPS units offered to the standard car rentals. Additionally, trying to avoid using the iphone while traveling internationally to reduce roaming data charges, the built in GPS, diesel economy and extra room found in their Signature Series by Avis makes for a winning combination when renting internationally.
While the drive into Dublin was fairly uneventful and an easy ride, it was entering the city for the first time that brought about a few entertaining challenges. Feeling a bit like Chevy Chase from National Lampoon’s European Vacation on occasion with his famous line of, “Hey look kids, there’s Big Ben, and there’s Parliament,” it was never-the-less a great way to see the city. Like so many European cities I know well, the street signs are difficult to find as they are often on the sides of the buildings, or simply nonexistent; and many look to have not been replaced in a few hundred years. After a few wrong turns and navigating the small residential streets, the navigation system and I finally agreed upon the destination… arriving in front of the Dylan Hotel at Eastmoreland Place in Dublin 4 in still less than an hour after leaving the airport.
The hotel proved to be a fantastic solution for several nights, with the over-sized suits, state-of-the-art amenities and updated furnishing made for a very comfortable stay. While it’s certainly a healthy walk to destinations such as Grafton Street and beyond to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin 8 and further out to the Guinness Storehouse, I enjoyed the walk among the neighborhoods with plenty of local flavor. The staff at the hotel proved to go above and beyond and were always helpful during the stay. My favorite element of the property was their outdoor patio – especially this time of the year with minimal rain being received during my visit. On the patio, I was able to order drinks and food from their pub menu while enjoying the fresh air. Beyond the guests, it was obvious that many of the locals also enjoyed the patio, pub and more formal dining and afternoon tea options at the Dylan. While all of the food was enjoyable during the stay, their Dylan Burger with amazingly savory caramelized onions was sensational, and paired perfectly with a pint of Guinness (they automatically serve the burger well done, so I suggest you ask the chef for medium).
The days and nights in Dublin proved to be very enjoyable… while simply getting lost among the streets and local culture. Grafton Street was an immediate favorite destination with an eclectic mix of modern stores; traditional shops; unique boutiques; dozens of great eateries including pubs, restaurants, coffee shops; which all came with plenty of local flavor with the performing artists, flower stands and genuine locals. Having several days to fully explore Dublin, I dedicated one day to walking the streets and seeing the major sights, which according to my fitbit band, resulted in a 19-mile day of walking, eating, shopping and exploring… along with a few local coffee shops for a necessary soy latte along the way, and a few pints of their beloved Guinness. Beyond Grafton Street (and the many side streets), the areas of Trinity College and Temple Bar provided more great shopping towards the River Liffey, and even over the bridges to O’Connell Street continued to introduce more culture, shopping and eateries. It was clear a few days was simply not enough time to properly experience Dublin.
Not wanting to give-in too often to “favorites” for tourists, I did find myself in front of a Leo Burdoch’s Fish and Chips location in the area of Christ Church, Dublin Castle and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (2 Werburgh Street – Christchurch – Dublin 8). Taking the advice of a dear friend who spent years consulting to both Aer Lingus and Tourism Ireland, I proceeded to order the fish and chips that was served fresh, generously seasoned with malt vinegar and salt, and then wrapped in paper and bagged to go (there is no place to sit – only order and go). While the chips were nothing to write home about, the fish was by far the best I’ve ever eaten with a slight sweet flavor that combined with the malt vinegar and salt with absolute perfection! The fish was only enhanced because I walked a few blocks over to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and enjoyed my lunch while sitting in their garden and watched the locals and tourists alike mingle about this picture-perfect corner of Dublin.
Shopping in Dublin is rather sophisticated with department stores such as Brown Thomas and Marks & Spencer; set among the infinite numbers of stores offering not only the must-have souvenir items to take back for friends and family, but items such as the famous Irish wool and crystal. Of course, you have a dozen options of locations to buy your favorite Guinness underwear and shirts for gifts, but a few locations proved to have the best variety at the best prices for those looking to buy and/or buy and ship gifts. I found the Temple Bar gifts were a little overpriced on many of the items, and preferred the variety and prices for both standard souvenirs and local items at Carrolls Irish Gifts at Ballast House on Westmoreland Street (Dublin 2). For a huge selection of great crystal and other items (with a fair option for flat rate shipping on items), I was very impressed with the merchandise and service at The Kilkenny Shop at 6 Nassau Street (Dublin 2). For the must-have sweater, just a few doors down at 30 Nassau Street, The Sweater Shop had some of the best prices and variety, and also offered fair shipping.
Overall, Dublin proved to be even more enjoyable than expected, thanks largely to the locals who know the true meaning of hospitality, and the ideal weather conditions I experienced during my stay. The restaurants and pubs proved to be even more “active” than normal with the Gaelic Football National Championship coinciding with my visit, and found that a majority of the local restaurants are great for the authentic pub experience at lunch since they tend to get a little loud by the evening. Coincidentally, Kerry won the Gaelic Football championship, which is where I am going next on this journey, so feel certain I will be seeing much more green and yellow…