Thursday, June 23, 2011

What to See and Do in Dublin

What to see and do:

O’Connell Street
One of the only things we did on the North side of the bridge, O’Connell Street is worth a stroll, if even just on your way to dinner. After the cobbled, windy and narrow streets of many inner city suburbs, the expanse that is O’Connell Street gives you a whole new perspective. The wide centre median, which many people use as a third footpath, has several important statues on it, and the street itself is not only home to many great Irish Bars but our favourite Eddie Rockets branch too.

Temple Bar
Reknowned as the place to be if you want to eat drink and be merry, Temple Bar finds itself on many must-do lists. We never partied in Dublin so our perspective on Temple Bar is slightly different. After the open nature of O’Connell Street, the suburb of Temple Bar is a 180 degree difference, looking and feeling like you thought Dublin would. Narrow alleys, cobbled streets and handpainted signs amongst the professional jobs, all hanging from red brick walls and surrounded by hanging baskets of flowers. And it doesn’t hurt to take your photo at the iconic Temple Bar pub itself.

Guinness Storehouse
Even though I didn’t love every second of the visit, Courtney did, and it’s worth a look. The tour is not of the actual brewery, although the brewery apparently covers 50 acres of land surrounding the Storehouse and you can see the steam and procession plants from the top. It’s better to refer to the tour as that of an exhibition rather than a brewery. It’s very well done, with audio, video, touch and taste aspects. The roasted barley tastes like burnt coffee by the way, but the Guinness taster and the full pint you get for free at the top make up for it. I guess the Storehouse could do with being a little more concise. Courtney had no issues but I got a little bored, not helped by the crowds. The bar on the 4th level does a really lovely lunch for a decent price and the 360 degree view of the entire city from the 5th level is an awesome way to wind down after a couple of hours in the often dimly lit exhibits.

Grafton Street
Although obviously aimed at tourists, Grafton Street is awesome. On the South side of the river and a stones throw from Trinity College (which according to a Taxi driver is worth a day to visit, but we didn’t go), Grafton Street has the best selection of shops we found outside a mall. The street itself is picturesque, and the street performers are what makes the visit worthwhile. There are a lot of them, dotted down the centre of this no-drive zone. You’ll also find another Eddie Rockets branch on a side street here.

National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology
There are several arms of the National Museum dotted around the city, but the Archaeology and National History arms are an easy stroll from both Grafton Street and Trinity College (and not far from Temple Bar). We went specifically out of a morbid curiosity to see the eerily preserved Bog Bodies – 4 examples of people that were killed in various fashions and then thrown in the bog pits of Ireland. They then lay there for thousands of years, where a combination of factors meant that when they were discovered they looked like distorted, leathery but creepily similar versions of themselves. We loved this particular exhibit – the 4 bodies are in separate cave-like rooms within the hall, so you don’t have to see anything you don’t want to see, but there are also objects and even perfectly preserved and restored fur cloaks that have been pulled from the bog, and a video showing how one of the bodies was processed and preserved. It’s really weird seeing a thousand year old body’s skin being lifted because although the preserved bodies are hard, when they come out of the bog they’re soft. Also in the Archaeology museum are exhibits of Vikings, Medieval Ireland, Gold in Ireland and Egyptian Mummies. The Museum is free and although we didn’t visit the other arms of the National Museum, we’ll say with obvious bias that this is the best to visit. It’s not too big so your visit can be as long or short as you want, and it has enough dead bodies (bog, mummy, Viking), gold jewellery and ancient weaponry to interest most people at least for a little while.

Things not to do

Walk in St James Gate by yourself, looking like a tourist, or at any time of night.
This is the area that the Guinness Brewery is in, but we found out as we walked there and when we looked it up afterwards that it’s one of the dodgiest areas of Dublin. It looked and felt it and while we didn’t have any trouble, it’s apparently the place to be if you’re looking to rob someone (or deal drugs or sell yourself).

Visit Kilmainham Gaol if you’re short on time.
This is not to say the gaol isn’t worth a visit but it’s not a must-see if you are short on time. The tour is cool but it doesn’t have very many of the quirky, gruesome or curious stories that make a tour of this nature worthwhile. Rest assured if you’ve done a similar tour where actors are paid you scare you, that won’t happen here. If you’re a museum-type there are several levels of exhibits to view as well which have more of the interesting stories but we visited after a day at Guinness so we were a little exhibited-out and only looked at the first level. Entry is only 6 Euro so it’s good value for money compared to many attractions. Bare in mind the Gaol is ages away from anything and that it’s nowhere near as close to the Guinness Brewery as the tourist maps would have you believe. It’s a cheap taxi from Guinness, or a bus from anywhere else.

What I would have done differently

The Hop-on-hop-off Bus
This is a double decker bus that does a continuous loop of the city over and over again all day, with running commentary from the driver-slash-guide. It passes all major attractions, including going as far out as Guinness and Kilmainham, and fills in the gaps in between. We saw the bus on our first day but the one we saw (there are a few) which we think is the cheapest, was 16 Euro for a two day pass. Since we were at the tail end of our Irish adventures and therefore the tail end of our Irish money*we didn’t think the 16 Euro was justified (I think Courts had 28 Euro total and I had about 60). In hindsight and after many hours of walking, getting lost and a we’re-tired-and-lost argument, it would have totally been worth it, even if we had to eat bread and butter for two days.

The Viking Duck
There is an amphibious vehicle (shaped kind of like a duck and in this case, viking themed) that does tours of Dublin. They drive around the streets and then plunge into the River Liffey and eventually back out again. Everytime they passed us they looked like they were having so much fun, and having done a duck tour in Australia I knew it was genuine so I really wanted to do it but alas, we were totally out of money.

*The first day of a new city, we take out all our budgeted money for that city. If we run out of money in a city, there is no more. This way a city can run out, but the trip never will. Knock on wood. Oh and we combined all of Ireland as one ‘city’ budget-wise since we were only there a week. Also Guinness was prepaid so not affected by our lack of funds.

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