I fell in love with Dublin this summer. It’s gritty and it’s charming and buzzing with an energy unlike anywhere else. It has cobblestone streets and centuries-old buildings with flowers that drip down from their windowsills. It’s home to a people made up of storytellers and musicians.
My parents lived in Dublin in the 80s while they were in their early twenties with my two young sisters. When I walked through the streets this August, I couldn’t help but wonder what the city was like for them then. In my dad’s words, it was “bustling, grey, and on the upswing.”
And on the upswing it was—in the mid-1990s to the late 2000s, Ireland was in the era of the “Celtic Tiger,” a time of rapid economic growth fueled by foreign investment. With the influx of wealth and international presence, the socioeconomic profile of the country, namely Dublin, changed. Decades later, I’d say that my dad’s words still ring true today. Dublin is indeed bustling, most certainly grey (but with lots of pops of color!), and, after the severe economic downturn that brought down the head of the Celtic Tiger, certainly on the upswing again.
If you’re interested in a good book about Dublin, I suggest reading The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. Depicted so vibrantly throughout the book, the city might as well be a main character. It’s a beautiful read that, I think, does a good job of painting Ireland and its changes over the last 50 years.
If you’re going to Dublin (lucky you!), below are my recommendations on what to eat, drink, and do in the city. Dublin has a lot to offer! It’s a beautiful place that’s easily walkable—I was able to find my way around without a map by the end of my second day there. If you’re an early riser like me, you’ll get the benefit of visiting a lot of the sites (like Temple Bar and St. Stephen’s Green) without the crowds. Many of these recommendations came from friends and family members and were tested by yours truly this past summer. Enjoy!
Cocu should be your go-to if you’re looking for a quick, healthy, and delicious meal. It’s a pretty simple and straightforward menu—you build your plate off of a protein, plant, and grain. This was my first meal in Dublin, and it felt great to start out healthy!
Delahunt is elegant, upscale, and comfortable all at once. Set in a beautiful historic Victorian home on Camden Street, its inventive and local menu has earned a Michelin bib for the past three years. It’d be perfect for a romantic night out with your significant other!
The Cake Cafe - hidden behind bamboo shoot doors along a nondescript alley, this place is a little garden oasis in the center of Dublin. There’s indoor and outdoor seating, lots of overgrown greenery, and a cute little resident dog that keeps watch. I didn’t have any cake, but enjoyed a beautiful seasonal salad with peaches and local sheep’s milk cheese while reading my book and I kind of felt like I was in Alice in Wonderland.
Sophie's is on the top floor of the Dean Hotel and offers the best views in Dublin! The food is great and the setting is divine—can you ask for anything better?
Hey Donna is the cutest, trendiest spot to score beautifully prepared Middle Eastern eats and innovative cocktails. A pretty casual setting with long communal benches and pops of color throughout its brightly lit walls, Hey Donna is a great place for a girls’ dinner or weekend brunch.
Neon had the best Thai/Asian Fusion food I’ve had in a while—and, coming from the Bay Area, that says something. I may or may not have gotten takeout from here twice during my six days in Dublin.
Bunsen - when a coworker recommended this burger joint to me, she dared to say it was better than In-N-Out, and after going there myself, I wholly agree. There are a few locations throughout the city—I ate at the Temple Bar spot and wasn’t disappointed. The menu is the size of a business card (so cute), and the burgers were simple and good. I’m craving one as I type this!
Green Bench Cafe - okay, this is the only spot on my list that I didn’t actually go to, but that’s because they were on summer holiday while I was in town. They’re known for having the best sandwiches in Dublin, and so many people recommended this place to me that I know it has to be good!
Blackbird - any Peaky Blinders fans out there? Because as soon as I stepped inside of Blackbird, I felt like I was about to run into 1920s gangster Tommy Shelby at the bar (unfortunately, no run-in was had. Sigh). Its dark, candlelit setting with rock music coming over the sound system while bartenders poured out craft cocktails instantly won me over. Plus, it has a great back patio. Long story short, this place is cool and you should go.
Against the Grain has an impressive craft beer menu — I was so happy to see that they had Founders on tap! It’s a super large space (there are…3 floors?) but gets crowded - so get in there for your pint after work quickly!
The Brazen Head is supposedly the oldest pub in Ireland and definitely a good place to grab a pint. It gets crowded, though, so try going on an off-night (or day!).
O’Donoghue’s - I was actually in this place years ago when I was on a trip to Ireland with my family. They’re known for a great pint of Guinness and live trad music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Visit The Long Room at the Library of Trinity College Dublin - bibliophiles, this is for you! The Long Room is one of the most magical libraries, ever. There are over 200,000 volumes in 20+ languages here, organized by size, with big books on the bottom shelf and small books on top. I had to restrain myself from climbing one of the many ladders to the top of the shelves, but other than that, was simply thrilled to be in the presence of so many old books. Note that you do have to buy tickets to enter the Long Room, and an earlier ticket time will be better for smaller crowds.
Walk through St. Stephen's Green, a 22-acre historical park and garden located in city center. It’s a lovely place to go and catch your breath in the hustle and bustle of the city. Go for a stroll, bring a book and sit on a park bench, or, if you’re feeling up for it, use the park for an early morning run! I did notice quite a few tours happening throughout the park, so if you’re keen on hearing about its role in the 1916 Easter Rising or how Queen Victoria’s request to rename it after her beloved husband was rejected, try and book a tour in advance.
Temple Bar, though one of the most crowded parts of the city, is worth a visit! The cobblestoned pedestrian lanes and brightly-colored buildings are charming, regardless of the crowds. It’s also an area where you're certain to find live music any night of the week. Want to skip the crowds and forgo the bar? Walk through the area in the early morning (before 8:30am), and you’ll get to explore the area all by yourself.