Why a random walk through Dublin can be gratifying
There are many different ways to approach sightseeing. Some pore over guidebooks, searching for star-rated sights and planning their every move; others seem lackadaisical and wait for others to do the planning for them. For a Monday in Dublin, I took the random approach by walking out of my hotel door and deciding to take what came to me as I wandered across the city.
When my friend and I arrived on Sunday, we were told that museums were closed on Mondays and, later, learned that Monday was also a bank holiday. It seemed like a perfect day to wander. (Plus, the sun was shining on Dublin, an extra bonus.)
1. Walk along the Liffey
Our hotel was in one of the more modern business districts of Dublin, across the Liffey from the convention center, about a 15-minute walk from sights, or a four-minute bus ride from Trinity College. I booked it online for a great price, but as luck would have it, it was a bit out of the middle of the action, but not too much.
2. An Irish breakfast
The first search was for an Irish breakfast. My path took me past row houses, hardware stores, auto repair shops, closed restaurants, grocery, and 99-pence stores. Eventually, a small deli packed with locals was serving sandwiches, scones, and coffee. I asked about where to find a full Irish breakfast and the owner said, "Right here."
So, we sat down for a plate of sausages, ham, rashers, blood pudding, potatoes, tomatoes, and a sunny-side-up egg with coffee. The owner, an immigrant from Bulgaria with a heavy Eastern European accent, directed us toward the center of tourist action, about three hundred yards up Pearse Street past Restland Row, where Oscar Wilde used to live.
3. Trinity College
We made it eventually to the main entrance of Trinity College, which was bustling. We were surprised when we found that the tours were running and that the Book of Kells exhibition was opened. Plus, the Bank of Ireland, with its original Irish Parliament room, across the street from Trinity, was open as well.
4. The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells is one of the most amazing examples of illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages. The Kells Abbey was plundered and pillaged by Vikings many times in the 10th century, and how the book survived is not known. Some historians say that these manuscripts conserved western civilization and allowed it to be passed throughout Europe. The detail of the illustrations, the calligraphy, the complexity of the design and decoration is amazing. The swirls of saints, animals, humans, and monsters all surrounded by Celtic designs is inspiring.
Later, we headed out the Nassau Street gate of the college and wandered into the Kilkenny Design Center, and later paused for a cup of coffee with a scone (which, by the way, are wonderful! I remember them as being horrible, dry and almost inedible without tea to wash them down, from travel in Ireland and Britain 25 years ago).
5. The National Gallery
The guide at Trinity confirmed that most museums in town would be closed, but noted that the Irish National Gallery was open today. So, after our coffee, we strolled the 100-or-so yards to visit their collection.
I love local regional and national art collections. They provide a glimpse into the soul of towns and countries that is lost in the giant museums that fight for top art of "Western Civilization." Ireland's National Gallery has one wing filled with Irish artists and scenes and a second wing with some impressive Western Civilization pieces. But, my favorite is the Irish section.
The paintings show the faces of the old and wrinkled, the young and playful, the devout and praying, the dead and dying, the naked and the clothed. From a delightful painting of a group of young children playing soldier to a sad family boating to a funeral, few pieces of art show everyday life and its universality better than this local Irish art.
6. Grafton Street
After the National Gallery, we wandered along Grafton Street with its flower stands, pubs and fancy shops. We turned down the narrow Johnson's Court and zigged to the left and right down Coppinger Row, then zagged left on Castle Market and strolled straight to George's Arcade. There, under a glass roof, crowded stalls were filled with everything from gourmet Italian pesto to artsy postcards and Irish linens to window drapes.
Earlier, we had walked past several restaurants that seemed to be interesting for dinner. We decided to work our way back toward Trinity College, walk along Nassau Street, and find a finer restaurant that was serving an early dinner at a bargain price.
7. A pint in a pub
On the way, we stopped in at Grogan's Pub (15 Williams Street) that was filled with locals enjoying a pause during their shopping for a wee pint or so. After settling in the snug for a pint of Guinness, a dram of whiskey and a bit of "craic," we found our way back to Grafton Street.
8. A restaurant renaissance in Dublin
The day began turning to dusk and a fine mist began to spray. Huddled against the raw elements we found friendly-looking restaurant only to learn that we had to wait another 15 minutes until opening time. So, we tucked into The Blarney Inn (1-2 Nassau Street) next door for another pint.
Learn the history behind hidden gems.
All in all, not a bad day of touring for a couple who were clueless about what they would see when they awakened. Sometimes, random discoveries do the trick. But, I would still recommend reading up on history and local lore so when you discover a hidden gem you have some idea of the story behind it.
Photos from Wikipedia
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 14 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.