The Sweet Spot: Dublin

by  Christina Garofalo | Aug 23, 2017
Dublin / Lukas Bischoff/iStock

Ireland’s capital city has many claims to fame. Dublin was the Vikings’ largest and most important port, it is the home of Guinness, and one of few UNESCO cities of literature, home to Nobel laureates William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, and the setting of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Dubliners.

Today Dublin is a global city. Microsoft, Google, and Amazon have headquarters there. And with them, the city has seen continual prosperity and growth. In the next couple years, more than 3,000 new hotel rooms are being added—a 15 percent lift in hotel accommodation.

As a result, the cost of living (and touring) have definitely increased—Dublin is now the 13th most expensive city in the European Union—however it is still possible to sleep, eat, and see the city’s myriad sights for cheap. Read on for how to score the best value in Dublin.

The Perfect Time to Visit

May to June, September to October

Dublin, like much of Western Europe, has a temperate climate: cool summers (the average maximum temperature in July is 68 degrees) and mild winters (the average in January is 48).

Avoid high season in July and August, as well as festivals like St. Patrick’s Day. Instead, we suggest visiting in late spring (May to June), which are also the city’s sunniest months, or early fall (September to October) when the cost of hotels and flights are still low but the weather is decently warm.

Note that although October is, technically, the wettest month, rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year and -- due to Dublin's sheltered location -- it is the driest place in Ireland. However, no matter when you visit, never leave for a day of sightseeing without an umbrella.

The Cheapest Option

November to February

Rates are lowest during the coldest months -- from November through February. In winter, easterly winds make the city colder and more prone to snow. However, if you do experience snow, it is unlikely to last long enough to stick.

While temperatures drop to their lowest during January and December, it is still very manageable sightseeing weather, with temperatures generally in the mid to high 40s. Considering the significant savings on flights and accommodations during these months, it is a good option for budget travelers.

The Smart Place to Stay

While Dublin won’t see any new properties until 2018, many hotels have been renovating and adding extensions.

Hilton Dublin
The Hilton on Charlemont Place has added a new seven-story 97-room extension, bringing the property to a total of 305 chic, modern rooms. Overlooking the Grand Canal, the hotel is a 10-minute walk from St. Stephen's Green and Grafton Street, and a further five minutes to the River Liffey and Temple Bar. The Charlemont Luas stop on the light rail is right outside the hotel for easy access to South Dublin. The Hilton offers great value for travelers who value consistency – you know what you’re going to get – and for those who want to stay fairly central, yet avoid the late-night noise associated with the Temple Bar area. We found rates as low as $127 per night midweek in January, compared to rates in the mid-$200s most of the year.

The Westbury Hotel
The historic Westbury Hotel's 205 rooms have been revamped to include custom-designed furniture, Lissadell bedding, and aromatherapy products, as well as iPod docks and Nespresso machines. The property has two restaurants and a bar, however it’s most distinguishing feature is its traditional afternoon tea in the Gallery, overlooking Grafton Street (Dublin’s Fifth Avenue). Situated between Trinity College and St. Stephen’s Green, the hotel is within a five-minute walk to Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, and the Gaiety Theater. We found the lowest rates in the first week of January at $312 per night compared to $491 per night in the height of summer.

The Dylan
This summer, The Dylan celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a nearly $12 million renovation, including 28 new guestrooms. The posh 44-room hotel has contemporary interiors that include marble bathrooms and underfloor heating. Located in the hip Rathmines neighborhood, the Dylan is a short walk to trendy eateries and has its own chic bar and restaurant. It is within easy reach of the Aviva Stadium, the O2 concert venue, St. Stephens Green, and Grafton Street. We found rooms as low as $182 midweek in February and just slightly higher at $209 per night in November and December—less than half the rate in July, when it’s $487 per night.

What to See and Do

Guinness has been brewed at Dublin’s St. James's Gate Brewery since 1759. Now the Guinness Storehouse, the massive complex is the most visited attraction in Dublin -- since opening in 2000, it has received more than four million visitors. The multimedia-heavy self-guided tour is a bit overwhelming, but it’s worth going for a drink and photo at the rooftop Sky Bar.

Go for a picnic at St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin’s central park. It is one of three ancient commons in the city, and is home to memorials to Yeats, Joyce, and the Great Famine. In addition to the small lake and waterfall, there is a neat little garden for the blind with scented plants.

From there, stroll the adjacent Grafton Street -- one of the city’s main shopping areas.

Visit the medieval crypt below Christ Church Cathedral. It is the earliest surviving structure in the city and houses a mummified cat and rat, known locally as Tom and Jerry. If you can, catch a choir performance, lauded as the best in the country. They take place every day, except Mondays and Fridays.

Whiskey lovers shouldn’t miss the newly remodeled Jameson Distillery. Hour-long guided tours are extremely informative and conclude with a comparative tasting. The cocktail bar serves the best old fashioned in Dublin (and possibly the world) -- don’t miss it.

Wander the picturesque campus of Trinity College. Founded in 1592, it is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland and Ireland's oldest university.

Ireland is famous for its castles, and luckily you can see one right in Dublin. Erected in 1204 on the site of a Viking settlement, Dublin Castle served for centuries as the headquarters of English, then British, and eventually Irish government. It houses two museums, cafes and gardens, plus state rooms and a library. Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, worked here from 1866 to 1878.

The Kilmainham Gaol prison museum offers a lens into Ireland’s dark history from British occupation and the rebellion of 1798 to the Irish Civil War. Many of Ireland's political prisoners were incarcerated, tortured, and executed here.

If you have time, plan a day trip to Powerscourt House & Gardens, just under an hour by car from Dublin. The large country estate is noted for its house and its landscaped gardens. Though no longer directly connected to the estate, Powerscourt’s most famous attraction is the waterfall, which -- at nearly 400 feet -- is the highest in Ireland.

Explore Irish heritage and culture at the National Museum of Ireland.

Founded in 1191, Dublin’s Saint Patrick's Cathedral is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. With its 43-metre spire, it is also the tallest and largest church in all of Ireland.

At 1752 acres, Phoenix Park is one of the largest enclosed urban recreational spaces in Europe. On the grounds, you’ll find deer roaming forested areas and Victorian Tea Rooms, which serve tea and lunch.

Take a photo on the Ha’Penny bridge. Built in 1816, the distinct, white cast-iron bridge is a famous symbol of the city and is crossed by thousands of pedestrians daily.

For a proper castle, travel nine miles north of the city to Malahide. Built in 1175, it is one of the oldest castles in Ireland.

Dive into Dublin’s literary legacy at the Dublin Writers Museum, where you can see letters, books, and artifacts related to Bram Stoker, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, and W.B. Yeats, to name a few.

Die-hard Joyce fans should head 40 minutes south of the city to the James Joyce Tower and Museum, where the author stayed and his novel Ulysses begins. Inside, you’ll find personal possessions and rare editions of his work; from the roof there is a panoramic view across Dublin Bay.

You’ll hear mixed things about Temple Bar -- a touristy neighborhood lining the south bank of the River Liffey. Though it’s a popular area at night, you’ll be met with overpriced drinks and crowds of tourists. Opt to walk the area by day, and you’ll enjoy music spilling out of colorful pubs as you pop into artsy spots, like the the Temple Bar Music Centre, the Irish Film Institute, the Gutter Bookshop, and the Gallery of Photography.

Grab breakfast or brunch at hip eateries like Brother Hubbard or Legit Coffee Co., both of which serve high-quality coffee alongside creative omelets (think: green eggs, packed with spinach and goat cheese) and homemade baked goods.

Grab a pint at The Brazen Head, which claims to be the oldest bar in Ireland. Though the Guinness Book of World Records gave that accolade to Sean’s Bar (in the small town of Athlone), Brazen Head is still pretty darn historic -- established in 1158 -- and its flower-lined courtyard is a great place for a pint of Guinness and chips on a sunny afternoon.

For a taste of Dublin’s hip foodie scene, the triangle between Dame Street (near Dublin Castle) down to the intersection of York and Aungier Streets, up toward Grafton and back to Dame is home to a ton of restaurants, including Jaipur for Indian -- but that’s just scratching the surface.

For a traditional Irish sweet, snag a homemade apple scone from Queen of Tarts, one of the best known bakeries in Dublin.

Tips to Save More

Instead of taking a cab to and from the airport, hop on the Airlink Dublin Express Bus (€7 Euro or approx. $8 USD one way). Purchase a roundtrip ticket at the airport if you plan to fly out of Dublin to save more.

Many of the Dublin’s museums offer free admission, including the National Gallery's general collection, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and the National Museum of Decorative Arts and History.

Once you arrive, check the newspapers and radio for details on free events and entertainment.

The Hugh Lane Gallery on Parnell Square is free to enter and is home to artist Francis Bacon’s studio. Several of his paintings are also on display.

The Dublin Bus is one of the easiest and most economical ways to navigate the city. Note that the bus only accepts an exact fare, so do not overpay.

Or, navigate the city on two wheels with Dublinbikes, the city’s bike share program, which includes 44 terminals throughout the city center.

Familiarize yourself with the tipping etiquette:

In a taxi, just round up to the next euro or two on your fare; nothing more is expected.

Restaurants: You are not expected to tip, but if you had a good experience a good tip is 10 percent of the total bill.

At the bar: It is not necessary to tip the bartender when you order a drink (or even a round of drinks) in a pub. The only exception is if you’re sitting at the bar occupying a seat for a long time and/or eat a meal along with your drink.

If you eat at a cafe or restaurant where you order at the counter, no tip is necessary.

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