The city centre of Ireland’s vibrant capital combines a cosmopolitan air with small town conviviality. It is perfectly possible to amble through its streets without having to hop on a bus or into a taxi and to bump into an old friend for a chat along your way.
Tourists may pour into trendy Temple Bar or onto the city’s main shopping area of Grafton Street. But it is on the winding alleyways that spiral off these thoroughfares where you can find the real gems at the heart of the city. Here’s how to do Dublin City Centre…like a local.
Coffee shops and cafés
Take a short walk from Grafton Street onto South William Street and you will find Lemon, where you can kick off the day with a crepe, omelette, sandwich or pastry washed down with a gourmet cup of coffee. To ensure plenty of stamina, try a power-plus crepe with spinach, cheddar, bacon, fresh chives and garlic mayo. For those with a sweeter tooth, savour the buttermilk-stacked pancakes with seasonal fruit toppings and Canadian maple syrup. Gluten-free crepes are available and made with buckwheat based pancake mix.
Tea and coffee aficionados shouldn’t miss a chance to pop into the Clement and Pekoe. Inside you can find spacious, chic surroundings with walls stacked with boxes of loose tea and coffee that you can peruse at your leisure.
If you are in need of a mid-morning snack but want a guilt-free indulgence, don’t miss a visit to Blazing Salads, a wholefood deli with a range of sin-free cakes. Refined sugar is eschewed in favour of natural sweeteners including agava syrup, apple concentrate and maple syrup. Other wholesome ingredients include organic flours, unbleached almonds, seeds and nuts, unbleached oils, sundried fruits, free-range eggs. We recommend the banana and walnut cake drizzled with dark chocolate.
After that hearty fare, take a short walk to the sumptuous surroundings within the Powerscourt Shopping Centre. Marvel at the stunning architecture of this 18th century building while wandering through unique boutiques, accessory shops and antique galleries. The Design Centre showcases the latest creations from Irish designers including John Rocha, Roisin Leenane, Synan O’ Malley and Philip Treacey. Kennedy & MacSharry and Genius cater for style-conscious men.
Antique hunters can meander through Courtville Antiques and Delphi Antiques for the perfect find. Green-fingered travellers can while away some time amid the floral creations and botanical treats in The Garden and The Bonsai Shop. If you are in the mood for some history and fact finding, a tour of the building can be booked.
Then take a stroll to Georges Arcade, a heritage red brick building and the oldest purpose-built shopping centre in Europe. This enclosed Victorian market has quirky, independent boutique shops and stalls selling trendy clothing, jewellery, funky music, collectable items and souvenirs.
Check out Bombay Banshee for its range of eclectic jewellery and Gift of Warmth for gifts such as slippers, baby clothes, bedding and lamps.
Fans of vintage clothing should visit Retro, which specialises in dresses from the 1940s and 1950s. It also has a huge range of petticoats in an array of colours along with pencil and swing skirts. Keep an eye out for celebrities including Blondie who have been spotted picking up some choice items there.
Then pop into Carousel, a vintage-inspired independent clothing and accessories store. Check out its own brand label, Circus, which offers feminine, nostalgia-inspired fashion with fun and eclectic prints, patterns and fabrics in classic, flattering shapes.
The shopping trip in Dublin can be rounded off with a venture into the colourful and elegant environs of Avoca. An Irish family-run business, its name derives from a small village in Wicklow where it started life as one of the world’s oldest surviving manufacturing companies. Farmers brought their wool there to be spun into snug blankets, throws and bedding. The city centre outlet has seven floors and is the perfect place for browsing or buying a thoughtful gift. Its signature handmade throws and blankets are made from 100% pure new lambswool, mohair, cashmere, angora, cotton and linen. Avoca’s design studio creates its own fashion line, the Anthology range of womenswear and its Nest collection includes homeware such as ceramics, glass, candles, perfume and bags.
The Suffolk Café on the top floor of Avoca is a great place to grab lunch. Bright and airy, with a view over Trinity College, the food is made with fresh, Irish ingredients. The restaurant is always busy so it is is best to book in advance. If you can’t find a table, there is a food hall, deli and rotisserie in the basement, with great salads and carefully selected artisan foods that you can take away.
Another good choice for lunch or dinner is vegetarian restaurant Cornucopia on nearby Wicklow Street. Here, you can savour home-cooked vegetarian and vegan friendly breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, juices, breads, cakes and desserts. The menu changes daily, and uses good quality, fresh and seasonal ingredients. Don’t forget to try the customer favourite, a helping of garlic potato and roasted nut salad. Regular mains include the sweet potato and tofu stew and the potato, aubergine and courgette bake in a cashew and herb cream sauce topped with toasted almonds. If you would prefer something lighter, the lunchtime special of soup, salad, homemade bread and pâté should sate your appetite.
For dinner, try French dining at La Mere Zou, just a few minutes walk from the iconic Shelbourne Hotel. Savour the chic atmosphere with a distinctly Irish flavour in the form of Galway Bay oysters and Kilkenny rose veal washed down by some excellent vino.
Café En Seine on Nassau Street also offers Gallic ambience in the heart of Dublin. This Parisian style bar offers an extensive cocktail menu and dining options in the midst of opulent décor that oozes sophistication and joie de vivre.
Bars and Pubs
No trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to one of its atmospheric, cosy pubs to sample a refreshing pint of Guinness.
Take a trip to The International Bar for a mid afternoon pint. The 200-year-old traditional pub boasts a rich history, has retained its original Victorian décor and even gets a mention in James Joyce’s iconic tome, Ulysses. The pub showcases Irish music and upstairs there is a small theatre that showcases drama and comedy.
If your thirst for a pint of the black stuff has been quenched but you are still partial to another tipple, The Porterhouse at the edge of Temple Bar is Dublin’s first brew house and offers a wide range of specialty and traditional crafted beers. The venue also has live music on Monday nights.
The Pygmalion Bar in The Powerscourt Shopping Centre is another great venue to round off the evening. It is named after the play by Irish scribe George Bernard Shaw about the transformation of a bedraggled Cockney flower girl into a genteel lady. Fittingly, the venue also morphs, from a cosy café by day into an intimate nightclub at night. Past twilight, enjoy comedy performances from local and international talent, and then watch or join the eclectic mix of people on the dancefloor. Pygmalion plays host to free gigs by up and coming local groups, while there are regular visits from renowned international DJs.
If you are in luck and the rain stays away, finish your night with a stroll towards the glimmering lights of Trinity College and enjoy being in the hub of this historic and endlessly fascinating city.