I admit this is a little off-topic for an “anglophile” writer, but I thought it was likely many blog readers would be as interested in visiting Ireland as they are England. I was in Dublin at the start of June and made some scribbled notes of these insider tips to share:
Arrive earlier than you think for the Book of Kells
Dating from around 800AD, the beautifully illustrated Book of Kells is one of Dublin’s top attractions. Your guide book will suggest getting there early – the exhibition gets enormously crowded – and this is sound advice. But also know that the helpful, clever Irish folk who run this historical treasure are likely to open the doors even earlier than advertised. If they’re ready, and you’re waiting, you can breeze right in and enjoy a bit more elbow room as you crane your neck to see the precious pages. Incidentally, I was far more taken with the Long Room of the stunning Old Library room (below). You can spend as long there as you like, absorbing the darkened, bibliophile atmosphere.
The coolest theatre performances take place at lunchtime
The Powerscourt Centre is well-known as a chic indie shopping destination, but its little-known secret is the lunchtime short performances in the intimate top floor theatre. In just an hour you’ll enjoy a one-act play for a mere €8-12, depending on the day of the week. And a brilliant touch: an optional light lunch can be purchased for a bargain €4. After a morning’s sightseeing, soak up some Irish culture while you rest your feet and recharge for the afternoon.
Roof terrace cafe bargain
Dublin can be expensive for eating out, and the popular tourist area around Temple Bar can get insanely crowded. But in Grafton Street, the heart of the shopping district, department store Marks and Spencer has a spacious, well-priced rooftop restaurant. Avoid peak shopping times and you’ll find a light, airy, relaxing space. And the afternoon tea is a steal.
Be welcomed by a local
I only saw this service advertised once during my stay and was sorry to miss it. Dublin prides itself on being a friendly city and since actions speak louder than words, they have a special programme to pair visitors with a local volunteer for a coffee or beer. Incidentally, this priceless chat with an enthusiastic Dubliner won’t cost you a thing. It’s coordinated by The Little Museum of Dublin which is also well worth a look.
How not to miss your flight home
I have no idea why the airlines are guarding this secret and causing their passengers so much stress. If you’re flying back to the United States from Dublin or Shannon at the end of your Irish stay, you must allow extra time – by which I mean around 90 minutes – to reach your departure gate. US Customs and Immigration officials are now carrying out all the checks you’d normally endure on American soil, before you leave Ireland. And it takes forever. You’ll go through regular Irish airport security, then have your chance to browse the Duty Free shopping and usual airport offerings. But: on the way to your departure gate, you’ll do it all again, US-style. That means shoes off, just-purchased liquids in the trash, the whole fiesta. And all the while, you’ll be watching the time tick down and wondering if you’re going to miss your flight.
The strangest part? The airlines don’t seem to communicate this (a friend had a similar trauma in Toronto). If it hadn’t been for a helpful young woman selling me chocolate, I would have had no clue about the extra time needed. I’d like to offer her a public apology for my grumpy disbelief at her suggestion I abandon my retail therapy to join a stressed-out queue instead. Thank you, ma’am: you undoubtedly saved me from a missed flight. The silver lining here: true to their word, when you do finally land in the USA, there is nothing more to do except grab your bag from a carousel. It’s bizarre, but it works.
Have you been to Dublin? What was the highlight of your trip? And what other tips would you share?