Being a fan of Irish pubs, I considered a visit to Dublin as mandatory on this trip. Almost like a pilgrimage to the promised land of stout beer and jigging music.
Dublin did not disappoint. As with all fabulous European cities, cool buildings abound.
There is a large and very busy shopping thoroughfare, with a surprisingly modern tram system.
And, for some reason, the world’s largest needle.
Legend has it that the IRA blew up the monument that used to be there, and the town held a contest for what to replace it with. I suppose something that is all smooth, polished steel makes it harder to attach something like a bomb to.
Further walking around can reveal some interesting eccentricities. Like this display set up on the man taxi thoroughfare.
So after a day of wandering, I wanted to check out local culture. By this I mean beer. What better way to do this than by visiting the source? Right: to the Guinness Storehouse it is!
The area leading up to this is very clearly blue-collar, working class neighborhoods. It’s all brick: the cobblestone streets, the buildings, walkways, probably even the plumbing, furniture, and children: all brick. When you actually amble up to the Storehouse, it can be a bit imposing.
Taking the tour was in heavy contrast with the working class surroundings. Everything is modern, polished, glass and steel, and strangely formal. They take themselves very seriously here. You go through the process they use to make Guinness and the videos that play along with the plaques describing what you are seeing remind you over and over again how seriously each ingredient is treated (special strain of barley! Special blend of yeast! Water from the Wicklow mountains that the founder was willing to lay down his life to maintain access to!). There are video walls with characters in period clothing telling stories of the founder and what a great and phenomenal man he was, and his wife and kids as well.
It could have used a drop of humor. Or modesty.
Still, you can tell they put a lot of time and money into making this a premium experience. For example, at one point where the tour is talking about the water they use, you walk under a waterfall that flows over a glass roof. A cool moment set to feel like you are in a dark cave. My camera’s low-light performance leaves a little to be desired here.
You do get to learn some cool stuff, like how they started making stout in the first place, and how the famous foreign stout came to be (added triple hops since they are a natural preservative and the stout needed to endure three weeks or more at sea). Eventually you reach the seventh floor, and the whole culmination of the journey: a pint fresh from the source.
So the coolest part of the tour is absolutely the Gravity Bar: a room at the top made of glass with a 360 degree view of Dublin. You get to enjoy your pint of fresh, creamy, dark goodness while taking in Dublin from a great vantage point.
And from here, you get a reminder again just how huge the Guinness Storehouse is.
Still, my favorite picture from the tour was this one seen upon leaving for the day.
The following day, in addition to my ambulations around town, I decided that since I’d seen the source of the most famous Irish beer, I should (in all fairness) experience the source of the most famous whiskey. I wouldn’t want to be unfair. It’s for science’s sake, really. So, off to Jameson’s Distillery.
Turns out, they moved the actual distillery. But touring the old distillery was cool.
This tour is in direct contrast to most things about the Guinness tour. It’s a guided tour, so there’s more of a human element to it, and a few more instances of self-deprecating Irish humor sprinkled throughout. The building itself is well preserved but obviously ancient construction.
During the tour you’ll learn everything you need to about whiskey, and see all the old equipment they used to make the stuff for hundreds of years.
They will ask for volunteers in the group, and if you are fast you can be chosen as one of the eight from the group to be official taste testers. I am very fast. If your are chosen, then at the end of the tour in addition to the free glass of Jameson everyone gets, they have you sample American (represented by ol’ J.D.), Scottish (Johnny Walker Black) and Jameson.
All but one of our group selected Jameson as the bestest. I was not that lone and misguided dissenter.
Having cleared out the two most famous Irish drinking exports, more ambling around town was required. This was also a good way to work through four shots of whiskey. Standing on the street corner I was concerned that the mixing of whiskeys was messing with my vision as I beheld a giant yellow monstrosity filled with people in Viking helmets. In Seattle we have these amphibious tours running as we wall them the Seattle Ducks. Here they theme it around Vikings. ‘Cause when in Ireland, I always think “Viking”, right? No? Yeah, I don’t know why then.
There are many places around town that I found street art had been used to good effect, which made me happy.
And back near the heavily tourist part of town (Temple Bar area), street art of a different sort. I watched this guy meticulously paint tiny details into a corner of his picture and wondered briefly what he does when it starts raining.
Also, ran into a sculpture that made me pretty happy. Didn’t find out what the significance of this running horse was, sadly.
Also, there’s sections of Dublin that have clearly gone through a bit of an upgrade. Not sure if it’s well received or not due to the number of bodies present (or lack thereof).
In any case, when it doubt, strolling around Dublin, hanging out by the river is sure to get you some lovely views.
There are many cool little shops to visit as well where you can buy anything from local made foods, local crafts, to blatantly touristy things. My favorite shop by far was the one where I found the Tin Tin design at the start of this post:
It’s a tiny shop, but found within is layer upon layer of awesome. Just a few samples:
But eventually night will fall and you will require proper sustenance. Which means it’s time to really check out the proper Irish pub.
Since I’m rather unfamiliar with Irish food (other than Shepard’s Pie), I just ordered things at random. Full Irish Breakfast at 9pm? Sure, why not? The waitress laughed at me, but I like to think she admired my pioneering spirit. Other dishes just sounded intriguing, like “Coddle”:
And it seems a pint of Guinness is mandatory with every meal. Or a half-pint if you are a wee girl-man (or, in fact, a girly-girl)
Along with your meal, you will invariably have live music playing. And after the meal. And well into the early hours of the morning. Music is pretty much omnipresent here, and as I would come to learn it’s just a strong part of Irish culture. If you are in a tourist part, this will take the form of a cover band, and they come in all shapes and sizes: from a lone dude with a banjo, to four guys crowded on a stage, and everything in between.
However, if you are in a touristy place with cover bands, you will come to hear several things repeatedly:
- Black Velvet Band
- John Denver (who knew he was big in Ireland?): Jet Plane, Country Roads, Country Boy
- Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues
- Fields of Athenry
- Whiskey in the Jar
- Seven Drunken Nights
Strangely, even after multiple hearings per night, I’m not sick of any of these. Would still happily plop myself down in a good pub and yell myself hoarse singing along. Good times.
However, don’t limit yourself to one pub! Go wandering a try a few. You may run into all manner of folk out drinking. Young and old, man and woman, local and foreigner, they are all out doing the same thing in Dublin.
You may even run into more “colorful” folks.
A note of caution here. Drinking is kind of a national sport. Some people are good at it. Some are maybe still practicing. Some probably just shouldn’t play. Example: at about nine thirty one night I watched a man in his late 40’s stumble to the bar, acquire a whiskey, drink said whiskey, then discretely and calmly lean over, arm still on the bar for support and proceed to vomit on his shoes. For a good thirty seconds or so. His pal eventually came to collect him an lead him away from the bar.
In happier news, music is pretty much everywhere here, and street corners are fairly bursting with buskers (which would be a grand name for a band, by the way).
However, if you come to Dublin, you owe it to yourself to experience the more traditional side: traditional Irish songs, and Irish dancing. One good way to start this is to take part in a “traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl”. This takes you around to three different quiet pubs, led by two local musicians who will take time to explain the history of songs, instruments, language, dance, and more. I highly recommend you start with this instead of doing it late in your visit like I did. From this one experience, the musicians will give you a far better appreciation for the different styles and will point you to local pubs that host traditional music and dancing so you can continue to go enjoy this stuff.
So, in summary, Dublin is a blast. Things to love about Dublin:
- Music is everywhere
- Cool, beautiful, historic town
- Good food
- Friendly people
- People love a good night out (some maybe a bit too much…)
Things to not like about Dublin
Seriously: want to look like a tourist? Put on shorts in the middle of August and walk around. You will be the only one. I went into two stores to confirm that they don’t even sell the bloody things here.
Still, with the amount of fun you will have in Dublin, the weather isn’t even a thing. Enjoy.