I’ve never been much of a city girl when it comes to travel. I loath tourist traps and the teaming hordes that seem to congregate around the same ol’ places. I am much more at home in the mountains, on a trail, or cuddled up with a book on the deck overlooking the water. There are have been two (so far) exceptions to this general enmity to crowded streets and abundant air pollution. And only one of those two that truly holds a firm place in my heart as one of my favorite places in the world.
I suppose I remember Dublin the first time I went there in 1997, but it was our first three days in the country, and honestly the only thing I remembered was Trinity College (for good reason), but it was more our second stop in Glendalough that burned itself into my memory as the place my soul resides (blog post here about that).
However, my second trip to Ireland, in 2016, was a solo trip and only four days (the length of time I had over my school’s Thanksgiving break). Consequently, I stayed in Dublin and did day trips out a couple of days. But two full days – one of which I stayed up for the entire 24 hours – were spent just in Dublin, and truly that was no where close to enough time for that city.
Before I went, I studied the map of the city in great detail. I memorized which streets ran north/south and east/west, the location and routes to my desired locations, and multiple major landmarks (like the River Liffey) so that I would not need to break open a map on the city street and look like a tourist. For the most part I did well (until I tried to walk to the Guinness factory… totally got lost). By the end of my four days there, I felt a part of the city. I walked with confidence to the places I wanted to go (mainly Saint Stephen’s Green and Trinity College – pictured below). For once, the city seemed to be the place for me.
I stayed directly across from Trinity College in a hostel (another blog post I intend to do) called The Times, and it was the perfect hub for me because everything I wanted to see was within easy walking distance. Trinity College (one of my favorite places in the world) was actually across the street!
My first day in Dublin I walked around the walls of Trinity College (mainly because I went the wrong direction from the hostel to get to the main gate, but it worked) and saw the surrounding city and the famous colorful doors of Dublin. And once I got inside the university walls, I sat and watched their football (soccer) team play a match. I don’t really care about sportsball, but I was in Ireland, people!
It as fall, so the leaves were bright and the air was crisp. It was nearly perfection, really!
From there I walked up Grafton Street (a shopping area with a massive pedestrian walkway) and listened to street performers and watched as a man painted in gold scared a bunch of teenagers who thought he was a statue. The world was much louder on Grafton Street — people talking, music coming out of stores as people opened the doors to come and go, flower ladies calling out for people to buy roses for their sweethearts, people decorating for Christmas, and the bustle of cars on the side streets.
As I made my way up Grafton Street, I got closer to my actual goal – Saint Stephen’s Green. Those familiar with Dublin know Saint Stephen’s Green. It is one of the Central Park-esque oases in Dublin (and there are many). There are little “secret” paths through trees and shrubs, there is a fountain, a scattering of benches, and flowers all year round that are so bright and glorious that they barely seem real (they are – I checked). Even in the cold (it was close to 40 degrees Fahrenheit) people were milling around everywhere.
Children who just got out of school, still in their uniforms.
Families pushing strollers.
Business folk out for a stroll.
Tourists taking pictures.
It seems like all of Dublin goes through Saint Stephen’s at some point during the day. But what gets me is how peaceful and green it is — even on the edge of winter. Yes, there is noise of course, but it’s peaceful noise if that makes sense. Serene. I remember going there in 1997– we went in the summer time — and people were out laying on blankets and listening to music. It was glorious then, but it was no less glorious in the cold temperatures of November.
There is so much beauty in Dublin. Yes – it is a city and the traffic is horrendous- and it’s Dublin, so the street signs are impossible to find and the roads curve off in incredibly strange ways- but that’s why you don’t drive. Traveling by public transit or walking is the best way to retain your chill travel vibe, in my (not so) humble opinion. When you walk around you find so many amazing places you probably wouldn’t have seen if you were driving by it.
Take this pub.
A glorious hole in the wall on a side street just off Grafton. It had positively the best beef stew I’ve ever had or possibly will ever have. I was the only person in the pub that the barman didn’t know their order as soon as they walked in the door. They were all old friends on their way home who stopped by for a pint (always Guinness) and some gab. However, they were welcoming of me despite the fact that I was an unknown face and of course American. Donald Trump had just been elected a few weeks prior, so there were lots of questions as to whether or not American had lost its collective mind. And of course Brexit was a large topic of discussion and what the “English bastards” were going to do next. And there was much laughter.
I would not have found this place in a rental car or an Uber or a taxi. Walking is the best way to find the best places in Dublin. You might even find the Irish flag reflected in the River Liffey if you’re lucky enough.