It seems that nearly everybody you talk to either (1) wants to go to Ireland, (2) has been there and loved it, and (3) always wants to go again.
What is it about the Emerald Isle that so captivates the imagination?
Maybe its capital city, Dublin, holds the answer, because Dublin encapsulates much of what the rest of Ireland has to offer – friendly people, witty charm, great pubs and restaurants, live music, glorious Georgian architecture and a wonderful sense of history.
Get some history in first and visit Christ Church Cathedral, that has been around since 1030AD or so. Go down into the crypt to see the treasures there, before going up into the belfry for stunning views of the city and where you can try your hand at bell ringing. Then, to delve even further into the past, take yourself off to the National Museum and discover Viking artefacts and the amazing collection of mummified bog people, preserved in the peat bogs since the Iron Age. Check out one that still has nearly a full head of curly hair.
The 9th century illuminated gospel manuscript, the Book of Kells, at Trinity College (tcd.ie) is another must-see. You’ll find it inside the 18th century Old Library. After marvelling at its fine colours, superb drawings and script, go upstairs to the Long Library, home to 200 000 books. It’s a truly awesome sight.
You may well need some refreshment now, so why not take the world-famous Guinness Brewery tour at the Guiness Storehouse Museum? You’ll learn, after navigating barrels, historical facts and how the stuff is made, to pull a pint yourself, which you can take up to the Gravity Bar with its 360° views of the city.
A lover of literature? Then check out the Dublin Writers Museum (writersmuseum.com), where you can find manuscripts of famous Irish writers, from Swift, Sheridan, Shaw and Wilde to Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.
If the weather’s good, then one of the best ways to see the city is by bike. Dublin’s bike share programme is one of Europe’s most successful. Pick up a bike from any available bike station, pedal along the River Liffey, stopping to look at the city’s many bridges, including the Ha’penny Bridge, although today you won’t need to pay a ha’penny to walk over it. There are lots of cycle lanes, and motorists are courteous and bike-friendly.
Dublin food is great. Pub food is usually freshly cooked and delicious, but for a real treat go to Fallon & Byrne, a Dublin institution, where you’ll find scrumptious goodies like oysters, local cheeses and homemade pies (plus Irish stew, of course,) and lots of tourists.
Nighttime is music time, and Temple Bar, Dublin’s party place, is alive with music as the sun begins to go down.
It’s hard to think of a European capital city that has so much to offer a visitor by way of history, attractions and fun, and yet Dublin somehow still retains a delightful small-town atmosphere.
You’ll love it.