My perfect day in Dublin begins on Grafton Street in the hours before most businesses open their shutters. The street is usually packed with shoppers and buskers, but at this hour only a few solitary people on their way to office buildings can be seen darting around delivery trucks. The bronze Molly Malone statue fits the street quite well in the morning light without tourists posing in front of her for photographs; however, her low cut dress seems a little revealing for sunrise!
At 8am, I am among the first customers at the old Bewley’s Oriental Café… it’s now called the Bewley’s Grafton Street Café, but I’m a sucker for tradition. I order my tea for take away, and as the hot water pours into the cup, I admire the the stained glass, the artwork, and the highly decorated architectural details of the 1920s building, but I don’t linger.
I step out the front door onto the colorful entrance tiles before continuing my stroll toward St Stephen’s Green at the end of Grafton. At the park entrance, I slip under the archway and disappear to my favorite park bench. The swans and ducks scuttle about on the pond in front of me until my cup of tea empties. I exit the park from a different gate, and it is clear the click-clack sounds of dress shoes hitting the footpaths are beginning to be overpowered by rumbling buses, taxis, delivery trucks, and other sounds of the city.
From the park, I walk just a few blocks to the Whitefriar Street Church. Two statues greet me at the entrance and inside I maneuver around the life size crucifixion scene. The church might not offer the historic appeal of St Patrick’s or Christ Church Cathedrals, but the Carmelite nuns who run the Whitefriar Street Church don’t keep an admission box at the door, and its thick walls separate it from the city outside to create a secret oasis. Once inside, I start on the left side and circumnavigate the entire building with a visit to each of the side altars… including the one said to house the relics of St Valentine. On my round, I can’t help but notice the diverse mix of people stopping in for a quick prayer, and I am reminded that its not such a secret spot after all.
Then my walk takes me to the grounds of Dublin Castle. The signs for tours or the cafe or even the mysteriously named Revenue Museum don’t distract me from my destination… the Chester Beatty Library. While the queue for the Book of Kells at Trinity College is probably growing long and uncomfortable by this time, the open lobby at the Chester Beatty is calm and peaceful. I sit for a moment and watch the video about the Irish-American who became Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. Then I wander upstairs to the exhibition hall where I find myself entranced with the extensive collection of ancient books. By the time I reach the illuminated manuscripts with Celtic designs similar to the Book of Kells, I’m only marginally impressed… I have, after all, just spent my entire morning looking at much older documents.
I always end up spending more time at the Chester Beatty Library than expected, so it’s no surprise that I’m still there at noon. I return to the lobby for one of my favorite Dublin lunches at the Silk Road Café. I select from the day’s Middle Eastern specials and always order an extra side because it’s too difficult to limit my choices to just two.
When I leave the Chester Beatty, I look to the sky to determine my next stop. If the weather looks like it won’t leave me soaked, I begin my journey to Glasnevin Cemetery. Most days I’ll walk the 2.5 miles (4km) and include Blessington Basin in my route, but the distance and the easy-to-get-confused directions can make the northbound Number 9 bus an appealing alternative (the Number 4 with stops near Trinity and O’Connell Street also go that way). Once I reach Glasnevin, I make a beeline for the new museum and sign up for the next walking tour. The guide delivers a fascinating who’s who tale of modern Irish history based solely on gravestones. Meanwhile inside the centre, I’m entranced by the macabre details in the City of the Dead exhibit; and despite my earlier feast at Silk Road, I still manage a bit of dessert and tea in the Tower Café overlooking the tombstones.
If I have time after Glasnevin Cemetery, the National Botanic Gardens around the corner call to me. The gardens and glass houses offer a brilliant color tour, which is made even better when I put in my ear buds and listen to the free audio guide from Ingenious Ireland as I wander the expansive gardens.
If it’s raining when I leave Chester Beatty, I climb aboard the Hop On Hop Off bus… I always choose the double-decker green bus where I know I’ll get an entertaining, live commentary from the driver… rain or shine… none of those canned, pre-recorded bus tour for me.
Despite the temptation, I bypass the stop for the Guinness Store House; instead I get off at Kilmainham Gaol. As I wait for the tour, I’m surprised by how the exhibits manage to pique my curiosity in the history of incarceration… a topic I wouldn’t expect to hold my interest. It’s on the guided tour when Irish history begins to haunt me… inside the cells, in the courtyard, on the walls, along the corridors… there’s a story in every corner, but everything comes to a head in the chapel where the tune Grace plays inside my head. The song tells the story of a couple married in the chapel just before the groom, a leader in the 1916 Rising, is executed (click the play button below to hear Liam sing the song a capella).[audio:grace.mp3]
Audio file for devices that do not support Flash: http://irishfireside.com/podcasts/grace.mp3
After leaving Kilmainham, I return to the hop on/off bus and continue the circuit and the ongoing commentary from the driver. Depending on the time, I may choose another stop, but usually its just nice to sit and watch the city go by.
My evening presents two options. In one plan, I take in a dinner at Cafe en Siene… it’s not Dublin’s swankiest or finest restaurant, but it matches my vision of an opulent Victorian Dublin palm garden, and better yet, it fits my budget. Then I’m off for a pint at Kehoe’s where the look and hospitality feel traditional Irish all the way.
Meanwhile if I’m hungry for a serving of Irish folklore and history mixed in with my dinner, I make a reservation for An Evening of Food, Folklore, and Fairies at the Brazen Head Pub. While I expect my fellow diners to be international tourists, I’m surprised by the number of Irish people I meet who are also enjoying the tales… some even pipe up and share a tale or two their granny used to tell. After dinner, we retire to the pub and the craic continues.
Now it’s your turn, what makes up your perfect day in Dublin? Leave your tips in the comments below…
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