When you’ve only got 48 hours, it pays to stay somewhere central, like The Alex. The 103-room hotel features mid-century and industrial design influences courtesy of Irish Studio, as well as wall art by Aoife Mullane. The Alex describes itself as “Dublin’s most stylish hotel” and, while it’s the only one Mike visited, he won’t quibble.
A good Dublin day begins at The Rolling Donut, a local favourite since the ‘70s for its creative variety of freshly made donuts (even vegan) – and a 15-minute walk from the Alex. Just back across the River Liffey is Trinity College, founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I. Most visitors, Mike included, come to admire the library, an inspiring, barrel-vaulted space to photograph. The 200,000 volumes include the Book of Kells, a ninth-century manuscript of the four Gospels famous for its lavish illustrations.
After the library comes lunch, which brought Mike to Café en Siene, a newly renovated art deco establishment with indoor and outdoor spaces full of eye-catching details, from the intricate floor tilework up to the arched ceiling’s glasswork and pendant lamps.
Credit: Mike Pickles
Take a loop around St. Stephen’s Green, surrounded by stately Georgian buildings, and continue on to Drury Street where shops highlight the revival of traditional Irish craftsmanship. A new generation of artisans’ works are for sale at The Irish Design Shop; continue browsing next door at Industry & Co., which stocks speckled enamelware, leather bags, lambswool blankets and other covetable items.
To appreciate how far Dublin has come, and how Dubliners once lived, join a guided tour of 14 Henrietta, a tenement museum that opened in 2018. For another old-meets-new experience, book dinner at Variety Jones restaurant, which has won raves for its inventive take on Irish cuisine. Cap off your first day, as Mike did, with an outing to Howth Head, a promontory jutting out into the sea that offers sunset views of the distant city and the Wicklow Mountains beyond.
The leaders of Irish uprisings against English rule faced the possibility of incarceration or worse (torture, execution) at Kilmainham Gaol, a prison operating from 1796 to 1924. Now its doors open for thought-provoking 90-minute tours. Mike lucked out when he turned up first thing in the morning, but it’s wise to book in advance to ensure a spot.
The time-pressed can easily pair the gaol’s history lesson with a splash of contemporary art, thanks to the nearby Irish Museum of Modern Art, which has a grand tree-lined path leading to its entrance.
Make your way back east towards Dublin’s Georgian heart with stops at Teeling Whiskey Distillery and/or the Guinness Storehouse. When brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling opened the former in 2015, it was the city’s first new distillery in 125 years – and helped kick off a local whiskey-making trend. The latter is an admittedly touristy tribute to Ireland’s signature drink; exhibits sprawl over seven floors and the tour culminates with a pint of the black stuff and views of the city from The Gravity Bar.
The pedestrian cobbled streets of Temple Bar, another Dublin crowd pleaser, are walkable from the Guinness Storehouse. Expect to encounter lively bar-goers and buskers, a Dublin fixture (the biggest concentration is typically along nearby Grafton Street).
It’s been a whirlwind 48 hours, so you may be inclined to follow in Mike’s footsteps by meandering leisurely along the River Liffey. Take in the streetscapes and bridge after bridge until you reach architect Santiago Calatrava’s Samuel Beckett Bridge – inspired by the curve and strings of an Irish harp – and end up back at home base, the Alex, for the night.