Meander along the River Liffey. Zigzag through cobblestoned courtyards and streets upholding Georgian architecture and its riot of colorful doors. Listen to the strings, the winds, the percussions of trad sessions tumbling out of pubs and ribboning around you. Make it just in time for your reservation at The Church, the fine-dining establishment that once housed Sunday mass and where Arthur Guinness was wed.
Amid the pastoral landscapes of Ireland rises Dublin, a UNESCO City of Literature with a side of culinary dexterity and age-old friendliness that suspends it in time. Massive changes have taken hold, most recently following Ireland’s referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment; and whether in these significant societal strides, the repurposing of old homes into brilliant collections of the city’s soul, or adding flare to long-favored dishes, Dublin is alight with new beginnings and progress steeped in tradition.
A new age for Georgian living
On Lower Leeson Street resides a great home-base in Dublin aptly named, House, an unassuming townhouse giving way to an elegantly quirky boutique hotel. White paneled walls partner with fireplaces, wood accents, and warm pops of yellow and teal, while throw pillows decorated with dogs’ faces and lamps shaped like flamingos add the finishing touches. In the communal spaces, like the gin room and the parlor, Victorian design meets rustic charm to create a relaxed atmosphere for aperitifs or afternoon tea with a touch of indulgence. House’s brunch menu features poached eggs and a traditional Irish breakfast alike and can be taken in the enclosed patio, lush and ethereal like a botanical garden.
Nearby St. Stephen’s Green is surrounded by these townhouses, one of which welcomes guests at the Little Museum of Dublin. Spanning three stories, the museum rises with the decades and features rotating exhibitions on the ground level, all to do with Ireland’s capital. Think: the history of public houses, aviators whose eccentricities led to overcoming great feats of man, fashion radicals redefining Ireland in the face of a poverty-stricken nation. Relics in the shape of photographs, tattered flags, stands used by prominent international figures while giving a speech curate a bold, all-consuming experience of the city.
North of Dublin proper, 14 Henrietta Street has recently opened its doors to visitors as a tenement museum. The area is the most well-preserved section of Dublin’s 18th century aristocracy; and 14 Henrietta Street, like most townhouses, became a tenement building for upwards of 100 tenants living among 19 apartments. Peeling wallpaper and cramped conditions bring sharp focus to the squalor experienced by much of 19th century Dublin, memorializing an era of despair that eventually gave way to hope.
Woven between the city’s streets are literary hubs like the James Joyce Center, National Library of Ireland, the Trinity College Library, and the Abbey Theatre. Ahead of its time since the theater’s conception, performances focus on the Irish diaspora and remain just as ambitious and experimental.
Artistry doesn’t end there; at the Hugh Lane Gallery, contemporary Irish art is beautifully displayed. Their stained glass room contains a dreamy collection of Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows, spotlighting one of his most well-known works, The Eve of St. Agnes. And at the Gallery of Photography, on the edge of Temple Bar, an array of exhibitions, including social movements of the last century, fill the walls. Even a stroll along St. Stephen’s Green Park can warrant a gallery of local artists’ work, an opportunity to be told the stories of Dublin through the eyes of its dwellers.
National favorites, with a twist
Along Cow’s Lane is a whimsical breakfast nook Queen of Tarts, the place to be for a morning treat of tea and scones — their blueberry scones are a glimpse of heaven. Plush booths and intricately detailed china lend to a playful storybook style, and tiered trays piled high with sweets leave you mulling over slices of cake or apple crumble to take away for later.
A recent addition to Dame Street is BóBós Burgers, plating locally sourced burgers mounted high with fresh cheese and produce. Nothing quite tops their bacon cheeseburger, except maybe their Sex on the Farm, bringing a spicy kick to the table. What once would have been abhorrent is now lighthearted and jovial, a concept as natural to the Irish as breathing.
There is nowhere time stands still more so than in any of Dublin’s pubs. They are the pulse of Dublin’s culture, an oasis to unwind in the company of strangers-turned-friends with a pint and trad session. They serve Ireland’s staple dishes — beef and Guinness stew, fish and chips, corned beef and steamed vegetables — and it’s where Dublin’s storied past comes into view. A few favorites: The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub; Arthur’s, host to the country’s freshest pint of Guinness; O’Neills, where music is paired with step dancing; and the Cobblestone, an intimate, dim pub beloved for the large band that slips in are old haunts that only renew a strong love for the city they alight.