Five days in Dublin: travel itinerary with day trips

What could be a more relaxing and easy trip than taking the ferry to Dublin? I’d long been eager to explore the Irish capital, with its promise of enthusiastic hospitality, culture and of course the ever present search for ‘the craic’. Taking the car across on the ferry from Liverpool was the easy part. Narrowing down what to see amid the wealth of attractions was a bit more difficult.

Day 1

Once we arrived at Dublin Ferry Port and had driven off the ferry, it was only a short drive to Dublin city centre – around two miles, so hardly any distance at all. Dublin is nice and compact, so easy to drive around and we found our hotel – The Dylan – without any problems. The Dylan is a relatively new designer hotel situated in the former Royal Hospital Nurses’ Home. The interior is a plush mix of fabrics and oversized furniture, and the rooms are individually designed with hi-tech touches to complement the historic structure. We ate dinner at their gourmet restaurant and then sampled from their cocktail menu and sat out on the terrace to toast our arrival.

Day 2

After a hearty Irish breakfast, we decided on a self-guided walking tour of the city to get our bearings. Dublin is a great size for exploring on foot. First stop was the atmospheric cobble-stoned campus of historic Trinity College. We felt very academic just wandering around and we popped into the magnificent library to see the famous ancient Book of Kell’s, a spectacular illuminated manuscript. From there, we walked down O’Connell Street (one of the widest streets in Europe), and to the Moore Street Markets to browse the fruit and veg stalls, and pick up some local produce for a picnic lunch by the River Liffey. I always feel more of an attraction to cities with rivers, and a lunch of cheese and wine on a riverbank is one of my favourite simple pleasures. The afternoon was spent learning about the city’s other famous liquid attraction at the Guinness Storehouse. I’ve been a Guinness drinker for years, and it’s a fascinating wealth of exhibits all about the black stuff. There’s nothing quite like sipping a truly authentic pint in the Gravity Bar at the end of the tour. A spookier side of the city came to life in the evening on the Dublin Ghost Bus Tour. A ghoulish history is re-enacted before your eyes in what is essentially a mobile theatre, where your storyteller recreates the days of Dracula creator Bram Stoker and Dr Clossy, a local surgeon and bodysnatcher.

Day 3

Grafton Street is the place for people-watching in Dublin, and it has a great selection of cafes for an early-morning bite to fuel up for a quick tour of the local shops. There’s all the usual high-street suspects, and if you venture just a few minute’s walk away, you can browse the speciality stores of Powerscourt Shopping Centre, a treasure trove of designer boutiques and antique sellers. A morning here is always soundtracked by the multitude of buskers (some buskers, such as Damien Rice, have gone on to find world fame) and you can pay your respects to the bronze statue of Molly Malone, possibly the world’s most famous seafood seller. The stately Dublin Castle isn’t really a stereotypical castle, but its huge courtyard and various royal apartments are well worth exploring. The Record Tower is the only surviving remnant of the original, 13th century medieval castle, and next to it is the Chapel Royal, a beautiful gothic church. The night seemed like the right one for a crawl around the Temple Bar district. It’s pretty touristy, but if all you need for the night is a few pints of Guinness and some foot-tapping Irish folk music, then there’s really nowhere better.

Day 4

It’s criminal to come to Ireland and not explore some of the world famous countryside – it’s not called the Emerald Isle for nothing, after all. There’s a breathtaking selection of scenery even just a short drive from Dublin, and you can surround yourself with natural beauty in no time at all on a day trip. Just an hour’s drive south down the N11, for example, are the incredible Wicklow Mountains. We made an early start and were rewarded with a bright sunny morning as we drove into the Wicklow Mountains National Park. We spent the next couple of hours just taking in the views in and around Glendalough, a former monastic settlement in a stunning glacial valley. Stone churches and Celtic crosses take you back through time, and there’s a 10th century tower. Lunch was spontaneous, and you can afford to be, with quaint little pubs scattered around remote corners. We refuelled with a pint of Guinness and some tasty Irish Stew at a tavern in Avoca. This village also boasts an ancient mill on the banks of the Avoca River, dating back to the 18th century. Before driving back to the city, we also managed to take in the Glenmacnass Waterfall, which slices a spectacular path through Mount Mullaghcleevaun.

Day 5

An hour or so north from Dublin is one of Ireland’s most famous sights. As you drive into the Boyne Valley, you start to notice a series of mounds. These are part of an ancient complex of monuments, built around 3,200 B.C., making them older than the pyramids of Egypt. The largest, and most historically important of these mounds is Newgrange, and as you approach it, it’s easy to see why it’s a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can only come via guided tour, but it’s easily arranged at the Bru Na Boinne Visitor’s Centre. It’s quite eerie, being around a tomb and a temple that stretches so far back into history, but it’s incredibly moving at the same time. We continued the historic theme by dropping into the Man O War pub for lunch, which has been on the Belfast to Dublin road since 1595. Before driving back into the city for our last night, we detoured to Howth, a small fishing village on an outcrop around 30 minutes east of Dublin. It was picture-perfect, and we filled our lungs with the sea air and looked out across Dublin Bay, across the very waters that would take us home the next day.

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