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by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Off-Beat and Off-the-Beaten Path

When the Travel Bloggers [TBEX] conference took place in Dublin a few years ago there were quibbles that these intrepid investigators didn’t really showcase anything new or different about the city. Their coverage tended to focus on what’s already known and loved  – Trinity, Guinness, friendly people etc – and, with some exceptions, we didn’t get too much “off the beaten track” path. So this blog post is for anyone who has been to Dublin at least once and wants something different.

You’ve seen The Book of Kells, poured your own pint at the Storehouse, immersed yourself in  Jonathan Swift’s “righteous indignation” at St Pats; you’ve ambled up and down Grafton Street and maybe even taken afternoon tea at The Shelbourne or the Merrion. And you’ve seen the Caravaggio and the Ardagh Chalice. So what next?  Here’s my top 10 “off beat or off the beaten tracks” attractions.

Glasnevin MuseumGlasnevin Cemetery Museum – Designed by award winning, Dublin-based architects A&D Wejchert, the stunning building is set in the grounds of the cemetery and provides a great starting point for your visit. Be sure to take the guided tour of the plots as it’s a wonderfully easy portal into the history of modern Ireland with all key political and revolutionary figures from Daniel O’Connell to Charles Stewart Parnell to Eamon DeValera and Michael Collins buried there.

Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane – a cultural gem located north of the Liffey on Parnell Square, this small gallery pivots around the famous Hugh Lane bequest which, over 100 years ago, caused huge controversy, inspiring at least one poem by W.B. Yeats. Hugh Lane’s original collection of priceless impressionist masterpieces has been added to over the years and, in a recent major coup, the gallery was bequeathed Francis Bacon’s studio, now meticulously re-constructed on site. This is a small gallery with a big, big impact.

Bowe's PubBowe’s – Dublin has more than its fair share of traditional pubs like Doheny & Nesbit’s, The Long Hall, McDaid’s, The Palace. They’ve all stubbornly resisted change, modernisation and yuppification over the years and thank God for that. My own favourite traditional pub, however, is Bowe’s. It’s hidden away behind the Westin Dublin on Fleet Street and looks the same now as it did 35 years ago when a young student on a bike studying in UCD used to meet a beautiful brown eyed girl studying in Trinity for lunch there.

The DART – the Dublin Area Rapid Transit is a commuter train which runs from Howth / Malahide in North County Dublin to Bray/Greystones in South Country Dublin. It’s journey is“from swerve of shore to bend of bay” as James Joyce himself might say. Take it either North or South from the downtown stations at Westland Row or Tara Street and enjoy a gradually unfolding panorama of gritty city sights, stunning sea views and affluent suburban scenes. You’ll get a sense of our growing city in a couple of hours that otherwise might take a long time to achieve.

Littel MuseumThe Little Museum of Dublin – located in a beautiful Georgian edifice on St Stephen’s Green, this is a wonderful addition to Dublin’s cultural offering. Concentrating on the social history of the past 100 years, the museum traces the birth of a nation through 5000 artefacts donated by the people of Dublin. You’ll find milk bottles, concert tickets, personal letters and miscellaneous ephemera that “tell a big story”. On your next visit to Dublin be sure to sign up for the “City for a Thousand Welcomes” programme. It’s a highly innovative and completely complimentary initiative that links visitors and locals over a cup of tea or a pint.

EPIC – The Irish Museum of Emigration – EPIC Ireland tells the story of Ireland’s emigrants around key themes.  Commencing with the reasons why people left in the first place – some were willing leavers, some not – the museum then explores what they did when they got to their new homes before finally examining the legacy. Throughout, the stories are highly personalised, some related to famous emigrants like Kennedy, others concerning unknown emigrants who might have been members of our own families.  This connection with each of our own personal family narratives makes the Irish Emigration Museum particularly powerful.

TicknockHire a bike – Dublin has been experiencing an infestation of mamils for the past few years, probably due to the government sponsored “bike to work” scheme. Most days, but particularly on weekends, the road near my house in Terenure is choc-a-bloc with middle-aged-men-in-lycra heading for the hills at Ticknock, Kilamashogue, Tibradden and Pine Forest. These hills offer a really challenging ride and a panoramic view of Dublin that’ll take you breath away. Alternatively head north, following the cycle path along the seafront at Clontarf and climb the equally challenging Hill of Howth from where you can see the full profile of Dublin Bay. You can hire good bikes in the Phoenix Park at this location.

Cruise across Dublin Bay – in summer 2013 Dublin Bay Cruises launched daily sailings across the Bay from Dun Laoghaire to Howth. Cruises commence again in March 2019 and allow locals and visitors alike to experience one of Dublin’s premier natural assets – an astonishingly beautiful Bay shaped like two arms welcoming you in a warm embrace. Combine the one way journey by boat from Dun Laoghaire to Howth with the one way return from Howth by DART for a perfect experience of land and sea and spare a poignant thought for the thousands of emigrants whose last view of Dublin was from the mail boat as it sailed from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead in Wales.

Yeats at National LibraryNational Library of Ireland – located on Kildare Street adjacent to the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library is another hidden cultural gem that yields up unexpected pleasures both on-line (the “search” facility on its website is amazing) and face-to-face. Running since 2006, the seventy fifth anniversary of his death, the award winning exhibition of Ireland’s national poet, W.B. Yeats, is excellent and can even be accessed on-line.

National Botanic Gardens of Ireland – dating from 1795, the gardens are located in Glasnevin around the corner from Glasnevin Cemetery. Entrance is free to this extraordinary earthly paradise of shapes, colours, textures and perfumes. I know of at least one young man who was inspired to pop the question here. And, surrounded by such natural beauty and calm, why wouldn’t you? Queen Victoria visited here in 1849.

For more hidden gems and off the beaten track suggestions check out Dublin: More Roads Less Travelled

PS Thanks to James O’Neill for reminding me to suggest that you combine a visit to Glasnevin and the Botanic Gardens with a pint in the famous “GraveDiggers” pub, located nearby.

Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy working with destinations and enterprises on marketing and training. In the late 1980s he worked as an Italian speaking tour guide in Ireland.


11 thoughts on “Dublin – 10 things to do off-the-beaten path

  1. James David O'Neill says:

    Love the article. A little hidden gem to go with the Bots and Glasnevin Cemetery would be a pint in the Grave Diggers (Kavangh’s Pub) in DeCourcy SQ. A must stop even if you are not a Northsider.

    1. padraicino says:

      James – thanks for the comment! And, of course, I know “The Gravediggers” well – I’ll put in a note on the post

  2. Melita Williams says:

    Great article and glad I’ve come across you from our shared LinkedIn group. Well done on steering us away from the norm. In NI it’s’ all Giant’s Causeway an Titanic, so good to see you have the same problem there too. I’ll tick a few off the above off the list next time I’m down. Feel free to get in touch if there is any business cross over – just spotted you speak Italian!

    1. padraicino says:

      Ciao Melita – lovely to hear from you. I guess from your e mail address that you offer “bespoke” experiences in Belfast? I think this new generation of travelers will always seek out authenticity over luxury and novelty over “same old, same old” so you’re certainly doing the right thing. Is there a “Good Vibrations” tour of Belfast? I’d love to do that myself! Contentissimo di essere in contatto – a presto resentirci!

      1. Melita Williams says:

        There is a great Music Tour that might now incorporate it. The irrepressible Mr Hooley is a pal of mine who most certainly would meet any groups we had. He is a NI ‘hidden gem’ in his own right – or not so hidden!

  3. Georgina Caraher says:

    Or you could try your hand at Gaelic Games, the cultural secret of the Irish and visit us at Experience Gaelic Games, the number one ranked Thing to Do in Ireland on Tripadvisor. Located beside Botanic Gardens and just 10 minutes from the city centre. This is culture and activity mixed and delivered with a fun, engaging session guaranteed to please!

    1. padraicino says:

      Georgina – this sounds brilliant! I know Croke Park offer some hands-on experience of hurling and Gaelic Football but I’d be really interested in hearing what you guys do too. Can you e mail me info on [email protected]? Many thanks

  4. Angela says:

    Wonderful pic of a Dublin cycling route, I thought the Gap of Dunloe was in Kerry, it is interesting to note that is has re-located to Dublin

    1. padraicino says:

      Angela – thanks for reminding me to change the picture! I popped it in as a place holder initially intending to replace it.

  5. John O'Hara says:

    Some great ideas for visitors and natives alike!
    For those visitors to Dubln who love their markets we have one out here in Howth every Saturday and Sunday with an eclectic mix of stalls catering for all tastes or just a nice place to chill out and relax. You can’t miss the big “Howth Market”sign just up from the dart station!

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks for the comment John. Looking forward to discovering the market next time I’m out there on my bike!

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