I’m no longer the bookworm I once was. Gone are the days where I would skip classes to hide in a special nook in my high school library just to read. But the thrill and comfort of being surrounded by books hasn’t left me. You can imagine my elation in learning that Dublin is one of eleven UNESCO Cities of Literature (as of 2015). I never even knew such a designation exists and of course had to dig a little deeper.
Within the United Kingdom & Northern Ireland there are three Cities of Literature: Norwich, Edinburgh and Dublin. The program was launched in 2004 for cities that promote their local literary and creative scene while fostering cultural diversity. There are roughly seven criteria in order to be designated a City of Literature, one of which states the city must demonstrate “existence of libraries, bookstores and public or private cultural centres which preserve, promote and disseminate domestic and foreign literature.” It’s no wonder that two of my top 3 sights in Dublin are library related.
Dublin: Top 3 Attractions
1. Trinity College Old Library, Long Room
You don’t even need to be interested in books in order to enjoy the largest research library in Ireland. Just walk in and marvel at the barrel vaulted ceiling if architecture is more your cup of tea. The Long Room holds 200,000 of the libraries aged books. Seeing the rows upon rows of bookcases spread out in front of me made me long for all the weekends that I spent rummaging in the Boston Public Library young adults section.2. Marsh’s Library
I didn’t set off to explore Dublin’s libraries on purpose. Mark and I stumbled upon Marsh’s Library, the first public library in Ireland, after a visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral which is right next door. While it’s not as grand as the Trinity College Library, this research library boasts over 25,000 rare books with leather covers made from animal skins soaked in urine. Go ahead, take a whiff. All the books in the main room are stored in the original baltic oak bookcases. And the Marsh’s library even had their own Egyptian mummy, Maurice, that was found in a cupboard!
Photography is not allowed in the library but if you’re nice they’ll let you take a photo standing outside by the doorway.
3. Kilmainham Gaol
“When did visiting jails become our thing?” the Brit asked when we stood in line to wait for our guided tour of Kilmainham Gaol (read jail). It’s true, we’ve visited at least three jails on past trips, the most depressing being Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Victorian wing within Kilmainham Gaol is the most photogenic but don’t let the images fool you, the other parts of the prison are damp and grim.
The Kilmainham Goal was meant to be a reform prison with one prisoner per cell but due to overcrowding conditions quickly deteriorated. The youngest prisoner was a mere 5 years old and was held for 2 months for stealing jewelry in 1840 (other online sources cite the youngest prisoner to be age 7 but I’m going by what our tour guide told us). Some of the most famous inhabitants were the 16 who were executed for their part of the Easter Rising in 1916.
For those looking to visit the Kilmainham Gaol, only guided tours are available and they run every 15 minutes throughout the day.
During my trip planning stage I had coffee with my friend Conor who is from Belfast. Naturally, I asked him what local specialties I should look out for when in Dublin. “Potatoes” was all that he had to offer. I laughed but he wasn’t kidding.
Twenty percent of the population in Boston, where I grew up, is from or has roots in Ireland. Despite that I think my first introduction to Irish cooking was at Selfridges’ Meet the Chefs’ series in September featuring Irish chef Mark Moriarty, who won the San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year 2015. There were certainly more than potatoes on the menu, among my favorites were the beef tartare with radish and oyster and a sweet guinness porridge which is a play on rice pudding. That meal left me intrigued on what I would encounter in the country’s capital.
The Winding Stair | 40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1
The Winding Stair, named after the Yeats poem, is a small bookshop and restaurant near the Ha’penny Bridge. Beautiful food with ingredients sourced from local producers and artisans can be found here. I warmed to the small but open space of the restaurant with minimal dressing save for the shelves filled with books and a wall of wine bottles. I knew the meal would be special before it even arrived. That is my special sixth sense I suppose.Cauliflower soup with homemade soda bread sounds simple enough but jazzed with a swirl of apple sauce this autumnal soup came alive. The restaurant at this point was buzzing with activity. Looking back I wonder if they all came just to have the scallops with black pudding, chorizo on potato pancake & sea herb butter. Everybody should stop into the restaurant just to try this dish. It was a hotbed of textures, each flavor holding hands with the other and completed with luxurious butter.
By the way, a two course meal was just €20! Dining in Dublin, I found, was excellent value for money. Even Forest Avenue, a fine dining restaurant with a touch of Nordic influence, offered a 2 course lunch meal for €22. It’s high on the list for my next visit.The Pig’s Ear | 4 Nassau St, Dublin 2
Perhaps I should have gone to Forest Avenue for lunch instead. But it was further away from the center of town whereas the Pig’s Ear was more convenient to the city’s main attractions. Twice our waiter brought us the wrong dish and on the last incident he insisted the Brit ordered a main course of beef cheek & tongue. My husband is a pescetarian.
Despite the haphazard service, I will say I thoroughly enjoyed the food. While the Brit was still fuming, I tucked into the Jerusalem artichoke & pearl barley orzotto with mustard and truffle mayonnaise. It was a hunk of a dish with playful tones from the mayo. Even the Silka deer tartare with cream cheese & pickled onions that I did not order was a pleasure.
777 | 7 Castle House, S Great Georges St, Dublin
777, a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar, was highly recommended by Dublin-based friends. The space is trendy, small, and dark with day of the dead paraphernalia dressing the wall behind the bar. We had a few small plates to share but it was the mushroom tequitos that branded 777 as a must try restaurant in Dublin for me. That and their killer margaritas.
Periwig & Peruke | 31 Dawson St, Dublin 2
We had dinner at Periwig & Peruke but it was the alluring cocktails that will have me return upon my next visit. Try the pretty in pink Nom de Plume with gin, flowery notes of elderflower and rose water, pomegranate, lemon, sugar and egg whites. For those looking for a show, the Harry Houdini, a play on New Orleans sazerac, will come in a cloud of smoke and you might actually see stars when you finish the last drop. Go two levels up from the ground floor for what I think is the best room in the building, a wall covered with books. Be prepared, the restaurant is very pink.
Dublin Independent Cafes
There is no shortage of independent cafes in Dublin. In fact, four days in the city didn’t allow me enough time to visit the ones on my list such as the award winning 3FE (my coffee aficionado friends are all aghast). These are the ones I was able to visit and enjoyed:
The Pepperpot Cafe | Powerscourt Town House Centre, South William St, Dublin 2
All of the cakes in this cafe are made in house, daily. The temptation to try all of them was high but I opted for a memorable gluten free lemon cake. They are also the only cafe I visited that served beans from a roaster (Ariosa) that was not 3FE.
Sister Sadie | 46, 46 Harrington St, Dublin 8
During my stay at The Dean Hotel I was lucky to be within a 10 minute walking distance to two great cafes such as this one and Sister Sadie. They offer a good breakfast selection along with a beautiful flat white.
Brother Hubbard | 153 Capel St, Dublin 1
A cafe that serves middle eastern flavors was a really interesting concept to me. Brother Hubbard shares links with Sister Sadie cafe and is a huge weekend hotspot for tourists and locals alike. Their dishes were offered in generous portions and their range of cakes equally as enticing. Of course, great coffee as well.
If I were buy one thing at Industry, a home goods and lifestyle boutique, I would buy everything. So I refrained since I only had a carry on with no more space. I loved their selection of homewares though and made a mental note to return with bigger luggage next time. There is also an in house cafe within the shop.
It’s safe to say I plan on returning to Dublin. The city was dressed in autumn colors when I visited so I imagine springtime would offer an equally vibrant welcome.
Note: My stay in Dublin was kindly supported by Tourism Ireland. All views are my own.