Our first impressions of Ireland came through two days to see the sights in Dublin. Dublin is a vibrant European city that is still small enough to give a sense of reassuring familiarity after a day or two. More laid back feeling than Edinburgh or London, Dublin’s small scale and the incredibly friendly people there will make you feel welcome and comfortable.
There were many aspects of Dublin that I really enjoyed. The small scale of the city and the unhurried feeling that it gave us was refreshing after having visited many other large European cities in recent years. Not feeling the pressure of needing to get around to see everything at a breakneck pace was a welcome relief in Dublin.
In addition, Dublin has designated many popular tourist areas such as Grafton Street and Temple Bar as pedestrian only. This lets you enjoy wandering from shop to shop (or pub to pub) without the extra worry of negotiating traffic in a strange city (especially difficult if you are from a country where cars come from the other way.)
Dublin’s many national museums are free (though I have heard that this might not be so for very much longer) and give you an opportunity to explore Ireland’s history and culture. We saw an interesting exhibit of Viking artifacts at the National Museum of Ireland and I was amazed by the detail of the designs in the metal work and jewelry for people that lived so long ago.
To be completely fair and unbiased, there were a few aspects of Dublin that I was not so crazy about. Dublin is not a good budget travel destination. Other than the public parks and the National Museums, there are very few cheap options for things to do in the city.
Dublin does offer a city pass and if you want to see more than 2-3 different sites, it might be worth purchasing as there is very little to do for free. If you want to see the top attractions (Guinness Brewery, Jameson Distillery, Book of Kells) the pass is definitely worthwhile as getting into all of these attractions can get expensive quickly.
Dublin does have a bus system, and we were able to get around on it but it was confusing at times. We never actually saw a map of the bus route either on the bus or at any of the stops, so it was hard to figure out where to get off. If you are thinking of using the bus in Dublin, I would suggest printing out some maps of the routes that you think you might use before you go.
The bus was also not exactly cheap, at 2.15 euro per ride. We were spending $17 for three of us each time we went from our hotel near the airport into Dublin and back. Staying in the center of town would save you money in bus fees (but rooms were very expensive in town while we were there because of St. Patrick’s day weekend.)
Another downside to our time in Dublin was the lack of budget dining options. The cheap pub food that we had found abundantly all over England and Scotland was nowhere to be found in Ireland, particularly in Dublin. This made feeding the two bottomless pits that I travel with within a budget tricky.
Cheap options for breakfast were pretty much limited to pastries from coffee shops and sausage and pastry rolls from the convenience store. Fast food breakfast was also an option. Any other options for hot breakfast started at about 8 euros minimum for traditional Irish Breakfast (and 8 euros per person adds up quickly when there are three of us every time for breakfast!)
Soup in the pub with brown bread seemed to run about 4.50 euros (which would have been great, but probably wouldn’t have filled us up for very long). A bowl of beef and Guinness stew seemed to run 10 euros minimum, which is above my threshold for cheap lunch. Fish and chips ran 10-14 euros.
The best cheap lunch that we found was a good sized bowl of Mongolian Barbecue with a side of rice for 5 euro. This is the only 5 euro lunch in Dublin that we found that filled us up for any length of time.
One of the unexpected highlights of our visit to Dublin was the Kilmainham Gaol. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this place, but it was really neat to see a Victorian style jail and it gave me insight into that period of history and the mindset of that era.
I had also been feeling like I had a lot to learn about Irish history (I am ashamed to say this, but my knowledge of Irish history extended as far as potatoes and famine and not much farther) and our stop at Kilmainham filled in some of those gaps. We learned a lot about the historical events that revolved around the prison that helped to shape Ireland’s present day history.
I know that other people will disagree with me, but Dublin held enough activities for us for a two day visit. After that, it was time for us to continue on to some of the many day trips that are possible with Dublin as a base.
So, while not the most budget friendly destination, Dublin is an incredibly friendly city that is easy to traverse and comfortable to be in. Starting in Dublin is a must to get a grasp of Irish culture and history before heading out into the countryside. It is a cozy friendly city with a distinctly Irish attitude. Try it, you’ll like it!