Dublin Guide: Luxury hotel concierges give their recommendations
A guide to Dublin's best attractions, restaurants, bars and unusual experiences, as judged by head concierges from three of the city's best hotels.
Dublin is an ideal destination for a weekend break. For first-time visitors planning an introductory holiday and repeat visitors searching for more authentic local experiences, concierges from three of Dublin's best hotels give their advice on the best of the city's attractions, its most beautiful locations and the best place to go to hear live Irish music.
Sharing their knowledge are:
Sean Lally, concierge at The Merrion hotel
David McNally, concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel, Dublin
Denis TC O'Brien, concierge at The Shelbourne Hotel
I’m new here. Tell me something interesting about Dublin.
Sean: Dublin was founded by the Vikings in the 9th Century. Since then it’s been home to many cultures, with matching architecture around the city: Viking, Norman, Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and modern.
David: The name Dublin comes from the Gaelic ‘dubh linn’, which means “black pool”. The pool in question was the site of an ancient harbour now part of Dublin Castle
Which attraction should I definitely make time to see?
Sean: A hurling match at Croke Park is not to be missed. Our unique national sport, hurling is the world’s fastest field sport and heart stopping to watch.
David: Visit the museum and take in the atmospheric on a poignant tour of Kilmainham Gaol, which focuses on the history of Ireland’s struggle for independence.
Denis: Without a doubt a visit to Dublin without seeing The Book of Kells in Trinity College is like visiting Paris and not seeing the Mona Lisa. The Book of Kells is our foremost National Antiquity.
Which of the “must-visit” attractions should I avoid?
Sean: Temple Bar can be overwhelming late in the evening – it’s best during the day.
David: There is nothing especially to be avoided in the city. However, the Guinness Storehouse is the most visited attraction in the city and it’s best to arrive in the morning before crowds build – you can book online to avoid the queues.
Is there a particular exhibition I should see while I’m here?
Sean: The Irish Museum of Modern Art’s ‘Analysing Cubism’ explores early Cubism through the work of artists including Albert Gleizes, Evie Hone and Mainie Jellett (whose works hangs in The Merrion as part of our Irish art collection). It runs until May 19.
David: Definitely make time to visit the Hugh Lane Gallery with its amazing collection of 19th- and 20th-century art and the time capsule-like Francis Bacon Studio.
Denis: One of the hidden gems is the permanent exhibition “ Sacred Exhibitions” at the Chester Beatty Library, which is based in Dublin Castle. This exhibition comprises sacred texts, illuminated manuscripts and miniature art from various parts of the world representing such beliefs as Islam, Christianity, Daoism and Buddhism to name but a few.
Where can I take the best picture of Dublin?
Sean: For a traditional picture of Dublin, a snap incorporating the Ha’penny Bridge – west towards the Four Courts. Or for a shot of modern Dublin from the Matt Talbot Bridge incorporating the Samuel Beckett Bridge, The Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship and Dublin Bay.
David: Choose from a walk down the South Bull Wall at the port, with water on all sides, or take the trail to the Head of Howth for unique views of Dublin city.
Denis: At the car park on the summit of the Hill of Howth. You have the most spectacular view of Dublin Bay, the city of Dublin with the Dublin Mountains in the background.
I’d like to try something new here – what do you recommend?
Sean: The Dublin Ghost Tour is a gothic-style mobile theatre with a storyteller leading a spellbinding trip through Dublin. You learn the real origins of Dracula and Dublin’s Bram Stoker. Also stop at the College of Physicians where Dr Clossy’s spirit is still seen, carrying buckets of human entrails! From there you can visit the site where Walking Gallows, notorious judge and hangman, gruesomely dispatched his victims.
David: Irish dancing has become famous worldwide. See professional dancers in action and learn some dance steps with the dancers at Jig in the Powerscourt Townhouse.
Denis: The multimedia show Jig reveals the history of Irish dancing, with a museum and live demonstrations by champion dancers. There is also tuition available.
I’d like to buy an unusual souvenir – what do you recommend?
Sean: Stop at St Patrick’s Cathedral for a knitted Aran water-bottle cover.
David: Choose between a personalised bottle of whiskey from the Old Jameson Distillery or a coat of arms and family name history from the House of Names.
Denis: I recommend good quality hand-knitted garments, not the mass-produced knitwear.
Tell me a phrase or piece of slang I can use to fit in around here.
Sean: “Thanks a million” and “grand” are colloquialisms that should already be familiar to most English-speaking visitors. David: Dubliners make great use of the epithets: “yer man” (male) and “yer one” (female). Use the phrase: “would ya take a look at the state of yer man /one” and you’ll fit right in!
Denis: “What’s the craic?” It simply means ‘what’s happening?
What’s the best restaurant in the city right now?
Sean: Michelin-starred Chapter One which is in the same Georgian building as the Dublin Writers Museum –the team here created a state banquet for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II, under Chef Ross Lewis. We are lucky to have Ireland’s only two Michelin starred Restaurant, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, at The Merrion.
David: We love Chapter One for its modern Irish cuisine and warm Irish welcome and Restaurant 41 at the Residence Club for its creative menus and stunning surroundings.
Denis: The best restaurant is the two Michelin starred Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. But I do believe that there is a restaurant out there for most occasions, be it just a fun night out or a special time.
And where’s best for drinks?
Sean: A great pub, which without a doubt is a favourite of Dubliners, is Keogh’s, South Anne Street – it has a quirky, authentic atmosphere, like you’d find in a country village.
David: For contemporary surrounding try No. 37 on Dawson Street. For traditional Dublin pub atmosphere visit the Long Hall on South Great George’s Street.
Denis: I would recommend Kehoes of South Anne Street, very popular with locals.
Where can I hear Irish music in Dublin?
Sean: You can find it seven nights a week at Anglers Rest, Strawberry Beds pub and restaurant, a 20-minute taxi ride from central Dublin.
David: Try the Cobblestone at Smithfield or O’Donoghue’s on Merrion Row for the most authentic music sessions in the city.
Denis: There are many bars throughout the city which provide great music sessions, the older well-established bars like O’Donoghue’s of Merrion Row and Oliver St. John Gogarty continue the tradition of great music.
I’m going to propose to my partner while I’m here – where should I do it?
Sean: Perhaps over a picnic on the beautiful St Stephen’s Green. Or you could try Howth Head on the peninsula just outside the city, with fabulous views of Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Mountains.
David: With the 800-year-old backdrop of Malahide Castle, get on bended knee in the romantic surroundings of the walled Victorian Garden for the perfect proposal.
Denis: Try the bandstand in St. Stephen’s Green.
Who’s the standout creative talent in Dublin right now – is there someone in particular whose work I should check out before I leave?
Sean: The young rhythm and blues band The Strypes are getting a lot of attention, as are the band Kodaline, who have been nominated for BBC and MTV awards this year.
David: Take time to explore the regularly changing exhibits at the Royal Hibernian Academy to see the best from Ireland’s emerging artists.
Is it possible to see plays by Irish playwrights while I’m here?
Denis: Yes we have the Gate, Abbey, Gaiety and Tivoli theatres. You can see Irish plays at all of them, from the likes of Beckett and so on.
David: Definitely! The Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National theatre features plays by our most famous playwrights as well as showcasing the works of new writers.
Sean: There’s always something. The Frank McGuinness play ‘Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me’, about three hostages sharing a cell in Beirut, as the warring relationship between England and Ireland continues, runs at The New Theatre from March 19-30.
How can I best celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin?
Denis: The St Patrick’s Day festival is all week long, culminating in the St Patrick’s Day Parade. During that time you can also do a walking tour of the city, enjoy the Irish Comedy festival and visit the Irish Craft Beer Festival.
David: Sample Guinness in its place of birth, eat the best of Irish produce with traditional influences in the Winding Stair restaurant and experience an evening of Folklore & Storytelling at Dublin’s oldest tavern The Brazen Head.
Sean: St Patrick’s Day is an extended event now, not a one-day festival. This year you can start the weekend off on Friday at St Stephen’s Green, at a Céili (a festival of Irish dancing). Learn the steps and soak up the atmosphere. On Saturday take in traditional Irish Music with Céilí House Live in Concert at the National Concert Hall. The Parade on Sunday is a must. A VIP Grandstand Ticket gives a bird’s eye view of the event, and all our best buildings will be lit in green throughout.
I’d like to explore the Irish countryside from Dublin. Is there a particular daytrip you’d recommend?
Denis: I would recommend a trip to either Wicklow, the Garden County of Ireland, or to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher on the southwest coast in Co. Clare.
David: The driver-guides at M.T. Cabs will take you into the magical countryside of Co. Wicklow to explore this area of mountains, lakes and forests know as the Garden of Ireland.
Sean: No one offers a better day than Wild Wicklow Tours. Trips include a city tour, coastal drive past Dun Laoghaire Harbour, then to Glendalough, a 6th-century monastic settlement. From there the tours continue across the Wicklow Mountains through the Sally Gap – the location for Braveheart, with the most spectacular views.
Thanks for your help. Should I tip in Dublin?
Sean: Generally speaking Irish people don’t expect tips but they are gladly welcomed, in acknowledgement of quality service and a job well done.
Denis: Tipping is at the guests’ discretion but a service charge will be added to the bill in most Dublin restaurants.
John O'Ceallaigh Telegraph.co.uk