At the start of the year, I realised quite how ridiculous it was that I hadn’t visited Ireland, given it’s close proximity and the fact that I travel to Northern Ireland regularly for work. With that in mind, I booked a solo weekend trip to Dublin to explore some of the Emerald Isle. I’ll be upfront and say I didn’t fall in love with Dublin, but I did have a fun weekend and wanted to share some of my tips and recommendations for the capital of Ireland.
I actually travelled to Dublin from Belfast via the train, which was quick, straightforward and so cheap compared to train travel in the UK. I booked my tickets in advance online at Translink and paid around £7 one way.
Flying to Dublin from around Europe is really easy; I flew back to Manchester with Aer Lingus, the country’s flag carrier. From the UK, you can also get a ferry from Liverpool or Holyhead over to Ireland if you’d prefer.
Travelling to and from the airport
As usual, taxi is the most straightforward but priciest way to get to and from the airport. Taking the Airlink Express bus is cheap and pretty simple; there are bus stops all around the city. It costs around 6 euros for a single ticket. Book your ticket ahead of time here.
Euro is the currency of Ireland, great if you are travelling from somewhere else in Europe. Not such good news for those coming from the UK given the current exchange rate, especially as Dublin is on the expensive side. Still, Euros are readily available from all currency exchanges in the UK, I’d recommend buying before you fly to get the best rate. Avoid exchanging money at the airport. If this is your only option, I’d advise you to order this for collection, you’ll get a much better rate than if you walk up on the day.
Dublin is quite compact and so is a very walkable city. I always think that exploring by foot is the best way to see a city anyway, so don’t forget to pack your walking shoes!
The only thing I would say is that you need to be careful with the traffic. It gets really busy in the city centre, and pedestrian crossings are not on the side of pedestrians, frustratingly. You can be waiting a fair while to cross the road. Many locals don’t wait for a green light, as I often don’t back at home in the UK. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, I had two near misses in Dublin where cars flew fast around corners almost in to me!
If you’re not up for walking, Dublin has an extensive train, tram and bus system you can use. Ubers are really expensive, so avoid using these. There’s also the usual hop on, hop off sightseeing bus if that’s your jam.
Like with most capital cities in western Europe, accommodation is expensive, particularly at weekends. I stayed at the Generator Hostel, which I was so disappointed with. Definitely wouldn’t recommend. Unless you’re in Dublin to party and meet new people, I’d recommend staying in a hotel or B&B, rather than a hostel.
Although I can’t recommend specific accommodation (sorry), I will say to look on booking.com, which is by far my favourite site for hotels. You can even collect Avios points to convert to flights and free stays when you use the site.
From what I’ve read and heard, Dublin is quite a safe city. I felt safe when I was there, even walking alone at night; although this wasn’t very late and I did stick to well-lit, busy areas. Use the usual amount of caution and your visit should be trouble-free.
What to see and do
Free walking tour
A free walking tour is a great place to start in an city, and Dublin is no exception. I joined the Yellow Umbrella Tours Southside Tour. It was great; quite long and the tour guide was extremely knowledgeable. The meeting point is easy to find, just head to the giant needle on O’ Connell Street (you’ll know when you see it). If you’re still struggling to find it, the tour guides will be holding yellow umbrellas which are easy to spot.
Whilst the tour is free, I’d recommend that you tip if you’re happy with it. Most of the 24 people on my tour gave a tip, and rightly so. It’s up to you how much to give; I gave 5 euros as that’s all I had to hand.
Trinity College and The Book of Kells
One of the most famous landmarks in Dublin, Trinity College is a must-see. The grounds and architecture are stunning and it’s free to walk around. I didn’t personally visit the Book of Kells as I was pushed for time but the Old Library (included in our admission ticket) looks stunning on the photos I’ve seen.
Word of warning, there isn’t actually much of the original castle left. Still, it’s free to look around outside and I’d definitely add it to your list if you have time. It was included as a stop on the free walking tour that I joined. Adult admission costs 10 euros if you do want to go inside.
Not just the famous red coloured pub you’ll see in all the tourist photos, Temple Bar is a whole area on the southside of the river. It’s full of restaurants, pubs and bars; and is buzzing during the afternoon and through to the evening. Definitely the place to go if you’re looking for drinks and a good time.
Classic tourist shot of The Temple Bar
Dublin’s most famous bridge, the Ha’Penny is a striking white structure, not far from Temple Bar. It gets it name from the half penny toll charge that those wanting to cross the Liffey via the bridge had to pay. You’ll be glad to know that there is no longer a charge and you’re free to walk over the bridge as many times as you like! If you’re looking for some Instagram material, head there around sunset to get some great shots.
A Georgian square on the southside of the city, Merrion Square is well worth a wander over. If not for the beautiful greenery, then for the colourful doors that adorn the houses around the square! Instagrammer heaven.
National Art Gallery of Ireland
Some of you may have already read about how I found an appreciation for art in Stockholm. I was keen to discover some art in Dublin and headed to the National Art Gallery, where admission is free.
Head there if you’re an art fan or even just as a break from the hustle and bustle of the city outside.
Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Whiskey Distillery
I didn’t visit either of these but you can’t exclude them from a Dublin what to see and do list! Two of the most popular attractions, head there to learn about the history of each drink and even to pour your own Guinness.
The main shopping area in Dublin is on and around O’Connell street, on the northside of the river. There are a couple of shopping centres and all the usual European high street shops.
Here are some of the food places that I ate at and loved:
I stumbled upon Urbanity Coffee by accident as it was close by my hostel but boy am I glad I did. My brunch there was the top pick whilst I was in Dublin and I’d go as far as saying it was the best brunch dish I’ve ever eaten. The staff were also super friendly and the cafe itself it really cool inside.
Grab a delicious coffee, a tasty brunch dish and sit and watch the world go by from the window.
Flat whites are life <3
Looking for something tasty, filling and affordable? Look no further than Boojum, a fast-food style Mexican chain serving delicous burritos, tacos and salads. The portion sizes are huge and the food is bloody good. Head there and you’ll see why it’s so popular.
The Ramen Bar
This was my first food stop in Dublin. Yes I know Ramen is hardly traditional Irish food but to be honest, I’ve eaten plenty of fish & chips etc. back at home, so just researched where I can find some of the best Asian food.
A relatively new addition inside the established restaurant, Kokoro Bento, The Ramen Bar did not disappoint. I had Tonkotsu Butter Miso and it was possibly the best Ramen I’ve had outside of Japan. Service was efficient, and they have bench style seating which is perfect for solo diners. Check out their delicious menu here.
Frank and Honest
I have to say that in the UK, we definitely don’t associate convenience stores with trendy cafes and tasty coffee. But Dublin does this so well. Head to Frank and Honest, which are part of Musgrave Retail convenience stores, for a cheap and delicious start to your day.
Inside Frank & Honest
Cappuccino & pastry to start the day
Wolf & Spoon
Another hidden gem that I accidentally ended up in, Wolf & Spoon is a gorgeous little cafe serving great coffee. They also serve light lunches and snacks but I unfortunately didn’t get to eat there. This place is away from the main city area, situated sort of between Dublin Castle and St Stephen’s Green.
Outside uber cool Wolf & Spoon
Off Beat Donut Co
It’s actually pretty odd in my opinion but Dublin has SO MANY donut shops. Since when is Ireland known for its donuts? Still, not complaining. Rolling Donut seems to be the most popular chain but I tried Off Beat Donut Co and wasn’t disappointed with my yummy Kinder Bueno donut. Great for a quick snack or pick me up whilst you’re exploring the city.
When in Dublin…
As I said, I travelled solo around Dublin. Whilst I enjoyed myself and felt very safe, I don’t feel that its the perfect city for solo travellers, if there’s even such a thing.
The city seemed to me to very much be about having a great time with friends over food and drinks. Given that I was alone, I felt a little like an outsider in the city. I would visit again but definitely not as a solo traveller.
Have you been to Dublin? What did you think of the city if so? I’d love to hear your thoughts!