Europe’s Most Fun and Friendly City Needs to Be on Your Travel List

No city is better for dancing in pubs, hugging complete strangers, and celebrating when you can do either of those two things safely.

Note: We know COVID-19 is impacting travel plans right now. For a little inspiration, we'll continue to share stories from our favorite places around the world. Be sure to check travel restrictions and protocols before you head out.

For the second year in a row, your dream of being one in the 500,000-strong crowd at Dublin’s famous St. Patrick’s Day parade is off the table. But you can still get your dose of Irish culture: Once again, St. Patrick’s Day is virtual this year, and the lineup is actually pretty cool. Irish folklore with a storyteller that looks like Dumbledore? Sign us up. 

If you miss the Guinness as much as we do, now’s also a good time to plan ahead for that bucket-list trip to Ireland. Why? Dublin just begs you to throw down. The streets are choked with pubs, the whisky is fantastic, and the locals are friendly to the extreme. Expect to be chatted up in a not-at-all-creepy way by basically anyone and everyone. Pretty soon you'll be swapping stories, buying rounds, snapping selfies, and tipsily pinkie-promising that you'll visit each other always. We can think of no better place to celebrate when the world opens up again.

A common misconception is that Dublin is just about the boozing, but this historic city also boasts lush parks, impressive museums, and a zippy food scene. Perhaps owing to the generous flow of whisky and tall tales from strangers, Dublin has a fierce literary heritage, which you can tap into with a visit to Oscar Wilde’s house, or a musty ancient library that looks exactly the same as it did 300 years ago. And since the whole of Ireland is no bigger than the state of Indiana, when you get tired of shooting the breeze, the peaceful seaside is just a 30-minute train ride away.

When to visit Dublin

Seriously, don’t even bother Googling “Dublin weather.” It can be freezing cold in June, or gloriously sunny in October. You simply never know. Rain is a constant threat here, so prepare accordingly. 

The city is overrun with tourists during the peak summer months, when hotel rates can be extortionate. Ditto for the week around St Patrick’s Day: While some people see it as a bucket-list experience, the hotel prices go through the roof and the city is filled to the brim with people. 

You’re better off waiting until September or October, when things are a bit quieter, the air is a little cooler, and the leaves in the city parks turn a glorious shade of red. Plus, the turf fires will start to be lit, and there’s nothing cozier than the smell of smoldering peat.

 Peruke & Periwig
Don't be afraid to stray from the classic pubs. | Peruke & Periwig

Where to drink in the world’s greatest drinking city

Dublin may be known for its bars, but its residents aren’t all hard drinkers—it’s usually the tourists who come into town and “go on the absolute rip,” as a Dubliner would say. Pubs essentially function as the city’s de facto living rooms: places to meet a friend for a few pints, have a snack before you go for dinner, or sit with the papers for an hour or two. It’s not all Guinness, either—there are plenty of other solid craft beers. Visit Against the Grain to sample a huge array of ales on tap.

Though the cocktail scene has waned over the last few years, there are still loads of places that do it right—try the Lucky Duck or Peruke & Periwig for top-notch mixology. For a city known for its whiskey, Dublin loves its gin, so you can get a decent bucket of G&T almost anywhere. Try one of the Irish craft brands like Gunpowder or Shortcross, with a Fever Tree tonic.

If you’re all about the whisky, check out the Jameson distillery’s Bow Street Experience: For 25 euros, you'll get a full tour and history of the distillery, a comparative tasting of Jameson, Johnny Walker Black, and Jack Daniel's, and a Jameson cocktail served at their swanky bar. Here are the coolest places to drink in Dublin.

rainy day dublin
Find a pub with a "snug" to wait out the rain. | Unsplash/Anna Church

Take in the city's best attractions, rain or shine

Dublin doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to weather. But it does have an inordinate amount of warm, welcoming pubs and grand museums that make drying off and hiding out ridiculously easy. All of Dublin's national museums are totally free, so check out some of the local archaeology or natural history (Ireland has plenty of both), as well as the Irish Museum of Modern ArtHere’s where to go if you’re caught in the rain.

If you’re blessed with a bit of sun, make like a Dubliner and head straight to the park. Stephen’s Green is worth a visit if only to see the pond’s aggressive seagulls who have figured out how to disguise themselves as ducks in order to get fed by tourists. A quieter option is the Iveagh Gardens, which has its own little waterfall and great spots for a picnic (stop at the nearby Green Bench Café for a grilled chicken sandwich to go).

Like every other visitor to Dublin, you'll undoubtedly want to snap a selfie in front of the famous Ha'penny Bridge, but the water is good for more than just an Instagram backdrop. Book online for a 15 euro riverboat tour, or spring for a two-hour kayak tour down the River Liffey, right through the heart of Dublin. For $17, you can also take the "Dead Interesting" tour of Glasnevin Cemetery, which provides an atypical, fascinating view of the city.

We'd also challenge you to walk half a block in the city center without encountering free live music, and lots of it. It comes pouring out of the pubs, from the street performers, and at festivals like July's City Spectacular or August's Beatyard.

The Butcher Grill
Forget every stereotype you've ever heard about Irish cuisine. | The Butcher Grill

Dining in Dublin

There’s so much good food to eat in Dublin that it makes me hungry just thinking about it. That said, as a general rule, the restaurants on the main tourist drag of Temple Bar aren’t worth bothering with… the exceptions being Klaw Café, Bunsen, Banyi, and Dollard & Co. And please, swear that you’ll never eat in a place that also has a live Irish dance show. It won’t end well. 

If you can, get invited to a local dinner party with Gruel Guerrilla. This is such an amazing time: Basically, chef Kevin Powell throws regular pop-up suppers around the city, where he feeds you an amazing seasonal meal of exclusively Irish-sourced ingredients, many of which have been foraged from city parks around Dublin. He's also really into traditionally Irish methods of preservation and preparation, so venture into his kitchen and chat him up about it. It's 35 euro for seven courses, which has to be one of the better deals imaginable, and it's BYOB.

What we're trying to say is that it's time to do away with every negative stereotype you've ever heard about Irish cuisine. Dublin's culinary culture is on the rise, with ridiculously fresh seafood, a vast and competitive pizza scene, and scores of trendy restaurants from creative young chefs. Here's a full guide to dining in Dublin.

Where to stay on a trip to Dublin

Dublin may be small, but there are plenty of distinct little neighborhoods worth exploring within the city. The good news is that most of them are only a short walk from the center of town, so you won’t be too far from the action, no matter where you choose to post up. Here’s the lay of the land:

The city center
Most of Dublin’s big tourist attractions are here, along with the bulk of its restaurants and pubs. For a super affordable boutique stay, Kelly’s Hotel is slap bang in the middle of the action on George’s Street, lined with the best places to drink and eat in Dublin. If you want to push the boat out, The Shelbourne is one of the finest heritage properties in the city, in a gorgeous building overlooking Stephen’s Green park. Their bar is prime for people watching. 

The Liberties
One of the oldest and most charming neighborhoods in Dublin, the Liberties has undergone something of a renaissance over the last few years. Historically, this was the whisky-distilling district (back in 1875, a warehouse fire sent a river of burning spirits through the streets). Loads of new distilleries have popped up, like Teeling and Roe & Co. With new whisky, comes new hotels… try the Aloft Dublin City for its rooftop bar, with views over the city’s spires out to the mountains. The new Hyatt Centric is right next to Fallon’s, one of the most crookedly charming pubs in the city. Rates are far cheaper here than in the city center, and it’s only a 15-minute walk to most of the places you’d want to go. 
   
Smithfield
A kind of hipster, techy enclave, Smithfield (and its neighboring village of Stoneybatter) is a teeny bit further away, but filled with cool little cafés, bars, and restaurants. The Hendrick is a sleek new pod hotel, while Generator Dublin is on the square right next door to the Jameson distillery. They offer both super cheap dorm rooms and private rooms at a great value. 

Ranelagh
About a 30-minute walk from the city center, Ranelagh’s streets are lined with red brick Georgian houses, lending the neighborhood a quaint village aesthetic. Stay here if you’re looking for a more peaceful, local vibe away from the tourist throngs; there are still loads of cool little pubs and restaurants on the main street. Try The Devlin, a chic, artsy hotel with a rooftop bar and rooms on the smaller, cheaper side.

County Donegal draws surfers from all across the globe. | BRIAN KELLY/UNSPLASH

Hit one of Europe’s most unexpected surf spots

One of Ireland’s biggest draws is its stunning coastline, not far from Dublin. Hop on a quick train to the staggering waves and dramatic green cliffs that resemble something out of an Irish folktale. Despite Ireland’s reputation for rain and rough waters, the waves that rock up against its craggy shores actually make this one of Europe’s best surfing destinations. Not to mention surfers here are rarely territorial, creating a culture that’s open to newcomers, locals and tourists alike. Catch huge waves (or simply vibe in a pub) in Easkey, where you’ll spot the nearly 550-year-old O’Dowd’s Castle from your board. Or make a summertime trip to the Surf Capital of Ireland, Bundoran, where you can dance away your nights at the Sea Sessions festival once you’re back on shore.

Fans gathered outside for the Queen concert at Slane Castle, 1986. | INDEPENDENT NEWS AND MEDIA/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

Catch a rock show at a giant 300-year-old castle

Speaking of castles, let’s talk about another good one: Castle Slane. About a 45-minute drive from Dublin, this 18th-century stone palace now serves the rock gods as a legendary music venue. Castle Slane began hosting concerts in 1981; past acts include U2, The Rolling Stones, Queen, David Bowie, Madonna, and Metallica. They only throw one concert a year (and took the last two years off, ‘cause Covid) but even if you visit on one of the 364 non-rock days, the surrounding Boyne Valley offers prehistoric sites like Brú na Bóinne that predate Stonehenge and the pyramids. Plus, Slane Castle keeps the party real local; in 2017, the stable was turned into an on-site whisky distillery.

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Contributing writers: Nicola Brady, Yolanda Evans, Jess Novak, and Tiana Attride