Visiting any city for the first time is an exercise in setting expectations. You can only read so much about the culture, nightlife and food in a guidebook before you need to experience the locals first hand, order a pint of Guinness or eat shepherd’s pie and really visit a destination. Setting foot out into the city streets, you begin to compare your first hand experiences against everything that you thought you knew about a destination. In some facets, you’re surprised and impressed by the difference; in others, you’re underwhelmed.
Taking advantage of some weekend work in the Emerald Isle, I recently spent some time in the capital city for my first trip to Ireland. I was moved most by the ten things below:
- You’re never going to want to eat Shepherd’s Pie at your local Irish pub again. No, Dublin isn’t known for its pinky-up food culture, but the things that they get right they really get right.
- The city revolves around drinking. To that end, bar crawling in Dublin can be performed quite literally. One only needs to mosey down two or three store fronts before he or she discovers another pub almost identical to the one that was just left. It’s disorienting enough having a bar on all four corners of every intersection in the downtown area – now try doing it with 17 pints of Smithwicks in your stomach. Currently, the drinking problem has become so profound that there is a massive public effort to curb binge drinking, the majority of which is found in telly and bus ads trying to guilt people out of overindulging.
- There isn’t really that much to see besides the 976,000 bars. Yes, Dublin has a couple of excellent museums, Trinity College, Phoenix Park and the Guinness factory (does that even count?), but compared to some of the heavy hitters in the EU like Rome or Paris, Dublin’s “cultural” fodder is a bit anemic — which isn’t to say that the city isn’t worth visiting, either. I’m personally a bar and cafe sort of person, so I found the area quite charming.
- Temple Bar is not an enormous tourist trap. It’s a tourist trap, yes, but in the same sense that Times Square is. Just like everyday New Yorkers visit 42nd street, real Irish can be found in the district just south of the river, you can get a good shepherd’s pie and there is plenty of cultural flavor in the area. Make sure you stop by at least once during your stay.
- Phoenix park is the largest city park in all of Europe. Just Northwest of the hailed Temple Bar, you can walk around Phoenix for an hour and barely scrape the surface of the massive plot. Much of the perfectly tailored grass is on limits, so you can feel free to walk awry from the winding paths, take your shoes off and really absorb the fertilizer into your bare feet. Contrast this to the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, where hundreds of locals pull up chairs to the edge of the path just to watch the grass silently sit there undisturbed.
- Skyscrapers are nonexistent downtown. In fact, the tallest series of buildings around town happen to be in the network of Guinness buildings. Which leads us to:
- Guinness sponsors everything. In addition to their near omnipresence in every pub (and hence on every corner in the city,) the beer company also has independent retail stores where you can buy branded underwear and sheets, sponsors athletic teams and appears to be the impetus behind 9 out of 10 business deals in the country.
- Shamrocks, Leprechauns and pots of gold are all out. We think that Guinness bought the patent on each of these ideas and swallowed them into the beer empire.
- It’s going to rain. Really. They don’t call it the Emerald Isle because it’s known for arid plains and rolling deserts. It rains here like the heavens just broke up with their long term girlfriend. A good rule of thumb is to take any precipitation forecast you saw on the news and multiply it by four.
- Riverdance is ridiculous. But it does happen. And people eat it up like pigeons fighting for popcorn. Several of the more touristy hotels even offer the spectacle nightly, where hundreds of tourists amass during the evening hours to watch a few poor sots dance their hearts out and spin in circles. If you’re really interested in finding something of this sort in Dublin, just follow the mess of fanny packs at around 9PM and you’ll inevitably reach a venue.