Five things to do in (and around) Dublin, even in the rainy winter

things to do in dublin

Ah, Dublin. Home to Guinness, a Leprechaun museum, an absurdly tall spire and the famous / infamous Temple Bar quarter. It’s also home to around 300 days of cloudy or rainy weather, which begs the question: why are you fixing to fork out hundreds, possibly thousands more just to visit in the summer? There’s no question that the weather in Europe is far more palatable in the spring and summer months, but it’s also shockingly expensive. A flight to anywhere within the EU jumps up by orders of magnitude as soon as you select June, July or August as your departure date and in the case of Ireland, there’s really no need to hand over extra to an airline when you could be spending those dollars Euros on attractions, pub food and better hotels. I’ve always been a fan of visiting places in the off-season, and Dublin’s no different. Read on to learn of five slightly off-the-wall things to do in (and around) the Irish capital.

%Gallery-117267%Visiting U2’s former recording digs: Windmill Lane Studios

things to do in dublin

A good part of the entire world knows that U2 hails from Ireland, but if you’re a hardcore fan, you owe it to yourself to see where things began. The (now-defunct) Windmill Lane Studios is where the group recorded Joshua Tree, War and Boy, and while the studio itself has now relocated to a different section of Dublin, the prior building still stands as part of the Rock ‘N Stroll history trail. It’s covered in graffiti, and you’ll know you’re near the entrance when you start seeing loads of U2 shout-outs from tourists around the globe. Feel free to pack a Sharpie and leave your token of appreciation (and hometown) behind. Directions to the studio are here — this is one time where you’ll need to read up rather than trusting Google Maps.

A dainty stroll through Powerscourt Gardens and The River Walk

things to do in dublin

What’s a trip to Dublin without a trip out of Dublin? The Powerscourt Estate sits just 45 minutes south, within County Wicklow, and it’s a slice of age-old paradise. The House & Gardens are well worth exploring — it’s some of the most beautiful grounds these eyes have ever seen — and since it’ll tough to return after just a day, I’d recommend an overnight stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt. You’ll get free cycles to rent, a free pass to the absolutely stunning River Walk and pampering that you’ve always dreamed of. The only problem? It’ll make your city center digs seem downright plain. Read more on our visit here.

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Pub hop on O’Connell Street and the Temple Bar area

things to do in dublin

If you’re coming to Dublin for the first time, there are two names you really need to know within the city center: O’Connell and Temple. The former is dotted with a massive spire and includes a number of famed pubs and shops, while the Temple Bar area is just across the bridge (look for the giant Heiniken sign, and turn right). There, you’ll find budget accommodations (hostels galore), and more pubs than any lightweight could ever visit in a night. The Auld Dubliner is a personal favorite for grub and drinks, and the live musicians that show up there are tremendously talented. Oh, and make sure you order Guinness. Anything else just wouldn’t be Irish enough.

Venture west to the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren and Bunratty Castle

things to do in dublin

The east coast is gorgeous, but the west? Doubly so. Paddywagon Tours offers a 12 hour day trip to the west of Ireland, hitting County Galway (and the Bay), Corcomroe Abbey (a gorgeous church left in ruins), Poulnabrone Dolmen Portal Tomb (a standing monument from 4,000+ years ago), The Burren (a totally unique and mind-blowing rocky landscape), Doolin (Ireland’s unofficially official Irish music capital), the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher and finally, Bunratty Castle. At around $70 per person (admission to the Cliffs inclued), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value when it comes to gawking at the highlights on the opposite side of the Republic. Try to peek the forecast ahead of time and lock down a day with a lesser chance of rain, but even if it pours, take a raincoat and soak it all in — Ireland wouldn’t be as green as it is without nature’s tears, you know!

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Leave the country… by car

things to do in dublin

If you’re brave enough to take the wheel while situated on the passenger’s side of the car (not to mention remembering to keep your motorcar on the left of the road), you can head straight to Northern Ireland via road. And you’ll be there in under two hours. Belfast and the surrounding areas offer some pretty extreme outdoor activities, and while it may be a bit chilly and rainy in the off-season, you’ll be fighting fewer crowds all the while. If you aren’t so adventurous, the lovely lads at Paddywagon offer another day trip to Belfast, and we can personally attest to their adeptness at handling reverse traffic.

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

All of these activities were enjoyed during the height of the off-season in Ireland, and I’d obviously recommend ’em to anyone. Pack a few warm layers and a solid raincoat, and head out with a mind to enjoy yourself no matter what. If you have any other off-season Dublin must-dos, toss ’em into the comments section below!

Ireland’s Powerscourt Estate: beauty, luxury, and a Ritz-Carlton just an hour from Dublin

powerscourt

Myself, like many Americans, fantasize about visiting Ireland. We’ve all seen the calendars scattered throughout malls and bookstores — cover to cover spreads of lush, green flora, craggy hills and the occasional Leprechaun. We all think we know what Irish music is thanks to the soundtrack of Boondock Saints. And the seasoned travelers in attendance know that DUB is one of the, if not the, cheapest airport in Europe for Americans to fly into. It’s not like you needed any convincing to head to The Emerald Isle, but if you’re looking for a little direction on where to go once you soar through customs, here’s a word you should absolutely consider: Powerscourt.

The Powerscourt Estate lies but 45 minutes south of Dublin’s Airport — barely further than the east side of downtown when considering traffic. But it’s akin to another world entirely in terms of attitude, altitude and sheer beauty. It’s rare that a fantasized-over location actually lives up to the hype that surrounds it, but believe me when I say that Powerscourt is straight off of a postcard, from the gardens to the River Walk to the monolithic Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt hotel that’s nestled in so succinctly. Read on to hear more about my visit to the south of Dublin, particularly if you’re interested in making your own Irish calendar for 2012.

%Gallery-117264%The Estate is located near the cozy town of Enniskerry, in County Wicklow. It doesn’t take long to feel as if you’ve escaped the hustle of Dublin and moved on to greener pastures — both figuratively and literally. The long, windy drive up to the Estate is soothing in its own right, and moments before reaching the famed House, you’ll spot something equally massive on the left. It’s The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, a 200 room giant of a hotel that’s situated between Sugar Loaf mountain and miles upon miles of pristine countryside. This palace first opened its doors to guests in the fall of 2007, and it has been fitting in ever since. What struck me was just how well integrated the property is — it may be huge, but it’s the polar opposite of an eyesore. In fact, it’d be hard to imagine the Powerscourt Estate without a hotel like this. After visiting, I could see why people would want to settle down right in the valley to enjoy a few days here, and it’d be a shame to have to scuttle back and forth to Dublin when all you were really after was a getaway.



A look around (and inside) The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt


To paint the picture a bit better, the hotel is just a three minute walk from the Powerscourt House — a castle that was constructed in the 13th century, reshaped in the 1700s, torched, and revived in 1996. Today, it’s a beautiful work of art, and it’s home to an exhibit of its own as well as a few niche shops and eateries. For some, it’d be good enough to just spend a few hours unwinding within the house, but the real magic lies just outside of the backdoor. There, you’ll find the Gardens. One step outside and you’ll appreciate the handful of Euros it took to gain admittance — “manicured” doesn’t even begin to explain just how flawless the place is. I’ve been to to the gardens surrounding North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate, and while I adore my homeland, the gardens here in Ireland are simply a notch above.

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Opposite the gardens is one of the more peaceful golf courses the island nation has to offer, and just a few more minutes walk lands you at The River Walk. Right about here is where you realize that leaving this slice of heaven would probably be to one’s detriment, and it provides a good opportunity to mention that a free pass down is just one of the complimentary extras that The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt provides. Guests at the hotel are treated more like guests of the estate; when you check in, you aren’t really checking into a hotel — you’re checking into a region. You’ll also have access to complimentary cycles, which I can confess are ideal for zipping around the gorgeous River Walk. Certain scenes of Braveheart were shot down by the streams, and it’s pretty exciting to bike around and try to spot certain shots from memories of the film.



A walk through Powerscourt Gardens in County Wicklow, Ireland


If you’re sold so far on the idea of shaping your vacation around doing nothing more than hitting the links, browsing beautiful gardens and cycling through forests that have been around for longer than you could even fathom, there’s hardly a reason to overlook another staple of the Estate: the hotel. It’s not everyday that you find a place that truly emphasizes the area like this; I’m a documented fan of choosing lodging options that integrate well with the purpose of the trip, and this particular Ritz-Carlton does this impeccably.

I’m not one to gloat about hotels unnecessarily. In the vast majority of cases, even the most esteemed 5-star property feels somewhat like a money grab to the average Joe, but this case is different. Rooms can be booked here for under 200 Euros if you play your cards right, and that includes a multitude of freebies not typically associated with high-end properties: complimentary bicycles, River Walk admission, parking and Wi-Fi. Yeah, Wi-Fi! It’s actually one of the only high-end hotels that I’ve stayed at with this luxury, and it’s greatly appreciated. Frankly, it’s beyond time that every hotel began offering gratis access to the internet. But that’s another story for another day.

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You’ll notice that you’re treated like a king (or queen) at the Powerscourt House and Gardens, and that bleeds over at the hotel. Service and hospitality is clearly top priority here, second only beautifully appointed rooms and an impressive array of (delicious) food options. Although the hotel was completed in 2007, it feels as if it were originally constructed centuries ago — well, aside from the hotel-wide Wi-Fi and indoor plumbing. By and large, Ritz-Carlton properties are both a) located near city centers and b) viewed as out-of-reach for many from a financial perspective. To its credit, this one fits neither of those categories. It’s a luxurious escape to a luxurious place, and the two fit together like peas in a pod. It’s safe to say I’ve never had a hotel experience quite like the one offered at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, and a lot of that has to do with the warmth of the staff and the screensaver-worthy surroundings. I’ve always heard that it’s all about location when talking real estate, and now I get it.

Obviously, the nearby Gardens are most lively in the summer months, but there’s really no bad time to visit Ireland. Sure, it may rain a bit on you, but you’ll have even greener pastures to show for it. Better still, you can duck back into Dublin if the escapism just becomes too much for your pampered heart to bear, but I get the feeling that said scenario isn’t likely to play itself out.

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

In need of a few day trip ideas when heading to Powerscourt? Gadling’s got you covered.