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

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

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

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.


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

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

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!


Leave the country… by car

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!

Big up Kingston – Sunday brunch with a view

Sunday brunch is an institution in Jamaica. After church services (around 65% of Jamaicans are Christian) it’s perhaps the second most popular Sunday ritual. Families gather together to enjoy a leisurely meal of Jamaican culinary specialties and enjoy each other’s company. Although Kingston visitors can find a Jamaican Sunday brunch at any number of local spots, perhaps one of the most famous is at the legendary Kingston resort Strawberry Hill.

Nestled 3,000 feet up in the Blue Mountains, just north of Kingston proper, Strawberry Hill makes a perfect day trip to get a taste of Kingston’s culinary culture, musical history and beautiful scenery. Though it originally began its life as coffee plantation, Strawberry Hill was purchased by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell in 1972, who brought the property to its current state. Each Sunday the resort throws its doors open to brunch guests, who can enjoy a taste of Strawberry Hill’s unique Jamaican musical and culinary heritage while simultaneously taking in one of the city’s most spectacular views.

Though Strawberry Hill isn’t within Kingston itself, visitors can easily arrange a day trip through hire of a private taxi or minibus. The ride takes around an hour and makes for an enjoyable adventure from the hustle and humid temperatures of big city Kingston. As your ride winds its way slowly up mountain switchbacks, you are surrounded by a lush tapestry of green jungle vegetation. Your vehicle passes by tiny towns of minuscule one-room storefronts, stocked with ripe mangoes and steaming cold bottles of Red Stripe beer. Meanwhile, the grid of Kingston hides coyly beneath you, shrouded by frequent clumps of mountain clouds.

Soon enough you arrive at a tiny unassuming sign announcing the resort’s entrance. Strawberry Hill doesn’t boast of its presence to visitors – it hides it behind dense layers of vegetation and winding mountain roads, waiting to be discovered like a mountain treasure lost to the ages. Once inside, guests are immediately confronted by the complex and its luxurious simplicity. A series of plain, open-air wooden villas are connected by covered walkways, flanked by small bunches of orange and yellow wildflowers and manicured lawns. A winding stone paths lead to an infinity pool, dropping off to a panoramic view of Kingston far below, the harbor and the surrounding jade-colored mountains fading in the hazy distance.

Don’t let all the natural beauty fool you – inside Strawberry Hill is enough musical memorabilia to stock the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame several times over. Lining the walls are candid black & white images of famous musicians like Bob Marley, U2, the Rolling Stones, Sting and Grace Jones along with numerous plaques of platinum records courtesy of owner Chris Blackwell’s Island Label. Many of the artists are one time resort guests, lending the grounds a distinct aura of musical energy and cool.

If this veritable archive of rock history doesn’t get you singing, the Sunday brunch certainly will. For around $50, brunch-ers can partake in all-you-can-eat meal including variety of Jamaican breakfast and lunch staples like jerk-style meats and the famous ackee and saltfish. Though Ackee is a tropical fruit, when cooked, many people describe it as having the consistency of a heap of scrambled eggs. Complementing this oddly wonderful Jamaican dish are heaping piles of fresh seafood, fresh local fruits and sweet cornbread-style fritters like festival. Finish your meal with a sweet helping of the delicious bread pudding.

As you polish off your plate of Jamaican brunch specialties, a bird’s eye view of Kingston below you and a virtual museum of musical history behind you, it’s hard not to feel just a little bit like a Rock and Roll star yourself. Consider yourself a backstage VIP for the day, courtesy of Jamaica’s overlooked capital, Kingston.

Gadling was recently invited by the Spanish Court Hotel to visit Kingston, Jamaica’s unexplored capital of music, food and culture. All this week we’re bringing you our observations on all this up-and-coming city has to offer. Though the trip was paid, all opinions remain our own. You can read our previous “Big up Kingston” posts HERE.

Playing for Change album hits stores TODAY

After four long years of filming and recording musicians around the globe and featuring them in their wildly popular documentary, “Playing for Change,” the organization’s 10-song CD and 7-track DVD entitled “Songs Around the World” is being released TODAY. You can buy the recording online HERE or purchase it from your local Starbucks café.

This music compilation demonstrates that the world can unite through music regardless of race, gender, religion and politics. The proceeds to the music compilation goes toward helping to spread music to disadvantaged youth around the world.

Here is one of their newest videos which features U2’s Bono singing Bob Marley’s “War/No More Trouble.”

I was also pleasantly surprised to discover the Playing for Change website has experienced some really nice upgrades! There is a very sleek and frequently updated blog, as well as an online shop where you can buy cool clothing and accessories.

I absolutely love this organization and encourage you to check it out or give what you can.

NOTE: You can stream all of Playing For Change on AOL Music for free through May 4, 2009.

Rock band U2’s frontmen win battle to expand Dublin’s Clarence hotel

The lead singer and lead guitarist of U2, Bono and The Edge, won a protracted legal battle yesterday in their effort to renovate and expand Dublin’s Clarence hotel, which they own.

The Clarence, located near the Temple Bar district of Dublin, is one of the city’s most famous hotels.

The architect that the two musicians have hired for the $235 million renovation plan intends to completely gut the hotel before expanding into neighboring property sites, ultimately more than tripling the number of rooms currently offered.

The duo’s plan had been marred in a 4 year legal battle, as preservationists argued that too many other protected buildings in the vicinity would be affected, including several which now will have to be knocked down.

Ireland’s planning board approved the Clarence expansion, but with conditions, including calling for an archeologist to be on site throughout the project.

Naturally, preservationists say the celebrity of Bono and The Edge, two of Ireland’s richest men, allowed them to bypass planning laws that would have thwarted anyone else.

GADLING's TAKE FIVE: Week of February 6

Hey folks, we’re going to start a new feature called TAKE 5 where
we link to the FIVE best Gadling posts of the week so as to help you find stuff that you may have missed and to
highlight some of the things we want to bring attention to. This is our first post, and we’ll try to keep them going on
each Friday.

So here goes:


5. U2’s Dublin Hotel:
Neil Woodburn, who once served
drinks to the band members of U2 while working in Ireland years ago, talks about the hotel scene in the Irish city, and
talks about the Clarence Hotel, owned by the group, and apparently a fine place
to stay.

4. Red Corner: Moscow’s
Cafe Culture

Another post part of Neil’s Red Corner Series on what’s happening in the former Soviet Union. This
one takes a look at the emerging cafe culture in Moscow.

3. Africa Travel: Central
African Republic & Chad

As part of her excellent Travel Africa series, Adrienne Wilson helps you
understand what’s what for making travel plans to Central Africa

2. Latitudes Magazine
I urge you to take a
look at one of my favorite magazines on the Web, Latitudes Magazine, which is always chock full of great stories and
photos, as well as some multimedia surprises.

1. Countee Cullens’ Baltimore
As part of
Black History Month, Adrienne Wilson discusses the life and work of poet Countee Cullen and his connection with Baltimore.