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Dublin Unwrapped: 

Where History Meets Hops and Happenings

By Duane Wells

Clare County, Ireland
Credit: Clare Tourism

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Trinity College Library
Credit: Lukas Bischoff

Dublin’s Beer Culture
Continuing down the historical path, Guinness beer and Dublin go together like a hand in glove. As such, it would not be exaggerating to say that a trip to Dublin without visiting the Guinness Storehouse is like missing a sunrise.

Dive into the ingredients, history and culture that tell the story of Ireland’s favorite stout while exploring the brewing process and seven storehouse floors, once the brewery’s fermentation plant. At the Storehouse, one can learn Guinness’ legendary six-step ritual for pouring beers ranging from malted barley to the iconic black pint. Clocking in at 119.5 seconds, every step it takes to pour that perfect pint of Guinness is a celebration of craftsmanship. After the lesson, check out the Gravity Bar, perched atop the brewery at one of Dublin’s highest vantage points.

The bar’s rooftop provides 360-degree views of the city, highlighting the Wicklow Mountains (where Guinness sources fresh Irish water for brewing), Phoenix Park and the Wellington Monument. These are great places to unwind while enjoying the creamy head of a freshly poured Guinness pint. Likewise, Arthur’s Bar and 1837 Bar & Brasserie, housed at the Guinness Storehouse, offer delicious food options that pair perfectly with a pint.

Five minutes walking distance from the Storehouse lies the Guinness Open Gate Brewery, which is scheduled to reopen in summer 2024 following renovations. While the Storehouse is focused on the traditional Guinness product most of us know and love, the Guinness Open Gate Brewery is an experimental space where exclusive small-batch brews — mostly limited editions — are on tap. For true beer lovers, Guinness fans and those of a more adventurous bent interested in a less traditional pint like Black Forest Stout, Honey Brown Ale or Sea Salt & Lime Lager, the brewery is a must-stop destination.

In Dublin, pubs are more than watering holes; they’re living museums. Perhaps there is no better example of that than the Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub, where historic prints and scrolls line the walls, and a palpable sense of history permeates the local institution’s low ceilings, wooden beams and crackling fireplace. Dating back to 1198, the Brazen Head was referenced in James Joyce’s Ulysses and is still a prime spot to sample traditional pub fare like beef and Guinness pie, as well as fish and chips — washed down, of course, with a pint of the black stuff or a wee dram of whiskey.

Beyond the Brazen Head, all roads lead to the Temple Bar for the best of Dublin’s pub scene and a bit of Ireland’s legendary craic. The bar’s name is both that of an actual pub and one of Dublin’s most popular nightlife destinations. Regarding the former, the Temple Bar is perhaps the best-known (and certainly the most photographed) pub of the Temple Bar district’s collection of watering holes. A cultural institution, the pub is known for its electric atmosphere fueled by foot-stomping live music played on fiddles and bodhráns (Irish drums), which has been known to spill outdoors onto the cobblestone streets, drawing revelers from near and far. 

The popularity of the Temple Bar itself notwithstanding, the namesake district is the ideal place to grab a pint of local craft beer or a classic Irish whiskey and settle into a conversation with a local. Set along the southern banks of the Liffey, the district is the hub of Dublin nightlife and a cultural epicenter filled with everything from indie shops and cafés to vintage shops and popular music venues like the Workman’s Club and 3Olympia Theatre.

The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland, #39.jpg

Cliffs of Moher
Credit: Clare Tourism

Ireland’s capital city, Dublin, is rich in centuries of history and adorned with architectural marvels. It is also pleasantly haunted by the ghosts of literary giants like James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett, who once called the city home. But Dublin isn’t just a destination; it’s a vibe.
 

Situated near the Irish Sea — which separates Ireland from Great Britain — Dublin is where old legends dance with modern energy, cobblestone streets evoke tales of rebellion and the heart of the city beats to a different drum. Today, its rhythm of lively pubs, infectious music and friendly “craic” (good times) among the locals have made Dublin beloved all over the world, attracting more than 11 million travelers annually from all corners of the globe.

Historic Landmarks
Any exploration of Dublin must necessarily begin with the city’s iconic landmarks, and arguably, none is more noteworthy than Trinity College, Dublin’s oldest university.

The university’s library — which holds thousands of leather-bound books and evokes a Hogwarts-worthy ambiance — is a sanctuary for bookworms and dreamers alike. The university’s most significant cultural treasure, the Book of Kells, resides in the famed Long Room of the library.

The book is an illuminated manuscript with intricate Celtic designs and brilliant colors dating to the 9th century, when the Vikings became the first to establish a settlement along the city’s River Liffey. The 1,200-year-old medieval masterpiece is a testament to Ireland’s rich cultural heritage and a chronicle of its storied past — think of the book’s vibes as ancient history meets Instagram.

Speaking of Instagram-worthy, a little over half a mile down the road from Trinity College, a vision from a fairytale awaits at Dublin Castle. Located in the heart of historic Dublin, the castle houses the Chapel Royal — once the home of the Church of Ireland — and a 13th-century tower along with other medieval structures. Dublin Castle’s regal past unfolds as grand state apartments reveal opulent rooms adorned with tapestries and chandeliers, reverberating with echoes of royal banquets and political intrigues sure to have filled them in days gone by.

Outside the castle, the Dubh Linn Garden offers an inviting stroll through beautifully landscaped gardens, ancient ruins, bubbling fountains and tranquil paths leading to hidden corners of serenity. The garden’s blend of elegance and whimsy is ideal for capturing the castle’s turrets as the perfect backdrop for a memorable photo.

Dublin Castle
Credit: Roberto Serrini

Where to Stay in Dublin
While there are several excellent lodging options during a stay in the capital city, two locations stand out. For the apex of luxury, the Shelbourne is an obvious choice. Located in the heart of Dublin and overlooking St. Stephen’s Square — the grandest of the city’s squares — the five-star hotel with 200 years of history is noted for its elegant rooms and impeccable service. The hotel is also within a few minutes from Dublin’s most famous landmarks and prominent shopping destinations on Grafton Street.

Alternatively, there’s the Clarence, owned by Bono and the Edge of U2, where rock ‘n’ roll meets chic. This boutique hotel in the Temple Bar district offers stylish rooms and a sleek, contemporary vibe, and is home to one of Dublin’s most celebrated restaurants, Cleaver East.

Getting Outside of Dublin
Not that Dublin could ever really be dull, but one can also escape the city buzz with a day trip roughly 3 ½ hours west to the Cliffs of Moher. Standing tall against the Atlantic Ocean, these dramatic cliffs in County Clare have been described as nature’s masterpiece. With views of rugged cliffs, crashing waves and seabirds riding the ocean currents stretching for miles, the cliffs are nothing short of a photographer’s dream.

Another tranquil destination near Dublin is Glendalough, less than two hours south of the city. Tucked away in County Wicklow, this area is renowned for its lush landscape, magnificent lakes, stunning waterfalls, babbling brooks and the ruins of a monastic city dating to the 10th century.

From the imposing Trinity College to the majestic Dublin Castle and the ruins of Glendalough, Dublin is a destination that wears its history like a well-worn tweed coat. But it’s also a place that doesn’t just dwell on its past — it weaves it into the fabric of everyday modern life, which is reflected in the warmth of a stranger’s smile, a healthy dose of craic, the hum of a fiddle in a dimly lit pub and the taste of a perfectly poured pint. Sláinte!

Escape to Shannon
Make an excursion to Shannon, a quaint town along the majestic Shannon Estuary in Ireland’s County Clare. Two to four hours away from Dublin by car, bus or train, this hidden gem is a serene getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life and an ideal launchpad for exploring the many picturesque wonders of Western Ireland.

 

The town is a cozy hub highlighted by friendly locals, quaint shops and the Shannon Aviation Museum, which houses a Boeing 737 flight simulator and vintage aircraft. Within 10 minutes of Shannon proper awaits landmark sites, including the 15th-century Bunratty Castle — one of Ireland’s most famous castles — and Bunratty Folk Park, a 26-acre reconstruction of 19th-century homes reminiscent of old Ireland. Both the castle and park are located together on their namesake grounds. Local pubs in Shannon are also worth a gander, and the 400-year-old Durty Nelly’s — located next door to Bunratty Castle — is especially memorable for its food and legendary hospitality.

Slightly further afield, Craggaunowen showcases the 16th-century Craggaunowen Castle, providing a peek into prehistoric and early Christian Ireland by re-creating a Bronze Age settlement. Located outside of Quin Village not far away, Knappogue Castle (known famously for its distinguished premium single malt Irish whiskey) offers a medieval-style banquet complete with butlers and ladies of the castle, giving visitors a taste of the lavish entertainment for which it has been known for since the 15th century. 

Getting There
Aer Lingus (14x weekly), American (7x weekly, summer seasonal) and United (7x weekly, summer seasonal) fly nonstop between O’Hare (ORD) and Dublin Airport (DUB). United Airlines (7x weekly, summer seasonal) offers nonstop flights between ORD and Shannon Airport (SNN).

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