Dublin is a small city compared to many European capitals, being utterly dwarfed by the likes of Berlin, London and Madrid. A great deal of its charm, of course, lies precisely in this fact: the city on the Liffey is no sprawling, elbows-out metropolis. Travellers come here for a good time – and generally find one. But if you thought that its range of sights and attractions was therefore pretty limited, you’d be mistaken. Beyond eternal tourist favourites such as Kilmainham Gaol, Trinity College and the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin offers a huge amount more to uncover. Here are six of its lesser-known treasures.
This is a theatre with serious history. It staged premieres for both WB Yeats and George Bernard Shaw shortly after opening in 1904, incited riots after running controversial political plays in the 1920s and was half-destroyed by fire in 1951. It’s now exactly fifty years since the refurbished theatre reopened on its current site on Lower Abbey Street, and it still has a reputation for hard-hitting, provocative drama. When it was first founded its stated goal was “to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland”, and this aim holds true.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the streets of Dublin positively flowed with whiskey – more than 35 separate distilleries were producing the stuff. Fast forward to 1976 and there wasn’t a single bottle being produced in the city – until now. Last year saw the opening to the public of the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, an independent set-up run by the descendants of one of Dublin’s original whiskey families. Guided tours give up-close insight into the distilling process and culminate with the inevitable tasting session.
in an imposing Georgian house at the top of Parnell Square in North Dublin, the Hugh Lane Gallery specialises in contemporary art – and has done ever since its inauguration in 1908. It houses arguably the country’s leading collection of modern works, with a broad selection of pieces by Irish artists complemented by a range of international names, including Manet, Monet and Degas. One of the centrepieces of the museum is a full recreation of the studio of Francis Bacon, made possible after the walls, doors and entire contents of the workspace were transferred across from London. The gallery is free to enter.
Gaelic football, hurling, rugby, horse-racing, football: Dublin is a city that loves its sport, something anyone who’s been to Croke Park on a match day will – once their ears have stopped ringing – vouch for. Lesser known but just as centrally located is the Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium, where there are regular race nights on Thursdays and Saturdays. The biggest event of the year comes in early autumn when the Irish Greyhound Derby takes place. In 2016 it’s scheduled for 17 September, and you can expect the kind of trackside atmosphere vocal enough to register on the Richter Scale.
Tucked away close to St Stephen’s Green is a delicately landscaped oasis that’s been drawing peace-seekers for the last 150 years. The Iveagh Gardens (the locals pronounce it “ivy”) have retained many original features from their Victorian beginnings – you’ll find fountains, a rosarium, rockeries and even a yew maze – and the park itself still seems to exist in a slightly calmer, slower dimension to the city around it. It’s open all year, although by visiting over summer you’ll witness it in its pomp. There’s no admission charge.
Few attractions in Dublin are as evocative as the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship. A faithful replica of the 400-ton cargo ship that made 16 Atlantic crossings in the mid-19th century – carrying some 2,500 locals to the USA in the process – it stands as a reminder of the bitterly difficult era that drove so many people to emigrate. Tours run several times daily, taking 50 minutes, and give an insight into the realities of the notorious Potato Famine. The ship is now permanently moored on the Liffey at Custom House Quay.
See the insider guide to Dublin.