When I moved to Dublin in 2008, I can’t say it was love at first sight. I was newly married and had given up my job working on political campaigns around the United States to move to Dublin with my Irish husband for a year that quickly became two and three as my husband returned to graduate school here.
In my first months in Dublin, I struggled to find work and learn how to drive on the left side of the road. I couldn’t see how delightful Dublin was at first. But sometime after that difficult first year in Dublin, the tide began to shift and I found myself falling in love with my adopted city.
Through writing my blog every day, I found myself consciously looking for and finding the bright spots to share with my readers. This year, I decided to turn those tips and tricks for exploring and enjoying Dublin into a beautiful and useful e-guidebook, called Delightful Dublin, to help visitors experience the Dublin I've grown to love.
The following is an exclusive sneak peek into one of the neighborhoods highlighted in the book. You can download your copy here.
The Historic Quarter
The Historic Quarter is the place I feel the contradiction between old and modern Dublin the most strongly.
This neighborhood is the oldest segment of the city, where the original castle walls stood over 800 years ago. Yet if you walk twenty yards, you’ll see modern street art plastered across the next building and minimalist coffee shops serving flat whites to the art school crowd.
While I love and appreciate the wealth of Irish history on our doorstep here in Dublin, what I get really excited about are the contradictions between old and modern throughout the city. The Historic Quarter is the place I daydream about what Dublin was like centuries ago as I walk along the worn, cobbled paths, only to flash forward as modern blue and yellow city buses lumber by. Horse and carriage drivers whose families have lived in the historic Liberties area for generations make u-turns across busy four lane roads. Tiny traditional cottages and large modern apartment blocks sit side by side.
I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone visiting Dublin who wasn’t interested in the history of the city. For most of the rest of the world, Irish history is comparatively very, very old. Add to that the fact that recent Irish history, including their fight for independence from the British, was only within the last hundred years, and you’d be remiss to skip the history hotspots around Dublin.
But if you focused only on the history hotspots, you’d miss out on some of those moments of beautiful contradiction where old meets modern life that make Dublin so special.
Take a Stroll Down Francis Street
If you stroll down Francis Street from top to bottom, you’ll pass no fewer than ten antique, vintage and second-hand shops, and possibly just as many beautifully lettered signs marking the street as the city’s Antiques Quarter.
From antique art to mid-century modern vintage pieces, each stop makes for delightful window shopping. The street is also home to the Oxfam charity shop, where you might just find an undiscovered gem. But Francis Street could equally qualify as the center of the city’s Street Art Quarter.
At the bottom you’ll find a dilapidated building with all of the window panes broken, covered in bright street art and sometimes advertising gallery shows. Its neighbors have followed suit, spraying the shutters they close with cheerful artwork as well.
At the top of the street, you’ll find one of my absolute favorite unexpected spots in the city, the Tivoli Car Park. I know it’s hard to believe I’m going to insist you go out of your way to see a parking lot, but I promise it’s worth it!
Each year, the Tivoli Car Park is host to an annual street art festival, where Irish artists and even artists from outside the country come to spend the whole day creating giant (often poignant) murals of street art. Throughout the year, there might be one or two new additions, which I always find to be the happiest of surprises as I’m walking down the street. For the rest of the year the murals remain for us all to see, only partially blocked by vehicles.
The Cross Café is where I stop every morning for coffee, and sometimes return for lunch. Almost as though it’s the resident purveyor of calm, the Cross Gallery and Cross Café sits on the middle of the street, wedged between two antique shops yet overlooking the dilapidated buildings clad in bright purples and blues.
Their coffee is one of my favorite roasts by Irish company Badger & Dodo – and if they have the sweet potato soup with coconut, get it. Served with fresh artisan bread, it’s the perfect lunch or snack.
Beyond the Cross Café is the Cross Gallery, curated by Nicholas Gore-Grimes into an oasis of modern and mid-century art.
All photos by Julie Matkin for Delightful Dublin.