Visiting Dublin? It's a great city, and you'll want to make the best of it. Dublin is compact and safe enough to set out on your own. But on your own also means that you either know Dublin well or that you have prepared yourself a bit. Otherwise, you might get lost, get exhausted fast, and/or miss out on the best bits. To avoid this calamity, here's a bunch of hints. These are all designed to make your life easier and all tried and tested by yours truly in many cities around the world (there really is no need to re-invent the wheel for each trip).
Some may be stating the obvious to a seasoned traveler, but it is always worth a refresh.
Get a Map
Dublin's street layout is "like, so '90s". By this, we mean the 1790s! Built on a grand Georgian scale and then largely forgotten by town planners, Ireland's capital enjoys a very old-fashioned ensemble of quaint greens, narrow roads, meandering lanes and hidden mews. Once you stray from the well-trodden tourist path, you are utterly lost in no time. So, get a map. If you are in for some serious exploring, buy a complete street atlas. If you plan to stay within the city center, get at least one of the more decent free maps, available in the tourist information centers and many tourist shops as well. By the way, doing a Hansel and Gretel and leaving a breadcrumb trail is not recommended. You're likely to be charged €150 for littering.
Make a Plan
If you come to Dublin totally unprepared, yet expect to see "the most important and best bits", you are best served by a bus tour.
Or, you might prepare with the aid of a guidebook. You might also simply note down your interests while browsing this website, then check the best possible approach with a map. Don't forget to bring those important essentials to Ireland.
Yes, even the free-est spirit might benefit from joining a tour.
Take those hop-on-hop-off buses if you want to see all important sites in a day. They'll do the planning and driving for you, but you are still free to spend as much (or as little) time as you like at each attraction. There are also many "special interest" tours to be found - a quick visit to the tourist information office will get you numerous brochures. By the way... there even is a tour for those interested in robbing dead bodies from graveyards. Simply take Dublin's spooky ghost bus.
Especially in summer, when photography is possible from 6 am, it would be a waste not to head out before breakfast. Some Dublin sights are suffering from traffic congestion and a surfeit of visitors. But not as early as this. And the light is great too. Some places are actually at their busiest and most original in the early hours of the day - like the fruit and vegetable market near the Four Courts. It doesn't get much more "old Dublin" than this... and if you cannot drag yourself out of bed at this ungodly hour, try at least to have your breakfast finished by 9 am. Most attractions are open by 10am and the early bird avoids the queue (and the school parties and the organized tours).
Ditch the Umbrella
"You'll have somebody's eye out with that!" This admonition is not to be taken lightly in Dublin pedestrian areas.
Umbrellas turn busy Grafton Street into a veritable obstacle course. Apart from the fact that umbrellas are simply awkward to handle, they do not offer better protection than a decent jacket and a cap. Dublin is known for its ferocious gusts suddenly sweeping along the urban canyons. Dozens of mangled umbrellas in trashcans or the gutter pay silent tribute to this fact.
Carry Cash and Change
Around two-thirds of the Irish population have no credit card - cash transactions are normal (with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern taking this to extremes). Trying to pay small sums with plastic will get you a smart remark, but not the goods. Many shops draw the line at € 20 minimum purchase these days. Just a reminder: you will need Euros in Dublin, (Pounds Sterling or Dollars won’t do).
Wear Walking Shoes
There is no sight more pathetic than somebody braving the Dublin streets in high heels.
What normally is a bumpy walk immediately becomes an exercise in balance and disaster prevention. Dublin has sidewalks that are uneven, sport major cracks and can be slippery. So it would be a good idea to wear "sensible" shoes. And as most people explore many parts of Dublin on foot due to the relatively short distances, using some broken-in footwear makes eminent sense.
Use Public Transport
Dublin's public transport system may be lacking in integration and coordination, but it is working and can be mastered even by the tourist passing through. The alternative, unless you will only be walking or cycling (the latter comes seriously non-recommended), is to use a car, which might push your patience and budget well over the edge in no time. Dublin is in a permanent state of traffic chaos. Parking is more expensive than actually driving, but parking spaces are rare. There are no positives about using a car in Dublin, period.
Hit the Museum Cafés
Dublin is full of cafés, from multinational outlets like Starbucks to old "greasy spoons" hidden away in dark back alleys. Prices and quality are of a bewildering quality. And seats seem to be rare. So why not check out the café at the museum? You are there anyway, which saves time. The Silk Road Café in the Chester Beatty Library comes highly recommended. And for a quick tea and scone, you can’t go wrong anywhere. Also highly recommended are the cafés in the National Museums both in Kildare Street and Collins Barracks, and the spacious café in the National Gallery of Ireland.
Explore Alternative Food
If your idea of a perfect meal is a take-out from beneath the golden arches or a candlelit five-course dinner, do not read on. If you are, however, looking just for tasty, filling and none-too-expensive food, explore some alternatives. Ethnic food outlets are around many corners, from the generic "Chinese" to more specialized cuisines. Check lunch prices, which are usually very competitive. All-you-can-eat buffets also seem to spring up more frequently these days. Try a vegetarian meal at Govinda's, which is better value and more satisfying than the most kingly burger (and karma-free to boot). If you are in need of a strong (and good) coffee, you could do much worse than drop in at Amir's Delights, Dublin's Moorish café.
Avoid Becoming a Victim
Dublin is a great city. But like any large city, it has its share of crime and violence. Pick-pockets in Temple Bar, drug dealers on the Liffey Boardwalk, mindless thugs spilling out of pubs and clubs at closing time. Sounds worrying? Yes, it should... but generally Dublin is safe, trust me. And you can always walk away from trouble if you keep your eyes open. Read up on safe travel to Ireland in general - and it might also be prudent to check some safety tips for women traveling alone. Gay travelers could also benefit from a quick glance at our short feature on gay travel in Ireland.
Don't Miss the Last Bus
Dublin has buses at night, but they are few, far between and ferrying a very mixed clientele. But they are better than nothing and cheaper than a taxi, should you miss the last regular bus. Unless you are out to do some serious clubbing, heading for the bus stop between half-past ten and eleven is a good idea. You'll get "home" in moderate comfort for a moderate price.