Heading out of Dublin and into the wild does not have to be complicated. In fact, you can do so by public transport and even stay within the Dublin area. So, you need to feel a breeze, a bit of fresh air, a walk? But you are in Dublin? No problem ... if the several parks and gardens in and near Dublin's city centre are not enough for you, here are some suggestions a bit further afield.
In alphabetical order, the next pages will show you Bull Island, the Phoenix Park, St. Anne's Park and Rose Gardens, and the War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge.
Bull Island in a Nutshell:
This nature reserve and leisure beach is a paradise for birdwatchers, a good place for some beach life, a breath of very fresh air just a few minutes drive from Dublin City ... and home of the Bull Island Mouse.
Where Will I Find Bull Island?
In Dublin Bay, north of Dublin Harbour - it is accessible from the coastal road between Dublin and Howth.
How do I get to Bull Island?
Either by car (you can actually drive onto the beach) or by bus (take the 30 from Lower Abbey Street and walk across the causeway to the island).
When is Bull Island Open?
All day and night.
A Short History of the Nature Reserve:
Actually, Bull Island did not exist before the Bull Wall, a breakwater was built in 1825. And it was not planned ... but building the sea wall led to sands accumulating between the wall and dry land, which in turn led to Bull Island rising out of the sea.
When Darwin was working on his Origin of Species, the Bull Island Mouse was discovered and became one of the chief witnesses to Darwin's theories - it had evolved from the field and house mice of the vicinity, adapting to island life by changing its coat to a sandy colour. No wonder that the island is a UNESCO biosphere these days.
What can I Expect on Bull Island?
Nature and fun ... and cars. As it is legal to drive onto the beach, first impressions can be disheartening (you will occasionally be compensated by seeing a parked car being swallowed by the tide). The beaches are busy in summer, but the further you walk from the car park, the fewer people you meet. If you plan on plunging into Dublin Bay, take note that lifeguards only patrol between the two access roads!
is winds usually bring out the kite-surfers. Nature lovers should head for the modern information centre and then into the wild - the variety of birds is stunning, in winter you might even see Canadian geese. Do not, however, walk into the salt marshes ... you might get stuck.
Is Bull Island Secure?
Yes - lifeguards are on patrol to protect swimmers, and on daytime, visits getting stuck with your car is the greatest danger. There are no major reports on criminal or other dangerous activity during nighttime as well, but be warned: the Dollymount Strand is used as a "Lovers Lane" by many courting Dublin couples. Some courting quite vigorously in their parked cars ...
Food and Drink on Bull Island:
There is none - bring your own.
Phoenix Park in a Nutshell:
One of the largest parks in the world, and one of Dublin's main sights, the Phoenix Park contains a large number of attractions and is one of the favourite destinations for Dubliners wanting to get out of "the big smoke".
Where Will I Find the Phoenix Park?
Take a map of Dublin - it is the big green area to the west of the city centre, just north of the Liffey. You cannot miss it. Mind you, you have to know where the entrances are ...
How do I get to the Phoenix Park?
All roads may lead to Rome, but in Dublin, a large number make a detour via (or due to) the Phoenix Park.
You will be able to reach the park by Dublin Bus, head for Castleknock, the Cabra and Navan Roads, or Chapelizod (get off at Parkgate Street or Chapelizod Road near Islandbridge Gate). Many tour buses are routed through the park as well.
The LUAS will go as far as Heuston Station or Museum Station (actually the National Museum in Collins Barracks), both between five and ten minutes walk from the park.
You can also take a local train to Ashtown Station, again a few minutes walk away. Take note that the slightly misnamed "Phoenix Park" station is far less convenient!
If you are using your car you will have no problem getting to the park, though finding a convenient parking space may prove challenging on weekends.
When is the Phoenix Park Open?
Many guidebooks still show "opening times" for the Phoenix Park, apparently not aware that the iron gates in the south-eastern corner (Park Gate) were "temporarily removed" in 1932, to facilitate a major event - and then misplaced and never reinstalled.
Thus the park is open 24/7/365, all the time. Though areas of the park may nor be open to traffic at night, and some gates may close at dusk
A Short History of the Park:
When King Charles II needed hunting grounds near Dublin, the Duke of Ormonde landscaped the area north of the Liffey, stocking it with deer. To prevent these from escaping (and presumably also to discourage the Dublin rabble from poaching), the whole park was surrounded by a substantial wall.
In 1745 the park was presented to the City of Dublin - with the provision to make it accessible to the citizens.
Today, it is still surrounded by more than seven miles of solid stone walls, access is via the eight major gates and six smaller (pedestrian) gates (one is near the Hole in the Wall pub, Ireland's longest pub). And despite the toll both hunting and vehicle traffic took, around 500 deer are still roaming the extensive grounds.
What can I Expect in the Phoenix Park?
Europe's largest urban park - five times the size of London's Hyde Park, double the size of New York's Central Park, 707 hectares in all. The extensive grounds are frequented by walkers, families on an outing, joggers, skaters, and cyclists - on summer weekends room on the paved ways may be scarce.
Main Attractions in the Phoenix Park:
- Aras an Uachtaráin - the residence of the Irish president, open for visitors on weekends;
- Ashtown Castle and Phoenix Park Visitor Centre - a medieval tower house and an informative display on the Phoenix Park's history;
- Dublin Zoo - host to all creatures great and small, from apes to zebras;
- Farmleigh House - dubbed "the most expensive B&B in Ireland", the official guesthouse of the Republic;
- Magazine Fort - a still imposing military installation where the first action of the Easter Rising took place;
- Papal Cross - a massive steel cross erected to facilitate Pope John Paul II saying mass to millions;
- Peoples Garden - a landscaped pleasure garden;
- Phoenix Monument - a monument topped by a Phoenix (even though the phoenix did not give its name to the park ... it was just a convenient translation of the Irish fionn uisce , meaning "clear water");
- Sports Grounds - offering glimpses of cricket and polo players;
- Wellington Monument - one of the first monuments to the victor of Waterloo, born in Dublin.
Is the Phoenix Park Secure?
Yes and no - during daytime the park is very safe, the only risk being the car left in an area that will be locked by the wardens at dusk (check before leaving your car). After dark, the park should not be considered safe for pedestrians and cyclists alone on their own.
While the Phoenix Park should not be considered a hotbed of violent criminal activity when the sun is down, you might encounter strange or even dangerous people. And, to be honest, there have been some violent incidents.
Food and Drink in the Phoenix Park:
There are several ways to recover your strength - apart from the restaurants in the zoo (which are only open to those who paid the entry fee).
Near the zoo's entrance, you will find the Phoenix Park Tea House, small but busy (and with erratic opening hours at times). Then there is the café in the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre. And an ice-cream van is usually parked near the Papal Cross.
Nearby (leave the park through Ashtown Gate) is the Halfway House. Another pub well worth a visit is "The Hole in the Wall", Ireland's longest pub and nestling along the park wall (a pedestrian gate is conveniently located next to the pub entrance).
St. Anne's Park and Rose Gardens
Saint Anne's Park in a Nutshell:
Once the place of a stately mansion belonging to the Guinness family, now a park for every Dubliner to enjoy. A bit out of the way, but worth going!
Where Will I Find St. Anne's Park?
On the northern shore of Dublin Bay, you'll pass it if you head from the city center to Howth.
How do I get to St. Anne's Park?
Easiest by car, just head for Mount Prospect Avenue and park nearby. If using Dublin Bus is your plan, line 130 will get you to St. Anne's Park. The DART is not an ideal option with the nearest station (Killester) being about 25 minutes walk away.
When is St. Anne's Park Open?
All times - though the parking area beside the Red Stables will be closed for the night.
A Short History of the Park:
Originally St. Anne's Park was part of a large estate owned by the Guinness family. The was sold to the Dublin Corporation in 1936 by the childless Bishop Plunkett. The corporation used less than half the area for public housing and retained the more attractive grounds, redeveloped as public parkland. An inspired move.
What can I Expect in St. Anne's Park?
Roses - well, if you come at the right time that is. The park is famed for its Rose Gardens. But even if the roses are not in bloom, visiting the park is an unexpected pleasure. Follies abound - recreated classical monuments or artificial ruins to please the eye. Even the boathouse next to the lake is based on a temple excavated in Pompeii. A house from Herculaneum is just a few minutes walk away, so are Roman tombs from Provence. You will get the feeling that you are walking in Poussin's Arcadia, with medieval ruins and ancient artefacts hidden in old woods.
Unfortunately, this Arcadia seems to be populated by a large number of budding artists, consuming even larger quantities of beer and cider - at least judging from the unsightly graffiti everywhere and the empty cans strewn around in the more secluded areas.
By the way - the mansion is long gone (the stables are te only buildings left), but in 1988 the Millennium Arboretum was created, celebrating 1,000 years of Dublin by planting 1,000 different trees.
An Ideal Family Park?
Maybe - there is a charming playground with lots of carved wood substituting for plastic, a family-friendly picnic area is nearby and the kids can roam the sheer endless grounds. But if you plan to let them loose in the "romantic" areas (the woods and ruins) you should be aware that there are some natural dangers (steep hillsides, ponds) and fit them with a GPS-locator ... it looks to be near impossible to find a lost child!
Is St. Anne's Park Secure?
Generally yes - but to be frank, I would avoid the more secluded areas in the evenings, and especially after dark.
Food and Drink in St. Anne's Park:
Get a snack at the Red Stables Arts & Crafts Centre if you fancy. Or bring your own - though a number of pubs line the Clontarf Road nearby and may provide beverages and food to the traveller in need.
War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge
The War Memorial Gardens in a Nutshell:
Ireland's least favourite monument, seldom used for its original purpose ... but a good place for a stroll.
Where Will I Find the War Memorial Gardens?
The park is located at Islandbridge, just south of the Phoenix Park and adjacent to the Liffey. Or immediately north of Con Colbert Road (the busy N4).
How do I get to the War Memorial Gardens?
Several bus lines pass through either Con Colbert Road or Chapelizod Road, the LUAS and rail station Heuston is around 15 minutes (uninspiring) walk away. You will have to tramp along the N4 and use the stairs into the park. By car, you should take the South Circular Road.
When are the War Memorial Gardens Open?
At all times.
A Short History of the Park:
This has to be the strangest history of them all - the War Memorial Gardens were planned by Sir Edwin Lutyens, immediately after the Great War, to remember the 49,000 Irish war dead. But the process of construction was overtaken by political events and the successive governments of the Free State and the Republic did not show any enthusiasm at all for the monument.
In many circles, the War Memorial Gardens were (and occasionally still are) seen as a glorification of the British Army. Which they are not - they just remind us of the efforts of Irishmen and -women in the war. The monument and park were thus only finished many decades after the First World War.
What can I Expect at the War Memorial Gardens?
Most of the area is given over to landscaped lawns, with some buildings housing rowing clubs near the Liffey. The War Memorial Gardens themselves are nearly hidden away, despite its not inconsiderable size. Two crescents with tower-like buildings incorporated form the outer boundary of the monument. Central are an altar-like stone cube and a massive stone cross. The tone is sombre, the style almost classical - there are no heroic statues and almost no ornaments.
Is the Park Secure?
Generally yes, though I would not recommend a visit after dark.
Food and Drink in War Memorial Gardens:
You can eat and drink to your heart's delight - provided you packed a picnic! There are no shops or cafés in the immediate vicinity.