The Last-Minute Tourist Guide to Dublin

My brother is coming for a visit on Friday (send bail money) and I was thinking of all those little things you don’t think about when traveling.  So here’s my last minute travel guide to visiting Dublin, in no particular order.

– Don’t bother bringing an umbrella.

Sure, it rains a lot here, but rarely hard enough to really need an umbrella.  And it gets windy, so half the time, the umbrella gets inverted.  Just do what we do and throw your hood up, duck down, and get wet.

– Bring a scarf.

Everyone wears a scarf here, including the men.  It blocks the wind and helps you keep warmer.  For women, it’s also a fashion statement.  If you forget your scarf, don’t worry, there are loads of places to buy one or three.

– Wear layers

It may be chilly outside but cozy inside.  Or you go from chilly outside to barely heated inside.  Or you end up parking in an indoor parking garage and never see the weather and wonder why you’re bogged down with a heavy coat to cart around.  It’s just easier to wear layers and adjust as you go along.

– All bathrooms are cold.

Seriously.  They’re cold.  Some aren’t even heated.  Some have the window open in January, to keep the germs away.  But they’re all cold.  Always.  So if you’re female, prepare for an icy shock when you sit on a toilet.

– People really are friendly.

The myth is true – the Irish are notoriously friendly.  Old ladies will start random conversations with you at bus stops, shopkeepers will learn your life story as you purchase something, the guy making your coffee will ask how the weather is.  This sort of makes me feel more normal – my grandmother was Irish and could converse with anyone around her, and I find I’ll start having random conversations with strangers.  Here, that’s normal.  And I can now say it’s just genetic.

– Food costs more for less.

I’m eyeing all you Americans here.  If you go out to eat, you don’t get everything and the drink for $5.  McDonald’s will run you at least 7 euro.  A cheaper meal could run a tenner, with a drink, but don’t expect refills.  They don’t really do fountain drinks here, so you’ll pay three euro for a little bottle of Coke.  Portions are smaller as well.  It’s okay, breakfast is the exception, where they will offer you fourteen courses at the start of the day, and you won’t really be hungry until dinner anyway.  Meanwhile, take this opportunity to explore, go to a deli for a sandwich, or a chipper for a big bag of hot chips (aka thick cut fries) – which is a meal in itself.

– Speaking of meals, there’s a trick for ordering water.

If you want water, they’ll ask “still or sparkling?”  Which you will be charged for.  If you don’t want to pay for water, ask for tap water.

– Dublin is quite an international city.

The first time I stepped foot in Dublin, I was surprised with how many languages I heard just standing on the corner waiting for the light to change.  When I got to the hotel, half the staff at the desk were French.  It wasn’t what I expected, but now that I live here, I love that my kids are exposed to so many different cultures.

– Expect to see gaggles of school children in uniforms.

If you come between August 30th and June 30th, you will see herds of uniformed kids.  You will start giggling (again, looking at you Americans) because there are some that literally look like they’ve stepped out of Harry Potter.  We even laughed about that…which only got funnier when the boys school uniform were Gryffindor colors.  (Since moving up to 4th year, Collin has gone Ravenclaw on us.)

– Beware of bicyclists, children on scooters, and baby buggies.

Everyone bikes here.  If you’re driving, you will have a bicyclist pass you up at least once, or cut around you, or get in the turn lane with you.  And if you’re on the sidewalk, you will at some point be passed by a child on a scooter.  Possibly being followed by a parent pushing a stroller.  You may see a woman carrying just the scooter – that’s because she’s deposited the scooter rider at school.  You can also see a dad on a bike with one child on a little seat perched on the front bar and another child in a back seat.  Or a woman in a skirt and fab boots peddling her bike with groceries in the basket.  And lots of women and men pushing buggies, child passed out asleep in the seat, groceries heaving out the bottom basket.

– Not all Guinness is the same.

Believe it or not, some pubs are better than others.  There’s Guinness brewed right here in Dublin, and Guinness brewed in South Africa.  I don’t think I need to tell you which one you want.

– Not all pubs serve food.

Those that do will have a sign out front usually.  Some pubs will boast of a “carvery lunch” – this is sort of a buffet, but you don’t go back for seconds.  What you get is a heaving plate of beef or ham or fish, with potatoes and some other veg.  They’re pretty affordable – or “good value” as they say here.

– Pubs in Dublin’s City Centre will fill up quick after 5 pm.

People will meet friends for a drink after work, especially on a Friday.  So if you try to get into a pub at 7 pm on a Friday night in the heart of Dublin, well, suck it in because it will be a squeeze.  You won’t get a seat at that point.  You don’t really need one.  But if you do, just go down to the next pub, see if they have any space.  One night, we went through about six pubs before we found one with even a corner for us.

– You can take your drink outside here.

There’s no smoking in pubs, so you will always see people mulling about outside, with a pint and a cigarette.  This is normal.

– Children roam freely here.

If you see an eight year old going down the street, don’t be worried, they know what they’re doing.  If you see a gaggle of tween girls, that’s normal.  A herd of boys throwing sticks?  Normal.  Large packs of teens with Cokes and milkshakes, all in varying degrees of hoodies?  Completely safe.

– People curse.  A lot.

I’ve decided that when I go back to the U.S., I’m going to sound like the rudest person ever, as my cursing level has gone up about 179% since moving here.  Words like “arse” and “feck” are commonly used as well.  Don’t take it personally, it mostly isn’t.  Unless you’re being a fecking idiot.

– Be wary of buses.

I swear to God, all buses are like that night bus in the Harry Potter movie, where it defies laws of space and gravity.  Dublin bus drivers are a special breed, able to fit these double decker contraptions through spaces they really shouldn’t be able to.  And they go faster than they seem to be allowed.  It is impressive and scary as hell at the same time.  Don’t try to cut them off in traffic, or try to beat one crossing the street.  Respect the Dublin bus, or you may die by the Dublin bus.

– Get dessert.

Or the scone with cream.  Or the tart.  Or the pain au chocolat with a hot chocolate.  Go on, treat yourself.


– Relax.  There is no hurry.

Really.  Relax.  There’s no hurry.  If there is, they’ll tell you to move your arse.  But mostly, just chill.  Enjoy life.  Sit at one of the sidewalk cafes and enjoy your tea and scone and chat with a friend – or a stranger. Get to the beach, stop and pet a dog as you walk along it. Get an ice cream (as it’s sold no matter what the weather) and sit on a wall and watch life go by.  Life here is more laid back.  Go with it.  You won’t regret it.

Statue of Molly Malone - Dublin, Ireland
Statue of Molly Malone – Dublin, Ireland