A pint of the black stuff, a cosy pub, some folk music and a shamrock. That green-tinted view of Dublin can be great craic, but this is also a thrilling modern city, awash with shine, design and general pizazz. Behind those famed Georgian doorways, the Fair City is a creative, energetic place with a young population thirsty for innovation and social change. When you want something a bit more modern, a bit more cool, try our guide to the best of contemporary Dublin.
Clare Grennan and Laura Caffrey credit the recession for the success of their enterprising Irish Design Shop. When traditional jobs dried up, many Dubliners discovered their inner artist and set about making their dreams come true. The shop stocks some of the results: striking jewellery with geometric lines; cute rustic-style ceramics; soft, handmade blankets made from natural yarns sourced from centuries-old mills.
Over at the Design House, more than 40 designers and artists squeeze their work into a rainbow display, a mix of ready-made retail, studios and opportunities for bespoke design, with everything from skincare, candles and fashion available to snap up.
Powerscourt Townhouse Centre
A sweeping staircase, glittering chandeliers and fresh floral arrangements mark the entrance to the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, one of the finest examples of repurposed Georgian architecture in the city. The 3rd Viscount of Powerscourt once divided his time between this imposing building, where he invited lords and ladies to party when parliament was sitting, and his country estate in County Wicklow.
Today, its polished banisters lead to a shopping centre that eschews the fluorescent frenzy found in purpose-built malls for an airy atrium of art and niche boutiques. Jewellery and antiques live beneath the top-floor theatre while the Pygmalion and Pepper Pot cafes allow locals to catch up over organic herbal tea.
Chocolate soup and Michelin stars
Dublin chefs are busy conquering the world of gastronomy, collecting Michelin stars and even reclaiming the traditional tourist haunt of Temple Bar. Located in the latter, F.X. Buckley is a huge favourite with locals, serving possibly the best steaks in the city – grass fed, dry aged for 28 days and cut to your specifications. Combine with a delectable range of sides like beef dripping chips and maple-roasted root veg (from a menu that reassuringly lists their Irish suppliers) and you have a truly memorable meal. For a more urban feel, try spacious, nearby Roberta’s. With a menu to suit all budgets, it boasts huge booths, warm red brick walls and a 360-degree bar under a glittering glass roof.
Heading south from Temple Bar towards St Stephen’s Green, the Greenhouse earned its Michelin star with creations like mackerel tartare, Anjou pigeon and chocolate delice. For something a little less decadent, Dylan McGrath of Masterchef fame places an emphasis on healthy living and nutrients at the Rustic Stone, including an entire raw menu to try. If you prefer more heat, the set menu sizzles steak and fish at the table, followed up with rose and orange blossom mousse and a surprisingly sugar-free bowl of chocolate soup.
Back on the banks of the Liffey, neighbours the Winding Stair and Woollen Mills keep Ireland's historic legacy alive. The former's 'staircase' refers to both the building and a poem from Dubliner William Butler Yeats; the mill of the latter recalls the haberdashery business set up here in 1888 that once counted James Joyce as an employee. Both overlook the iconic Ha’penny Bridge and serve honest, high-class food.
Drinking it in
Irish whiskey is back, even if you never knew it had left. The ultra-modern Teeling’s is just one of the working distilleries that has popped up in recent years. The setting, in white cinder-block warehouses with ‘unconventionally independent’ inked on the stairwells, makes sipping a 'water of life' concoction in the monochrome café feel like a surprisingly badass experience.
Drop all airs and graces when heading into the Bernard Shaw. An eclectic cavern of a place, this pub features DJ nights, stalls and a big blue bus in the garden that serves pizza – free if your name matches the ‘name of the day’. For something more slick, bar hop around buzzy Fade Street, starting with a boilermaker (beer and whiskey) in the effortlessly retro chic Idlewild before going across the road to the No Name Bar (look for the snail sign) for a cocktail. If you prefer decadent decor, try Peruke and Periwig where your tipple can come with a history lesson from the bartender if you ask nicely enough.
For daytime bites and a caffeine fix, head to artsy Drury Street where a range of eating options cater for creatives ready to take on the world. Favourites include the vegetarian hotspot Blazing Salads, speciality coffees in Kaph or the Italian-inspired menu of Drury Street Buildings. Amid the late night clubs of Harcourt Street, you can get a different view of the city from Sophie’s rooftop bar at the Dean Hotel: its unbeatable views and swing set makes it an Instagram-favourite.
The renovated Docklands
The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre is a bright spot in the regeneration of Dublin's Docklands © leverstock / Getty Images
The striking, harp-inspired Samuel Beckett Bridge marks the introduction to Dublin’s regenerated Docklands area. Once a poignant exit point for those fleeing from famine, today the River Liffey reaches the Irish Sea in a brighter mood, and locals have turned the water into a playground, with stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, kayaking and even Viking Splash Tours.
Gleaming buildings form the new powerhouses of the economy as coffee drinkers from Facebook and Google fill up the quayside cafes and the red carpet-inspired public space. Ballet, opera, drag and comedy spill from the glass-sculpted Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, just around the corner from the Docklands’ 3 Arena. There are also beautiful examples of public art dotted around the district, so keep your eyes peeled.
Breathing life into old traditions
It’s not only the buildings that Dublin has repurposed, some of its oldest traditions have been brought up to speed too. On the outskirts of the city, in the Naomh Mearnóg GAA club at Portmarnock, brothers Cillian and Gareth O’Driscoll are spreading the word about ancient Gaelic sports. Their company Clash teaches hapless foreigners the art of hurling – one ball-scoop, whack and catch. The nearby Ireland’s Eye knitwear have a more fashionable take on the traditional Aran sweater, combining the iconic stitching with lighter fabrics and more shapely silhouettes. They’re plentiful around the city and you’ll find a list of stockists online.
Back in town, the Merrion Hotel has given Ireland’s largest private art collection a makeover in the guise of afternoon tea. Chefs serve sugar-crafted replicas of the masterpieces on the walls along with an informative guide and a glass of bubbly.
And finally, how better to see the new side of the city than through the eyes of a Dubliner? The Little Museum of Dublin runs a City of a Thousand Welcomes initiative where enthusiastic locals pair up with visiting travellers for a free tea, coffee or pint. After all the talk of regeneration and hipster hangouts awash with craft beer, you might pick up a pint of the black stuff before you go after all.