I took advantage of my long stopovers in Dublin, Ireland before and after my recent trip to Portugal. This was my first time in Ireland, and although I would have loved to visit the beautiful countryside, time constraints kept me in the city.
Two days is the perfect amount of time for a hearty introduction to Dublin. The City Center is small-town walkable while having the feel of a bustling big city; it's compact enough that you can see the major sites fairly quickly.
I was in there at the end of May and then again in mid-June. Since it was sunny and lovely both time I visited, I took the perfect weather for granted—until I realized how shell-shocked Dubliners were by the long stretch of good weather. They seemed hesitant to enjoy it, as if the moment they did, the sun would retreat back behind gray clouds. This peculiarity of the sun being out all week even warranted articles in the papers. I guess I lucked out, being able to see Dublin in its best light.
How to get to Dublin from the airport
To get to Dublin City Center from Dublin Airport, I took the Aircoach (blue bus), the express private coach that runs 24 hours. That came in handy when I arrived past midnight once, and the bus came fairly quickly. It will drop you off at various stops once you get into City Center. I only travel with a carryon so I didn't mind the seven-minute walk to my hotel from the nearest stop. Taxis and Ubers fares are anywhere from €25-50 depending on traffic, and the Aircoach is €6-7 each way or €12 return.
Alternatively, you can take the Airlink 747 (green bus), which is a public bus. If you plan on taking public transport around Dublin, you'll probably want to get the Leap Visitor Card (for 1 day, 3 days, or 7 days), which gives you unlimited travel for Airlink, Dublin Bus, Luas, DART and Commuter Rail. Note that Airlink 747 does not run 24 hours, as it stops from 11:30 p.m. until 5 a.m.
I didn't know about the Leap Visitor Card when I was there, but I ended up walking around the whole time anyway. I found the Aircoach to be really straightforward, and the bus stops are clearly marked in the city, so I recommend it unless you want to get the Leap card.
While I didn't try this, you can get a ride in an EcoCab for free at major pickup points around the city centre. This is good for short distances, between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. It's free because it's sponsored by companies keen to show off their green side.
As for the Vintage Tea Tours pictured, the bus whizzed by me on my last day. This looks like a pleasant way to learn about the city.
Stay in Dublin's most sustainable hotel
I stayed in The Iveagh Garden, which claims to be "Europe's first sustainable hotel." When I was searching for eco-friendly hotels in Dublin, this seemed like the best option. A 4-star luxury hotel, it opened earlier this year on Harcourt Street, and it is super chic. The building sources all its energy from an underground river, and smart control LED lighting automatically shuts off in unoccupied areas. No emissions or harmful pollution are created on site.
When I was planning my trip, rooms for my dates seemed to be booked, but luckily my Orbitz app came through with vacancies at the last minute. I book a lot of my flights and hotels through Orbitz, and between their promotion codes, my Orbucks and general good pricing, they are the best. (They are not sponsoring me to say this; I just really like them!)
Since the hotel is new, my room was really clean and modern, with a swank bathroom. The view was not impressive, but I preferred to be away from the main street. Despite Georgian appearances, Harcourt can be a bit of a party street, so it's noisy on weekends. I arrived at almost 2 a.m. on a Saturday night, and I was surprised nightclubs could exist behind such stately facades.
The modern contemporary decor of the hotel, with its plush seating, rich colours, touches of brass, and Art Deco influence, seems to be a design trend in Dublin. I keep seeing similar interiors in other trendy bars and restaurants.
This green hotel is aptly close to plenty of green space, next to Iveagh Gardens and steps away from St. Stephen's Green. I enjoyed waking up and strolling through the gardens with a coffee in hand.
Things to do in Dublin
I absolutely loved St. Stephen's Green, a true oasis in the middle of a busy city. Iveagh Garden is worth visiting as well. It's smaller and has a more private feel. As a weary traveler arriving on the red eye with no sleep, I found the gardens rejuvenating. The lush trees, flowers, and fresh air zapped some energy back into me.
I rested here after a long walk around the city, including poking around Trinity College, where Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, and Bram Stoker studied. I know the thing to do here is see The Book of Kells but I didn't go because I wanted to wander on this trip.
One museum I did visit later was The Little Museum of Dublin. Their guided tour was only 29 minutes. It tells the story of the city with the aid of their amazing collection of artifacts. The other exhibits they had when I was there, which you can quietly peruse on your own, included one on Irish rock band U2, the history of women in the Irish workforce, and the history of The Irish Times. It's a cute experience.
If you're into fashion and want to learn about local designers, I recommend going on Cat's Dublin Fashion Walking Tour. Cat used to own a sustainable retail store online. She took me to all the cool shops that either carry Irish designers or unique vintage pieces.
Want to shop local or sustainable fashion while in Dublin? See all the clothing stores I recommend.
Where to eat and drink in Dublin
For someone who was only in Dublin for two nights, I sure ate a lot. Because my first stopover started at 5 a.m., I ate two breakfasts and two lunches so I had enough fuel (and caffeine) to explore the city. And of course when I returned on my second stopover, I ate some more.
I got obsessed with the hot chocolate at Butlers Chocolate Cafe, from the Irish chocolate company founded in 1932. The one with the melted Oreo inside...yum. They also have locations in the airport, in both terminals.
Try traditional Irish food for breakfast or lunch at Hatch & Sons (next to The Little Museum of Dublin) or Sophie's, which is worth visiting for the panoramic views of the city alone. I had my first Full Irish Breakfast there, and I wolfed it down. Sophie's is also good for dinner or drinks.
Queen of Tarts has amazing cakes and desserts but also healthy lunch options. I also enjoyed my breakfast Shakshuka at Tang, a Middle Eastern-inspired cafe and restaurant, also close to The Little Museum. I didn't have time to visit but The Pepper Pot Cafe looked really cute.
The Temple Bar area is famous so it gets very touristy. The only reason my photo is devoid of people is because I took them at 6 a.m. While the bars here are good for live music, I preferred going to the bars and restaurants where locals go, which are walking distance from here anyway.
For dinner options, Rustic Stone sources local seasonal ingredients for their healthy Irish dishes. Their sister restaurant Fade Street Social does the same. Cat also recommends 777 for Mexican food and Pygmalion.
Flying Aer Lingus for stopovers in Dublin
I purposely booked my flights for long stopovers in Dublin via Aer Lingus because my two roundtrip flights (Toronto/Dublin and Dublin/Lisbon) was actually less expensive than one roundtrip from Toronto to Lisbon. It's easy to add another country to the itinerary when visiting Europe, and I've been doing this on my last few trips (London via Iceland, Stockholm via Amsterdam), so play around when booking flights.
Storing your luggage at the Dublin Airport is easy if you're only stopping in the city for the day like I did on my first stopover. Find Left Baggage on the bottom floor of Terminal 1. It's €12.50 to store your luggage for a day.
If you have a week or more to spend here, these small-group eco tours start and finish in Dublin.
Ireland has been making some green moves lately, becoming the first country to divest from fossil fuels. I'm curious to see what else the country will do to lead the way in sustainability.
Oh, and does anyone know why Dublin has so many donut shops?