The extra time we have while at university makes it the perfect time to have short breaks in Europe. Before we know it our lives will become occupied by jobs, and long weekends will become a thing of the past. The only hindrance here is financial, and the need to spend as little money as possible is crucial – while still having a fantastic time, of course. Dublin would probably be the last destination anyone would consider for a cheap trip; since the Republic of Ireland adopted the Euro, the country has become notoriously expensive. But when I travelled there recently I managed to enjoy a packed weekend while only exchanging €40.
I’m not going to lie to you, Ireland isn’t the most exciting place, but Dublin still has many surprises up its sleeve. Having never been to the Republic before I half expected everything to look much like an episode of Father Ted, and this is only partly true. Their accents are truly wonderful and the locals are, as expected, remarkably friendly and charming. The Irish weather also remained true to my expectations, managing to stay persistently grey and miserable for the duration of my stay. But once I entered the city centre I found Dublin to be a vibrant, varied and interesting city. On the surface, it looks like any other city in Scotland or England, with a distinctively ‘British’ architecture, and familiar shops; yet Dublin has a subtle quaintness with an underlying atmosphere of continental European cities such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen. The medieval centre can be found on the banks of the Liffey, where little picturesque houses randomly rise up from the edges of the wide river.
Dublin boasts some of Europe’s most beautiful Georgian architecture, such as the extensive campus of Trinity College or the gorgeous Merrion Square, where Oscar Wilde resided in the 1850s. Dublin can be easily traversed by foot, and a walk down O’Connell Street, an enormous tree-lined thoroughfare in the centre of the city, and one of Europe’s widest streets, is a must. Halfway down you can find the General Post Office, the stronghold of the Irish Volunteers during the Easter Rising of 1916; bullet holes can be found on the building to this day. Dublin rivals London with its wide selection of free museums to choose from, but being an art historian I couldn’t resist the National Gallery. The collection is impressive, and ranges from European masters such as Caravaggio, Vermeer and Velazquez to many of Ireland’s own artistic treasures. Finding cheap food can be difficult in Dublin, but if you are willing to wander away from the city centre beyond the tourist traps then reasonable restaurants are there to be found (I found a meal for only €7).
Above all, if there’s one thing the Irish do well, it’s the nightlife. Dublin is home to literally hundreds of pubs, taverns, bars and clubs to suit every taste and persuasion. It’s an awful stereotype, but the Irish do love to drink; unsurprisingly, Dublin has some of Ireland’s oldest pubs, some dating back to the 12th century (The Brazen Head, Lower Bridge Street). Regular live music can also be found in many bars and clubs across the city showcasing local talent. For something a bit different I discovered the Dragon Bar, an enormous club spanning several rooms and levels. Fortunately, my visit happened on a Saturday, where the club features performances from dancers, singers and drag artists (surprisingly, a thriving art form in Dublin). I was certain that vibrant clubs like this only existed in London, and they are certainly not anything I’m used to in Scotland. I will reiterate here that the Irish are an astoundingly friendly people, and I was taken aback by the number of friends I managed to acquire on the night out.
Ultimately, when considering a trip to Dublin, its best attractions are the nightlife and the lovely Irish themselves. Dublin is full of wonderful surprises if you give it a chance, with a rich culture, gorgeous architecture and many attractions to choose from. Holidaying in the Emerald Isle on a budget may just be more achievable than you expected.