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Dublin, Ireland
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/dronepicrDublin, Ireland

Where to stay in Dublin

Planned your trip don’t know where to stay in Dublin? Choose from our pick of the best neighbourhoods in town

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver
&
Elizabeth Smith
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Dublin straddles the divide between big city and friendly community very well. The Irish capital is home to just over half a million people who find themselves sharing around 300 square kilometres, numbers that go a long way to proving just how compact Dublin is. Still, have a little think about where to stay in Dublin, as the various neighbourhoods offer different levels of excitement, history and entertainment. You’ll find all three pretty much everywhere, but you get the point.

Dublin is a collection of villages covering everything from upscale and opulent to gritty and understated via every possible combination in between. Yes, you’ll find places here that are gritty and opulent all at the same time. That’s just the Dublin way. From laid-back Portobello and Smithfield to the eternally rowdy Temple Bar, these are the neighbourhoods to seek out when choosing where to stay in Dublin.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best hotels in Dublin

Best places to stay in Dublin

Smithfield on Dublin’s northside has grown up since its gritty days in the early 2000s. Nestled between vivacious Temple Bar, expansive Phoenix Park and free-spirited Stoneybatter, staying here will give visitors true insight into local life. Most of the activity revolves around Smithfield Square, a former market right off the Luas tramline. The large, cobblestone plaza has been transformed into a cluster of independent restaurants and artisan cafés. Between all the wining and dining, there are tons of family-friendly festivals and cultural happenings to take part in. Bustling pubs and warehouse clubs around the square mean you’ll be kept busy well into the wee hours.

EAT

Taking inspiration from street vendors and food trucks, Token’s menu centres around burgers, tacos and other foods you eat with your hands. After your meal, play Space Invaders or catch a ’90s movie at the cinema. The next morning, head to Third Space and unwind. In addition to serving enormous Irish breakfasts, sumptuous wraps and fresh pastries, this bright, informal hangout hosts an array of community events. 

DRINK

For a dependable, family-run local, head to the cosy, ill-lit Glimmer Man. Catch the nightly seisiún at the Cobblestone for another classic Smithfield experience. When you want something wilder, LGBTQ-friendly PantiBar is ready with drag shows and music bingo.

DO

Taste Jameson straight from the barrel at the Bow Street Distillery, which has been running since 1780. Choose from three immersive experiences into the world of whiskey and take some home to impress friends and family.

STAY

Youthful visitors will love the uber-cool yet reasonably priced Generator Hostel right on Smithfield Square. Dorms and private ensuites are available, though guests tend to spend more time in the industrial-chic café-bar. Closer to the park, Ashling Hotel is a polished four-star option.

If you only do one thing…

Pack a picnic and head to the park. Wild fallow deer share the walking trails and flower gardens that dot Phoenix’s 1,750-plus acres. Dublin Zoo, Ashtown Castle, a Viking cemetery and the President’s residence are all hidden inside.    

Known as ‘Little Jerusalem’ because of the Eastern European Jews that sought refuge here during the late 19th century, Portobello is also where George Bernard Shaw was born and James Joyce got drunk. Over the last decade, it’s become the southern city-suburb where hip Dubliners across the city meet for a good time. With some of Dublin’s most innovative restaurants and a host of contemporary galleries and bric-à-brac boutiques, it’s a foodie (and shopaholics’) paradise. Residents love that it’s so close to the Camden Quarter’s nightlife and only 15 minutes from the centre on foot. Tree-lined walking and cycling paths along the Grand Canal only add to the allure.

EAT

The 25-seat Clanbrassil House on Portobello’s western edge mirrors Dublin’s small but mighty ethos. Wunderkind chef Gráinne O’Keefe serves charcoal-grilled specialities from her open kitchen. Convince your tablemates to order the family-style menu and sample a bit of everything. For more exceptional food without an intimidating price tag, head to Richmond or Delahunt. Both tout the Bib Gourmand distinction from Michelin. Richmond is more rustic, while Delahunt is all about updating Irish classics. 

DRINK

One of the best bars in all of Dublin, The Bernard Shaw is a must-visit. Storefront street art signals that it’s no ordinary pub, but head to the street food- and quirky décor-laden backyard beer garden to fully understand the magic. After all, it wouldn’t be a proper Portobello night out without pizza from the Big Blue Bus. Since this trendy and surprisingly sprawling watering hole is run by a record label, live music is often on offer as well.  

DO

Leave yourself plenty of time to wander the area’s array of independent shops. From kitschy kitchen gear to hand-dyed clothing, you never know what treasures you may find. It’s almost impossible to leave without a wonderfully wacky souvenir.

STAY

No-frills Portobello Hotel is the easy answer, offering a cosy dose of canalside casual. For trendier Portobello visitors, it has to be The Dean. Located in the adjacent Camden Quarter, this ultra-cool four-star hotel has 52 impeccably designed rooms across six different categories. The rooftop bar is where this spot really shines, though. The views are simply breathtaking.

If you only do one thing…

Roll out of bed and grab some grub at an effortlessly cool café. As with most hip and happening ’hoods around the world, brunch is a way of life in Portobello. The minimalist Meet Me in the Morning is a great choice, but Brother Hubbard South, Bibi’s and Wall & Keogh are all safe bets, too. 

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Southern, Georgian Dublin is the Dublin travellers dream about. Fitzwilliam Square, Merrion Square Park and St. Stephen’s Green are lush and lively, and the surrounding cobblestone streets brim with brick townhouses that ooze 18th-century charm. Adorned with ornate arches, colourful doors and grand knockers, every entryway begs to be photographed. History enthusiasts should make a beeline to the region’s revolutionary landmarks, as art seekers bounce between the National Library, National Gallery and National Concert Hall, and animal lovers explore the weird and wonderful taxidermy displays at the Natural History Museum. Though technically not the centre of the city, it can certainly feel like it.

EAT

Coffee and a croissant at the charming Petit Café is the best way to start your day. When it comes to dinner, Etto has you covered. Don’t let the size or pared-back interior fool you. The small plates at this Italian-inspired, Irish-infused, Michelin-lauded wine bar carry big flavours. The ingredients are locally sourced, the vibe unpretentious and the prices accessible. Alternatively, both Brookwood and Matt the Thresher serve some of the city’s best seafood. And you have to try fresh oysters while you’re in town.

DRINK

The historic, homey O’Donoghues on Merrion Row books traditional live music every evening. The Dubliners and other big names have even been known to pop in. Between the free folk tunes, welcoming atmosphere and affordable pints, craic is essentially guaranteed. 

DO

The Little Museum of Dublin may look like any other elegant abode on St. Stephen’s Green, but its three storeys are stuffed with thousands of crowdsourced curiosities. The donations depict different aspects of Dublin life throughout the 20th century and the guides are as entertaining as the artefacts.

STAY

The Merrion is a five-star hotel which flawlessly melds period charm with modern convenience. Home to the largest private collection of 19th and 20th century art in all of Ireland, it feels more like a gallery than a guesthouse. Enjoy afternoon tea in the Drawing Rooms, cocktails at the Cellar Bar and dinner at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud.

If you only do one thing…

Take a self-guided Oscar Wilde tour. The writer, poet and playwright is one of Dublin’s most famous former residents – start at his childhood home on the northwest corner of Merrion Square park before walking across the street to see Danny Osborne’s sculpture of him reclining on a rock in typically flamboyant fashion. Lastly, head through the wrought iron gates at Trinity College where he (and Samuel Beckett and Bram Stoker) studied. It’s a good-looking campus with several must-sees, including the enchanting Long Room Library.

Just east of the revolutionary monuments and high street shops of O’Connell Street, the Docklands are where the Royal and Grand Canals meet the River Liffey on their joint journey to the Irish Sea. Vikings developed the area as a commercial hub centuries ago. Facebook engineers, PwC accountants and Citigroup bankers have since invaded. Now the Docklands are synonymous with modern architecture, entertainment venues and haute cuisine. See the city from an unusual perspective by navigating the river in a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Tourists still tend to focus on other areas, so it’s the perfect place for those who prefer heading off the beaten path. Of course, the use of the term 'beaten path' should be taken with a pinch of salt, as this is hardly the wilderness.

EAT

Herbstreet makes conscious strides to lower its carbon footprint without sacrificing taste. From the blissful brunch pancakes with honey butter to roast cod and veg dinner, you can trust the ingredients are sustainably foraged. Striking views over the city are a bonus.

DRINK

When US president John F. Kennedy visited Dublin, he wet his whistle at John Mulligan’s. Established in 1782 and in its current location since 1854, it’s safe to say this boozer has been put to the test. For something more modern, head to Brew Dock. Double-decker sister pub to Against the Grain, Dark Horse and Black Sheep, its 21 taps supply craft and homemade beers. There’s also a hand pump cask, more than 100 bottled pints, and classic pub grub on the menu. 

DO

Take a backstage tour at Abbey Theatre. Also known as the National Theatre of Ireland, Abbey was founded by nationalists W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory and has a long history of provocative performances.

STAY

Spencer Hotel has a spa, sauna and steam room that will melt all your stress away. If you’re looking for something more luxe, book a stay at The Address at Dublin 1. Built as an upmarket wing of the North Star Hotel, its interior is incredibly stylish and details delightfully futuristic. For something more affordable, Molloy’s has five beautiful apartments above their recently refurbished bar on the western border of the Docklands.

If you only do one thing…

Take a journey with Irish emigrants at the high-tech EPIC Museum. Once issued a passport, you can proceed through 20 interactive galleries that explore the effects of leaving home. Then head to the Jeanie Johnston ship and Famine Memorial that help bring these stories to life. 

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There’s a reason this mythical district graces every Irish guidebook. Nestled between Grafton Street and Trinity College along the Liffey’s southern bank, it’s one of the most central spots you can settle. Though world-class craic and after-dark debauchery play starring roles, it isn’t all pubs and clubs. From art galleries and film centres to pop-up markets and craft shops, the area’s daytime attractions are equally intoxicating. Culture vultures and fine diners are just as welcome as party chasers and backpackers. Nearly every Dublin visitor makes an appearance at one time or another, making it a great place for people-watching and celebrity-spotting, too.  

EAT

There's no shortage of culinary charmers in Temple Bar, although many people seem more than happy to pick up something swift before venturing to spots in the category below. If you want something a little more formal, Rosa Madre is a great option for lovers of Italian while FX Buckley’s seasonal Irish produce never fails to delight.

DRINK

This being the centre of Dublin nightlife, you’re spoilt for choice in Temple Bar. It would be near sacrilege to visit without trying a pint of Ireland’s most famous export: Guinness. Palace Bar on Fleet Street has that quintessential pub feel, with natives indulging alongside tourists. When you’re ready for more hops, Porterhouse micro-brewery on Parliament Street is waiting. For something highbrow, look for three small stickers (‘VCC’) on a nondescript black door down Crown Alley. This marks the entrance to Vintage Cocktail Club, a candlelit speakeasy with an intimidatingly extensive menu.

DO

Expand your creative horizons by attending a screening at the Irish Film Institute or an exhibit at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. If stills are more your thing, whittle the day away at the National Photographic Archive. It’s also worth seeing what’s on at the Project Arts Centre

STAY

The team behind Merchant House managed to retain homey 18th-century touches in its 2005 restoration. The Morgan falls decidedly on the other end of the spectrum. It doesn’t have old-world charm, but it does have designer interiors and a riad-like roof garden.

If you only do one thing…

Brave the crowds for dessert at the Queen of Tarts on bustling Cow’s Lane. There are loads of sweet treats to choose from at this quaint café, but the Bailey’s cheesecake trumps them all. Pun intended.

Here just for the weekend?

How to do Dublin in 48 hours
  • Things to do

Worried about fitting in all the sights while you’re here? A weekend offers just about enough time to tick off all of the city’s greatest hits. From its quaint castles and cosy bars to the historic theatre scene, this itinerary highlights the best things to do in Dublin right now.

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