Our microguides series is inspired by the slow travel movement, encouraging travellers to relax their pace and take a deep dive into one particular neighbourhood in a well-loved city. Rather than a whirlwind itinerary which aims to hit up every must-see attraction, these compact, close-up guides encourage you to zone in, take your time and truly explore like a local.
Back in the day, visitors to Dublin only passed through the Liberties on their way to the Guinness Storehouse. But over the past few years, this neighbourhood has earned its stripes as one of the coolest districts in the city. This is a place where you can walk by the remains of Dublin’s medieval city walls, then turn a corner and find yourself in a tiny shop selling vintage lingerie.
There’s nothing glossy or slick about the Liberties – you can still regularly hear the clip-clop of a horse and cart down a lane, or indeed step in the mess it leaves in its wake. But between the old cathedral spires and redbrick terraced houses, you’ll find some of the hottest restaurants in the city, alongside cafes filled with art students and up-and-coming whiskey distilleries.
Visit Marsh’s Library
The 18th century Marsh’s Library looks exactly as it did 300 years ago, the shelves heaving with giant leather-bound tomes and the intoxicating scent of old books filling the air. In the library’s middle room, you can even see book spines riddled with bullet holes, the product of a misfire during the 1916 Easter Rising.
Tour the distilleries
In its heyday, the Liberties was known as the Golden Triangle and considered the world’s epicentre for whiskey distilling. After falling into decline in the 1970s, the distillery scene is back and experiencing something of a renaissance. There’s one to suit every taste – wannabe mixologists will love Roe & Co, where tours end in a cocktail making workshop, but there’s a more traditional vibe at Pearse Lyons Distillery, which is set in a former church.
Go cathedral hopping
With its giant vaulted ceilings and medieval floors, the almost 1,000-year-old Christ Church Cathedral is one of the most striking buildings in the city. But things are far more interesting down in the crypt, where you’ll find a rare copy of the Magna Carta and a mummified cat on display. Just down the road, the park at the nearby St Patrick’s Cathedral is the primo hang out spot on a sunny day, and each Sunday there are secondhand bookstalls set up by the gardens.
Catch a gig at Vicar Street
One of the best venues in town, Vicar Street has drawn Dubliners to the Liberties for donkey’s years. As well as musicians from home and afar, there are regular comedy gigs, with names like Jim Gaffigan and Joanne McNally, who’s playing a whopping 50 nights there this year.
Two Pups Coffee
If you love saying hello to the neighbourhood dogs, Two Pups is the place to be. While it’s not officially a dog cafe, there’s often a hound to be found under the tables – one regular even pops in with a bird on his shoulder. But the real attraction is the food, with an ever-changing brunch menu of things like savoury French toast or thick wedges of sourdough topped with eggs, avocado and their homemade hot sauce. The Vietnamese iced coffees are to die for, too.
You could easily walk past the Michelin-starred Variety Jones without realising. But inside the nondescript facade, this tiny restaurant is the stuff that food dreams are made of. The only menu on offer is set by the chef, keeping those with choice paralysis happy. Sharing dishes are cooked up on the open hearth, with plates like fire-roasted aubergine and smoky halibut coming out of the kitchen.
During the pandemic, this neighbourhood cafe morphed into a grocery store selling bunches of cavolo nero and pillowy focaccia to locals looking for a foodie fix. Nowadays, the produce remains but the tables are back, with people ordering thick sandwiches stuffed with smoked chicken and homemade pickles and bottles of their fiery kombucha. On Thursdays and Saturdays, Sceal Bakery takes up shop in the hatch around the corner, so pop in for cardamom honey bun or giant laminated pain au chocolat.
Set in an old boozer on a quiet side street, Spitalfields may trick you into thinking it’s all about old school pub grub. But inside, the menu is contemporary yet hearty, with dishes like roasted bone marrow or cais na tire fondue. Their signature cock-a-leekie pie is made to be shared, arriving at the tale with a halo of glossy puff pastry.
With sloped floors and a wood burner in the corner, this teeny pub has been a cornerstone of the neighbourhood since 1619. Groups gather round small tables on rickety stools with a rake of pints between them, but the prized seat is the semi-private snug by the front door.
57 The Headline
If you like a pub where you can get a table and won’t have to jostle at the bar, The Headline is a winner. There’s always a good selection of craft beers on tap and, unlike a lot of Dublin pubs, their wine list is top-notch. They do a great roast on a Sunday, too.
A favourite of the local art students from NCAD, Lucky’s is a buzzy bar with a little terrace out the back. They have all the local whiskeys behind the bar, and you can also order a wood-fired pizza from the truck – they do an excellent vegan option with cashew ricotta. There’s a market held every other weekend, where you can pick up bargain art prints and quirky bits.
Space Out Sister
If you’ve always lusted after the romantic, floaty Virgin Suicides aesthetic, a quick browse around Space Out Sister will fulfil all of your vintage nightdress goals. Antique armoires are filled with silk slips and camisoles, and the chic owner Kiki will always have a root around if you’re looking for something specific. You might even get a glass of Babycham, too.
Part gallery, part shop and part cafe, Hen’s Teeth is an artsy paradise filled with bits you didn’t realise you needed in your life. There are prints from cool Dublin artists, stacks of vinyl and pastel-hued enamel crockery, as well as a pantry stocked up with cult favourites like Harry’s spicy nut butter, made just around the corner.
Get ready for the ultimate rummage at Betty Bojangles, where secondhand high street pieces are mixed in with 1950s prom dresses and endless racks of sequinned numbers. Their men’s section is great too, with vintage waistcoats and proper Irish tweed.
The rooms are cosy but artsy at the Aloft hotel, but the real score is the rooftop bar with great views over the city and out as far as the Dublin mountains. Head up for a cocktail at sunset to make the most of it. Doubles from £184, room only. aloftdublincity.com
Right by St Patrick’s Cathedral, the Hyatt Centric is in a prime spot for exploring the Liberties. The rooms are fairly modern in style, but you can get a little dose of history by perusing the Viking remains on display in the lobby – they excavated some interesting specimens during construction. hyatt.com
Trying to fly less?
The ferry port is right by the city, with sailings from Holyhead with Stena Line and Irish Ferries. Look up Rail & Sail packages for well-priced train connections.
Fine with flying?
You can fly direct from all over the UK with Ryanair, Aer Lingus or British Airways.
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