During the dizzy days of the Celtic Tiger, Dublin had a reputation for being quite the expensive city. Since the economic crash, a lot has changed. Now there is better value across the board, which makes splurging even more special and saving even easier. Here's how to stretch your Euros in Dublin.
Where to Stay
Splurge on Dublin's finest hotel or go the boutique route with a guesthouse that offers one of the best breakfasts in the city.
Splurge: The five-star Merrion Hotel was home base for President Obama during his 2011 visit to Dublin. This elegant property offers cozy drawing rooms complete with fireplaces, an indoor infinity pool and spa, and the only restaurant in Ireland with two Michelin stars, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. Located in the heart of Georgian Dublin, the 123 rooms and 19 suites are the result of combining 4 historic mansions with a contemporary garden wing. The impressive art collection is the inspiration for a unique take on afternoon tea, called Art Tea. Rates from €485.
Save: A small plaque with Number 31 engraved on it is the only way to know you've arrived at this boutique guesthouse. Beyond the gate, enter a modernist mews that was once the home of noted architect Sam Stephenson. Each of the 21 rooms—spread throughout the mews and a Georgian building reached through a blooming garden—are unique with luxurious bathrooms. Experience true Irish hospitality at check in, a process that includes a cup of tea and a biscuit by the fireplace. Breakfast here is divine—don't miss the homemade brown bread. Rates from €150.
Where to Eat
The food scene in Dublin is changing—for the better. Rent in the city center is currently a steal, encouraging well-traveled restaurateurs and chefs to open new and exciting places.
Splurge: Ok, you don't have to splurge at 777, but you should. This is the place to come with a hefty appetite and a thirst. Inspired by the flavors of Mexico City, it opened earlier this year. Grab seats at the bar and start the night with cocktails (€9 to €12). The salsa noche—blanco tequila, pear puree, cinnamon, and lemon juice topped with prosecco and blackberry liqueur—is a personal favorite. Spend the evening grazing on yellow fin tuna tostados (€11), taquitos stuffed with chorizo (€9), and spicy guava pork ribs from the wood burning grill (€20).
Save: Join the locals at Paulie's Pizza, a tiny restaurant outside the city center devoted to Neopolitan style pies. In the corner of the exposed brick space is the pizza oven, imported from Italy in one solid piece. Only top ingredients—San Marzano tomatoes, the best mozzarella—are used in these pies. Start off with melon wrapped in proscuitto (€8) followed by a classic margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella, parmesan, tomato, and olive oil (€12.50). Dessert is tempting as well, including vanilla panna cotta with fresh berry coulis (€6).
Where to Drink
Creative cocktails or a classic pint? On any given night in Dublin, the choice is up to you.
Splurge: Some of the best spots in Dublin are a little hidden. Turn down a side street to reach Diep, a Thai restaurant with a great bar and live music scene. The talented bartender shakes, stirs, and muddles some of the best cocktails in the city (€9 to €13). Refreshing flavors sneak into some of the drinks, like the watermelon and basil martini. Another Thai inspired concoction combines lemongrass and ginger infused vodka, fresh mint, and lime juice. Kick back and listen to live musicians play on the intimate stage.
Save: Take a sip of the "black stuff," the quintessential drink of Dublin, in the place where it's brewed. The Gravity Bar is located at the top of the Guinness Storehouse in St. James's Gate. Buy a ticket to explore the museum—purchase in advance online to skip the lines—and a free pint of Guinness is included in the entry fee (€14.85 in advance, €16.50 at the door). Watch the masters pour a perfect pint and enjoy your free stout while looking out over the rooftops of Dublin. You can see all the way to the Irish Sea from this vantage point.
Where to Shop
If it's raining, there are several city center stores where you can wait out the storm.
Splurge: It's easy to miss the stairs that lead down to the basement shop Indigo & Cloth on South William Street. This boutique features independent designers from London, Paris, and New York for both men and women. If you're tired of seeing the same brands in department stores, this unique collection will re-inspire you.
Save: Racks organized by decade line the walls of vintage shop the Harlequin. Even better than the clothes are the collections of leather handbags, belts, and hats. They also have some jewelry and accessories. The best part? You'll shop without detecting even a trace of that musty smell found in so many vintage stores.
Dublin is one of the only European capitals that doesn't have a subway system. Transport options include buses, trams, taxis, and bikes. Dublin is also very compact, meaning that most places are a short stroll away.
Splurge: Taxis are the quickest and easiest way to maneuver through Dublin. Distances are so close that most taxi fares are pretty reasonable. To reach the city center from the airport for example, should only cost €20. Central taxi ranks include the northern flank of St. Stephen's Green and where Grafton Street meets Nassau Street.
Save: Dublin has a city bike program called Dublin Bikes (db for short). All you need is a major credit card and a couple of euros to rent a bike. Cruise around the city center and then return the bike to one of 44 stations throughout the city.
Freelance writer Jessica Colley covers cuisine, culture, the arts, and experiential travel. She is currently based in New York City and called Dublin, Ireland home for several years. You can follow her on Twitter @jessicacolley or check out her "Writer in the Kitchen" series on her blog The Great American Travel Dream.
Photo Credits: Merrion Hotel, Courtesy of the Merrion; 777 restaurant, Courtesy of 777; Guinness courtesy of Jessica Colley