Mark Bibby Jackson discovers the sustainable things to do in Dublin, many of which are free.
Since I have been writing about sustainable tourism, I have been struck by how many things I used to do as a backpacker are now considered sustainable, so on my recent trip to Dublin I decided to travel old school pack literally on my back.
Dublin Airport to Dublin City
Ryanair may not have many admirers but every time I queue in those endless lines I recall the days in the 90s when the budget airline opened up Europe to me on a stream of mini breaks.
Just carrying on the one small back pack not only trimmed my fare, but also meant I was through the airport in minutes. Outside I took the express bus from the airport to the city centre (€8), and within half an hour or so I was standing at Temple Bar breathing in the stench of the beers of the night before.
Walk the City
With plenty of time before my hotel check in, I decided to walk around the city, starting at one of its many parks, St Stephen’s Green.
Around the park is a series of information boards providing information on the Easter Rising (24-30 April 1916) as well as a statue to James Joyce. However, the most striking memorial was that to Wolfe Tone (main image) and the victims of the Famine by Edward Delaney.
Dublin is a really easy city to walk around. Just choose your side of the River Liffey and follow your nose. Close to St Stephen’s Green is Merrion Square Park, next to which is the house where Oscar Wilde lived as well as the office of the Taoiseach.
Visit a Gallery
The National Gallery of Ireland is free to enter, although there is a charge for certain exhibitions. The galleries contain interesting exhibitions of European and Irish art through the centuries as well as shows of specific artists such as Estella Solomons, and a really striking display of Irish Stained Glass associated with the Celtic Revival of the early twentieth century.
Listen to Live Music
All this walking had built up a head of thirst on me. Fortunately, there is no shortage of Dublin pubs to rectify this. O’Donoghue’s Bar on Merrion Row is one of several pubs in Dublin where you can listen to live Irish music.
Every Sunday afternoon from one local musicians perform in the courtyard beneath the photograph of the Dubliners, who used to play here. Afterwards a band plays in doors. Music is free but tips are welcomed.
By now I had got into the swing of Dublin life, but not so much as the children who danced to the music. One of the attractions of pubs in Dublin is that you can still strike up a conversation with total strangers over a pint or two of Guinness and enjoy the craic.
Stay in the City
Crossing one of the many bridges, I headed to my hotel, the Staycity Aparthotels, Dublin City Centre, which opened in September, 2022.
On the way back I stopped off at J McNeils, a pub that used to be a music shop established in 1834, to enjoy the perfectly poured Guinness and chat with the guys around the bar.
One of the advantages of an Aparthotel is that you are able to cook for yourself, keeping costs down, although this Staycity Aparthotel is located right next to Dublin One, and has a range of great eating options. I took a great bánh xèo back from Vietnamese restaurant Aobaba, which I enjoyed back in my spacious apartment watching the World Cup.
Alternatively, you could look to extend your stay in the Irish capital by renting a property. If this interests you, then we suggest you visit Rentola Ireland to get an idea for what is available.
A Walk in the Park
The following morning I decided to walk off the Guinness by going to Phoenix Park.
Created by James Butler, Duke of Ormond and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in 1662 as a royal deer park, Phoenix Park is one of the largest recreational areas in any European city.
Descendants of the original fallow deer still roam around the park, and I felt particularly fortunate to spot a herd until I noticed some fellow tourists feeding them.
The park has the official residence of the President of Ireland built in 1751, as well as the US Embassy Residence built in 1776, residence from 1927.
At its centre is the Phoenix Café, where I stopped to have an excellent vegetable soup and mixed salad, before popping into the small museum in the visitor centre, which is free, to discover more about the park. There is also a walled garden and Ashtown Castle, which unfortunately was closed during my visit.
Fortified by my hearty lunch I decided to take the long walk back to my hotel, passing along the Royal Canal Way and stopping at the excellent, and free, National Botanic Gardens to have a look at the various glass houses with cacti, palm trees, orchids, and less tropical plants.
A Night at the Abbey Theatre
I had just enough time to refresh back at my apartment – and have a quick one in J McNeils, where I soon felt like a local, before heading to the Abbey Theatre where I had booked a ticket to watch The Weir by Connor McPherson.
The tickets were a fraction of the cost of the West End and I sat right in the front row which is my favourite position allowing me to stretch out and feel the actors’ spit. The Abbey really is a beautiful theatre and the performance did the building proud.
The play is set in an Irish pub somewhere in the countryside south of Dublin. In many respects listening to the craic was just like being back in J McNeils, although the conversation was slightly more stimulating. Brendan Coyle (of Downton Abbey fame) was brilliant as Jack, one of those performances that holds your attention throughout. While the beautiful music and wonderful set provided a mystical quality; a beautiful experience.
Where to Eat Sustainably?
The only burden of being a travel writer – or global nomad for that matter – is that occasionally you have to do some work while genuine holidaymakers can just chill. So, the following morning I took advantage of the excellent WiFi in my apartment to catch up on emails and post some articles.
This allowed me just another time to have a look at Dublin Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral from the outside – the latter charged prohibiting my cheapskate entrance – before heading to The Fumbelly for lunch.
Run by Ash, The Fumbelly sells local, organic food from Irish farmers, as well as other select continental partners. They also have their own bakery. As I was waiting for my dish – a wonderful sweet pumpkin soup with chilli oil and artichoke crisps – to arrive, I chatted with Ciarán who is in charge of the food they sell.
Ciarán explained that The Fumbelly has a zero waste food policy, similar to FREA in Berlin I visited earlier in the year. For instance they ferment their cabbage and give coffee grinds to local farmers, and make their own chicken stock from their organic chicken bones.
The Fumbelly celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this year – and has a refreshing zero social media policy (apart from the Christmas Market). Ciarán said that the place attracts a diverse and artistic community, adding that he works a four-day week, with Ash placing equal importance on the welfare of staff as for the planet. The food was also excellent.
Getting to the Airport
With time on my hand, I checked out of the Staycity Aparthotels, having arranged a complimentary late check out the previous day, then walked to O’ Connell Street. From there the #16 bus (€2.60 exact change only) wove its way through the back streets of Dublin to the airport.
Having pre-booked Fast Track for my departures, I bypassed the lengthy (30-minute plus) queues, leaving myself with plenty of time to relax before my flight. Sufficient for me to have one last pint of Guinness at Marqette bar. Surely the cheapest and best pint of Guinness you will ever find at an airport in the world – and you can put that in the Guinness Book of Records? The perfect end to a great couple of nights in Dublin.
Things To Do in Dublin Photo Gallery
Things To Do in Dublin
If you are looking for more ideas on sustainable things to do in Dublin, Tourism Ireland has produced this page on Sustainable Dublin in 48 Hours, or for further inspiration on things to do in Dublin, click here.
All images by Mark Bibby Jackson.