DUBLIN — It’s nearly midnight on the cobble and squiffy patrons have gathered outside Quays Bar for a puff.
The pub is heaving and the corridors are thick with pedestrians. And it’s only Wednesday.
If the Celtic Tiger is dead, no one’s bothered to tell anyone in the Temple Bar district. It has been some years since the recession drove Dublin into austerity, but times are changing.
WestJet recently offered me the chance to see it all first-hand.
WestJet Vacations has rolled out five-, seven- and 10-day packages, and has partnered with The Conrad, The Gresham, Jurys Inn on Parnell Street, Best Western Plus Academy and the Hilton — five hotels that offer unbeatable jump-off points to discover the same walkable, bikeable, richly layered metropolis it was before the Lehman Brothers became a dirty pair of words.
We bedded at The Gresham, a four-star delight in the heart of the city.
We did Dublin in five days, but that can barely scratch the surface unless you know where to go. Luckily you have me.
You just flew a gazillion miles. You’re going to be bagged. Take a walk down the Liffey River and maybe hit a restaurant (both Cleaver East and the Winding Stair are spectacular). Top it off with a drink in Temple Bar and call it a day. This is all within walking distance.
Take the Hop On, Hop Off Tour. Stops are located near every hotel and at about $23, this guided bus is your best bet to get a handle on the city. It makes 33 stops at every major site you’ve come across in your Dublin research: Christ Church Cathedral, St. Patrick’s, the Guinness brewery, the Writer’s Museum, it’s 1,000 years of history in about an hour. Do stop and see the cathedrals as well as the venerable Trinity College and its awe inspiring library. Visit the Science Gallery while you’re there. They change up their weird art-meets-science exhibits every two months.
Adventure time! Peel back the city’s heavily Georgian layer and ramble through its Norse past. The Viking Splash Tour is a guided history lesson aboard an amphibious troop carrier. This really is a city that weeps with history and these guys are good at touching on most of it, not just the Vikings. Also, they give you horned helmets and you’re encouraged to yell at passersby so it’s pretty much the greatest thing ever.
Choose your own adventure, but the Fabulous Food Trail is a great way to discover Dublin’s gastro treasures: Dublin chocolatiers, cheesemongers, secret garden cafes and Victorian-era pubs.
It’s your last day so do yourself a favour. You drove past Phoenix Park on the Hop On, Hop Off Tour, now explore it. At 708 hectares — one of the largest walled parks in Europe — it’s the city’s best natural treasure. Dublin Bikes has stations all over the city. Rent one and visit a zoo that was housing animals long before this country entered into Confederation.
DUBLIN AFTER DARK
Standing in the centuries-old hunting lodge from hell, our guide rattles off tales of godless bogeymen who committed unspeakable acts.
Mind you there isn’t a shred of proof what any of those acts were, but there are accusations of Satanism and torture, and this weird little ritual that involved setting cats on fire and rolling them down the hill in barrels or something.
Wait, is that bone?
Welcome to the Hell Fire Club, one of Dublin’s stars on its creep walk of fame and a two-hour quasi-history lesson if you visit by way of Hidden Dublin Walks.
The tour meets every Thursday and Friday at the Brazen Head pub, an historic watering hole with origins tracing back more than 800 years, a suitable joint to begin a night of ghost stories.
From there it’s a 20-minute ride filled with stories of second-hand spectral sightings, bodysnatchers and other evils as you make your way to the Wicklow mountains yawning high above Dublin.
That is where our studious guide briefs us on a series of disappearances thought to be the work of a serial killer. Many believe he disposed of the bodies in these very mountains. Yikes.
By the time we summit Montpelier Hill, the sun is already setting on what can only be described as a stout fortress of cobbled doom.
Built sometime around 1725 using stones excavated from the cairn upon which it sits — dude, talk about bad mojo — this became the secretive meeting place for the Dublin Hell Fire Club, one of many famously amoral lodges that quietly flourished in London, Scotland and Ireland.
Men of high society would gather here to engage in all-out debauchery, blasphemy and other nouns of which their wives and clergy would not approve.
Nowadays it’s mostly kids who come up here to party.
But that’s bone right there. That is definitely a piece of some sort of bone.
(Our guide tells us in all seriousness that it’s actually not unheard of for visitors to find occasional evidence of ritualistic ... something or other.)
If it’s the darker side of life you seek, Dublin has its fair share of scare.
The Dublin Ghost Bus tour is another trek through the guts of history aboard a motorcoach dripping with red velvet and dramatic flair.
At nightfall this dreadified double-decker ferries victims to the city’s underworld, beneath the veil of its cathedrals, libraries and graveyards rich with tales of spectral bishops, lepers, madames and body snatchers.
Along the way you’ll hear the story of one Dr. Clossey, whose disembodied spirit still haunts the College of Surgeons building.
You know, so they say.
If that doesn’t float your fear boat, there’s always the mummies of St. Michan’s church.
The church offers a tour beneath its foundation where several corpses, some known and others whose identities have long since faded away, are preserved and on full display.
(At one time it was possible to “shake hands” with one of the more famous mummies. But in the spirit of preservation, that activity has been curtailed.)
WESTJET: DUBLIN SUCCESS 'INCREDIBLE'
To say WestJet’s Dublin flights really took off this year would be an understatement.
“We’ve been around now for 18 years ... and nothing has even come close to selling as fast as Dublin. It has been incredible,” said Robert Palmer, WestJet’s manager of public relations.
The Calgary-based airline announced its trial run to the Emerald Isle in November, when it rolled out an introductory fare of $199, all-in, for flights running to and from Dublin and Canada.
Those were gone within 12 hours.
“It has sold out so quickly that not everybody who wanted to take advantage of it will have that opportunity, however some seats are available and some hotels are available in September and October,” Palmer said of the airline’s first foray into the European trans-atlantic market.
Given the route’s success and WestJet’s recent announcement of their push into the widebody market for longer haul flights, Palmer said it’s a good bet Dublin hasn’t seen the last of them.
NEED TO KNOW
— Westjet Vacations packages to Dublin are offered through Oct. 24 with flights from St. John's, Nfld. Flights from Toronto make a 90-minute stop in St. John’s. The airline offers connecting flights to St. John's from several other gateways in Canada. Visit westjet.com and westjet.com/vacations for details.
— For more information on what Dublin has to offer, visit ireland.com.