Introducing London

They say Paris was the city of the nineteenth century, that New York was the dominant metropolis of the twentieth century and that the twenty-first century belongs to London. A closer view makes it difficult to argue.

London Bridge and the Shard. A city view where old meets new

London Bridge and the Shard. A city view where old meets new

London is a city steeped in history and you get a real sense of that when you walk around the centre of the city. There are the obvious iconic buildings like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace and modern landmarks such as the O2 (previously known as the Millennium Dome), The London Eye, the MI6 building, the Gherkin and now the newly built Shard. Of course its hosting of the recent Summer Olympics along with the celebrations for the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign put the city at the centre stage of the global media in 2012. However, it’s often the little iconic streets and buildings that will really make you marvel at a city which along with possibly the two cities mentioned earlier enjoys a unique global status whose notoriety is unsurpassed. Some examples include Savile Row, famous for its centuries of fine bespoke tailoring, Fleet Street, the traditional home of the British national newspapers until the 1980’s and Pall Mall, the street where the fictional character Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s novel ‘Around The World in 80 Days’ sets off to circumnavigate the world on a bet with his fellow members which began and ended there at the Reform Club.

London's Golden Mile of Tailoring

London’s Golden Mile of Tailoring

There is also Abbey Road, widely recognised in modern culture for the title and iconic image of arguably the Beatles finest album which released in 1969 famously shows the band traversing a zebra crossing on that very street. There‘s four iconic streets and that’s just a few quick examples. In many cities, they would be all be considered major tourist attractions, yet in London with its rich and illustrious history and culture they may barely get a mention in many of London’s tourist books. If buildings aren’t your thing, let’s try some famous citizens of ‘The Big Smoke’ (London’s nickname since the great smog of 1952. They may want to consider a new nickname for the uber cool and green 21st century, as this one is no ‘Big Apple’). Let’s even keep it down to a few…reckon this might impress even the harshest of critics; Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Ian Fleming, David Bowie, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor….. even David Beckham are all from London or spend most of their life there. Of course there are also famous fictional characters too such as Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Harry Potter and Ebenezer Scrooge amongst others.

London in the Sixties

Piccadilly Circus, London in the Swinging Sixties

Of course, for many people, it’s just seeing the iconic symbols of London like the red doubledecker buses, especially the old routemaster model with the rear entrance, the Beefeaters in their quirky uniforms that guard the Tower of London, the traditional black taxi cabs, the London bobbies and their funny custodian helmets or the red postboxes on the streets. So suffice to say, if you’ve decided to explore London in just a few days, then you’re going to need a comfortable pair of shoes and another holiday to relax after this busy little adventure.

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Dublin Pubs in Modern Times

Traditional Dublin Pub

Traditional Dublin Pub in Temple Bar

One of the first things many visitors may notice about Modern Dublin is the sheer amount of ’drinking holes’, ‘pubs’ or ‘bars’ or whatever your favourite term may be to describe Ireland’s favourite export alongside Guinness. Unless they’ve just climbed out of the rock they came from or never seen, read or heard anything about Dublin or Ireland before, this will not come as a massive shock when they stop to think about it. Nevertheless, it can still shock and astound first time visitors. The fact is though, you may want to enjoy it while you can because it may become something of an endangered species. Over 1,300 pubs have closed in Ireland over the past 5 years due to among other things, the changing social behaviour of Dubliners and the Irish population as a whole along with the challenging economic environment. The fact is Irish people are increasingly drinking at home with their friends either because they can’t afford to go out or because they can choose the music and smoke in their larger homes that they paid extortionate prices for during the early ‘boom’ years of this century. In addition, Ireland was the first country in the world to introduce a complete smoking ban in all public buildings and offices in 2004 and Dublin publicans are still trying to blame this ruling for much of their recent financial difficulties. Although this did prove to be an initial challenge, it’s probably more true to describe this view as a case of ‘clutching at straws’. In some cases, the ban actually enticed others back to the pubs, now free from the haze of tobacco filled bars and stained yellow walls and ceilings.

However, some previously disillusioned bar owners are slowly beginning to realise a startling revelation, one that has shocked them to their very core…The Irish are slowly falling out of love with the pub. Perhaps, this is just a phase, a temporary separation after a long heavy session or perhaps, it’s more of a slow evolutionary change towards the global trend of modern healthy living, a homogenous globalised world of coffee chains and sushi bars. For some this sounds like heaven, but Dublin wouldn’t be Dublin without its endless choice of pubs. Fortunately, for now, you’ll still manage to find a bar on almost every street corner of Dublin….but the lesson is…you’d better get to one while they’re still hot!

As a tourist to Dublin’s fair city, you’ll most likely wish to sample the delights of a proper authentic Irish pub experience with live traditional or “trad” Irish music and perhaps a dancer or two. So here’s the part where makeyourbreak.com are going to let you in on a little or not so little secret……Most Irish people don’t socialise in these types of pubs anymore…just like the Parisians don’t all drink red wine in berets listening to accordion music. That’s right, as a modern 21st century city embroiled in the rapid spread of globalisation; they also visit more conventional mainstream venues such as disco bars, cafés, sports bars, cocktail bars, nightclubs, even tapas bars and Cuban bars.

Urban chic Dublin Cafe Bar

Urban chic Dublin Cafe Bar

Before your jaw hits the floor, take a pause for the cause and be reassured that there is still a market for the old traditions. The secret is to know the original from the imitation, although if the truth be told, you may not care because the imitations generally ensure that they tick every box that the average tourist wants to experience. Firstly there is the Irish drink of choice, a pint of stout such as Guinness or Murphys, an Irish whiskey or a Baileys liqueur. Secondly there needs to be a warm friendly atmosphere with plenty of lively conversation and fun, or the craic as it’s now widely known and recognised internationally. Finally, there is the ‘trad’ band made up of tin whistles, bodhrans, possibly uilleann pipes and guitar and several Irish dancers for good measure to provide the ‘Riverdance’ experience……and sin é….. translated from Irish to mean……that’s it!MakeYourBreak.com

The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

Queen at Storehouse

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the Gravity Bar at Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

The Guinness Storehouse is part of the world-famous Guinness Brewery located at St James’s Gate in a very old and mostly dilapidated part of inner city Dublin. It’s also one of the largest breweries in the world and takes up an entire Dublin post code. Built in 1902, the Storehouse was originally a fermentation house for the brewery (where yeast is added to the brew). It was closed in 1988 and reopened as the new tourist centre for the brewery in November 2000 to showcase the history of Guinness. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited the Storehouse as part of their landmark visit to Ireland in May 2011.

Gates at Guinness Brewery

The famous black gates at the Guinness Brewery, Dublin

Walking from the quays of the River Liffey to the storehouse, you do get a sense of the history of the place that Arthur Guinness founded in 1759, especially as you pass the famous black gates with the unmistakable Guinness logo, although in reality, it’s more of a rough charm than an aesthetic delight. In the past, a job in Guinness was highly desirable for an average Dubliner providing a steady well paid job with an excellent pension and other welfare schemes, a rare perk in early twentieth century Dublin. But as only the people at Guinness can do, they’ve managed to create an illusion of mystery and fantasy around what is essentially a black beer, or ‘stout’ to be more precise, one that is an acquired taste to the unfamiliar.Entry costs to the Guinness Storehouse about €16.50 for an adult but you can avail of a 10% discount if you book via their website. Once you step inside, you may at first experience this impressive wave of curiosity in what can only be described as something akin to an adult’s version of visiting Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. As you begin the tour, you will be quickly informed that you are standing at the bottom of the largest pint glass in the world, the purpose-built shape of the renovated museum. However, in spite of their impressive efforts to teach you about the magic of how Guinness is brewed and promoted and in fairness they do succeed in parts, the tour can become a little tiresome after a period of time. The Storehouse spans over 7 floors so unless you’re a hardcore fan of the workings of an industrial factory or planning to home-brew your own blend, the initial interest and marvel can begin to fade as you find yourself longing to get to the last leg of the tour which is also the highlight, Dublin’s highest pub, The Gravity Bar.

Guinness Brewery Dublin

The Guinness Brewery in Dublin with a view of the Gravity Bar

However, if you are interested, there are a couple of other interactive features such as a trip down memory lane showcasing all the famous old Guinness ads from around the world. You can also visit the Perfect Pint Bar and learn about the unique two-step pouring process of a Guinness pint by pouring your own under the watchful eye of one of their staff. It’s hardly rocket science but it’s a bit of fun and something to tell friends and family back home. However, if you opt to do this, you will forsake your complimentary pint at the end of the tour at the Gravity Bar, not the end of the world unless you were only planning on having the one which for many visitors might be their limit.While we’re on the subject of the Guinness drink itself, don’t be ashamed if you don’t become an overnight fan of ‘the black stuff’. It does have quite a unique taste which to the unfamiliar pallet can seem very bitter and dry. Some choose to add a dash of blackberry cordial to sweeten the taste, although this would be considered sacrilege to the hardcore Guinness fan. However, if you’re determined to persevere, rest assured that it certainly does grow on you and like many unusual delicacies such as oysters and caviar, it can take time to appreciate the finer things…but a word of advice, Dubliners will regularly remind you that Guinness doesn’t travel well so the best place to enjoy a creamier pint is in Dublin, whether this is a myth or fact, we’ll let you decide.

Providing an almost 360 degree view of the greater Dublin area, the Gravity Bar is a great spot for any tourist in Dublin to visit at least once in their life and sink your complimentary pint of Guinness. Don’t worry, if you’re not a fan, they do offer a soft drink alternative. On a bright day, you can see for miles across Dublin Bay and the port to the east, the bordering Wicklow Mountains to the south, the famous Phoenix Park to the west and Croke Park Stadium to the north. Of course this general concept has been previously created in various cities around the world, generally through the construction of various sky towers in cities such as Seattle, Shanghai, Sydney or even the most famous of them all, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. However, you have to admire the originality and true ‘Irish Spirit’ of Dublin showcasing its own version of these towers, perched on top of our most famous brewery.

You can take the lift from the Gravity Bar to take you directly back down to the main hall and the gift shop which incidentally you pass on arrival so no need to buy any items at the beginning of the tour. On a last note about the Storehouse, it’s probably one of the best places to buy Guinness or Irish souvenirs with a Guinness slant in the city. Prices aren’t cheap but relatively speaking, they’re not bad for a ‘tourist trap’. There is also a chain of souvenir shops around Dublin called ‘Carrolls’ which probably offer better value but the Guinness themed range is not nearly as wide.

Horse & Carriage outside Guinness Storehouse

One of the horse and carriages outside Guinness Storehouse in Dublin

Upon leaving the Storehouse, you may notice a stream of horse and carriages, many of which are accompanied by what may at first appear to be young men or boys with tight haircuts who may not be the sharpest dressers you’ve ever seen in your life offering you a ride to the city centre. However, these men or ‘lads’ as they’re called locally are generally harmless and tend to exude a spirit and character which is the heart and soul of old Dublin. At first it may appear harsh and rough but it is actually quite endearing. This is perhaps a metaphor for the city of Dublin itself. Remember Irish charm can get you a long way and these lads are in the tourism game. It can prove a fun and alternative way to get to the centre of Dublin City from the Guinness Brewery. You won’t pass the most scenic parts of Dublin it has to be said but it’s an experience all the same and beats a normal taxi. It costs about €20 for a group of four in a single carriage to get to the top of Dame Street and the famous Temple Bar area. So that’s the best part of an afternoon in Dublin taken care of, what next?

Well, most first time visitors will take the time to explore around the relatively compact city centre or sit back, relax and soak up the atmosphere of a traditional Irish pub with all the trappings.

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Planning your First Trip to Dublin?

So you’ve never been to Dublin but always fancied a visit? Well you’re in for a treat. Most first time visitors to Dublin who don’t know much about the city or its culture plan to see the same sights, namely the Guinness Brewery and its interactive visitor centre, the Guinness Storehouse as well as a traditional Irish pub with some Irish dancing and music to have the ‘craic’ with the locals (a prominent Irish term to describe having fun and enjoyable conversation, pronounced like “crack”) . While that all sounds fine or ‘grand’ as we would say in Dublin, surely we can give you a few more options just in case you might have higher expectations for your stay.

For this post, we’re going to try to keep it light and fluffy but if there is something that we mention that you’d like to read more about, don’t worry, we’re busily writing new pages of content and we’ll link them up to this post as soon as possible. So back to your first visit plans.

This desire to visit the Guinness Storehouse is often in spite of the likelihood that most people who visit the Guinness Storehouse are not regular drinkers of the ‘black stuff’ and may not be too fond of its distinctive taste at first. It’s a bit of cliché to say but Guinness is often an acquired taste. Nevertheless, it’s not Dublin’s most visited tourist attraction with over 4 million visitors for nothing and its connection with Irish culture is bound by history. It continues to be the best-selling alcoholic drink in Ireland and loved the world over.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin City

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin City

However, there are many other options for you to enjoy during your trip to Dublin. Before we begin, let us start by stating now that unless you’re planning to read this blog until tomorrow, we’re going to have to leave aside the night life end of Dublin. You’ll just have to wait until we launch that separate post in the next few days. It’s just too extensive and we’re really not being dramatic plus we feel that unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re likely to be aware that Dublin is a pretty decent spot for an enjoyable night out.

Jameson Distillery, Smithfield, Dublin City

Jameson Distillery, Smithfield, Dublin City

So back to our daytime alternative and staying within the city limits and the subject of all things alcoholic, you could enjoy the tamer and slow-paced but arguably more interesting Jameson Distillery museum, home of the famous Irish whiskey. A walking tour through the city is also highly recommended passing some of the important and interesting landmarks of the city starting at Parnell Square and walking through the heart of the city including O’Connell Street, Temple Bar, College Green and Trinity College, Grafton Street Area, Kildare Street and the government buildings and down to Stephens Green on the south side of the city centre. Along the way, you will discover that there is definitely more to Dublin than meets the eye. In addition to its traditionally recognised landmarks like Trinity College and Grafton Street or famous people like James Joyce, U2 and Colin Farrell, you’ll discover through this tour some other little gems that you might not have known about Dublin or Ireland before. At a steady pace, this entire walk can take as little as 30 minutes. However, if you’re not much of a walker, there is an alternative.

Grafton Street

Shopping in Grafton Street

Like any other major city in the world, one of the most popular ways to see Dublin is by taking an Open Top Bus Tour. There are several companies to choose from but day passes are available for around €18 for adults. These tours allow you to get on and off the bus when you want to visit all of Dublin’s major attractions at your own leisure whilst covering a much larger area than the suggested walking tour including the Phoenix Park, Dublin Zoo, Guinness Storehouse and Kilmainham Gaol (Jail in Irish), where many of Ireland’s rebellion leaders were imprisoned or executed.

Cruise along the River Liffey

Cruise along the River Liffey

Alternatively, you can take to the water to discover Dublin on a Liffey cruise. There is currently only one company and one boat operating such a service and it’s only open from March to November but it is well worth a visit and the tour guides on board do make the trip with historical knowledge as well as a bit of Irish wit and charm thrown in for good measure. It takes you from West to East, from the Ha’penny Bridge past Liberty Hall, the Customs House  and the Famine Memorial and back to your original point.  Adult prices are around €14 and it takes about an hour. Almost all of Dublin’s public museums and galleries including the National History Museum, the National Gallery and the National History Museum are free of charge so if history and the arts are your thing, these are just some of the highlights available to you.

For those who don’t care too much about the culture and the history and are more interested in some retail therapy, the city essentially offers you two main options, Henry Street, located on the northside close to O’Connell Street or the more affluent Grafton Street on the southside, which in 2008 was ranked as the fifth most expensive main shopping street in the world. Both of these streets include their street’s flagship department stores, the former, Arnotts and the latter, Brown Thomas.

If you have a car or are happy to avail of a taxi or public transport, there is so much more to see within 30 minutes drive from the city. You can have some memorable days out exploring scenic villages such as Howth or Dalkey, walking through beautiful gardens and parks such as the Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin and St Anne’s Park in Clontarf, both of which are just on the periphery of the city. You could also view some of Ireland’s many enchanting castles and grand houses such as Malahide Castle or Newbridge House.

A bit further out but still only an hour or so from the city are some magnificent sights located in Dublin’s three neighbouring counties, Wicklow, Meath and Kildare.

Powerscourt House

Powerscourt House & Gardens, Co Wicklow

There is the stunning Powerscourt House & Gardens located in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. less than an hour from the city and well worth the trek as is Powerscourt Waterfall located a further 15 minutes past Enniskerry. Avoca and Glendalough are other popular tourist spots in Wicklow which has become known as the ‘Garden of Ireland’. There are some excellent historical landmarks in the northern border county of Meath, ‘The Royal County’ such as the prehistoric monument at Newgrange in Co Meath, Trim Castle (which was used in the filming of Braveheart) and the Hill of Tara, home to a range of ancient monuments and according to tradition, was the seat of the High King of Ireland, again about an hour from the city. Finally, in Kildare, the traditional home of Irish horse breeding, you can enjoy the Japanese Gardens and the adjoining National Horse Stud as well as one of Ireland’s most famous horseracing tracks, The Curragh. Despite mentioning quite a number of places, we really haven’t even touched the surface yet. Have you raised the bar for your first trip to Dublin yet? That’s the spirit.

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Introducing Dublin, Ireland

Dubliners Celebrating

The Irish celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin

So you’ve never been to Dublin or you just want to explore it a bit better this time, well you’re in good hands. Dublin is a fantastic destination for everyone to enjoy and although it’s small in size, it has a personality and vibrancy that is world-renowned. It’s easy to see the highlights over a weekend or a few days although there are plenty more treasures on the outskirts if you have the time or interest. By the end of the trip, you’re likely to have complained regularly about the weather, fallen in love with the people and remember a fantastic trip where you never smiled or laughed so much in your life. Cead mile failte, translated from Irish means, a hundred thousand welcomes….to Dublin.

Over the coming weeks, the Make Your Break blog will post a vast range of interesting articles and recommendations so that you can enjoy your Dublin break based on your own individual interests, not what the guidebook tells you to. Whether it is for the history, the entertainment and fun, the shopping or just to soak up the unique atmosphere, Make Your Break will ensure you’ve experienced all that you wanted to get out of your break to Dublin

Enjoying an Irish Trad Session

Enjoying an Irish Trad Session

Dublin is a small city on an island located on the northwest tip of Europe. Depending on what you’ve read or heard, your preconceived ideas of the city will either be of a series of quaint narrow streets filled with people singing and dancing in the streets whilst great literary writers like Joyce or Shaw reflect with a whiskey or pipe in hand before penning tales of woe and strife or of a 21st century hub of coffee drinking commuters working in a modern European Centre of IT innovation and creativity. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle and by reading the various articles on this blog, you should be able to find the Dublin you really want to see. Dublin has a certain charm all on its own. Admittedly, it is amongst some tough competition in a continent of stunningly beautiful cities but Dublin’s true beauty lies just beneath the surface. That might seem like a cliché but you’ll quickly discover this for yourself. It’s an edgy city with bags of personality and charm rather than conventional good looks and its friendly and witty people are among the most memorable experience of previous visitors to Dublin’s Fair City.

Terminal 2 Dublin Airport

The new Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport

There is just one major airport for the city, Dublin International Airport which is located 10km north of Dublin City. It has two terminals including the recently constructed Terminal 2 which opened in 2010. It’s main tenants include Ireland’s flag carrier Aer Lingus and most of the other airlines flying to and from long haul destinations with Ryanair being the anchor tenant of the older Terminal 1. Despite various past proposals, there is still no train connection from Dublin Airport to Dublin City so bus, taxi or hired car are your only options to get to the city or any other destination. The airport is located about 20 minutes from the city centre and a taxi will set you back about €22.

Dublin is a small compact European city, easy to get around, but still providing plenty of options no matter what your interests are, young or old, rich or poor. Traditionally, it’s regarded as one of the top cities in Europe, if not the world for its night entertainment and if you feel this might be overrated, you’d be wrong, it’s every bit as good as they say….more on that later. Like most European cities, most tourists visit Dublin for a short break or a weekend stay and that is probably enough time to see the main highlights of the city and if you’re a bit of a night owl that will most likely feel like plenty. If however, you’re bringing your car or want to see more of the Irish countryside, you may wish to extend your stay by a couple more nights as there is so much more to be seen on Dublin City’s doorstep.

So now that you’ve been introduced to Dublin through Make Your Break, look out for our other interesting posts on Dublin and other great cities in the coming weeks and months.If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to email us .

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