Cold, confused and drunk might not sound like the ideal city break particularly at 7am on the ice-paved streets of Hungary, however, playing up to its image as the ‘Paris of Eastern Europe’ there is indeed splendour and sparkling views around every corner to even stop someone drunk out of their mind right where they are standing in bewilderment. Budapest has recently started to grow as the hidden-gem of holiday destinations, supplying people from every walk of life and background with the perfect break from their mundane lives, thrusting them into a metropolis of architecture and intrigue.
It was on this basis we set about locating some cheap flights eastward which easyjet duly obliged as always (www.easy jet.com, £70 return) and three weeks later we were stood on the tarmac in an alarmingly and bone-rattling cold Budapest suburb looking up at the towering terminal, that indeed informed us were indeed in Hungary and not Siberia. Being 10 miles from the city, the taxi journey (Zora taxis, £15) through town looked promising. The outskirts of the town displayed all the stereotypes of life behind the Iron Curtain, dark, concrete and industrial but over laden with culture, whilst the inner city offered tall magnificent structures illuminated with all the bravado of monuments proud to be shown off to the world, I liked what I saw and was clamping at the bit to explore further. Taxi stop!!
After coming across very favourable reviews online, we choose to stay at the Loft Hostel (www.lofthostel.hu, £17) which charged reasonable prices for a inner city location. First impressions were pretty disastrous it must be said, the dark stone cold building looking very third world, the rickety life taking us up to the fifth floor prompting much silent prayers and trepidation. Literally the second we were through the door the warmth and smells of home cooking greeted us from the outset, the workers and guests transforming this seemingly hell pit relic from the Cold War into a place by the end of the stay we didn’t want to leave. A vast living room with televisions, internet access and the most comfy couches on the Continent provided a great place to meet your fellow guests from all over the globe, an easy place to whip up friendships and travelling pals. Our new friends instantly began to pinpoint on maps where exactly we should go as well as offering us tips and advice on how to be safe and more importantly to have an unforgettable trip. Based by Ferenciek Tere in the heart of the city, the hotel is right around the corner from the River Danube (naturally very blue as the song suggests), the infamous crossing dotted with boats and ships splitting the downtown Pest area from the more upmarket Buda suburb. The hostel is perfectly located and as long as one doesn’t suffer from vertigo when climbing the innumerable stairs or taking the rickety life to the fifth floor wooden enclave, it is a fantastically fun place to stay and very recommendable.
Priding itself as the jewel of Eastern Europe, this Hungarian ‘Paris’ is perfect for a romantic break or a short and sweet stopover. With the majority of the sights being based directly around the Danube, a night time walk along the river front can be very rewarding, the crisp and clean air working effectively at giving the system a jolt should you become fatigued from the non-stop onslaught of sight after precious sight. Indeed, the small touristy maps that are easily picked up typically list around 110 separate landmarks. The many bridges crossing the river are something to marvel at themselves, the Chain Bridge appearing as domineering as its name suggests. St Peter’s Basilica claws at the sky much like London’s cathedral equivalent whilst the Liberation monument stands proud on a hill overlooking the city, the sword being withdrawn from the sheath almost a visual metaphor of a country withdrawing from a dark period and entering a glorious 21st century phase. A further symbol of the new and forward-looking Hungarian nation is the magnificent and vast Parliament building the Duma, the gothic structure the symbol home of a whole country. The great amount of monuments, castles and even caves suggest the best place to see them all is from the river itself, the many cruises (www.mahartpassnave.hu, £8) giving a comprehensive summary of what this sensational city has kept secret for so long. Although I wasn’t able to get to the famous Baths in the city, I have been told they are a true guilty pleasure and especially the ideal place to relax and let go of all the worries on your shoulders. Definitely the most highly-recommended place we came across.
With a growing buzz that’s beginning to rival Prague as a haven for stag and hen parties and other wishing to indulge in a beer or six, it is no surprise to find the city teeming with bars and clubs. Every street seems to have at least two small and simple bars, most appearing to have no signage, just a few locals loudly and rowdily gulping their pints and discussing their interests. These bars are bristling with continental culture and cheap ale, perfect places to begin, end or even spent the night crouched over a table with your nearest or dearest. With many bars around the every corner, the nightclubs are slightly further a field from the inner city, Corvinteto coming highly recommended, a 20minute walk towards the north east of the city just of the large highway. Like the bars, with minimal signage it is indeed a club which only locals are aware of which always tend to be the best places. After going through a couple of corrugated iron doors and up five flights of heavily graffiti-ed stairs we came into a wonderfully warm, loud and cheap dance floor, like the hotel a direct contrast to the first impressions. Playing popular music and becoming reasonable busy, it’s fair to reason that the fact we didn’t remember leaving suggests it was a night well spent, in particular the poison-like Long Island Iced Teas. Classic drink for a classic bar. The following night we were once again urged to visit Morrisons 2 (www.morrisons.hu, £2) in Honved which was a five minute taxi ride away, possibly the most picturesque ride anyone is capable of. Morrisons 2 was more of a western nightclub than Corvinteto, one of the best little party places around. Whilst not excessively cheap, the prices were decent enough for the atmosphere the cellar-based club provides. Loud rhythms and loud conversations, it was a curiously exciting place complete with a big red phone box by the bar! Budapest is a wonderful city encapsulated in culture, a place that indeed deserves plenty of time to uncover and discover all that it has to offer. Be it castles or museums, baths or beer; move over Prague, Buda and Pest are now the place to be.
As the plane circled in the sky’s above the Bavarian countryside, the one thing that struck me was how green everything appeared. Gigantic trees dotted around the sprawling lime meadows suggested we had come to the wrong place for a continental city break. Where was Munich, the city famed for the Oktoberfest beer celebration and its busy architecture?
Finally, the green subsided to what appeared from above to be a gothic lego-like paradise of sharp-edged buildings and high towers, reinforcing my original belief that a trip to South-East Germany would remain etched in my mind’s window forever. As any regular visitor to this country will note, the efficiency of the airports is generally astounding, however Munich airport took the nations obsession with providing a satisfactory futuristic service to the extreme, the airport having been voted ‘Best Airport in Europe’ for the third year running, a remarkable first impression for what is truly a remarkable city. Indeed, the mini model of the city’s brand new stadium residing in the arrivals lounge provides a fantastic not-to-be-missed photo opportunity before you even step foot into the city.
Staying in a hotel (unsure of the name, a classic sign of the beer strength!) in the Laim area of the city, the hotel was decent value for money for travellers on a budget providing the usual amenities of bed, TV and bathroom. In a city like Munich time spent inside the hotel should be kept to a minimum to maximise the experience so to be honest I would have been happy with a tent! The accommodation was a couple of minutes from the city centre, linked by the U-Bahn underground system, a quick, clean and much improved version of London’s flagship Underground network. Providing plenty of trains every couple of minutes of so, this easily accessible network is vital in working your way through the city, linking everything coherently together as well as offering the delightful chance to traipse through the shopping malls littered among the main stations. One thing that will instantly grab your noise’s attention is the succulent smells of the Bratwurst vendors, small cute portable kitchens serving up the best snack I have ever tasted. Fresh soft and warm bread holding a long Bratwurst for only a couple euro’s is fantastic value, both in monetary and hunger terms.
Munich is such a wonderful city with an almost mythical centre that it is possible to get lost in the architecture, indeed every corner of this city could be put forward as a possible tourist site. Truly a city of museums, they are littered throughout the region like fast-food joints, one seemingly around every gothic corner. An example of the diversity of the museums is how one can go from the Museum of Egyptian Art to the BMW Museum, two shrines to opposite ends of the human historical archives. Indeed, the quality of the buildings around the city centre makes you feel as though you are indeed walking around a gigantic museum itself. The biggest church in the region, dominating the sky line and provided a breathtaking view is the Frauenkirche with its two weird yet inspirational towers. The climb to the top is worth it for the views of the distant Alps alone. The sheer size of the actual church is extraordinary in itself, capable of holding 20,000 worshippers. The tombs scattered around the brick behemoth offering a gruesome but luring insight into the history of a proud region. Close by lies the spiritual centre of the city in the Marienplatz, a great square containing the new Town Hall, yet another large gothic structure with numerous sharp towers puncturing the brisk clean Alp air. With numerous castles and palaces in the surrounding countryside it can be hard to remember what century we are in when surrounded by such delights of yesteryear. However, the BMW Headquarters/Museum can thrust you back into the present, the infamous symbol towering over the city like the Bat Signal, the four cylinder building a true one-off symbol of capitalism gone crazy . A city famous for its sporting history, the recently built Allianz Arena, home of the city’s two resident football teams looms large over the suburb of Ffrottmaning in the north of the city, a truly remarkable piece of modern design, the ‘skin’ of the stadium able to change colour depending on who the tenants are for that evenings match. A must-see UFO-like bowl that is unique in every way. Able to hold 69,000 screaming Bavarians, the 15minute trip up the U6 line from the city centre will be worth the trip for any sports fans, a kick about with a small ball in the shadows of an infamous sporting structure able to satisfy the child in all those with unfulfilled dreams of soccer stardom.
With Munich being universally lauded as a perfect city to be in, its to be expected that with this comes reasonably high prices, indeed it is considered the most expensive city in Germany. As such, knowing where to go is essential if you wish to make your night last longer than the couple of drinks you’d be able to afford in the city centre. Despite a wealth of establishments in the centre, the locals quickly implore you to follow them to their secret hideout. And some hideout! A 10minute U-Bahn ride to the far east of the city leads you to the vibrant and diverse Ostbahnhof area. The Optimolwerke complex has numerous different bars for every type of music ever composed, literally something for everyone. With prices lower than the touristy city centre and open until sun up, the complex has something for everyone. To my amazement, around the corner was an even bigger nightclub paradise, the Kultfabrik proudly claiming to be the biggest party area in Europe, over 50 bars lined next to each other providing enough barmaids to serve you 10 lifetimes over. The laser beams and neon signs cutting through the dark and misty night’s sky leaving you in a dream-like state of ecstasy, this is an area that has to be Europe’s best kept secret.
Munich is an area that has to be amongst Europe’s most desirable places. A city centre in immaculate condition and looked after by its conservative residents with an out-of-town party paradise, the city definitely appears to be having its cake and stuffing its face.
To half of you it is known as the ‘city of a hundred spires’, its preserved gothic heritage a major part of it’s appeal to some of the many millions of tourists who visit this Central Europe destination each year; to the rest of you it is a stag-party heaven promising cheap drink, women and fun.
From whichever excited perspective you approach the runway at the Ruzyne Airport 10km outside the City, the ‘Golden City’ does indeed cater to everyone’s taste, regardless of the extracurricular activities you should choose. Prague (Praha locally) is a sprawling gothic metropolis home to 1.2million split by the impressive River Vltava in a way reminiscent of the Thames in London or the Liffey in Dublin, a beautiful city that has been included on the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in a statement of intent about the fabulous architecture that awaits the open-eyed tourist. An unusual choice for a rugby tour in a country that is not seemingly a rugby-loving nation, there was a reason for my venture into the capital of the Czech Republic (never Czechoslovakia, be warned!) for 5 days of unrestricted free living and it certainly wasn’t for the Scrums.
Whilst the game naturally came and went in a forgetful 80minutes, the rest of the trip would prove anything but. We stayed in a hotel that was not only part of the Czech Technical University (an important place apparently?), the Masarykova Kolej was also a KGB office in its previous incarnation, an intriguing link to a bygone era and a constant reminder of the country’s past legacy in spite of the current economic and cultural growth. The hotel was reasonably priced, converting to about £15 a night. Located in Praha 6 (the city is split into districts, not unlike London Boroughs), we were on the edge of a busy road about 10minutes walk from the city centre but within touching distance of the impressive Metro system. Operating from 5am to Midnight, the metro is the quickest most effective, not to mention the funniest way, around the city. The characters you can meet on such a system are well known to city dwellers the globe over, although how many people have met a man talking directly to chicken bones remains to be seen! Travellers beware though, this system is not free and you must ensure you buy your tickets from the many newspaper kiosks dotted around the city or face massive penalties from the plain-clothes ‘officers’ who frequently aim to catch out tourists.
The first must-see moment for the newcomer to Prague is the literally unmissable Prague Castle, the massive medieval structure dominating the Prague skies, symbolic of its important role as the historic home of Czech Kings, Roman Emperors and recent Presidents. Much like London’s Tower, the Czech Crown Jewels are kept here, safe within the confines of one of the World’s largest and durable castles. The sheer size of the structure is baffling, its popularity evident by the mass hordes of people of every nationality clicking the camera’s away with the dedication and fervour of a Hollywood Paparazzo. An interesting sidepiece of the castle is the equally jaw-dropping Saint Vitus’s Cathedral, a large Gothic Structure punctuated by intricate stained glass designs and multiple macabre tombs of medieval Bohemian King’s. Just as can be expected from a compact city centre, it is easy to get from the Castle across the unique Charles Bridge and into Wenceslas Square, the Piccadilly-like epicentre of Prague’s famed nightlife. The Charles Bridge , the co-star of such Hollywood films as Mission:Impossible, XXX as well as being featured in Kanye West’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” video, spans the Vltava decorated by over 30 large gothic, almost ghoul-like statues. This fun sight-seeing spot is popular amongst all ages, as evident by how busy the bridge gets in the day, the many kiosks and traders scattered across the cobbled roads taking advantage of the tourists and their need for gifts. Speaking of cobbled roads, exercise caution, they can be tricky to manoeuvre if elderly or just nimble on your feet, as witnessed several times watching burly rugby men hit the ground in pain.
There are also taxi’s readily available, although being the victim of a rip-off in our first few hours in the city I would advise anyone wishing to use the taxi’s to make sure you agree on a price before entering the vehicle, and under no circumstance go by the meter; the drivers tend to raise prices 100% at least for non-Czech speaking passengers as well as taking you to places other than you requested for the reason they get paid by nightclub owners to take you to their clubs.
The nightlife revolves around Wenceslas Square in the city centre, a famous area steeped in the history of the Czech nation but more important these days (to the eternal dismay of locals) as the hub of all nightlife activities from fast-food joints to the strip clubs and prostitutes that litter the area, ensuring this becoming the undisputed stag capital of Europe. The Square has many pubs and nightclubs dotted around the locality although the tourists should be aware of what sort of establishment they are entering: many ‘nightclubs’ simply being adult clubs with live sex-shows, not the place you want to unwittingly wander into with the missus! One negative of this busy spot is that much like other major European cities pickpockets are rife, especially in the guise of Prostitutes luring in unsuspecting visitors. A tactic we witnessed was that they will swarm you and empty your pockets quickly. They also tend to be accompanied by pimps or minders so exercise caution and stay away from alleyways to avoid these people. Just like any other situation, common sense will see you will remain safe.
One place that must be visited is Rocky O’Reilly’s, an Irish bar owned and operated by Sean Curran and Robbie Norton, two charming Irish expatriates who appeared to be genuinely pleased to talk to us, despite the undoubtedly endless other people who must pass through here on a daily basis. The “Full Monty”, a massive meal consisting of ribs, steak, prawns, scampi, chicken wings, garlic bread, mushrooms etc was the perfect way to start (and end) each day, a meal that is almost enough to single handedly drag me back to Prague, all for £4. The perfect drink to accompany the meal would be a pint of Budweiser Budvar; unlike its commercial American cousin, a genuine locally brewed Ale with such an irresistible taste it has to be drunk with all the care and attention of a wine connoisseur sipping the finest wines in the region…an unusual sight for a group of rugby players! The prices for a trip to Prague are reasonable, a quick check on myprague.net reveal return flights from London for as little as £94, a small price to pay when you consider accommodation is cheap, a full meal can be bought for as little as a couple of quid and the average price of a pint is £1.03p!
All in all, Prague is a city with something for everyone despite its reputation as a stag-capital of late, a truly modern city within the breath-taking confines of a medieval gothic paradise.
Ok, I’ll admit I did fly for ten hours around our creaking and groaning Planet, to get to my destination. Once arrived however, I could sense the modern inventions that are slowly eroding the environment back home wouldn’t be such an issue in my rustic home for the next month. Kashmir, the mountainous region with the troubled and violent history is a place far beyond the luxuries of the West, a place untouched by the clutches of industrial pollution and the like.
Our 14-seater bus from the airport wouldn’t leave until every seat and floor space was occupied, an efficient use of transport in this country. The bus-pool system cuts down on the number of vehicles rampaging through the streets as well as being affordable for the financially-burdened proletariat.
These journeys can be valuable, the locals giving advice more helpful than any WH Smith guidebook. I was dumbstruck at the beguiling rural-ness of this southern tip of Kashmir, the vast horizon in front of me occasionally punctured by small houses, wildlife and trees.
Staying in the Mirpur district, the dominating fixture of the village was the behemoth that is the Mangla Dam, a body of exquisite blue water that is the 12th largest dam in the world. With no boats and no toxic chemicals, there’s just calm water for as far as the eye can see and an abundance of animals around the edges. It’s can be a cooling respite from the at-times unbearable heat of this exotic paradise.
My six weeks in this environment mainly consisted of playing board games since there are no x-box’s here! Another usual activity was the villagers getting meeting under candlelight, chatting amongst themselves and gossiping the nights away over a cup of Cha and biscuits. Ah yes, the food.
Basic in premise, unrivalled in taste. Most meals are based around a variety of herbs, potatoes, chapattis and meat, all locally grown ingredients contributing in a variety of ways to whet even the dullest of palates. Noted for their agricultural skills, the people rely mainly on home grown goods; A freshly killed Goat with its succulent meat can feed large families for days, along with the local fruit trees in the area and the ever-present rice grain.
Walking into the village there are a scattering of simple stores; a sweet shop in a wooden shack that also curiously sells live chickens, a vegetable stall selling local produce and also a barbers where the men congregate in the day. The tools of choice? A razor and a pair of scissors. Oh, and a hand mirror.
The evenings consisted of sitting on the flat roof tops chatting or having a quick game of cricket. With the air being so clean and pure, it’s actually possible to pick out and spot all of the famous star constellations you only read about in books or see in films. The saucepan, Orion’s belt and so on, it’s truly a postcard image on a massive scale. A fantastic way to end an environmentally conscious trip abroad…except for the plane out!
If I had to sum up this North-Western German city in one word it would have to be “efficient”. Yes, like all other major German destinations Bremen runs so smoothly you wouldn’t be surprised if you found out that every watch, clock or timer in the port city was running in sync.
After leaving our crowded little isle from a Liverpool airport so busy I was sure I crushed a few ribs in the general panic that British airports seem to inflict on our restless natives (flying via Dublin, the Irish capital’s operation was no picnic either), it was amazingly refreshing to walk through customs and be greeted by…nothing. No queues, no screaming kids, no rowdy tourists, just my luggage waiting for me and a spacious gleaming airport at our mercy. For first time visitors to Germany this tends to be a wonderful insight into the general mindset of the country’s meticulous approach to effectiveness, stereotypes notwithstanding. I was off the plane, luggage in hand and out the door in the time it takes to order a hamburger (always with gherkins!) back in Blighty.
Straight onto the futuristic Bremer Strabenbahn AG (BSAG) tram service, complete with electronic boards and doors, it was only a short-trip until we reached the city centre. It was a shock when we stepped off the tram and realised just how quiet the streets were.
In trying to keep with the spontaneous nature of the trip, we (11 Irish lads and I) hadn’t booked a hotel, so armed with some unhelpful Google print-outs and some helpful German assistance we turned up at the most random shaped hostel I have yet to see. The easiest way to describe the Jugendherberge budget hostel would be to liken it to a large yellow Lego Brick overlooking the sprawling River Weser, a wide passage of water resplendent with large ships and Freighters sitting atop her glistening surface.
The hostel was clean and welcoming inside, a homely feel created by the happy staff, bright coloured walls and children running around enjoying the many facilities the place provides. The rooms were spacious with a generous sized shower and a breathtaking view over the river, suggesting this hostel being a hidden jewel in the hospitality department considering the value for money. There was also food put on in the large Breakfast/Dinner area which was quite good actually, consisting of complicated foods such as Stroganoff or even something as multicultural as…chips.
With the country synonymous with its love and production of beer, the first stop for all you lager-louts out there would be the famous Beck’s Brewery, the home of that world-renowned lager. With entry for €7 and including a tour as well as a couple free pints of the smooth tasting brew, the museum/factory is a great tourist attraction much in the vein of the similar Guinness factory in Dublin. Another similar infamous factory residing in the city is the Mercedes-Benz building, a hit with petrol-heads and passer’s by alike, the large symbol proving a great photographic moment for tourists.
For the more traditional sightseer, the Marktplatz (Market Square) in the centre of the city will provide you with the historic gothic buildings that have become a staple of international tourism, the large opulent Town Hall dominating the square. Modified to boast a restaurant (the Ratskeller), the wine list contains an extraordinary 600 local wines including the 12 oldest wines in the world safely stored should a billionaire ever pop in with a blank cheque and a sweet tooth. The Dom St Petri is also situated around the impressive square, the 1200-year-old cathedral looming over the area as the spiritual home of the locals. For €1 you can even climb the tower and get a view over the whole city. The Bremen locals understandably take great pride in the square and frown upon loud rowdiness, not becoming of the quiet efficient almost utopia-like existence they have created around their historic cultural centre, so be warned.
Midweek was not the ideal time to truly sample the nightlife of the city, however if the midweek afternoons were anything to go by the weekend hotspots promise to be something. Situated on the scenic embankment alongside the river Weser and ideally outside our Hostel, the Schlachte area of the city boasts outdoor seating for some 2000 people, spread amongst the innumerable wealth of bars, café’s and restaurants that line the waterway. The most popular of these would be the summertime (Apr-Sept, 11am-midnight) beer gardens, outdoor pub’s serving a wide array of local beer’s and pretzels to tourists and locals alike wishing to catch some rays beside the picturesque river, the idyllic hangout for groups of friends or a couple on a romantic getaway. With restaurants sampling the best of the world’s cuisine there is no excuse for going hungry, although for a bit of local authenticity I would recommend any form of locally caught fish for a pleasant fresh dish.
Further in town there are plenty of late-night bars and restaurants situated around the Viertel area, with many different venues situated around a compact couple of streets. With something for everyone, rowdy bars for the lads, quiet reserved night-spots for couples, the area does indeed provide everything you need from a night out in a clean friendly and relaxed setting with reasonable prices (€3-4 a pint for example). One great find away from the tourist magnet that is the city centre is Euro Bar (1), a small unassuming bar on a side street away from the hubbub where there is an abundance of drinks for the ridiculous sums of just a couple of Euros, a bargain in any language. With the city centre very much alive on the midweek, one can only expect it to become larger than life on the weekend. One tip however, don’t get dragged by the local’s into a rock nightclub! It’s fun although the custom of everyone running into each other on the dance floor does lead to waking up and discovering bruises all over.
Bremen does indeed have much to offer everyone, whilst appearing as the ideal place for a quiet romantic break with missus, this metropolitan city also offers enough in the way for it to be whatever the visitor wishes it to be…be it a dirty weekend with the missus or a colossal piss-up with the boys, Bremen doesn’t disappoint.
Stumbling out of a nightclub with Oasis blasting through my semi-blown eardrums and a bottle of Budweiser in my hand, I walk into a lamppost before sliding ever so gracefully to the floor. Time to call it a night me thinks.
Welcome to Dublin. Ireland has long had a reputation for being a country of drinkers, and despite stereotypes being factually incorrect in majority of cases, the growth, or rather explosion of the Temple Bar region in Dublin 2 as the ‘Ibiza of Ireland’ does little to dispel the myth.
After travelling over on the ferry (£48 return, Stenaline Fishguard) and arriving at Rosslare, I was disheartened to find out it was a further three hour drive north through the east coast of the Republic before reaching the proud cultural centre of the country that is the Capital Dublin. However, it must be said it was one of the most pleasant motorway journeys I have been on, highly recommendable than simple flying into yet another generic airport terminal, passing through the green countryside with intermissions of straddling the sea, the scenery enough to regularly stop and check out such seaside towns as Wicklow and Arklow, two towns that still encapsulate small-town Ireland rather than the multiculturalism that can be found in the larger settlements. But that’s another story for another day.
Despite it being the weekend of a major rugby international and the estimates of 200,000 Welsh fans visiting the area in search of rowdy memories, accommodation was relatively easy to find, albeit booked beforehand to make sure we weren’t caught out. Barnacles is a decent standard hostel right in the middle of the mythical, almost hedonistic Temple Bar area in the city centre, the front door leading literally to the doorsteps of the top bars in the country. What’s more for the late night revellers, the reception is open 24 hours, ideal for those looking to take advantage of the late closing times of the local boozers. From 15 Euros a night, the hostel provided adequate facilities, a mere footnote considering the location alone satisfied the fee.
Staying primarily in the Temple Bar area inundated with bars and pubs, like some sort of alcoholic heaven, there was some difficulty remaining sober long enough to actually see, let alone sightsee for pleasure! However, staying in an area promoted as Dublin’s cultural quarter did lead to some instances of bewilderment, from the many musicians littering the sidewalks to the art galleries and other similar outputs of Irish creativity, including the home of the Irish Film Institute.
Further away from the Bar area but still within a strolling distance, or even on the LUAS trams if your feeling lazy/hung-over (2 Euro for a reasonable journey) is the world famous Guinness factory. Based in St James’ Gate south of the river Liffey (the water splitting the city a la Thames), the brewery is the spiritual home of the most infamous stout beer in the world and for around 15 euros admission you can get a ‘tour’ of Irelands number one visitor attraction. Be warned, the actual factory is actual off-limits as it in continuous use providing the world’s thirsty population with the thick concoction that has become synonymous with the City itself. There are instead the usual museum/shop’s that tourists tend to love, complete with a free pint of that really dark red (who knew?) brew. The most rewarding experience of the factory, possible the city, is the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor, a glass room offering the best panoramic views of the capital possible, a truly exhilarating and relaxing arena to enjoy your free pint.
Back to the Temple Bar, just outside is the famous Halfpenny Bridge, a small picturesque cast-iron pedestrian crossing spanning the Liffey that was once a tolled bridge that only the rich could afford to use. Whilst not much to look at, standing in the middle staring across a proud city, the sense of history strikes you deep and especially around sundown can be a poignant and romantic moment. Visiting with a scrum-full of male friends however, we used to bridge for the reason most young tourists tend to, and that was as a means of entering the wild world of Dublin’s nightlife.
Where to start? The nightlife centre of Dublin as you’ve probably realised is the Temple Bar, a geographic rectangular area straddling the Liffey. The notorious area has dozens upon dozens of different style pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants all teeming with merry groups of people enjoying the best Dublin has to offer. Such well-visited bars as Olivers St John Gogarty and the large multi-floored Fitzsimmons are but two places guaranteed to provide a more than adequate night out. The live bar of Gogarty’s provides a sensational place to enjoy the cream of the area’s musicians, the mixing of smoke, music and beer providing a truly great19th century atmosphere to revel in. Fitzsimmons offers a more modern arena to party, four floors of contrasting tastes as well as the spectacular and unrivalled roof terrace overlooking the area and making you feel as if you are enjoying your drink in a wild exotic location from a movie. It would take a real miserable person to avoid the raucous and rowdy fun that these bars bring out in people. Do be warned however, being a typical tourist hotspot (it can be rare to meet a local Irish clubber), the establishments do tend to take advantage and charge extortionate amounts for drinks, even up to 5 Euros for a pint in some areas. As all regular city breakers will be aware though, this is an epidemic home to every major tourist area throughout the continent and many people will pick up tips from other tourists where the cheapest places to go will be.
All in all, if you are prepared to go with a pocket full of change and wishing to return with only happy memories and coppers, Dublin is without a doubt a brilliant city break, guaranteed to leave every visitor with a mental photo album of fun and a pining to go back.