By Matt Villano, on January 19, 2014

48 Hours in Dublin

Dublin, Ireland is a perfect destination for a quick trip with kids. It has a dense downtown, lush public space and oodles of history nearby. It’s also one of the friendliest and most walkable cities in all of Europe. My wife and I visited with our two daughters (ages 4 and 2) for a weekend this fall, and managed to see enough of the sites to get a good sense of what makes the city great. Here’s a rundown on some of our faves.


St. Stephen’s Green

My kids love being outside, so the first thing we do whenever we hit a new city is hunt down the best playgrounds. With some help from the concierge at our hotel (the Four Seasons Hotel Dublin), our search led us to St. Stephen’s Green, the park that sits smack in the middle of town.


Think of this oasis like a miniature version of Central Park in New York; it has bridges, ponds, fountains, gazebos, meadows and more. Another major selling point: An expansive play area.


Despite torrential rain, our girls donned their raincoats and made the playground their own, converting one of the play structures into a “house” in which they “baked” snacks made from flowers. Later in the visit, we ate real snacks beneath the shelter of a 100-year-old gazebo, and tossed bread to some of the resident ducks.


Grafton Street

From the Green, we dashed over to Grafton Street, a popular Dublin shopping strip that served as the backdrop for much of the 2007 indie film, “Once.” That movie spotlighted two buskers, one of whom performed on the street every day. We didn’t find the same guy (he actually is singer/songwriter Glen Hansard), but we stopped and listened to plenty of others.


We also ducked into shops; some local boutiques and other international chains (such as The Disney Store). Because the street is closed to auto traffic, my wife and I were able to let the girls run ahead and splash in puddles as we strolled.


Ever-present history

Generally speaking, we try not to drag the girls to too many grown-up museums. In Dublin, however, we made an exception to visit the old library at Trinity College to see the Book of Kells.


This 9th Century gospel manuscript is one of the most famous texts on Earth, and is regarded by many Irish people as their finest national treasure. Even our Big Girl was impressed; she likened the tome to “a giant coloring book.”


The illustrations (technically they’re called folios) are almost too sophisticated to comprehend. With elaborate details, sharp and bright colors and a host of decorated initials, many of the pages we saw were more elaborate, colorful and detailed than what you see on shelves today. The Library only shows two of the four volumes at a time, so the display material changes regularly.


If libraries aren’t your thing, the Dublin area boasts other historical wonders within a short drive.


Another worth seeing: Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site about 90 minutes north in the Boyne Valley. This circular Neolithic site is a tomb with centuries of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance. My wife is an archaeologist, so it was important to her, too.


Iconic spirits

No trip to Ireland would be complete without whiskey, and I made sure I had a chance to sample some of the best.


One afternoon, we dragged the girls to Temple Bar, a 160-year-old pub with a whiskey list that includes more than 450 varieties. While I tasted my way through a chunk of the menu, the four of us kicked back and listened to a session of live Irish music. As the band played reel after reel, the sisters danced like sprites. The scene made “Riverdance” seem dull.


Another afternoon, I snuck out while the girls were napping and cabbed it from the hotel over to the Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street. A 30-minute tour and tasting provided a detailed overview of how to distill whiskey and how Jameson does it differently (they repeat the basic process three times).


I also got to sample the Distillery Reserve, a dram that was so impressive I purchased a bottle to nurse throughout the rest of our trip.

Viewfinder Tip: Don’t leave the hotel in Dublin without a raincoat or an umbrella, as the weather changes quickly and frequently.

Killiney Hill

We ended our trip to Dublin with hike in Killiney Hill Park on the south side of the city. This area, which overlooks Dublin Bay, makes a cameo in “Once,” too—it’s the spot where the buskers end up on their motorbike ride.


From the base of a stone obelisk at the top of the namesake hill, the view was spectacular: All of Dublin spread out before us. We showed the girls how the River Liffey cuts the city in two and pointed out the green dome of the Irish National Parliament Building. On the tromp down, we scanned the sky for rainbows, hot on the trail of a crafty Leprechaun. The search came up empty, but the girls didn’t care a bit. Come to think of it, neither did we.


What kinds of activities do you seek out on a short visit in an unfamiliar city?