Insider Tips

Dublin's Shortcuts: from Hugh Lane to Smithfield

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You’ll move from the city’s official gallery, the Hugh Lane, to the plaza of Smithfield Square in under 20 minutes as the crow flies. But here, Totally Dublin editor Michael McDermott offers up an alternative route; a real ramble through the Northside’s inner-city heart. It takes in old and new, hidden food and drinking spots, and some charming Dublin characters.


Hugh Lane gallery

Dating back to 1908, the Hugh Lane Gallery is the first known public gallery of modern art in the world. Housed within its walls is a fantastic collection and two exceptional gems – the famed stained-glass windows of Harry Clarke, and the studio of Francis Bacon which was painstakingly transferred from his London mews. Beside the gallery is the renowned Michelin-starred restaurant Chapter One, led by chef Ross Lewis and his gifted team, while across the road is the Garden of Remembrance; a memorial garden dedicated to the memory of ‘all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom.'

Dublin's Shortcuts: from Hugh Lane to Smithfield
Dublin's Shortcuts: from Hugh Lane to Smithfield

The Chocolate Factory

As you walk down Parnell Square, you’ll pass the Rotunda, one of the city’s leading maternity hospitals, and a momentary detour off Parnell Street will bring you to the Chocolate Factory – formerly known as the Williams & Woods building. This was once a jam and marmalade factory which supplied the city with its ration of Toblerone and the Irish Coffee Bar. It’s now home to a number of creative studios and the wonderful Blas Café. Salvaged and repurposed materials are its hallmark.

Up the Monto to Capel Street

Back on Parnell Street is Monto, a classic higgledy-piggledy vintage store run by Marion. It’s well worth a rummage and is always guaranteed to throw up a surprise you’ll be keen to bag. At the junction of Parnell Street and Capel Street is Brereton’s Pawnbrokers, one of the city’s last remaining pawnbrokers which was established in 1916. It’s distinguished for its purpose by three golden spheres, a symbol dating back to the Medicis of Florence. Capel Street is a delightful mish-mash of hardware stores, Asian restaurants, pubs and the occasional sex shop. Something for everyone, you might say! If you exit off Little Mary Street, you’ll happen upon one of Dublin’s most intriguing pubs. The Hacienda, run by Shay, is a real find. You’ll have to buzz to get in but once you gain access you’ll step into a unique wonderland of his making, replete with a classic ‘70s and ‘80s jukebox, pool tables, dart boards and walls adorned with pictures of celebrities who have imbibed there (Matthew McConaughey and Kate Beckinsale, to name but two).

Dublin's Shortcuts: from Hugh Lane to Smithfield
Dublin's Shortcuts: from Hugh Lane to Smithfield

Bustling markets and shops

Just beside the Hacienda are the Smithfield fruit and veg markets. Proposed developments are on the horizon, but in the meantime, you can wander through this wholesale hub and witness the supply chain in action. If you head down Arran Street East, you’ll encounter Oxmantown Café. This independent sandwich shop prides itself on delectable grub, like the Ruby (Jack McCarthy’s pastrami, sauerkraut, pickles, Swiss cheese, and horseradish on Rye sourdough).

A taste of Mexico and art house

An alternative food pit stop is the K Chido Mexico, a two-minute walk away from Oxmantown. It serves authentic Mexican street food from a vintage Citroën van. Feel free to lounge about on their upcycled pallet furniture. Another five minutes' stroll or so and you’ll make it to Smithfield Square. This space has been undergoing considerable transformation in recent years, and is developing a buzz befitting its growing appeal. One of the most notable residents is the Lighthouse Cinema, which is literally a beacon for cool in terms of its design and programming. An ardent supporter of Irish and arthouse cinema, it’s a haven for the curious and cultured. Now that you’ve explored Dublin’s vibrant Northside, why not opt for another of Michael’s itineraries? Check out Patrick’s Cathedral to the Natural History Museum and Trinity College to Christ Church.

Dublin's Shortcuts: from Hugh Lane to Smithfield