From sailing and swimming to visiting the local market and walking along the harbour, there is plenty to do in Dún Laoghaire.
At first glance, it’s easy to see why Dún Laoghaire was such a popular seaside resort in Victorian times. From the handsome terraces fronting the harbour to the cast iron bandstand on the pier and the formal gardens in the People’s Park, this was a town designed for elegant holiday getaways. New theatres, lots of water activities and cool bars have given Dún Laoghaire a contemporary feel, but walking the harbour with an ice cream cone in hand is a throwback to the town’s 19th century heyday.
Whether you want to take a dip in the sea or just potter around the market, there’s plenty to see in Dún Laoghaire.
Kick things off with a stroll along the East Pier, which gives you prime opportunity to have a look at the yachts lined up in the harbour. It’s most magical at sunset, when the Victorian bandstand is silhouetted against the darkening sky. During the day, take a wander around the People’s Park, where you can amble between the flowers and fountains or sit on one of the antique benches with a cup of coffee in hand. On Sundays, the park is partially taken over by the Dún Laoghaire CoCo Market, with stalls packed with artisan crafts and gifts. The market’s food stalls are set up around the Lexicon, a library on the seafront that’s an architectural landmark in itself. Just follow the scent of warm, fresh doughnuts in the air.
Other things to do
A little further along the seafront in Sandycove is the Forty Foot, one of the most popular spots in the area. Almost every day of the year, you’ll find people taking a dip in the swimming spot immortalised in James Joyce’s Ulysses. In fact, the man himself lived for a short time in the nearby Martello tower where the book begins, which now houses the small James Joyce Museum.
As you might guess from the harbour filled with sail boats, Dún Laoghaire is a bit of a hot spot for watersports. If you want to learn how to sail yourself, book into the Irish National Sailing School where you can take a weekend course that’s aimed at complete beginners. If you’d rather someone else take the helm, head out with Dublin Under Sail on a traditional tall ship that sails around Dublin Bay exploring the coastline. You can even lend a hand yourself, learning how to hoist the red sails and climb out on the bowsprit. If you’re part of a group, you can charter a luxury yacht with Go Sailing.ie, heading out to sail the length of the Killiney coast.
Dublin Bay Cruises will take you from Dún Laoghaire out to Howth on a 75-minute spin that brings you past Dalkey Island, Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island, where you can try to spot the herd of resident wallabies. If you're interested in learning all about the biodiversity of Dublin Bay, take a a guided boat trip with Goat Boat Tours. While out on the water, discover more about the area's marine life, spot the several Martello Towers, learn interesting tidbits about the history of Dún Laoghaire and find out who lives in the colossal houses that dot the coastline. They'll even provide you with all-weather clothing and a set of binoculars so you can soak up the sights, come rain or shine. Or have a go at stand-up paddle boarding with Big Style, the school and rental shop right by the harbour. If you want to see a bit more of the Dublin coast on two wheels, cycle along the traffic-free 5km trail to Booterstown, passing Seapoint beach and the grand houses of Monkstown and Blackrock along the way.
For something a little less energetic, head into the National Maritime Museum inside the 180-year-old Mariners Church. They have some interesting artefacts from the maritime world on display, including a rare lightbulb from the Titanic and the Baily lighthouse optic described by Joyce in Ulysses. It’s also worth keeping an eye on upcoming shows in the Pavilion Theatre, which showcases arthouse cinema as well as plays, music and dance performances.
Places to eat
People’s Park is a great picnic setting, so it would be a shame not to eat al fresco when the opportunity allows. The Gourmet Food Parlour sells all manner of takeaway bits, from grilled halloumi sandwiches to buttermilk pancakes. If you feel like eating inside, their main restaurant has great views out over the sea.
You’ll find more formal fare at Casper & Giumbini’s on the promenade, an old school brasserie serving up chargrilled steaks and thick burgers, along with a long list of specialty cocktails. Further along the seafront, Oliveto specialises in Italian dishes with an Irish twist, like Killary Fjord mussels cooked with Amalfi lemon and pancetta. Their head chef Barry O’Neill comes from the cult Dublin favourite Clanbrassil House and brings a splash of creative flair to the kitchen. Their gorgonzola risotto and giant homemade focaccia is top notch, as are the cocktails served up in the Parlour Bar.
Whatever you do, you can’t leave Dún Laoghaire without getting an ice cream from Teddy’s. No other 99 will ever taste the same again.
Places to drink
McKenna’s is a stylish bar on Wellington Street where you can get comfy on plush banquettes with a craft beer or glass of champagne from their extensive list. For a more traditional feel, Dunphy’s has the heart of an old country pub, with wood panelled walls and a retro tiled floor.
The Lighthouse is a cool bar where you’ll often find bingo, live music or a quiz on. They’re known for their selection of organic wine and cocktails, and their themed brunches, like Studio 54 or the nineties. You can also pick up a takeaway iced latte or americano from The Eatyard Shop before you head off on a walk.
Fancy seeing what else you can see along the shore? Explore the stops along the Dublin Coastal Trail.