Insider Tips

Top 10: Dublin Bay

By Pól Ó Conghaile

2nd June 2019

Dublin is a city by the sea. It sounds like a simple thing to say, but I’m amazed how this idea catches so many people off guard. Cupping the coastline from Howth to Dalkey Island, Dublin Bay was this year named as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for its biological diversity and flourishing habitats. Fringed with coastal gems, from castles and cliffs to beaches and restaurants, it’s an awesome playground, right on our doorstep. Here are just some of the highlights...

Malahide Castle & Gardens

Malahide Castle is a jewel in suburban Dublin’s crown – one of the country’s oldest castles and the centrepiece of a breath-taking spread of walled gardens and pleasure grounds. Home to the Talbot family for 800 years (they’ve gone, but the ghosts remain), the place is dripping in history. Visitors can take a guided tour, tinker around in a revamped interpretive area, learn about Lord Milo Talbot’s passion for gardening and travel, and finish up with an enormous hunk of cake (or a garden fresh salad) at the Avoca Store & Café. Oh, and bring the kids – there’s a stonking great playground at the heart of the demesne.


Friends walking in the gardens at Malahide Castle

James Joyce Tower & Museum

Dublin Bay is overlooked by several Martello Towers – granite, pepperpot-like fortifications dating back to Napoleonic times. One of the most intriguing is the tower overlooking Sandycove, just south of Dun Laoghaire. It hosts the James Joyce Museum, a trove of letters and artefacts associated with Dublin’s defining author. It’s also the opening location in Ulysses (‘He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding county and the awaking mountains,’ as Joyce wrote). On Wednesdays, there are readings of Ulysses in Fitzgerald’s pub – or if you’re feeling frisky, join the locals in a bracing dip in the Forty Foot, Sandycove’s famous bathing place.


James Joyce Tower and Museum

Cliff walks in Howth

The Wild Atlantic Way doesn’t have a monopoly on Ireland’s prettiest peninsulas, you know. Just a 28-minute DART ride from Dublin lies the fishing village of Howth – home to a castle, several sizzling seafood restaurants and a series of looped walks. The Cliff Path is a local favourite, taking walkers exhilaratingly close to the edge before reaching a summit that moved The New York Times to evoke H.G. Wells's description of “one of the most beautiful views in the world.” From here, cast your eye over the entire sweep of the UNESCO Dublin Bay Biosphere. Afterwards, make your way back to the village for a seafood feast at one of the tasty restaurants lining the West Pier.


A couple walking on Howth Head

Dun Laoghaire Pier

Dun Laoghaire’s elegant Victorian piers (there are two – the popular East Pier and the slightly wilder, and marginally longer, West Pier) have been draws for generations of Dubliners. Whether you come for a chat, a breath of fresh air, a blast of exercise or super sea views, the 2.6km return trip has a little something for everyone. Trips can be bookended by a visit to the playground and weekend markets at the People’s Park, or a soft-serve ice-cream cone from the equally iconic Holy Hatch at Teddy’s on Windsor Terrace. Ask for a ’99!


A woman strolling on Dun Laoghaire Pier

Bull Island and Dollymount strand  

Until 200 years ago, Bull Island didn’t exist. It only rose up, in fact, when sea walls were built to combat silting problems in Dublin Bay. Dubliners have embraced it ever since, and it has given handsomely in return – from swimming spots to a nature reserve teeming with tens of thousands of birds. The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that began here was in 2015 extended to the Bay as a whole, in recognition of the area’s unique ecological habitat and biological diversity. Bull Island’s main attraction is, of course, Dollymount Strand, a long sandy strip now a firm favourite of kite-surfers.


Kite surfing on Dollymount Strand

Climb Killiney Hill  

Want a view to savour? Take a hike up Killiney Hill, one of the handsome humps bounding Dublin Bay to the south. It’s topped by an obelisk that looks like a white wizard’s hat and, given the right conditions, you’ll often see hang-gliders floating like exotic birds overhead. This is a terrific spot for a 360-degree take on Dublin – stretching from the Wicklow Mountains to the south via the city sprawl to Howth Peninsula further north. After soaking up the summit, reward yourself with a cuppa and a cake at the Tower Tearooms.


Couple on Killiney Hill

Walk from Malahide to Portmarnock

UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are noted not just for their habitats and wildlife, but for the communities that live and work sustainably within them. Portmarnock and Malahide are two top examples of those on Dublin Bay – and the 4km coastal walk between them is a peach. An elevated stretch bordered by parkland on one side and beach on the other, it’s perfectly suited to walkers, joggers and buggy-pushers looking to take in fresh air and fab views. At Portmarnock, the walk joins the Velvet Strand – a smooth strip from which Charles Kingford Smith took off on his daring flight to Newfoundland in 1930. With its grassy dunes and gentle waters, it’s the perfect spot for a paddle or stroll.


Portmarnock Strand

The DART – Dublin’s coastal express

Locals take the DART for granted, but the 53km suburban rail service offers some of the best views in the city… for less than the price of a pint. From the cliffs of Howth to the River Liffey’s bridges and coastal villages crammed with heritage gems and snap-fresh seafood, this is Dublin Bay’s hottest ticket. My tip? Ride the railway right around Killiney Bay (Ireland’s own Bay of Naples), and make it a daytrip by continuing all the way to Bray, Co. Wicklow. From there, you can follow a 10km cliff path to the end of the line at Greystones.


The Dart running along the coast

Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre

10 miles south of Dublin City, Dalkey is famed as a coastal village jam-packed with restaurants, culture and seaside walks. It’s got heritage too. Dalkey Island bears the picturesque ruins of St. Beignet’s Church, and archaeologists have traced artefacts like arrowheads, axes and pottery back to the Stone Age (boat trips can be booked locally for the short crossing). In the village itself, Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre bundles a townhouse, 15th century castle, Early Christian church and heritage centre in one tidy campus. Guided tours include a live theatre performance with costumed actors bringing the past to life.


Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre

Get out on the water

It’s one thing admiring Dublin Bay from the comfort of a DART carriage, or even the bracing heights of a cliff walk. It’s quite another to get out on the water itself. Options are plentiful here – Dublin Bay Cruises sails between Howth and Dun Laoghaire, Go Sailing offers sailing trips on a 54-foot yacht, and it’s possible to get paddling with too. Looking back on the cityscape, taking in views stretching from Howth to Dun Laoghaire and Poolbeg Lighthouse to the flagship Pigeon House towers, you’re bang in the middle of the Biosphere!


Sailing in Dublin Bay

Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile | Travel Journalist

Pól Ó Conghaile is Ireland’s Travel Journalist of the Year. He is Travel Editor of and the Irish Independent, a regular contributor to National Geographic Traveller and the author of Secret Dublin: An Unusual Guide.