Dublin Hotels | The Sunday Times Travel Magazine
The Sunday Times Travel magazine | June 2012
Rest Assured: Dublin
Graffiti cool, cosy swagger or seductive corners — the Irish capital has beds for all,
says Laura Ivill.
‘At afternoon tea, the cakes are mini recreations of the artworks’
One of the world’s great boutique hotels, what makes The Merrion stand out is its glorious Irish art collection. Co-owner-collectors Lochlann and Brenda Quinn have amassed more than 70 paintings and sculptures, giving the Georgian rooms panache without being stuffy. It’s all fascinatingly eclectic, ranging from a Turner-esque shipwreck, to a bold, post-war still-life painted in bold yellow, blue and white, to the amusing Homage to Fernand Léger in colourful pop-art style.
The hotel comprises four Grade 1-listed townhouses (numbers 21 to 24 Upper Merrion Street) built when Dublin was one of the finest Georgian cities in Europe. It was in number 24 that the 1st Duke of Wellington was born in 1769, and the ornate plasterwork of his day – birds, flowers and fruit – has been restored by hand.
The two lounges have real fires, so bag yourself a table for afternoon tea, where the cakes are mini recreations of the artworks, or nestle into a leather sofa for pre-dinner cocktails and post-dinner digestifs.
In the garden wing, you’ll find a full-size swimming pool and steam room. It would be a mere quibble to hope for a future sauna and Jacuzzi because it’s rare for five-star hotels in Dublin even to have a spa.
The décor of the newly refurbished rooms and suites in soft pale blues and silvers is very grown-up, but fresh and airy. It’s the kind of hotel about which you aspire to say: ‘Oh, yes, whenever I’m in Dublin I always stay at The Merrion.’
Doubles from £180, B&B (00 353 1 603 0600, www.merrionhotel.com).
‘The soup is a lightly creamy confection of perfectly balanced tastes’
When the Fitzwilliam opened in 1998, it had the stamp of Sir Terence Conran as designer, making it a searingly hot boutique hotel. Now that there are so many great individual hotels across the world, it might not set your senses on fire as it used to, but it does have arguably the best location in Dublin, a stone’s throw from the shopping mecca of Grafton Street and overlooking the park of St Stephen’s Green (booking yourself a room on the upper floors that have a terrace, and enjoy the view of the trees).
If it’s a coffee and a chat you’re after (and business guests love this), bag the ‘library alcove’ in the lounge. It’s so popular, you hardly ever see it empty.
Food is a big draw. In the kitchen of Thornton’s, the legendary Michelin-star Irish chef Kevin Thornton creates dishes to set your tastbuds jumping. Cleverly, he’s come up with a whole assortment of dining options – a €25 lunch menu, three tasting menus (from €90), a pre-theatre menu, as well as two canapé menus and dinner. Although for a more informal bite, yet equally first class, Citron has mains for under €20. Chef Matt Fuller’s parsnip and vanilla soup starter, for example, with black pudding and scallop tortellini, is a lightly creamy confection of perfectly blended tastes. Citron overlooks reception, so you may spend a little too much time spying on the staff rather than staring into the eyes of your beloved; although with food this good you shouldn’t be distracted for long.
Doubles from £145 B&B (020-3318 9541, www.kiwicollection.com).
‘Wifi computers on oak benches resting on piles of books scream comfy cool’
This is the future for hostelling – simple, clean, spacious and cool accommodation. The growing list of Generators includes Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Hamburg and Venice, and the Dublin incarnation is a stroll along the banks of the river Liffey, 20 minutes from the heart of the city at O’Connell Bridge and within stumbling distance of the pubs of Temple Bar over the river. It’s where the regeneration of Dublin was going full-tilt, until the country ran out of cash.
Walking into the hostel – the biggest in Ireland with 528 beds - leather sofas on a flagstone floor set the scene, and wifi computers (first 30 minutes free) on oak benches resting on piles of books scream comfy cool. A neon takeaway counter serves smoothies, hot dogs and fries, aluminium chairs line the long bar, a huge graffiti mural decorates one wall, and with ‘zones’ rather than rooms, the vibe is funky and relaxed. The Generator is almost next to the Old Jameson Distillery, so a chandelier made from empty Jameson bottles, like spokes in a wheel, hangs over the pool tables. At €6 for a Cosmopolitan and €3.50 for a vodka and coke, they know their market.
Upstairs, generous rooms cater for singles up to groups of ten at €15pp per night. Inside, white walls, laminate floors, softly closing doors and white-tiled bathrooms keep clutter to a minimum, and you are encouraged to keep noise down, too. There’s no wifi up here, no iPod dock or TV, so use it as a crash-pad and you’ll be happy.
Doubles from £33 B&B (00 353 1 901 0222, www.generatorhostels.com/en/dublin)
And the best of the rest…
An historic building that housed Irish political intrigue in the 1920s, this large, four-star, central and quirky hotel (strange cerise and purple-painted corridors clash with patterned carpets) has compact, newly refurbished, modern rooms at a good price. Doubles from €109 B&B (00 353 1 648 1000,www.trinitycapitalhotel.com).
Grace Kelly partied in this former architect’s home in the Sixties and, now a B&B, the gregarious owner, Noel, serves his guests a full Irish breakfast and homemade cakes and jams in this quieter, Georgian part of town. Doubles from €150 B&B (00 353 1 676 5011, www.number31.ie).
A sexy curved aluminium bar, burnished silver table tops and velvet high-back chairs in secretive alcoves set the scene for a seductive stay, where the cocktail list will pique your curiosity (Tobacco Old Fashioned, anyone?). Doubles from €179 B&B (00 353 1 6603 000, www.dylan.ie).
In the centre of the city, The Westin surprises with nightlife of its own – a DJ plays to diners in The Exchange Restaurant on Fridays, then you head downstairs to what was the old bank’s vault for cocktails, jazz or salsa in the Mint Bar. Doubles from €215 B&B (020-3318 9541,www.kiwicollection.com).
Get me there
Bmi flies London Heathrow to Dublin up to four times a day from £65 return (0844 8484888,www.flybmi.com). Or try Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) from major UK cities. Kirker Holidays (020-7593 2283, www.kirkerholidays.com) has three nights for the price of two at The Merrion from £656pp, with breakfast, flights and private airport transfers. Kiwi Collection offers free upgrades and other benefits on Dublin hotels when booking with Visa Premium.