By Mary Govoni
Dublin is a city founded on a unique and unmatched Irish charm. Spend a day here and you’re guaranteed to notice it everywhere you go.
It’s hidden in the cobblestone alleyways that diverge from O’Connell Street, it rings true in the voices of the performers along Grafton Street, and it is undeniably present in the first sip of a pint of Guinness in any of those Temple Bar pubs.
And it’s because of this charm that anyone can feel at home in this city.
Yet, as travelers, this feeling of comfort can only take us so far. We crave the new, the different, the places that allow us to truly picture what life in this foreign place is really like.
We want to experience life in Ireland the way the Irish do. Call it the luck of the Irish, but Dublin once again does not disappoint.
There are countless options to escape the hustle and bustle that the heart of Dublin thrives upon, and there are even more reasons to do so. The main one is a town called Howth.
When you find yourself walking down O’Connell Street, keep an eye out for the 31A bus – it’s hard to miss since it is a bright yellow, double decker variety.
Flag it down, hand the driver a 2-euro coin with a smile, and head up the stairs to sit on the top level of the bus for the best view. The farther you get outside the city, the better the view will get.
On the 31A you’ll be heading north – up through the city, through Clontarf, Killbarrack, and Sutton, all while taking in the stunning views of Dublin Bay.
Views such as the rugby match on the nearby pitches, the harmonious contrast of different colored house fronts, and the seemingly endless sand stretching across Bull Island in the bay that begin to paint the picture of Irish life.
When your view transitions into the DART Railway station out one window and the outline of Howth Castle from the opposite, you’ll know you’ve arrived.
And the second you step off the bus, (don’t forget to say “cheers!” to the bus driver), you’ll feel as though you’re on a completely different island than Dublin City.
In Howth, the air is cool from the slight bay breeze and feels slightly saltier than the city air.
The only way you’ll truly be reminded you’re still in County Dublin will be the smiling faces and the “how ya gettin’ on’s” from the Howth locals in pubs, shops, and on the streets.
Shops, Markets, and Restaurants
Whether you’re an avid fisherman, crafter, hiker, or just a fish and chip lover, Howth welcomes you with open arms. The main street runs parallel to the harbor and boasts countless picks of cafes, seafood shacks, and ice cream shops.
These family-owned businesses pride themselves on their use of the freshest, local ingredients. A must try here in Howth is the fish and chips, which comes directly from the local fishermen’s daily catch, just across the street in the harbor.
Try it with the homemade tartar sauce, or if you really want to adopt the Irish lifestyle, douse it in salt and vinegar.
On sidewalks that diverge from the main street, you’ll find a variety of artisan shops quietly tucked away between two home fronts.
The crafts themselves are extraordinary, from handmade woodworking to floral arrangements to knit caps – if you’re looking for a unique gift or souvenir and nothing else, Howth is still worth a trip.
But the best gifts in these shops are the store owners themselves. If you get the chance, ask them about their craft and their story.
Every one of them is different, and every one of them is inspiring enough to make you want to quit your job and move to this little town.
While postcard shopping, I found myself talking to the owner of a small shop and a Howth local.
Noticing my accent, she asked where I was from – having heard Boston (or “the Dublin of America” as she called it) she was ecstatic. She had been a literature professor and had done many visiting lectures.
Upon her retirement, she moved to Howth to start her own craft shop and has never left since. She loved nothing more than speaking with the town’s visitors everyday.
She told me, “It’s a big world, I see a lot of different people in this little town, but nowhere will ever compare to Howth for me”. I thanked her for sharing her stories, paid my two euro for my post card, and continued onward with my exploration.
Howth Cliff Walk
If you’re looking to work off some of the Guinness and the brown bread that you’ve been enjoying in Dublin, Howth is also the right place to do so. Along the coast runs the Howth Cliff Walk, a 6-kilometer trail that leads you up steep paths and stone steps all while maintaining stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Keep an eye out for gray seals and countless species of Atlantic birds. One sight you won’t be able to miss is the expansive wildflowers, the brilliant yellows and purples provide the perfect contrast to the greens and blues of the natural Irish landscape.
The cliff walk is not taxingly strenuous, however, there are a few points where the path narrows and the drop offs can be steep. Yet, the views from this walk will take any traveler’s breath away.
A day in Howth is almost guaranteed to leave you with tired legs, unique souvenirs, and a new high standard for fresh fish and chips.
Head back towards the city via the 31A, and in 30 minutes you’ll be back along O’Connell Street, in the hustle and bustle of Dublin.
Welcome Back to Dublin
Once again you’ll feel the initial confusion of whether or not you’re even on the same landmass as you were less than an hour ago, but the Dublin city charm will welcome you right back.
Howth serves as a perfect opportunity to experience the small town Irish lifestyle not far from the River Liffey.
After a day in Howth, the only thing left to do is to cozy yourself up in an Irish pub, and say “Slainte” to a day well spent.
Mary Govoni is a freelance writer from Cape Cod, Mass. She loves traveling to find food, good conversation and good company.