Dublin Coastal Route | Finnair China
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Dublin’s DART hits every target – discover the coast of Dublin with a train

Temple Bar, St Stephen’s Green, Trinity College and the Book of Kells, the Guinness Storehouse: central Dublin is packed with well-established tourist hotspots. Equally appealing but less familiar attractions lie in wait along the Dublin Coastal Route, within easy reach by jumping on and off the DART railway line.

Text and images: Tim Bird

“You know, I can stand here enjoying this view on a fine day and realise this place has everything I need.” Shane O’Doherty pauses for a breather to soak in the panorama from the cliff walk – his favourite spot – on the Howth headland marking the northern edge of Dublin Bay. His boisterous dog, a Visla named Loki, comes bounding through yellow gorse, and some fellow hikers wave cheerily from below. Everybody here, it seems, is acquainted with Shane.

To a playlist soundtrack of Irish musical highlights, from the Cranberries to Christie Moore, local man Shane takes myself and Loki on a short voyage round Ireland’s Eye, a rugged island a few kilometres offshore from Howth Harbour. We see a colony of grey seals basking on the rocks; peer up at the contorted cliffside geology, the home from springtime to uncountable guillemots, and spot cormorants congregating on the sandy beach. 

Ireland's Eye

From his Ireland’s Eye Ferries tour boat, Shane points out one of the 28 well-preserved circular Martello towers constructed along this stretch of Irish coastline as early 19th-century defences against anticipated French invasion. His excitement at wanting me to “breathe in and experience what we have to offer” here is infectious. He name-drops along the way, casually mentioning his acquaintance with local rock heroes such as U2’s drummer Larry Mullen Jr and the late Shane McGowan of the Pogues and Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott.

Gardens and ghosts

Howth is last stop on the northeast fork of the DART – Dublin Area Rapid Transit – rail line, and next morning I jump on the train at central Dublin’s Tara Street, using my 72-hour Dublin Leap pass. The DART, following the Dublin Coastal Trail, serves commuters from the city’s scenic coastal suburbs but is also the perfect way for visitors to explore its many and various outlying attractions.

Malahide Abbey

Another of these, 14 kilometres to the north of the city, is the magnificently spooky Malahide Castle, founded in the 12th century and steeped in Irish history, the details of which the expert guides are an endless source. During my visit I don’t encounter any of the ghosts, including a spooky White Lady, reputed to haunt its lovingly restored Great Hall and other rooms, erstwhile home over eight centuries to generations of the aristocrat Talbot family. But I do admire the adjacent gardens that include a restful walled section planted entirely with non-native species. 

Malahide is a perfect family destination, and don’t worry too much if it’s hard to extricate the kids from the enchanting Butterfly House; DART trains back to the city centre are sufficiently frequent.

Butterfly House at Malahide Gardens

All the joys of Joyce

Next day I take the DART at Tara Road, a five-minute stroll from my Trinity City Hotel, to Dún Laoghaire, one of the larger towns on the coast. We pass the suburb of Sandymount, where the low tide has exposed broad beach, over which a flock of Brent geese soars in a perfect arrow.  

I join the joggers and dog-walkers for a stroll along Dún Laoghaire’s east pier to the lighthouse, inhaling the tempting aroma of fish and chips emanating from a kiosk, then hugging the shoreline round to Sandycove and the Forty Foot baths. I watch the bold souls taking a dip in the sea from the rocky headland before visiting another Martello Tower, this one housing a museum commemorating a significant literary claim to fame. 

This is where James Joyce set the opening scene of his classic novel Ulysses. Near Dalkey Station, where I’ll later jump on the DART again, I pass a truck laden with casks of dark, rich Guinness beer at the Fitzgerald Pub, with its elegant Edwardian decor. This is one more location with a strong Joycean connection, not least as a venue for the annual Bloomsday celebrations on June 16. For aficionados of Ireland’s foremost literary figure, this area is pretty much Joyce Central.

Charles Fitzgerald Pub

Angry birds and soulful seals

It’s too early for Guinness but not for a lobster burger, one of several seafood options on the lunch menu at the Corner Note Cafe. Apparently, it’s also lunchtime for the frenzied seabirds at tiny Bullock Harbour. They swoop, squawk and squabble over boxes laden with fish scraps left on the quay. The shiny snout and soulful eyes of an inquisitive – and hungry – grey seal, hoping to be thrown a few scraps, pop up from the water.

Sitting on a harbour bench, I chat with Jenny Kilbride who runs the kayaking.ie tour company out of the harbour here, guiding tourist and team-building groups of kayakers along the coast, promising even closer encounters with those grey seals. Jenny confesses to an obsession with all things waterborne and has paddled waterways across the world.

Grey seal by Bullock Harbour

“Dublin Bay is an oasis of wildlife, so close to the city,” she says. “The area is designated as a UNESCO Biosphere. We have a big variety of birdlife, seals, even bottlenose dolphins.”  The Biosphere status depends on voluntary community behaviour rather than regulations. Jenny and Shane O’Doherty, with his instructive hikes and boat trips, play their part in informing their customers about the Bay’s environment and diversity. 

All this sea air has worked up an appetite, and I finish the day back in town at Cleaver East, one of several classy restaurants close to Dublin’s ‘original rock and roll hotel’ (by virtue of its U2 connections), the riverside Clarence Hotel. Sumptuous sea bass and a sinful chocolate dessert barely leave room, but after dinner I still have time for a cool glass of that iconic dark beer, without which no Dublin visit is complete.

Finnair flies to Dublin daily from Helsinki. See also our tips to explore Galway and the spectacular west coast of Ireland

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