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Dublin can be heaven again as families flock back to the capital

The city is packed with culture and great experiences, many outdoors and all free

Club Chroma Chlorologia at Imma

Club Chroma Chlorologia at Imma

 

Dublin’s a sight for sore eyes this summer. The capital is coming down with culture and packed with great experiences for all the family to enjoy. Best of all, they’re free.

This year the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) celebrates its 30th birthday, and visitors can catch its celebratory vibe with a host of innovative, creative and fun activities.

Indoors there are always great exhibitions here, but perhaps the biggest revelation for visitors this summer is not all the wonderful things going on within its walls –but what’s going on outside them.

Imma Outdoors makes the most of the museum’s location, set in the beautiful 48-acre grounds of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

“Because of Covid we thought, what can we do to take our programmes outside?” explains Joan Walker, of Imma’s visitor engagement team.

The result has been the erection of two pavilions, one on the Front Lawn, and one at Bully’s Acre, which now play host to a range of free workshops.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays there is Mornings at the Museum, hands-on art-making fun for young children.

On Sundays there are two hours of creative family time, Explorer at the Pavilion, based on artworks from Imma’s exhibitions.

“Parents love it too,” says Walker. “Often they say they haven’t done any art in years. There’s no messy kitchen at the end of it and we provide all the materials too.”

On Friday mornings it runs two-hour workshops about all sorts of subjects, from architecture to perfume and weaving.

Pastels

Walker leads her own workshops on pastels. “People can go off and find a quiet spot to work in, smell the privet, feel the sun, enjoy the peace and quiet, or listen to the birds, so it’s a whole sensory experience,” she explains.

Biodiversity tours take place on a Friday afternoon, while Poetry Speaks, a series of poetry films, play at various points in the garden all the time.

Club Chroma Chlorologia is transforming the grounds too.

“It’s a bit like ‘pimp my garden’, with bright pops of colour such as popsicles coming out of bushes, lightning coming out of trees and even a whole tree of tongues,” says Walker. Kids love it, and get to make their own popsicles to take home.

Ping Pong Diplomacy, by artist Mark Clare, sees table tennis tables made using a different kind of wood at each end, which takes a bit of getting used to – or negotiating. Baskets of hand sanitiser, bats and balls are available beside each so visitors can try their hand. All in all there’s a “lovely vibe” at Imma Outdoors this summer, says Walker.

Club Chroma Chlorologia at Imma
Club Chroma Chlorologia at Imma

The good mood is echoed at the National Museum of Ireland. On the first day of its reopening after lockdown, its marketing executive Brian Houlihan was in the reception of the Archaeological Museum in Kildare Street.

“A group of four ladies told us it was their first trip out since they had gotten their vaccinations and that they had wanted to come here first. It is really encouraging to see that people are so keen to get back into their public spaces again, and for us it’s so great to see them,” he says.

The Archaeology Museum on Kildare Street and the Decorative Arts and History Museum at Collins Barracks are both open for bookings, with entry free of charge.

Irish ceramics

Don’t miss InForm at Collins Barracks, a collaborative programme between the museum and the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland which showcases Irish ceramics and jewellery by emerging makers, situated right next to the artefacts in the museum that inspired them.

Its Irish Wars exhibition has been refreshed this summer with some new pieces and others that haven’t been on display for some time.

At the Archaeology Museum, the Glendalough: Power, Prayer and Pilgrimage exhibition is a fascinating study.

“It has been developed using relics, such as a medieval shoe found preserved in the bog. We can tell a lot about the people who went to Glendalough from the artefacts they left behind,” he explains.

Permanent attractions include The Treasury, which features the Ardagh Chalice; Ór – Ireland’s Gold, its collection of prehistoric goldwork; and Viking Ireland, which is one of the finest collections of its kind anywhere in Europe.

Bronze bell from Glendalough, circa late 11th/early 12th century
Bronze bell from Glendalough, circa late 11th/early 12th century

All through the lockdowns staff at the National Museum of Ireland were busy assessing items which people discovered on their 2km and 5km walks. “We had lots of objects found, from a hidden graveyard exposed by erosion to interesting stones. We really appreciate how much people care about their heritage,” says Houlihan.

Now that Dublin is back welcoming visitors again, its museums are free, fascinating and, he points out, “a lovely, safe space to visit”.

Happy hoteliers

Greeting families has been the highlight of this year for Jamie Skehan, resident manager of the Ashling Hotel on Parkgate Street.

“For me and the team it’s just so great to be welcoming kids back to the hotel this summer. You’ve no idea how amazing it is to hear kids’ laughter around the place when for long periods last year there was just silence. The first time I heard a child cry in the dining room it nearly brought a tear to my own eye,” he laughs.

More families are booking at the hotel than ever – and staying for longer.

“Whereas traditionally people might have come to the capital for a night, now they are staying two or three because there’s so much to do,” he says.

Jamie Skehan, second from left, with staff at the Ashling Hotel in Parkgate Street
Jamie Skehan, second from left, with staff at the Ashling Hotel in Parkgate Street

The four-star property is big and spacious. Its Chesterfields Restaurant can seat 250 people but caters for just 80 right now, to ensure everyone can be properly socially distanced.

“We’ve had loads of people return to us because they said they just felt so safe here,” says Skehan.

Most families choose to dine in the hotel, both because of the terrific menu and because it’s nice to know dinner is sorted when you’re travelling with kids.

“Two-thirds of our guests will dine with us, it’s just so easy and it means they can relax,” he explains.

Everything about the hotel’s approach is designed to reassure. “When people get here they want a break. They’ve been imprisoned at a kitchen table that was also their work desk, school desk and dinner table. What they are craving is that sense of freedom again,” he says.

Terrific location

The Ashling Hotel’s terrific location, right beside the Phoenix Park, is a major attraction for families.

“Kids love it here. I always tell them that if they hear a tiger roaring during the night not to be scared, it’s just that we’re so close to the zoo,” says Skehan.

Guests with children also love to make the most of the outdoor attractions the park offers, whether visiting the gardens at Farmleigh House (where entry is also free), admiring the Wellington Monument, looking out for deer, or sneaking a peek at Áras an Uachtaráin. It’s also a terrific spot to stretch little legs or just sit down for a picnic.

The Phoenix Park in Dublin has lots of outdoor attractions to offer
The Phoenix Park in Dublin has lots of outdoor attractions to offer

For families with older kids, the city’s other parks, museums and visitor attractions are all easily accessible too.

“That’s the great thing about our location: you don’t have to worry about buses and taxis, everything is in walking distance. We have a great big car park too, so if they want to drive, Tayto Park is just down the road, which is another huge draw for us,” he says.

The Ashling Hotel has a special family rate right now which includes dinner, bed and breakfast for two adults and two children sharing from €269. It has family rooms that can sleep up to five people – and one that can sleep up to seven – so larger families can enjoy all the city has to offer at a great price too.

Skehan believes the capital is, hands down, the best family destination going. “There’s just no better place to spend time with the kids than in Dublin,” he says.