Dún Laoghaire Harbour’s East Pier is over a kilometre long and the perfect setting for a stroll, favoured by tourists and day trippers as well as Dún Laoghaire locals and office workers out for some lunchtime exercise. Jutting purposefully out into Dublin Bay, it affords stunning views across the water to the Howth Head peninsula, its northern counterpart. It also boasts a beautifully restored bandstand and culminates in the East Pier lighthouse, long automated but retaining its historic charm. Beneath the lighthouse, walkers can reward themselves with a treat from Teddy’s, one of Dublin’s favourite ice cream parlours.
Ireland’s National Maritime Museum occupies a former mariners’ church, one of the few left standing in the world. Purpose-built to give sailors a place to pray, it has been lovingly maintained – the only thing identifying it as retired from the outside is a huge anchor in the yard. It houses several exhibits including a recreated ship’s radio room, a Titanic exhibition and items from the wreck of the RMS Leinster, torpedoed in 1918 off the Dún Laoghaire coast. The Maritime Café inside is also one of the town’s best lunch spots, stocking healthy and delicious vegan and vegetarian fare.
The lushness of the landscapes surrounding Dún Laoghaire can’t be overstated. While the views can certainly be enjoyed with a walk down the promenade, a boat trip across the bay is without doubt the best way to see them in all their glory. Dublin Bay Cruises provide award-winning ferry trips back and forth from Dún Laoghaire to the city centre, Howth and Dalkey Island, from which the splendour of the Dublin Mountains, Ireland’s Eye island, Lambay Island, Dalkey Island and Howth’s Baily Lighthouse can truly be appreciated.
Approaching Dún Laoghaire by train, commuters may see a group of paddle boarders in the harbour departing from the Aboveboard water sports activity centre. One of the fastest-growing sports globally, stand up paddle boarding is a gentler cousin of surfing, in which the boarder stands upright and uses a paddle to move through the water. It’s still a workout, although it is described by Aboveboard as being suitable for people of all ages and levels of ability. If this sounds a little too sedate, kite surfing and wake-boarding lessons, rentals and excursions are also available, as well as guided bike tours.
With an active roster of theatre, literature, comedy, dance and music throughout the year, the Pavilion Theatre always has a cultural event worth seeing. The theatre of today stands on the same site as the rather regal-sounding original built in 1903, which is said to have been surrounded by lavish gardens and even had its own small waterfall. If the Irish weather doesn’t cooperate the cinema here is a great place to camp out, with an exciting programme of art house, independent and classic films. It also hosts the Dublin Animation Film Festival every year.
From early April to mid-October visitors to Dún Laoghaire have the chance to explore two of Ireland’s best diving sites: Dalkey Island and the Muglins rocks. In good conditions, both sites offer the potential to see a plethora of Irish marine life at depths of 8 to 25 metres, from sponges and starfish to crab, lobster and dogfish. Oceandivers diving school is run by two of Ireland’s first Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) with over 20 years of experience teaching diving, so even novices are in good hands here.
Once restricted only to men, today the 250-year-old Forty Foot promontory is one of Dubliners’ – of both genders – favourite places to swim. In the 1970s the former ‘gentlemen’s bathing place’ became part of the women’s liberation movement when female activists staged a protest by jumping into its waters. It has featured in famous Irish novels and is especially popular with older swimmers, some of whom swim here every day. (Many believe swimming in icy Irish water during winter to promote good health.)
A quaint landscaped park near the seafront, The People’s Park is a great place to bring a picnic or just to unwind. It’s open daily, as is the Fallon & Byrne restaurant that has taken up residence in the Victorian park shelter that was formerly the park tea rooms. A sister of the upmarket restaurant and food hall that has become a city-centre staple, its veranda overlooks the park and is the ideal setting for a special occasion. On Sundays the park is taken over by a colourful farmer’s market, with fresh produce available from Ireland and abroad.
Created to celebrate the end of the First World War, the Oratory of the Sacred Heart has survived the Dominican convent it was once part of. It is home to a statue donated by a French town in memory of Irish soldiers and is beautifully decorated. As well as having several stained glass windows created by artist Harry Clarke, the entirety of its walls and ceilings were hand-painted with symbols associated with the Gaelic revival by a nun called Sister Concepta Lynch, which took her 16 years.