[Read the first installment of my study abroad experience: What Brochures Don’t Tell You About Studying Abroad]
Since I knew no one in Dublin and had never been there before, my Time Out: Dublin guidebook was my new bible. It had several pages of maps and a pretty extensive listing of shops, bars and places to eat. As I learned my way around the city (sort of) and tried to fill up my empty days (I came almost a week before registration, so I couldn’t even use the campus computer labs or the library), I discovered a few discrepancies between my guidebook and my own personal experiences. I’ve summed up a few of them, for your enjoyment:
My Guidebook says: Temple Bar, a neighborhood in Dublin, is the city’s cultural center. Here you’ll find edgy shops, bars, cafes, galleries and theatres. At night, Temple Bar is an exciting nexus of Dublin nightlife with loads of music venues and pubs on every corner.
My reality says: Temple Bar thinks it is the cultural center of Dublin because it has an independent movie theatre and a bookshop (which will close down soon). When we say “edgy”, we mean there are a bunch of wannabe punks hanging around skateboarding. At night, Temple Bar becomes a hellish place full of drunk “stag” and “hen” parties (bachelor and bachelorette parties) whose members stumble around screaming, while wearing matching outfits. Watch out for broken glass and vomit on the sidewalks. Oh, and those authentic pubs on each corner? Packed full with drunk tourists. Avoid at all costs.
My Guidebook says: Grafton Street is Dublin’s high street, a long pedestrian walkway perfect for strolling and shopping.
My reality says: Grafton street is inexplicably packed with people all day every day, and you will often find yourself shoving old ladies out of the way to get where you’re going. At night, watch out for broken glass and vomit.
My Guidebook says: O’Neill’s pub is a great place to grab a pint or catch a “trad” music session. Stop in during the day for a carvery lunch.
My reality says: Cafeteria-style hot bar during the day (just as bad as your high school cafeteria), overcrowded tourist trap at night. A “traditional” Irish pub all cleaned up for the tourists. Pints are overpriced.
My Guidebook says: The Dublin Bus system is quite confusing—you’re better off walking around the small city center.
My reality says: The Dublin Bus system is quite confusing—you’re better off walking around the small city center. (At least they got one thing right!)
While guidebooks are a great jumping-off point, you’ll never really know until you go! The best thing I did was ask a friend who had visited the city before for her recommendations—that’s how I found my favorite lunch spot, for example. If you are studying abroad, you have to remember that your status as “tourist” will eventually fade—soon you’ll need to figure out where to buy groceries and shampoo and extra sheets.
Since guidebooks almost never provide that kind of info, ask a local!