Time out in the Irish capital

WE ARE that stereotypical Cork family that never leaves the confines of the county to venture to the bright lights of Dublin.

Time out in the Irish capital

The occasional concert is about all we have ever managed, and we would probably find our way around London easier than traversing the capital. So with a few days off over the Easter we packed up the car and the three kids, progammed the sat nav and headed for the motorway.

First impressions

More used to walls that can be cleaned with rub of a cloth or floor that can absorb spillages, the impressive Gibson Hotel in the docklands area of the city, and right next to the O2 concert venue, had my nerves jangling. The last stop on the Luas red line to the Point, the hotel’s imposing glass edifice dominates the skyline in this part of town. The hotel is that heady mix of clean lines and glass that you would think would be impossible to market as a child-friendly location and yet it works so beautifully. Why shouldn’t parents with young children be able to enjoy a beautiful hotel as well as the young and trendy?

The rooms

Although the Gibson has a number of family rooms with an adjoining bedroom, we found the large bedroom was quite spacious — even with a camp bed and a double pull-down sofa bed. All the bedrooms look down onto the internal courtyard that the hotel bar and restaurant are wrapped around.

The bathroom was large and bright with a shower and a bath and plenty of white fluffy towels. It even came with a post-it message left every day on the magnifying glass with famous quotes from Irish literary figures.

As with many hotels rooms though, we found it very hot at night despite fiddling with the internal air-conditioning. I did have to ring reception due to the heat because we couldn’t sleep and in fairness, within 10 minutes, two fans were whirring away in the bedroom, much to the delight of the three small girls.

The food

The restaurant is only open at the weekends but food is available at the bar overlooking the courtyard. The menu has a distinct Asian theme and with more traditional daily specials available. Menus that can be coloured on with crayons always make the tricky business of entertaining kids while waiting for the food much easier. The children’s menu was great — stir fried chicken and noodles or rice, pizza and chicken gougons and chips — and very reasonable at €6.95. The children’s desserts were also really good at €4. With a Chinese-influenced starter we stuck to house burger and cod for our mains and both were very good.

We got the Luas to the Spencer Dock area (about three stops up) on the second evening to Ely’s but came back to the Gibson for dessert.

Buffet breakfast was served in the restaurant and there was a great selection of hot and cold breakfasts, cold meats, fruit, freshly baked breads and lashing of toast, tea, coffee or hot chocolate to set you up for the day.

An array of papers were also available —including the Irish Examiner — for you to peruse while you enjoying your breakfast.

The amenities

The hotel has a 24 hour gym and a relaxation room. It also has a family games room with table soccer, giant connect four, skittles and bowling balls and a large TV and DVD player. It might be a good idea on weeks where they know they will have a lot of kids to have a designated film time with a staff member to supervise so parents would be able to eat their meal in peace.

What to do

There is lots to do in Dublin, the hard part is choosing. We hit the zoo first on the way to the hotel. We brought a packed lunch and spent four hours there — and it could have been longer. Dublin Zoo has done a great job of transforming itself into a world-class experience and the African plains exhibit is particularly memorable. The Viking Splash tour was one of the highlights of our trip. Paul, our driver, had the right mixture of fun and knowledge to make the trip really enjoyable for both the adults and children. Bedecked with Viking helmets and encouraged to roar at unsuspecting tourists, we also took to the water for a mini-tour of the docklands area in our WWII submerageable vehicle which, as Paul explained, was built by women more than 70 years ago and just like the women who built her, the car goes on and on and on.

Among some of the free things to do in Dublin is the National History Museum housing ancient gold artefacts and the National History Museum. We opted for the so-called Dead Zoo or the Natural History Museum and were not disappointed.

We also visited the children’s science museum, Imaginosity, where our girls got to present the news, drive a racing car, crack the code to open a bank vault, play doctor with real x-rays, be a rockstar and cook dinner at a mini dinner complete with a microwave, toy ovens and even a jukebox. Tickets must be booked in advance and adults and children cost €8 each.

The bottom line

The Gibson is the ideal location for family breaks, weekends away or as a concert venue. The staff are friendly, the hotel is beautiful and its location right next to the Luas makes it convenient for anywhere in the city.

Couples can stay in a double or twin room in August for just €60 B&B per person sharing. There are also some great value family deals, with €165 B&B for two adults and two children, with free passes to the Viking Splash Tour or to Dublin Zoo.

Anything to add

It’s only a two-hour spin up the motorway to a world of history, fun and activities.

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