By Natasha McGowan
Ireland is known for verdant landscapes that stretch from cliff to coastline. But there’s more to the Emerald Isle than its countryside. The last decade has brought transformative growth and development to this small island nation, and to its capital city in particular.
Dublin—long a destination among the literati and fans of Guinness—is now home to the European headquarters of tech giants from Google to Facebook to Twitter. Having improbably emerged as the heart of the continent’s tech scene, this once sleepy city is now a diverse, dynamic metropolis that’s teeming with start-ups and innovators. Its cityscape boasts futuristic pockets like the so-called Silicon Docks, along with historic Georgian townhouses, centuries-old cathedrals and more classic- and craft-beer pubs than you can count.
Such rapid growth has predictably taken an environmental toll, but Dublin and Ireland as a whole are implementing aggressive sustainability initiatives designed to preserve the natural beauty that first put the island on the map. Dublin was recently a contender for the 2015 European Green Capital Award (Bristol ultimately claimed the title), and it ranks in the top 10 most bicycle-friendly cities in the world.
On the style front, the news is even better. There is a thriving Made in Ireland movement; a retail scene dominated by independent boutiques and designer collectives; and a preference for vintage shopping, slow fashion and cultivating individual style rather than following trends. For travelers with a taste for all things eco- and indie-luxe, this is your must-see Dublin itinerary.
THE LOFT MARKET
More than a shopping experience, The Loft Market is a window into Dublin’s community of up-and-coming designers–it was founded seven years ago to promote Irish fashion and ethically made goods. The selection at the retail collective, which is currently made up of three vintage sellers and 16 fashion and jewelry designers, includes small-batch items like Aliquo's Japanese-bead jewelry, Karolina Schlagner's fringed cardigans and Heather Finn's bright knit dresses. Each member has a voice in the store (which they also take turns staffing), giving even casual browsers a sense of the people behind the products.
The Loft Market occupies a top-floor space at Powerscourt Centre, a three-story Georgian building filled with mostly independent shops and cafés. Other boutiques worth a visit here include Article, for quirky home accessories, and Bow. Co-owned by three Irish designers that also use the space as a workshop, Bow carries ethical fashion labels like People Tree and longtime Ethica favorite Camilla Norrback.
Ireland’s chief ethical fashion group is headquartered at South Studios, a historic building and one-time brewery that now houses film, photography and artist studios. South Studios' cool factor makes it an ideal venue for Re-dress, which organizes ethical fashion events and workshops throughout the year, including Ireland’s Better Fashion Week. This is also where you can shop Re-dress' conscious clothing brand, We Are Islanders. Conceived as a sartorial metaphor for a self-contained island existence, its seasonless collections are designed for layering, each piece forming part of a larger whole. Relaxed and utilitarian, the line is crafted from sustainable materials such as organic and fair-trade cotton, organic salmon leather and Irish wools.
DUBLIN FLEA MARKET
We savor the thrill of the hunt nearly as much as we enjoy extending the lifecycle of an overlooked treasure. With more than 60 stalls of vintage wares and assorted cast-offs, the Dublin Flea Market–held the last Sunday of every month–offers plenty of opportunity to discover hidden gems. Though it’s a more modest experience than Les Puces in Paris or the Brooklyn Flea in New York, there’s plenty to make it memorable. We love the on-site seamstress that can alter any clothing purchases on the spot, and the Dublin Flea Market posters–designed by a different local artist each month–are perfect souvenirs.
Opened by retired butler Thomas Gresham in 1817, the Gresham is a Dublin landmark with a past guest list that includes The Beatles and Grace Kelly. Two of the main attractions within walking distance are the quaint cultural quarter and tourist nightlife hub Temple Bar, as well as the Irish Writer’s Museum. And lest you forget that Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature, one of the hotel’s popular bars is called the Writer’s Lounge. Stop by to have a drink overlooking Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, or visit Toddy’s Bar at the front of the hotel to escape into a traditional Irish snug and sample the widest selection of whiskey in town.
When it comes to eco efforts, the Gresham is big on recycling–including recyclables left behind by guests. Its rooms are outfitted with low-energy bulbs and water-saving features in bathrooms. The hotel also composts the organic waste from its kitchens, and the Gresham "Green Team" meets monthly to discuss ways to further reduce its carbon footprint.
The Irish capital is in the midst of a foodie revival, but longtime favorite Cornucopia is still our pick when it comes to sustainable dining in Dublin. Established in 1986, this whole foods and vegetarian restaurant will make you feel right at home with its warm decor, which features community tables and works by local artists. Live harp and guitar playing takes place Thursday through Saturday, and there is a talk or performance at least once a week. Cornucopia is strict about sourcing local and using organic ingredients (don't miss the organic wine list!), and the restaurant also does as much as possible to be eco-friendly: they recycle all of their waste, use renewable energy and have a bike-to-work program for employees.