So you’ve never been to…Bray, County Wicklow

This picturesque seaside resort was built as the Brighton of Ireland

Age? At least a thousand. Bray’s history predates Norman times, but fast forward several centuries and thanks to the arrival of the railway in 1854, it developed into a seaside resort. So popular, it soon became known as the Brighton of Ireland.

Where exactly is it? About 50 mins south of Dublin on the Dart railway; a really lovely little journey too, pootling along the coast with plenty to look at from the window.

Bray harbour. Photos: SE

OK. So what goes on there? Step off the train and you’re straight onto an impressive mile-long Victorian seafront stretching from the harbour to the foot of the breezy 800-foot high Bray Head. This hill is well worth climbing: it takes about half an hour, steep in parts, to the peak, marked by a huge wooden cross, but the panoramic views (see pic, below), north to Wicklow and south to Dublin, are well worth it. You can also carry on along the coastal path from Bray to Greystones, a trail of about 7km.

Bray Head, summit. Photo: SE

Back in town, the promenade is lined with bars and restaurants, there’s a Sea Life centre, and, ten minutes’ walk away, is the town centre, which boasts a decent number of independent shops and businesses, as well as the Mermaid County Wicklow theatre and arts centre.

And, as you can see from our main pic, above, taken in early November, people swim all year around – there’s even a sauna on the beach to warm up afterwards – and the promenade is alive with joggers and fast-walkers. They’re a healthy bunch, this lot.

The far tip of the beach. Photo: SE

Where should I eat? For maximum sea views, it has to be Butler & Barry right on the beach: the tables quite literally gaze over the shingle and waves beyond. A Togarashi spice box (pic below) of tempura fish pieces, prawns and calamari, with lemon mayo and mango, was excellent; service is efficient.

Butler and Barry
Tasty fish: Butler and Barry. Photo: SE

Two more musts are Box Burger, an indoor streetfood-style hall with tasty Irish meat and vegan burgers, as well as cocktail bar; and behind, the fantastic Two Chaps, a stylish repurposed camper van (pictured below) dishing up phenomenal breakfast brioche buns packed with scrambled egg, bacon and tarragon.

Other popular choices are Indian restaurants Pink Salt and Daata, as well as Maison Moli, where I enjoyed a local Wicklow Wolf craft beer while ogling a couple’s delicious-looking brunch.

Harbour Bar, Bray
Harbour Bar, Bray. Photo: SE

Speaking of pints, what about pubs? Like many visitors before me, I fell hard for the Harbour Bar, pictured above, established in 1871 and which over a decade ago Lonely Planet declared the finest bar in the world. As it happens, they weren’t wrong. It’s simply textbook cosiness, from the roaring fires and soft lighting to eclectic memorabilia, old cigarette ads, wonky lamps, old typewriters and Chesterfield armchairs. Also worth a pint is the Wild Goose gastrobar in the main town, and any number of pub terraces along the seafront.

Desirable seafront houses, Bray. Photo SE

Coffee? Two Chaps aside, Dockside 8 makes a nice morning pit stop, pleasantly situated in the harbour, while Finnbees right on the beach is another useful option.

Two Chaps van. Photos: SE

Where to stay? The former family home of Oscar Wilde, The Strand hotel is a slightly crumbling Victorian pile with pale pink exterior, half-turret and attractive wrought iron balcony terrace. There are Oscar Wilde framed pics dotted about, and the rooms are named after his books. Mine was small but comfortable, with a direct sea view (£94 midweek in November). There’s a popular bar and ground floor restaurant called, inevitably, Wilde’s. It feels like it wears its association lightly probably because the LGBTQ icon sold it two years after inheriting it, and never actually lived there himself, but its location means it’s a solid accommodation choice. Meanwhile, literary buffs will also want to check out the plaque at James Joyce’s former house along the promenade at 1 Martello Terrace.

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Bray is on the direct commuter Dart line from Dublin, journey time 45-50 mins. Find out more at Visit Wicklow here.

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