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

Did you know this seaside resort - the longest standing in the country- 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 soon developed into a seaside resort. So popular, it became known as the Brighton of Ireland.

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

The 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 viewpoint 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, north Wicklow and south Dublin, are well worth it.

You can also carry on along the coastal path from Bray to Greystones, a trail of about 7km. Back in town, the promenade is lined with bars and restaurants, there’s a Sea Life centre, and, ten minutes’ walk away, is the climbing hill of the town centre, which boasts a decent number of independent shops and businesses, as well as the Mermaid County Wicklow theatre and arts centre.

Butler and Barry
Butler and Barry

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 of tempura fish pieces, prawns and calamari, with lemon mayo and mango, was excellent; service is efficient.

Two more musts are Box Burger, a streetfood-style indoor hall with tasty Irish meat and vegan burgers, as well as cocktail bar, and behind, the fantastic Two Chaps, a stylish repurposed camper van that dishes up a phenomenal breakfast brioche bun packed with scrambled egg, bacon and tarragon.

Other popular choices are Indian restaurants Pink Salt and Daata, and Maison Moli, where I enjoyed a pint 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 for the Harbour Bar, 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 textbook cosiness, from the roaring fires to the soft lighting, eclectic memorabilia and 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 spots along the seafront.

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 pit stop.

Two Chaps van. Photos: SE

Do say: ‘Walk to the end of the harbour arm, turn around and capture the view back across the shore and town.’

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

Bray is on the direct commuter DART line from Dublin. Find out more at Visit Wicklow here.

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