If the last 20 months have taught us anything, it is that what we once considered to be the stuff of a holiday could be a mite limited. For most of us, it usually involved a trip to the airport, a flight to some city or resort out foreign and the usual blend of tourist beach, tourist hotspot and tourist grub.

If we did go local, those of us living in the capital city headed for the south, the west or the north. Staying put in your own 'hood and having a short break here? Don't be daft, man.

Photo: Fáilte Ireland

But when you stop to think about it, the idea does have considerable merit. After all, what do Dublin’s tourism specials look like to someone who knows their way around the city – or thinks they know their way around the city? Are there new things to find out about? Can the city really look different when you understand the guide’s banter and wisecracks? Is there really anything new to be found in the big smoke if you’ve lived here for years?

You could always start by looking up. If you do so while walking under Fusiliers’ Arch into Stephen’s Green at the top of Grafton Street, you’ll see a list of names which you may not have copped before.

These are the 222 members of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who were killed in action fighting for the British army in the Boer War. Like many monuments, the arch subsequently became contentious, but the names still stand there, silently watching the world go by.

This was one of a slew of little nuggets highlighted by Anne, who guided us around Stephen’s Green on the Green Mile tour from the Little Museum of Dublin. An hour’s stroll took us in and out of the Green, with pitstops to recount lively stories behind various statues in the park and houses facing the Green. It’s fascinating to see how many of the buildings and structures have scars and pock-marks from the 1916 Easter Rising.

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If you stay looking up, you might well see one of a handful of hidden terraces on the roof of Fitzwilliam Hotel. One of these rooms overlooking the Green was our digs for this city stay and the terrace presented a view of the south city which you’d rarely have the pleasure of viewing elsewhere.

The Fitzwilliam is a bit of a gem, a five star hotel in a superb location at the very heart of the city. Every aspect of the hotel’s design and layout rings out with understated, subtle style and luxury, from the lovely airy lobby to the professional friendly staff. It’s an ideal place to rest your head inbetween all those city trips and walks.

The National Gallery has long been a favourite haunt for this writer, but I’ve never been accompanied around the rooms by someone who really does know what they’re talking. Gallery guide Barry Gibbons provided excellent footnotes to some selected works on the walls. From the striking modernism of Mainie Jellett’s Decoration to Brian O’Doherty’s back-to-the-future take on the city grid in Ogham On Broadway, Gibbons provided the kind of detail which makes you look again.

Photo: Fáilte Ireland

You certainly had plenty to look at again in the case of Joshua Reynolds’ 1773 painting of Charles Cootes. We’re looking at the finest dandy to have ever called Cavan home, a buck in dashing pink robes, ornate shoes and a flamboyant ostrich feather hat. Naturally, Cootes was both a vain, pompous womaniser and a cute political mover and shaker. He wouldn’t be the only such rogue captured for posterity in the gallery.

You’d need sustenance after that kind of day out so we headed towards the Mansion House on Dawson Street and went next door to FIRE. Once upon a time, this lovely ornate room was where the lord mayor and guests took supper, but this steakhouse and bar is open to all comers these days who can dig into a high-end selection of meat and fish.

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If you were walking by Christ Church Cathedral on a recent Tuesday morning and heard an awful clatter coming from one of those 19 bells, that was unfortunately me. When you’re given a chance to go into the belfry and ring them bells out over the city, you tend to take the opportunity with both hands. Indeed, you do have to use both hands to ensure the bells, some of which date from 1738, go bong-bong-bong and not bong-bish-bash-bosh-bang.

In fairness, the oldest working building structure in the city has probably heard and seen worse over the years. It’s a place steeped in lore and legend, from the tomb of medieval warlord Strongbow to the heart of the city’s patron saint Laurence O’Toole (now back in situ after some thieves made off with it a few years ago).

Photo: Getty

Both of those relics are to be found in the magnificent Nave, but beneath the floor’s ornate tiles, you’ll find the cathedral’s restored 12th century crypt which is now home to the Treasures of Christ Church exhibition. This includes a range of bling plates, presented by King William III on his way home from victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1697, and a rare 14th century copy of the Magna Carta.

If we began our stay by looking up, it’s also be a good idea to look down now and then. That’s the basic premise of the Down to Earth exhibition at the National Museum at Collins Barracks. This deep dive into the geology of Ireland shows us just what lies under our feet.

The large floor map of the geology of Ireland is the first step for most who walk in. It’s a chance to see what particular rocks and minerals make up the landscape we walk on every day and probably take for granted.

Other exhibits and displays point up the role which rocks and minerals play in our everyday life. From the history of Irish mining to a reconstruction of a ship which maps the seabeds (and tracks the approximately 18,000 shipwrecks which lie on the Irish seabed), it’s a smartly curated and subtle examination of just what geologists get up to.

We finished our trip to Dublin by going to Paris. Pichet on Trinity Street is a downtown take on the classic French bistro, a buzzy room where the grub is classic fare without the fuss. Gloriously creamy burrata, luxurious wild mushroom pasta and perfectly cooked beef ensured a fine end to a hometown staycation.

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The verdict
Look, we’re never going near the airport again. Taking a break from the city we spend all our lives in by staying in that there same city may sound perverse, but it opens your eyes to see the familiar in fresh light. The fact that we got to spend two nights in the heart of the city was a blissful break from the usual routine.

The details
We stayed in a Signature Queen room at the Fitzwilliam Hotel as invited guests for two nights, which costs from €264 per night or €294 per night including breakfast and parking.

Admission to the National Gallery and National Museum at Collins Barracks is free. A guided tour of Christ Church Cathedral is €7.50, while the Green Mile tour from the Little Museum of Dublin is €8.

Our breakfast and evening meals were also included.

Fáilte Ireland, whose 'Keep Discovering' campaign is encouraging Irish people to experience the joy of discovering the many hidden gems that Ireland has to offer. If you need inspiration on where to go and what to do, visit discoverireland.ie.

This domestic short break has been in accordance with Fáilte Ireland's health and safety policy relating to Covid-19 Government guidelines.