I’ve been living in Dublin for eight years, and for most of the time I’ve walked, run, cycled or taken public transportation. Prior to that, I spent 16 years in the US and over 20 years in various countries in continental Europe, so I am well aware what differences visitors in Dublin should be expecting. In addition, I have been hosting meetups for newcomers to Ireland who wish to meet their fellow expats and the locals. From these meetups I gained understanding of what information was most appreciated by visitors to Dublin. The following is the safety advice I came up with, and which consists solely of my personal experiences, observations and opinions. Please note that this describes the worst-case scenarios. Dublin is a cosmopolitan city, which I’d consider on the safer side of Western Europe. As such, common sense is usually all that’s needed to keep safe, but I’ll be listing the worst that could happen, and the readers may make up their own mind.
Dublin city and its layout
Dublin is a very old city. One can take the city map from 1798 and still successfully navigate the city center. The layout changed minimally, and even the street names are largely the same. Because of this, the city center is still designed for pedestrian traffic, horses or carriages. Those were later replaced by a tight network of trams, which later gave way to cars. This resulted into very narrow streets that often accommodate only one-way traffic, as well as very narrow sidewalks. Walking around requires some patience and tolerance towards other pedestrians.
Dublin is intersected by the river Liffey. Many locals will joke with you that the north side is rough and dangerous, while the south side is posh and snobby. In fact, Dublin is a patchwork of rough and posh neighborhoods, arranged in something that resembles a very skewed chessboard. It’s only because the city center is rougher north of the river than south that people believe the northside is more dangerous.
Pedestrian safety and etiquette
Cars in Ireland move on the left side, which may cause issues for pedestrians wishing to cross a street. In addition, there is a severe lack of zebra crossings in the city, and there is very little enforcement of red-light drivers or drivers disrespecting the pedestrians’ right of way. Sidewalks also require some degree of courtesy, so here are a few pointers.
Always obey traffic signals. Don’t cross on red, and even when the light turns green watch out for cars and cyclists. A special place in hell belongs to bus drivers Bus Eireann – the read and white busses. I’ve witnessed one person getting killed and I was swiped twice by their busses running red lights when my light had already turned green. Follow other pedestrians. In the past, each pedestrian crossing in the city center had an arrow on the pavement indicating which way to look for cars, but Dublin has been removing these over the past few years. A special consideration is the intersection right next to the convention center. It is very poorly designed, with lights for cars, cycles and pedestrians, and a portion of the cycle route cutting across the sidewalk right in front of the Samuel Beckett Bridge. Many pedestrians disrespect the green lights for cyclists, and many cyclists ignore the yield signs when mounting the sidewalk. Be extra vigilant there.
Crossing the street outside traffic signals: by my reckoning, there is a single zebra crossing in the city center, and it’s located on a small side street. Light-controlled crossings are designated by vertical stripes across the road; other crossings are noticeable by the sidewalk pavement sloping towards the road on both sides. The Irish driving code requires cars to yield to pedestrians on all junctions, if the pedestrians already started crossing the road, but no driver will actually do that, and very few will slow down. Cross the road only if no vehicles are coming, and make sure you look in the correct direction.
Don’t carry an umbrella. Dublin weather is very varied, but torrential rains are quite exceptional. Most rain is a little more than drizzle. However, winds are a serious concern, and they will damage umbrellas. In addition, sidewalks in the city center are so narrow than often no more than one person can pass in each direction. Umbrellas are discourteous, unless you are willing to lift them really high. A water-resistant jacket with a hood should be sufficient and may be more comfortable.
Walk on the left side of the sidewalk. With so many expats in Dublin, it seems like everyone walks where they want. And that’s fine. However, there is a reason why people walk on the right side on the continent and should walk left here: in case of a two-way road, walking left will make people at the curb face the traffic. It’s always safer to see what’s coming your way.
In short, don’t. Don’t cycle in Dublin. There are rental stations for Dublin Bikes all over the town, with one right next to the Convention Center, and there is now a new stationless bicycle rental scheme. However, Dublin is very hostile to cyclists, with deaths and injuries every year. While many locals cycle, they know what they can get away with. Many cycle lanes are still shared with busses and taxis, and neither have drivers that are patient with cyclists.
For those who absolutely must cycle, two things to consider:
Turning left. Many commercial drivers are not trained to watch for cyclists. The most common cycling fatality happens when a truck cuts the corner while turning left and catches a cyclist standing or moving next to him. Under no circumstances move alongside to a moving or stationary truck or bus at an intersection.
Riding on the sidewalk. There’s a heated discussion whether cyclists are allowed on sidewalks or not. All sides agree, though, that the cyclist is responsible for any collision between him and a pedestrian. Pedestrians are aware of that as well, and many are unwilling to move out of the way of cyclists. So it’s better for cyclists not to mount sidewalks outside of cycle lanes.
Pedestrian safety. Cyclists have the reputation of braking red lights more often than cars. However, I find them nimbler than cars, and capable of avoiding collision with pedestrians. In my opinion, the greatest danger from collisions comes from cyclists going the wrong way in a one-way road, when the pedestrian steps on the road and only looks in the direction of the expected traffic. Look both ways, even in one-way streets.
With all big cities, street crime is to be expected. I feel that the degree of crime in the city center is very low, compared to many Western European capitals. Here’s a breakdown of the worst-case scenarios:
Pickpockets: The only experience I’ve had with a pickpocket was in Dublin ZOO; I didn’t see or hear of anyone else having their pockets picket in the city center. However, there is a similar crime, which is very wide-spread: people on bicycles snatching mobile phones from people’s hands. While any part of the city may be affected, the most common areas for this crime are just north of the river, in the O’Connell Street area and surrounding streets. Personally, when I need to make a call, I step into a shop before taking my phone out. I have seen several and heard of many others losing their phones this way.
Assaults: Again, a very small chance of these. The north quays of the river, O’Connell street and the surrounding streets usually have above average numbers of drug addicts, but they will remain harmless unless it’s deep in the night and streets are empty. There have been reported cases of tourists being robbed at knife (or more often syringe) point at around 4AM. Note that these are assaults for money or other possessions. Random assaults for fun are described below.
Brawls: The Irish are happy drinkers, so in almost all cases they won’t get in a fighting mood in the pub. If you are belligerent towards them, they will more likely offer to buy you a pint to calm down. However, you may get entangled in street brawls between locals. The most common kind of brawls is between two or more drug addicts, or a group of feral teenagers assaulting random passersby’s. Try to steer clear of both.
Crimes of opportunity: This is the most common crime you’ll be facing. Set your belongings down for a minute, and they’ll be gone. Don’t lock your car, hotel room or Air B’n’B apartment, and things will go missing. I witnessed a friend leaving her handbag in a locked car on a very busy street in the middle of a workday, and within less than five minutes someone smashed the window and took the bag. There’s an entire class of thieves that simply try all entrances and car doors they walk by, and when they find one unlocked, they sneak in. I know of a man in my neighborhood in his 30s who raked up 105 convictions for this sort of thing already, and those are just the instances when he got caught. Don’t give wannabe criminals a chance.
In my opinion, the biggest security issue in Dublin is bands of feral children, ranging from about 12 to 18. Last year was relatively quiet (a police officer I spoke to about it credits video games, which kept the kids at home), but in the previous years they have been a major nuisance. When in a large enough group, they attack random pedestrians or selected targets (primarily foreign students or tourists).
Over the past two or so years, the most serious assaults happened in small towns north of Dublin, along the coastal train line, especially in Howth, Portmanock, Malahide and Donabate. I read about assaults in those areas at least once per month, but some locals told me they are nearly a daily occurrence. I already recommend my friends and family to not stay in hotels or Air B’n’B there and visit the places only during tourist rush hour. If you don’t have a choice of canceling your stay there, consider using taxis to get to and from your hotel when there are fewer people on the streets.
When seeing them on the street, don’t engage with them. Often, anything that can be seen as a provocation, will get you beaten. This includes yelling at them, actively helping their victim or calling the police. And in no case do fight back. Under Irish law, any physical contact from your side will be considered child abuse. The best solution when attacked is to run and possibly get into a shop or restaurant.
Interactions with the police
Police in Ireland is called Garda (Gardai in plural). Its members are very friendly, and always happy to help. I once saw two elderly Japanese ladies taking selfies in front of police motorcycles. The Gardai actually put them on the bikes and took their photos. However, some criticize the police force for their lack of presence on the streets, lack of traffic enforcement, and focusing too much on low hanging fruit crimes. When interacting with the police, I have two specific points to make:
Reporting crime: Most likely, you won’t see a Garda on the street. You will have to either call 112 when you are in immediate danger or go to the local station if you want to report crime after the fact. For anything that happened on the north side (including at or around the convention venues), go to the Store Street Garda Station; in south to the Pearse Street Garda Station. Be prepared that the police will try to dissuade you from filing a report. Recently, when I was hit by a car running a red light, I was told that since there was no damage to me or the car, no report was necessary. Previously, when I reported an assault by a group of kids, I was blamed for walking in an unsafe neighborhood.
Knives and other weapons: As stated before, Garda is being criticized for going too much after the easy prey. They will rarely engage teenagers driving dirt bikes in public parks or on sidewalks, but they will stop and prosecute office workers who drive electric scooters on bicycle paths. Visitors carrying pocket knives are a great and easy target for the police to pad their arrest numbers. Knives are illegal, unless you have a good reason to carry one, and the knife is suited for its purpose. So, if you are a dealer at the convention and expect to open shipping boxes, a Swiss army knife should be safe. If you carry it later to the pub and someone sees it, they can call the police on you. Cosplayers should be aware that peace ties are no excuse, so keep sharp and stabby objects at home. In addition, any defensive devices – mace, immobilizers or anything else – are highly illegal.
Dublin is a relatively safe city. Most of the locals are friendly and welcoming. And I’ve rarely heard of any visitors to any conventions getting into trouble. Common sense will guide you well in the vast majority of cases. What I described here is the absolute worst that can happen, and those cases are one per million or less. Enjoy your stay here.