Located 20 kilometres South of Dublin, Bray is the largest town in Ireland with a population of 36,000. While some of its outskirts are located in County Dublin, the centre of Bray lies in County Wicklow. Bray is a seaside town with an air of faded glamour dating back to its Victorian heyday. A bit tattered around the edges, Bray is still worth a daytrip from Dublin on the Dart local railway. Some of the most scenic walks around Dublin lead from Bray Head over steep cliffs to the neighbouring town of Greystones, offering magnificent sea views.
History Of Bray
From Norman times until the 17th century, Bray was a small fishing harbour on the borders of the Anglo-Irish heartland, The Pale, from which the English colonialised Ireland. When the coastal railway from Dublin reached Bray in 1854, the town reinvented itself as a seaside resort and became an overnight success. Bray remained a popular beach holiday destination with Irish and UK holidaymakers until the 1970's and the advent of cheap international travel. The town has yet to recover from the loss of the tourist business. Bray today is basically a commuter town, offering affordable housing to workers with jobs in Dublin.
Bray is full of faded glamour from its days as a popular seaside resort. The 1.5 kilometre long promenade with its bandstand and pavilions is still there and so are the former Victorian hotel buildings with their large panoramic dining room windows overlooking the beach. Unlike Brighton in the UK, Bray has not yet discovered the bohemian vibe that goes so well with faded seaside towns. Once you leave the beach and walk land inwards you will discover a pretty dreary shopping town that services rural Wicklow, crowded with the usual chain stores and fast food outlets.
It may only rise 241 metres over sea level, but Bray Head nevertheless offers dramatic cliff views over the Irish Sea. The unspoiled countryside has been protected since 2008 and offers the best hill walking in the Dublin area. On top of Bray Head you can see a concrete cross which was erected in 1950. Once a year on Good Friday, a procession makes its way up Bray Head from the town to mark the stations of the Cross. The final station is held at the cross on the hill top.
Ireland's only purpose built film studios are located in Bray. The Ardmore Studios were opened in 1958 on instigation of the Irish government and attract international and Irish filmmakers. More than 100 movies were made at Ardmore in the last 50 years. Some of the movie classics shot at Ardmore include The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965), My Left Foot (1989), The Commitments (1991), In the Name Of The Father (1993), Braveheart (1995), The Tailor Of Panama (2001) and Breakfast On Pluto (2005). Ardmore is also popular with TV producers and recent TV work includes the successful historical soap opera The Tudors.
You can get a good pint of Guinness and plenty of atmosphere in Harbour Bar on Dargle Road, close to the Dart station. Probably due to the vicinity of Ardmore Studios, the Harbour Bar is often turned into a film set. Don't let that put you off, the Harbour Bar has character, which is sadly missing from many other places in town which succumbed to half-hearted attempts at modernisation. There are plenty of restaurants and fast food joints in Bray. For the real seaside experience, have some fish and chips at Cassoni's on Strand Road.
How To Get To Bray
Bray's success as a commuter town has a lot to do with the reliable and convenient Dart local railway service that connects the town with Dublin's city centre. Bray station is located close to the seafront and deposits you straight at the heart of the action if you come as a day-tripper.