By Jessica Colley—
In 2007, an Irish film, simply titled “Once” stormed onto the film scene. The story of two untitled character (“guy” and “girl”)—who meet by chance in the streets of Dublin and share a love of music—resonated immediately with audiences around the world.
While the Irish (and music fans) recognized Glen Hansard from the popular Irish band the Frames, the two main actors were largely unknown to wider audiences. The film was shot for an incredible €130,000 and won an Academy Award in 2007 for Best Original Song, “Falling Slowly.”
In the backdrop of the success of the film and the moving music that the real-life couple (now split up) made together, is Dublin itself. One of the most memorable scenes of the film is Hansard alone, with his guitar, on Grafton Street at night. He is playing seemingly to no one, and then, “girl” (Marketa Irglova) shows up.
The film captures something true about life in Dublin, and at the same time, depicts some of my favorite places in the city. If you want to retrace the footsteps of these two characters, all you have to do is visit a few key sights. In some of them, don’t be surprised to hear musicians, or buskers, playing for a few coins.
1. Grafton Street
The pedestrian shopping area of Dublin’s south side, Grafton Street is often considered the heart of the city. It also has a reputation for quality street performers, and many of the same musicians/bands play at the same time in the same place each day.
In the film, several scenes take place on Grafton Street, both in Glen Hansard playing his songs, and bumping into “girl” later on in the film. Memorably, there’s also the scene where a junkie attempts to steal his guitar case full of coins, resulting in a chase to nearby St. Stephen’s Green.
Viewers are introduced to the Academy Award-winning song, “Falling Slowly” in Walton’s, Dublin’s music store. This legendary Dublin music shop on Georges Street is where the two musicians sit down at a piano and discover their shared love of music. This spot also happens to be located on one of the prettiest streets in Dublin’s south side.
3. Killiney Hill
After the all-night recording session that results in some incredible musical collaboration between the two, the musicians all get in the car to listen to their new album. They drive south, to one of Dublin’s most scenic places, Killiney Hill.
In the film, you can see guy and girl looking out to the Irish Sea, with the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain behind them. This is one of my favorite places in Dublin for a picnic or a hike. You don’t need a car to get here – hop on the DART train to Dalkey and it’s a 10-minute walk away. (Read our guide to Dublin day trips for more information.)
4. Mountjoy Square
“Girl” lives in a lovely Georgian square in Dublin with the signature bright color doors. There are several parts of the city known for Georgian architecture, but this specific spot is Mountjoy Square, on the north side of the River Liffey. While it isn’t as immaculately maintained as say Merrion Square on the south side, it is still a beautiful spot to visit.
If you’re planning a trip to Dublin, watch “Once” carefully before you go. Seeing these places with your own eyes might bring new context to a favorite film.
Also in our guide: If you’re planning your trip to Dublin right now, you should swing by our reviews of budget hotels in Dublin at least, well, Once! Our editors have visited, inspected and reviewed affordable hotels all over town and have selected only the very best. Read more in our Dublin guide.