City break: 48 hours in the life of Dublin

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The Independent Online
Each week, 'The Independent' provides a prescription for a perfect weekend break. This week,

Daniel Ford offers a short cut to

the soul of Dublin.

Why go now?

Christmas shopping turns Dublin's streets into a festival - with musicians on nearly every corner to entertain you through the day and into the night. Dublin is always a treat, but the shorter days and longer nights make the numerous pubs cosy with real fires. There is a buzz all over the city - both inside and out.

Beam down

Air fares between the UK and Dublin are low, even with pounds 10 UK tax (included in all the fares below). The lowest fare on Ryanair (0541 569569) from Birmingham, Bristol, Luton, Manchester, Prestwick or Stansted is pounds 48 return (book by 8 December); from Liverpool and Teesside, pounds 59; from Cardiff pounds 69; from Gatwick pounds 79. Lowest of all is from Bournemouth (pounds 39 before 19 December, and 7-29 January). Other airlines with scheduled services include Aer Lingus (0181-899 4747) from numerous UK airports, British Airways from Gatwick (0345 222111) and British Midland (0345 554554) from East Midlands and Heathrow.

By sea, the fastest route is on Stena Line (0990 707070). A weekend return for a car plus five people is pounds 179 for the 100-minute crossing from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, six miles south-east of Dublin.

Get your bearings

The best way to cover the six miles south from the airport to the city centre is by Air Link bus. The half-hour trip to the Central Bus Station, or Busaras, costs pounds 2.50.

The Liffey divides Dublin into two distinct areas. The north is where many of the galleries and theatres can be found, while the south is the more social centre, with hotels, pubs, restaurants and shops. Temple Bar is the main area for pubs - many of which have live music - and restaurants.

Roads south of Temple Bar, Grafton Street and Nassau, offer more eateries and drinking-holes, along with the better shops. Dublin Castle and the magnificent Trinity College are also in this area. North of the river, most points of interest are situated around O'Connell Street.

The main Dublin Tourism Centre (00 353 1 605 7700) is in a converted church on Suffolk Street, near Trinity College.

Check in

Probably the most charming (and famous) of Dublin's hotels is the Shelbourne Hotel (00 353 1 676 6471), at 27 St Stephen's Green. It is also one of the most expensive, with a weekend rate of pounds 170 per room per night for a standard double including breakfast; the weekday rate is pounds 152. The band U2 has an interest in the top-range Clarence (bookings through 0800 181535).

At the other end of the scale, the city centre has plenty of hostels. One of the best is Avalon House (00 353 1 475 0001) in Aungier Street. Prices start at pounds 7.50 in a 12-bed dorm; twin rooms cost pounds 12 per person.

Much of the mid-range accommodation is around the Victorian suburb of Ballsbridge, a lively area to the south east of the city. Prices per person are in the pounds 25-pounds 30 range. Northumberland Lodge (00 353 1 660 5270), in Northumberland Road, is very welcoming, and charges pounds 65 for a double room including breakfast.

Take a ride

From Pearse Station, near Trinity College, whisk yourself away on the excellent local train service - Dart, short for Dublin Area Rapid Transit - to Killiney. This magnificent and beautiful beach suburb is half-an- hour from the city centre and is home to Dublin's rich and famous - particularly those who have made their cash in music. The station is practically on the beach, so take a short walk along the sand looking over Dublin Bay. If the tide is out you can stroll all the way along the beach to Dalkey; alternatively, come off the beach and walk along the Vico Road until you get to the sign for Killiney Hill Park. The walk up and over the hill is well worth it, offering fantastic views across the ocean and south to Wicklow.

You come down into Dalkey, where you can pick up the Dart back into the city. However, you would be doing yourself a great injustice if you did not stop at Finnegans on the Sorrento Road, next to the Dart station, for a pint of Guinness and the freshest scampi imaginable.

Take a hike

Stroll through the old cobbled streets of Temple Bar, the beating heart of Dublin's social life; the place is alive with street performers and musicians. A three-minute walk south of Temple Bar down Westmoreland street will bring you to the majestic Trinity College. Entry is free, which is just as well, since a visit here is a must if you want to understand something of Dublin's literary and political history. You will, however, need to pay pounds 3.50 to see the ancient Book of Kells in the spectacular Old Library, open 9.30am to 5.30pm. Various walking tours start at Trinity College; the guides are usually highly visible.

Lunch on the run

The unequivocal front-runner for a midday meal is Beshoff Fish and Chips, 14 Westmoreland Street (and also at 7 Upper O'Connell Street). For pounds 2.99 you get a fabulous piece of morning-fresh cod in a superb, delicate batter, and excellent, crispy chips from potatoes grown on Beshoff's own farm in Tipperary. This is a Dublin institution, and an absolute treat.

Cultural afternoon

In a city that has nurtured such literary heavyweights as Wilde, Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett and Swift, you'll want to make a bit of a pilgrimage. Heading north over the Liffey, a walk up the remarkably wide O'Connell Street brings you to Parnell Square. The Dublin Writers Museum (00 353 1 872 2077) is at No 18 (next door to the Living Writers Museum). Here you get a taste of Irish literary history, from early Christian writings to the works of Brendan Behan (adults pounds 2.90, children pounds 1.20, Mon-Sat 10am- 5pm, Sunday 11.30am-6pm).

From here, cross Parnell Square East Road and head into Gardiner Row, where Belvedere College is situated - Joyce was a student here - then turn down into North Great George's Street, where you'll find the James Joyce Centre at No 35 (00 353 1 878 8547) - open Mon-Sat 9.30am-5pm, Sun 12.30-5pm. The pounds 2.75 entrance fee is worth it just to see inside this magnificent Georgian building, with its detailed stucco work on the walls and ceiling. The centre is full of all manner of Joyce-related information, including the original door of 7 Eccles Road (Leopold Bloom's address in Ulysses).

For a less sober slant on the city's history, take the Literary Pub Crawl - this is pounds 6 well spent. Starting at the Duke, on Duke Street, at 7.30pm Thur/Fri/Sat, actors take you around a number of pubs enacting scenes from Irish plays and giving anecdotes regarding the drinking habits of Dublin's writers: "I am a drinker with a writing problem," quipped Brendan Behan.

An aperitif

If you can get in, the Horseshoe Bar at the Shelbourne Hotel is the place for a pre-dinner tipple. Alternatively, the locals will make you feel very much at home at Neary's, on Chatham Street. Enter beneath outstretched Art Deco arms holding flaming candles, and sneak inside the impressive gas-lit interior for a pint of Guinness.

Demure dinner

The Coopers Cafe (00 353 1 660 1525) at the Sweepstakes Centre, Ballsbridge, is a treat. It'll set you back about pounds 30 per person, but it is a fabulous modern restaurant, and suggests a taste of more good things to come to Dublin. Those on a tighter budget should head for the clean surroundings of Milano (00 353 1 670 3384) on Essex Street, Temple Bar, where you can enjoy a fantastic pizza or pasta dish for about pounds 6.

Sunday morning: go to church

There is certainly no shortage of options in Dublin. For real tradition, try St Mary's Pro-Cathedral on Mary Street. You certainly won't be on your own; this huge cathedral is full of worshippers at 11am. Delivered entirely in Latin, this 90-minute service is wonderful, with the famous Palestrina Choir lifting the experience to the sublime.

Bracing brunch

A five-minute walk down O'Connell Street, over the bridge and back into Temple Bar offers a couple of great brunch opportunities. The foremost of these is the Elephant and Castle (00 353 1 679 3121) where you can while away a couple of hours with a Bloody Mary and a choice from the impressive brunch menu in busy but comfortable surroundings. Book ahead.

Just across the road from here is Fitzers Cafe (00 353 1 679 0440), which has stark, modern decor with particularly disorienting unisex toilets. The starter menu here offers good, brunch-style fare.

A walk in the park

Phoenix Park, home of Dublin Zoo, may seem the obvious choice for a Sunday perambulation, but a better option is St Stephen's Green, a short walk down Grafton Street. This is an attractive area with a large pond, rambling hedges andsculptured lawns, and a large number of Victorian bandstands and gazebos dotted about.

The icing on the cake

Lots of cakes, in fact. No trip to the city is complete without a visit to Bewley's Oriental Cafe on Grafton Street. This elegant coffee shop is a Dublin institution, serving cakes, buns, coffee and full meals to hungry shoppers. On Sundays, it opens 8am-11pm.

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