Discover Dublin's fair city: The Irish capital is the perfect antidote to London, Simon Calder discovers

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The Independent Travel
Paris may be more glamorous, and Amsterdam racier, but Dublin is the ideal antidote to London. Ireland's capital has no numbing Underground: its urban railway carves through the real world at balcony height. London is losing its charm brick by brick, but most of Dublin is preserved as a study in Georgian nonchalance. Pubs in central London are all flash and fizz, while drinking in downtown Dublin is a treat to be savoured sip by silken sip.

Dublin has a thoroughly human quality, though its weatherworn face has picked up a few scars. (Whoever had the awful idea of turning the river Liffey into a central reservation between traffic flow and counter-flow, should be forced to cross the urban motorway a dozen times a day.)

The city is now more cheaply and easily accessible than any other overseas capital. And though Ireland is across the sea, it is still close to home and only slightly foreign: you need no passport, and the currency is more or less on a par with Sterling. James Joyce's Ulysses describes a day of meanderings in Dublin; the following itinerary concentrates less on serious drinking and more on the latest additions to the capital's tourism repertoire, but is also a sound basis for improvisation.

That jaunty little figure, frozen in the act of wheeling from Earl Street North into O'Connell Street, is Joyce himself. The author's statue stands just across the road from the heart of Irish nationalism: the General Post Office, on which the 1916 Easter Rising was centred. The nation's largest tricolour flutters above it, splashing the sky with green, orange and white - colours which will become increasingly prominent as Ireland challenges for the World Cup.

Leaving cultural and sporting achievements aside, dive into one of the nearby cafes for a cut-price cholesterol feast. O'Connell Street is the commercial spine of the city, and breakfast battles are fought between restaurateurs; you need not pay more than a couple of pounds for all the tea, toast and assertively fried things you can swallow.

O'Connell Street looks as though it should continue in grand fashion at least as far as the Ulster border, but in fact it dissolves a few hundred yards up the road into Parnell Square, whose Georgian symmetry is disrupted by an ad-hoc bus park. At number 18, a quill's throw from the pools of spilt diesel, is the Dublin Writers' Museum - one of the latest additions to the city's cultural surplus.

This elegant 18th-century mansion celebrates the Irish love affair with the written word. Dublin is the only place which has produced three winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. George Bernard Shaw, W B Yeats and Samuel Beckett are the Laureates, and share the museum with some impressive also-rans: Joyce, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde.

Ireland is first cousin to the Vatican, yet its capital has no Catholic cathedral. Indeed its most fascinating house of worship is the Protestant church of St Michan's. The Danes laid the foundations 899 years ago, but visitors are more interested in the grisly contents of the crypt. The dry air and constant temperature have mummified the corpses, and sightseers gawp at the perfect fingernails of a woman who died two centuries ago. If there is such a thing as a living necropolis, then this is it; the most recent funeral took place this year.

Most European cities follow certain conventions of civic geography. Prosperity and poverty, financial institutions and factories normally occupy discreet segments of the average city, but Dublin appears to have been apportioned on an entirely random basis.

Rooted among some low-rent housing and grandiose railway architecture, the Irish Museum of Modern Art is the city's most extravagant structure. The Royal Hospital, into which the gallery has been admitted, was built three hundred years ago as a home for retired soldiers (comparable to our Chelsea Hospital). Austere stonework forms a quadrangle, while perpendicular paths plough off to the horizon.

The chambers house a strange and befuddling collection of 20th-century exhibits. Derek Speirs' ruggedly proletarian photographs of Ireland At Work are on show until 21 August, while the human form splayed out in the centre of the courtyard is the work of Antony Gormley . His contributions (on display until 19 June) continue upstairs, with a bed made of stale bread, and an army of 38,000 terracotta figures - each resembling the image in Munch's The Scream.

The cows grazing in the field outside have more contented faces. Their good nature may have something to do with the vaguely alcoholic vapour in the air. Its source is St James's Gate, where Arthur Guinness began brewing in 1759.

To visit the brewery is to be intoxicated by an atmosphere heavy with hops and fermentation, and dazzled by shining copperwork of implausible dimensions. Unfortunately, you can't; the company has stopped the free brewery tour, and replaced it with a pounds 2 tacky trip around a converted hop store across the road. A free glass of stout is included, but it has to be swallowed in the Sample Room, whose ambience is as charmless as its title.

The same bitter smoothness can be enjoyed in more sublime circumstances around the corner at Paddy Hannan's bar - and you need not pay to get in.

The capital is at last breaking free from its culinary inbreeding. Crown Alley is crowded with cosmopolitan cuisines. The worst name but the best value is to be found at the Bad Ass Cafe, where a two-course pasta or pizza lunch costs only pounds 3.65. Take note of the person serving you: Sinead O'Connor once worked as a waitress here.

MAKING THE JOURNEY

Dublin is served by flights from five London airports. Virgin Atlantic (tel: 0293-747747) has daily flights from London City. An unrestricted return fare is pounds 237, but if you stay over a Saturday night the price drops to pounds 84.

Aer Lingus (tel: 081-899 4747) has a fare of pounds 69 for mid-week travel from Heathrow.

British Airways Express (tel: 0345-flies from Gatwick and charges pounds 89 if you book 14 days in advance.

Ryanair (tel: 071-435 7101) operates from both Luton and Stansted; its lowest fare is pounds 59.

The Airlink express coach between Dublin airport and the city centre takes 20 minutes and costs pounds 2.50.

Packages: Virgin Holidays (0293-617181) has a special deal for Independent readers: a two-night trip for two people to Dublin from City airport costs pounds 299.

Sights: Clarence Hotel, Essex Street East (tel: 677 6178); Dublin Writers' Museum, 18 Parnell Square (tel: 872 2077), open 10-5 daily, pounds 2.50; St Michan's, Church Street (tel: 872 4154), vault tours Mon-Fri 10-12.45 and 2-4.45, and and Sat mornings, pounds 1.20; Guinness Hop Store, Rainsford Street (tel: 453 6700), Mon-Fri 10-4.30, pounds 2; Paddy Hannan's, 117 St James's St; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Kilmainham, Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun noon-5, free.)

Further information: The Irish Tourist Board, 150, New Bond St, London W1 (tel: 071-493 3201)

(Photograph omitted)

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