48 Hours in Dublin

In June it will be 100 years since Stephen Dedalus embarked on his wanderings around Dublin in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. And with the Irish capital such an inviting city for a weekend break, you could follow his lead, says Alex Leith


WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Get there before the crowds descend for this year's Bloomsday celebrations on 16 June, one of the highlights of Dublin's cultural calendar. The celebrations have already begun, as this year marks the centenary of the day when Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom began their wanderings around Dublin. The ReJoyce Dublin 2004 celebrations started on 1 April, with a programme of events until 31 August. For details, go to www.rejoycedublin2004.com.

BEAM DOWN

There's some competition for your custom: Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) offers flights from a number of airports, including Aberdeen and Bournemouth. Aer Lingus (0845 084 4444; www.aerlingus.ie) flies from Glasgow, Edinburgh,Manchester, Birmingham, Jersey, London Heathrow and Bristol. Expect to pay between £60-£100 return. BMI (0870 607 0555; www.flybmi.co.uk) FlyBe (0871 700 0535; www.flybe.com) and British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) also offer flights. The airport is 20-minute drive north of the centre. A taxi costs around €20 (£14) one-way. Alternatively, catch the Aircoach (00 353 1844 7118; www.aircoach.ie), which drops passengers at several central locations, including O'Connell Street. This costs €7 (£4.70) one-way or €12 (£8) return and operates daily every 15 minutes between 4.30am and 12am.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Low-rise Dublin sprawls round Dublin Bay from the suburbs of Dalkey in the south to Howth in the north. Through the centre snakes the River Liffey, cutting the city in two and creating two tribes of Dubliners; Southsiders and Northsiders. Most of the city's main attractions are located in a single square mile: the raucous pub-filled Temple Bar district; elegant Trinity College; car-free Grafton Street; St Stephen's Green and Merrion Square, green clearings in the grey stone jungle. The tourist office Suffolk Street, ( www.visitdublin.com/ www.dublintourist.com) is 10 minutes walk from O'Connell Street. You can't miss it: it's housed in a old Gothic church (open 10.30am-5.30pm,Monday-Saturday, 10.30am-7pm in July and August; 10.30am-3pm Sunday and Bank holidays).

CHECK IN

The Shelbourne 27 St Stephen's Green, (00 353 1663 4500; www.shelbourne.ie) is a luxurious Neoclassical pile overlooking St Stephen's Green, with a history to match its classy façade and plush interior: the first constitution of the Irish Free State was drafted there. A double room will set you back €235 (£168), including breakfast. If you can't afford to stay there, at least treat yourself to cream tea in the Lord Mayor's Lounge at €54 (£39) for two people, 3pm-5pm. A good mid-range central option is the Mercer Hotel, Lower Mercer Street (00 353 1478 2179; www.mercerhotel.ie), €165 (£117) for a double room with breakfast. A budget option is Avalon House, 55 Aungier Street (00 3533 1478 2300) - beds start at €27 (£19) a night. There are also plenty of B&Bs - expect to pay upwards of €35 (£25) per person, per night. The tourist office will sort out your accommodation. If you're looking for budget beds, try Two Fat Monkeys, in the same building (00 353 1605 7702).

TAKE A VIEW

Dublin's biggest tourist attraction is the Guinness Storehouse, St James' Gate (00 353 1408 4800; www.guinness-storehouse.com), on the west side of the city centre. You get detailed knowledge of the history of the black stuff, then you exchange a token for a pint in the Gravity Bar, a glass-fronted room that affords a fine view of the city. There are quotes from James Joyce about the various landmarks. It would be interesting to hear what the writer would have to say about the Millennium Spire, the 120m needle built in 2003 in O'Connell Street.

TAKE A HIKE

Follow Stephen Dedalus's footsteps down Sandymount Strand, a long beach south of the city centre, of such shallow slope that low tide makes it two miles wider, creating a temporary expanse of wilderness.

TAKE A RIDE

Dubliners have become used to the sight of three colourful Second World War amphibious vehicles that whisk tourists round town and plop briefly into the Grand Canal Basin. This is the Viking Splash Tour, 64-65 St. Patrick Street, (00 353 1707 6000; www.vikingsplashtours.com). Trips leave every half-hour or so - it's worth ringing to reserve your place. Tickets cost €14.50 (£10) or €15.95 (£11) at weekends and in July/August. The guide also divulges fascinating titbits about the city (did you know that Adolf Hitler's half-brother Alois once worked as a waiter in the Shelbourne hotel?) Alternatively, the Dart light railway from north to south offers fine views of Dublin Bay.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Irish whiskey used to be more sought-after than Scotch, until its two main markets collapsed after independence from Britain and prohibition in the USA. Now it is enjoying a renaissance, though much of the best stuff can only be bought in Ireland. The Celtic Whiskey Shop 27-28 Dawson Street (00 353 1675 9744; www.celticwhiskeyshop.com) lets you taste the wares before buying. Try the Redbreast Pure Pot Still 12-year-old, which is distilled through local peat. Dublin's swankiest department store is Brown Thomas (00 353 1605 6666) located at 88-95 Grafton Street. For a more eclectic mixture, try Castle Market.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Sample traditional Irish food - roast meat and two veg - at the mahogany-panelled O'Neills 2 Suffolk Street (00 353 1679 3671). It serves roast beef and horseradish sauce, Irish corned beef and cabbage or turkey and ham and cranberry sauce for €10 (£7) per person.

AN APERITIF

In the plush Octagon Bar at the Clarence Hotel, 6-8 Wellington Quay (00 353 1670 9000; www.theclarence.ie), many are hoping to glimpse the hotel's owners, Bono and the Edge from U2. There's an extensive and imaginatively named cocktail list, priced from €10.50 (£7.50).

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

The intimately lit Les Frères Jacques 74, Dame Street (00 353 1679 4555) offers Irish seafood doctored by a French chef. From the set menu, try out the grilled blue lobster at €36 (£26) per pound or the half-dozen West Coast rock lobsters for €9.20 (£6.60). There's a set four-course menu for €35 (£25) per person without wine. A cheaper place is Tante Zoe's at 1 Crow Street (00 353 1679 4407; www.tantezoes.com), a Cajun/Creole restaurant in Temple Bar that specialises in seafood gumbo and blackened chicken. A two-course meal costs around €20 (£14.30), but double that with wine. Dunne and Crescenzi, 14, South Frederick Street (00 353 1675 9892) is a small, intimate Italian restaurant, which serves excellent pasta. Set dinner starts at €25 (£18); house wine is €10 (£7).

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

St Patrick's Cathedral, Patrick Street (00 353 1475 4817; www.stpatrickscathedral.ie), a magnificent Gothic building, was used by Dublin's large refugee Huguenot population in the 17th century, and has given Protestant services ever since, with the church's famous choir singing six days a week. A carved epitaph marks the resting place of its former dean, Jonathan Swift. Check out the medieval door hanging in the north transept with a hole hacked out in the middle. To show his good faith, "Black James" Bentley chanced his arm during a feud in 1492 by thrusting it through the hole at the mercy of the Fitzgerald family's swords (hence the expression). There are daily services at 8.30am, 11.15am and 3.15pm. Entry is €4.20 (£3) at other times.

OUT TO BRUNCH

The Café en-Seine, 40 Dawson Street (00 353 1677 4567) is a scream - a huge café-bar furnished with over-the-top Art Deco fittings. The kitchen serves full Irish breakfast for €10 (£7). Sit next to the Louis XIV bust and enjoy the sound of jazz.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The recently refurbished National Gallery, Merrion Square West, (open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Thursday 10am-8.30pm, Sunday 12-5pm, free entry) has a fine collection of European works (including Caravaggio and Vermeer) and gives a good idea of the history of Irish art. There is an interesting portrait of Bono by one of Ireland's best-known artists, Louis Le Brocquy.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Phoenix Park on the north side of the Liffey is the biggest enclosed park in Europe. This is home to the Aras an Uachtaráin (the Irish president's residence), a cricket club, a polo field and 300 fallow deer whose lineage can be traced back to 1662. It is also used to stage visits from those who demand larger audiences than any conventional setting can house, such as the Pope and Robbie Williams.

WRITE A POSTCARD

Patrick Kavanagh, one of Ireland's favourite poets, asked to be commemorated "with no hero-courageous tomb, just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by". The city council obliged: now a bronze statue of the artist sits on Wilton Terrace looking over a stretch of the Grand Canal.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

...is Dublin's pub scene. There's a reason why these wood-panelled chatter-holes have been copied the world over. For a music session, try O'Donague's at 15 Lower Baggot Street. On Saturday night, check out the Stag's Head, 1 Dame Court. Mulligan's, Poolbeg Street, is famed for serving the best pint of Guinness, and Keogh's, South Anne Street, has recently opened up its upstairs living rooms. Otherwise, just follow the craic. But don't smoke unless you're well outside the door.

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