x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

City of joy and James Joyce

A weekend guide to Dublin Old and new, traditional and unorthodox, a profusion of different cultures, Dublin is a city of contrasts.

The Liffey runs through the middle of Dublin and can be admired from its pedestrian bridges.
The Liffey runs through the middle of Dublin and can be admired from its pedestrian bridges.

The economic marvel that transformed Dublin over the past 20 years from being one of Western Europe's most homogenous and poorest capital cities into a cosmopolitan hub may have recently lost its shine thanks to the downturn, but the city retains much of the youthful vibrancy for which it has become renowned. One of the joys of Dublin is its contrasts - old and new, traditional and unorthodox, a profusion of different cultures - which, no matter how seemingly incongruous they become, always retain an essentially Irish character. Many years of prosperity attracted people from around the world, fostering new cultural, artistic and business ventures and leading to a truly multicultural melting pot - from Russian to Korean, Polish to Vietnamese. As a result, the city's restaurants and shops are world class.

Yet this influx of wealth and people has not smothered Irish traditions. For people in search of vintage Dublin, many traditional haunts can still be found down the city's backstreets and alleyways. Its Georgian architecture is magnificent and its streets are steeped in a rich literary history, most famously as the setting for James Joyce's novel Ulysses.

Despite its variety, Dublin is no sprawling metropolis. Walking across its compact and historic centre is easy. Weather permitting, it is the best way to get around. The manicured lawns of Trinity College are a good place to start. Stroll through the grounds of Ireland's oldest and most prestigious university before joining the queue to see one of the most famous books in the world. The Book of Kells, written in the 9th century, is an illuminated manuscript in Latin of the four Gospels of the New Testament. Only two of its lavishly decorated pages are on display at a time, but it is worth jostling through the crowds for a glimpse.

A more leisurely and ultimately more satisfying experience is on offer at the nearby Chester Beatty Library, home to a private collection of manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books from 2700BC to the last century. For something more contemporary, head to Hugh Lane Gallery to see the reconstructed studio of the artist Francis Bacon or to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which puts on excellent exhibitions.

Most people in search of green spaces head for St Stephen's Green, but Merrion Square, with its grand Georgian buildings, pristine flower beds and a statue of Oscar Wilde laying languorously on a rock, is a great place to soak up the sun (if and when it shines). Many people flock to Dublin for the St Patrick's Day parades on March 17, but Bloomsday (June 16), which celebrates the life of James Joyce and the events which took place in his book Ulysses on the same day in Dublin in 1904, is a more rarefied and quirky event. Devotees dress up in Edwardian garb, retrace the route of the book's protagonist, Leopold Bloom, and put on performances and readings from the book.

Budget If you are in the city during the academic summer holidays (June to September) and can book well in advance, the rooms in Trinity College are an atmospheric and centrally located place to stay. Double rooms cost from US$108 (Dh400) per night. At all other times of the year, Avalon House is clean and basic with free Wi-Fi and internet access. Double rooms cost from $87 (Dh320) per night.

Trinity College, College Green, Dublin 2 (www.tcd.ie/accommodation/Visitors; 00 353 1 896 1177) Avalon House, 55 Aungier Street, Dublin 2 (www.avalon-house.ie; 00 353 1 475 0001). Mid-range Elegant and charming, Number 31 occupies two beautifully renovated buildings - a Georgian house and a coach house - just off St Stephen's Green. Formerly the home of Sam Stephenson, an Irish modernist architect, it manages to combine traditional charm with quirkier elements such as a magnificent sunken lounge. Double rooms cost from $210 (Dh770).

Number 31, 31 Leeson Close, Dublin 2 (www.number31.ie; 00 353 1 676 5011). Luxury Located in the leafy cul-de-sac on the south-east fringes of the city centre, the 44-room Dylan is one of Dublin's finest boutique hotels. The imposing, redbrick façade of this former Victorian nurses' home gives way to a bold and funky interior, which struts confidently from art deco to ultra modern. The three-year old renovation cost over $34 million (Dh124m) and it shows most in the bedrooms, which include artfully integrated flat-screen televisions and heated tile floors in the bathrooms. Double rooms cost from $325 (Dh1,194) per night. Dylan, Eastmoreland Place, Dublin 4 (www.dylan.ie; 00 353 1 660 3000)

Breakfast If your lodgings do not serve up a robust Irish breakfast - different from its English counterpart because it is cooked in Irish butter rather than oil - then head to Honest to Goodness in George's Street Arcade. As the name suggests, this tiny cafe serves cheap and wholesome food including a wide range of excellent breads, which are baked on the premises.

Lunch With its outmoded crockery, shabby furniture and a name meaning a thin porridge often served as punishment, Gruel on Dame Street does not very sound promising. But people pack in elbow to elbow for simple and tasty food in an unpretentious atmosphere. The emphasis is on unfashionable but hearty dishes, such as braised lamb shank, beef stroganoff and coq au vin. The sandwiches made with the roasted meat of the day are excellent. Often the queue spills out into the street at busy times, so be prepared for a short wait.

Dinner The Winding Stair, Lower Ormond Quay (www.winding-stair.com) has been a Dublin institution since the 1970s. When this stylish restaurant and bookshop overlooking the River Liffey closed in 2005, many feared it was the end of a long and distinguished era. But since it reopened in 2006, this establishment has flourished. Dubliners come here to enjoy interesting and elegant starters, including rich chowders and smoked salmon and haddock, and huge mains, such as Irish bratwurst and bacon and cabbage, served up in a wooden-floored, book-lined space that oozes conviviality. Main courses from $20 (Dh75).

Return flights on Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) from Abu Dhabi to Dublin cost from $980 (Dh3,600), including taxes.

Before charting Leopold Bloom's epic journey around the city in Ulysses, James Joyce wrote Dubliners, a much shorter collection of 15 stories about life in "dear dirty Dublin" at the start of the 20th century.