My Kind of Place: Dublin's energy is infectious
Ireland's capital city has had its fair share of prosperity and conflict since it was founded as a Viking settlement in the ninth century, but visitors are drawn to Dublin for its cultural history and energy - its writers, who include Joyce, Shaw, Wilde, Beckett and Yeats, have won four Nobel Prizes for Literature; it is the home of U2, Enya, The Corrs and Riverdance; and its theatrical productions tour the world. Its peaceful setting between Dublin Bay and the Dublin Mountains is also a draw, but it is Dubliners' down-to-earth wit and charm that win over most visitors.
Since the Celtic Tiger economic boom ended in 2007, Ireland has experienced a financial crisis, but while Dubliners have been feeling the economic pressure, there is a mood of determination to remain upbeat, and there's always a welcome for visitors, who are benefiting from reduced prices since the boom.
The quality of life allows you to escape from the city's Georgian squares or new docklands to the sea or the mountains, for an after-work stroll or an evening's sail on the bay, and then be back in the city in time for a gig, dinner or the theatre, without hours of travel or planning.
A comfortable bed
The Shelbourne (www.theshelbourne.ie; 00 353 1 663 4500), a five-star hotel overlooking the gardens of St Stephen's Green, is a Dublin institution. Built in 1824, it has long been at the centre of the Dublin social scene where the well-heeled meet for afternoon tea in the Lord Mayor's Lounge or for drinks in the Horseshoe Bar. Double rooms cost from €199 (Dh947) per night, including breakfast. A new spa opens in late spring. The Westbury Hotel (www.doylecollection.com/westbury; 00 353 1 679 1122) off Grafton Street offers afternoon tea in the Gallery Lounge, accompanied by the tinkling of the grand piano. Double rooms cost from €229 (Dh1,089) per night, with breakfast costing from €18 (Dh85) per person.
In the heart of the Georgian area, just beside Merrion Square, The Merrion Hotel (www.merrionhotel.com; 00 353 1 603 0600) has grand interiors but the turf fires give it a relaxed feel. Double rooms cost from €505 (Dh2,403) per night. For something more quirky, the Dylan Hotel on Eastmoreland Place (www.dylan.ie; 00 353 1 660 3000) is a boutique design hotel with rooms featuring red velvet wallpaper, vintage silver crystal and Belleek pottery. Double rooms start from €229 (Dh1,074) including breakfast.
Find your feet
The best way to get around is to walk as there are plenty of pedestrianised areas and shortcuts. Start at Trinity College (founded in 1592), where you can stroll through cobbled squares and parks and visit the Book of Kells, a ninth-century manuscript which was illustrated by monks. From here, walk across to Temple Bar to potter around the cultural quarter. Adjacent to Temple Bar, on Dame Street, the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle has a collection of ancient manuscripts including 6,000 Islamic items, with more than 250 Qurans, some dating from the eighth and ninth century, as well as biblical material.
At the end of Dame Street is Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin's oldest building which was founded in 1030. Next door, the Dublinia and the Viking World exhibition is worth a visit for a glimpse into the city's Viking past. Don't miss the Queen of Tarts cafe (www.queenoftarts.ie) near Dublin Castle for fresh pastries.
Meet the locals
Dublin's social life centres on its pub culture, with more than 700 public houses, from traditional pubs such as McDaids and Kehoe's, with ornate interiors and wooden bars, to modern ones such as the Parisian-themed Café en Seine. Most serve food at lunchtime and coffee during the day.
Dubliners love live music and you'll see plenty of buskers, many hoping to become "the next U2" (who themselves started out by busking here). For traditional music, drop into O'Donoghue's pub on Merrion Row, The Brazen Head, which dates back to 1198, or Oliver St John Gogarty in Temple Bar. Take the Rock 'n' Stroll trail to link the city's musical connections, such as The Corrs, Sinead O'Connor, The Dubliners and, of course, U2.
Grafton Street, in the south city centre, is the main shopping street. For international brands, visit Brown Thomas department store near the bottom of the street. Take the side street off Grafton Street beside Bewley's Café for Powerscourt Centre. The restored Georgian townhouse is home to The Design Centre, showcasing Irish designers, and with antique shops on the upper floors. At the weekend, head to Temple Bar for the Food Market in Meeting House Square (Saturday 10am to 4.30pm), a foodie's paradise offering artisan cheeses and an oyster bar, the book market in Temple Bar Square (Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 5pm) or the designer fashion mart at Cow's Lane (Saturday 10am to 5pm).
Book a table
Dublin has six restaurants with Michelin stars. Among the best is the two-star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud (www.restaurantpatrickguilbaud.ie; 00 353 1 676 4192) an elegant French restaurant beside the Merrion Hotel. Start with drinks in the drawing room before moving into the art-filled restaurant for dishes such as crab cannelloni or roast partridge (a two-course dinner costs €85; Dh404). For food on the go, Leo Burdock's on Werburgh Street near Christ Church (www.burdocks.ie; 00 353 1 454 0306) has been an institution since 1913 for its takeaway fish and chips (€8.90; Dh42) - it's popular so be prepared to queue.
What to avoid
Look out for pickpockets, and stay away from the north part of the city late at night. Smoking is banned in all workplaces, including pubs and restaurants, but many have designated smoking areas.
Take the DART suburban rail south to Sandycove to the James Joyce Museum at Martello Tower, or go north to Howth village, where the day's catch is served at seafood restaurants in the area, such as King Sitric (www.kingsitric.ie; 00 353 832 5235) . Walk up to Howth Summit for views over the bay and the city.