The river Liffey divides Dublin into two distinct halves: the southside of the city and the north.
South of the River The southside of the city traditionally has been the domain of Dublin's middle-classes and is—generally speaking—more affluent than its northern counterpart.
Temple Bar Area A maze of cobblestone nooks and crooked crannies, between Dame Street and the Liffey, Temple Bar is still Dublin's most upwardly mobile area. In the 1980s, the district was scheduled to be demolished to make way for a vast bus station, but was saved by some last-minute planning decisions and became instead the focus of Dublin's urban regeneration scheme throughout the 1990s. Every turn uncovers more distinctive shops and another trendy arts centre. With music and television recording studios, the excellent Irish Film Centre and other media magnets, this is where Dublin's cultural heart is to be found. By night, visitors (and some Dubliners) gravitate towards Temple Bar and its environs to socialise. Here, above a former Viking settlement, they come to soak up the cafe culture or have a drink in one of the ever-growing number of bars and pubs. The atmosphere in the area has been much improved as a result of the decision to ban stag parties from the area on weekends; you'll still, however, find the streets and lanes thronged after dark.
Medieval Dublin The area around Temple Bar flows seamlessly into the historic heart of the city. Dublin Castle is the former seat of British power and home to the Viceroys of Ireland. With its ornate dining hall, crystal chandeliers and prestigious state rooms, the Castle still constitutes a powerful symbol of the British colonial presence—even though today the Castle witnesses the inaugurations of the Presidents of Ireland. Also contained in the large Castle complex is the marvelous Chester Beatty Library , one of the world's great treasure houses of Islamic and Oriental art. On the edge of the Castle lies the refurbished City Hall . The great domed atrium of the building—originally founded in the 18th century to house the Royal Exchange—is one the city's most beautiful and impressive spaces. Dublin Castle and the twin medieval cathedrals of St Patrick and Christchurch , are some of the oldest and most significant buildings in Dublin.
Tucked behind St Patrick's is the exquisite Marsh's Library , set amid formal gardens and housed in a beautiful Queen Anne mansion. The interior is no less marvelous: the library still features a cage in which scholars were locked whilst consulting the Library's most treasured possessions. Marsh's is one of Dublin's hidden jewels and holds a wide array of manuscripts and first editions, as well as a considerable collection of Turkish, Hebrew and Arabic printings.
Trinity College - Trinity is a famous seat of learning and one of the great universities of Europe. The long list of famous alumni includes Samuel Beckett, Edmund Burke and Oscar Wilde. Trinity was founded by Elizabeth I in order to save the Irish from 'popery' and for centuries remained a bastion of British culture in Ireland. As a result, until the 1970s Catholics could only attend the college with a special dispensation from the Archbishop of Dublin; today, however, they form 70% of the student population. The College unfolds from Front Gate in a series of elegant quadrangles, which in turn give way to College Park, home to cricket matches on langorous summer afternoons. You should make a point of visiting the Berkeley Library in Fellows Square, which is the best example of modernist architecture in the city and the College Chapel in Front Square. Trinity's greatest treasure, however, is the beautiful illuminated medieval manuscript called the Book of Kells , housed in the great vaulted Long Room—perhaps the finest interior in Dublin.
Georgian Dublin The elegant charm of southeast Dublin stands as a testament to Georgian urban design. Amongst the throngs of tourists is the exquisite Merrion Square complete with beautiful central gardens and a wonderful memorial to Oscar Wilde, who lived in the square in his youth. Other alumni of the Square include W.B. Yeats, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and the great Liberator himself, Daniel O'Connell. More recently, the British Embassy occupied the east side of Merrion Square until it was burned to the ground in 1972 in the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday killings in Derry. Nearby, Fitzwilliam Square is much smaller and more intimate and is the best preserved of Dublin's great set-piece Georgian squares.
A few minutes walk west brings one to the lovely open space that is St Stephen's Green , which undoubtedly forms the centrepiece of 18th-century Dublin's impressive town planning. Many notable buildings surround the Green, including the Royal College of Surgeons, still pockmarked with bullets from the 1916 Easter Rising, and the Shelbourne , Dublin's original posh hotel and still the best spot for afternoon tea in the city. Newman House , two Georgian townhouses on the south side of the Green which were the original home of University College Dublin, have been superbly restored, and today their fantastic internal decorations can be seen in all their splendour. The central gardens of the Green feature a lake and many statues, including tributes to Yeats and Countess Marcievicz. The statue of Wolfe Tone in the southwest corner of the Green was blown up by loyalist terrorists in 1979. Once his head was (luckily) discovered by the Shelbourne hotel, the statue was reconstructed. Grafton Street runs into the northeastern corner of the Green and is a shopper's paradise, but in your purchasing frenzy don't forget the National Gallery , National Museum or Leinster House, home of the Irish parliament ( Dail Eireann ), which are all of enormous cultural interest.
Liberties Inherited its name from its days as a toll-free district. Brick Lane and Francis Street boast a glittering array of antique shops and the colourful Mother Redcap's market.
Kilmainham The greatest attraction of this western district is undoubtedly Kilmainham Gaol . The leaders of the 1916 Rising were executed here, radicalizing the Irish public and marking the beginning of the end of the British administration in Dublin. The old jail was built according to the Enlightenment principles of panopticism or continual surveillance. It has found stardom in its own right, featuring in such films as In the Name of the Father, and includes an excellent museum documenting colonial history and political martyrdom in Ireland. Also in the Kilmainham area is the Irish Museum of Modern Art which opened in 1991. It has become a key Irish cultural institution. IMMA is housed in the former Royal Hospital, constructed in 1684 as a home for retired soldiers; and well worth seeing in its own right. The museum also features the beautifully restored chapel and a fine baroque formal garden. Nearby also lies the Guinness Storehouse which pays homage to one of Ireland's biggest—and most enjoyed—exports.
North of the River The northern districts of Dublin never really recovered after being abandoned by the professional middle classes, who migrated south of the river or left for London after the Act of Union in 1801. Once home to Europe's worst city slum, times are changing, but gentrification is still a relatively slow process in comparison to the rate of development in areas south of the Liffey.
O'Connell Street The main artery of Dublin's city centre has been sadly neglected in recent years, but now seems due for revival. The grand, broad and tree-lined boulevard has suffered from intrusions of fast-food outlets, but ambitious plans are now afoot to return to its former reputation as Main Street, Ireland. This should not, perhaps, prove too difficult: all of O'Connell Street's main institutions remain in place: the Gresham Hotel , Clery's department store, Eason bookshop and the Gate Theatre . O'Connell Street is also home to Dublin's most potent symbol—the General Post Office (GPO). In 1916, the GPO served as headquarters of the Easter Rising, and the proclamation of the Irish Republic was read from its steps. The building still bears the scars of the violence of those few days and retains its radical credentials to this day, remaining the favourite choice of location for any demonstration. Georgian Parnell Square, the Dublin Writers Museum and the fine Hugh Lane Municipal Museum of Art are the other major points of interest in this area. Close at hand, the elegant James Joyce Centre is housed in a fine Georgian townhouse.
North of O'Connell Street, in the Drumcondra area of the city, lies the Botanic Gardens , complete with impressive glasshouses and a riverside walk. Glasnevin Cemetery lies nearby and while a stroll through a graveyard might not seem like most people's idea of a jolly afternoon out, this particular cemetery lies close to the heart of Ireland's national psyche and houses the remains of a multitude of historical and cultural figures: de Valera, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Daniel O'Connell and Michael Collins are just some of the names on the cemetery's gravestones.
East of O'Connell Street lies Custom House Quay, set on fire by Sinn Fein supporters in the turmoil of 1921. Custom House is the 18th-century masterpiece of architect James Gandon and was long considered a powerful symbol of British colonialism. The restoration of the impressive, colonnade-lined structure we now see on the waterfront was finally completed in 1991. While the building now houses government offices, sections of the elegant interior are open to the public. While the Custom House is particularly imposing when illuminated at night, by day it is worth studying for the great statue of Commerce which adorns the tip of the copper dome, and for the representations of the gods of Ireland's 14 great rivers. (Worth noting: the only river deemed to be female is the Liffey herself.) Beyond the Custom House, the quays stretch for miles to the Pigeonhouse Fort, now an electricity generating station with candy-striped towers which have become something of a city landmark. The thin and low South Wall breakwater stretches a mile into Dublin Bay, culminating in the Poolbeg Lighthouse: it is probably the best place in Dublin for a bracing, seaside walk.
West of O'Connell Street, the city quays continue to the Four Courts , seat of the Irish justice system. Also designed by James Gandon, it survived damage in both the 1916 Rising before being extensively damaged in the Civil War of 1922. The building houses the High Court and Supreme Court of Ireland and, unfortunately, only the central atrium is open to the public. Behind the Four Courts lies Smithfield Village , once a working-class area of small cottages and a weekly horse market, and now the site of Dublin's most ambitious urban regeneration scheme to date. Many small cafes and restaurants have sprung up here in recent years. The centrepiece of the area, however, is the impressive National Museum at Collins Barracks , opened in 1997 and—in contrast to the original site at Kildare Street—emphasizing Ireland's recent history. There is also a strong focus on fashion and decorative art.
Phoenix Park is the lungs of the city. Covering 1752 acres, this is the largest city park in Europe and is the location of the Dublin Zoo and Aras an Uachtarain , the official residence of the President of Ireland. The Visitor Centre will help you get your bearings. Also worth visiting is the Papal Cross, raised as a memorial to the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979. Over a million people gathered in the park to hear the Pope utter his immortal line, "Young people of Ireland, I love you."
The Coast Dublin's proximity to the sea has always been one of its greatest assets, and there is much to see along the shoreline of Dublin Bay. The DART public metro, which hugs the coastline for miles, is a good way of orienting yourself. Coastal villages such as Dalkey, Killiney & Greystones all lie along the DART line and are worth visiting in their own right.
North of the Liffey estuary, Bull Island is a breezy bird sanctuary and home of one of the city's most exclusive golf courses, the Royal Dublin. North even more, the peninsula of Howth forms the northern arm of Dublin Bay and is a fine destination for a day out. Howth village is built around its pretty harbour, and apart from fine restaurants and fish and chip shops, is also the start of magnificent cliff walks to Howth Head and the Bailey Lighthouse. Howth Head and Howth summit afford sweeping views of Dublin and its bay.
South of the Liffey, prosperous suburbs follow the railway to Dun Laoghaire and beyond. The wide sands at Sandymount stretch for miles and the great harbour walls at Dun Laoghaire, one of engineering miracles of the 19th century, are a favourite walk for many Dubliners (20 minutes out and 20 minutes back). A little further out, the pretty village of Dalkey is a classified heritage area and haunt of the rich and famous (U2, Enya, Lisa Stansfield and more hang out in the area) and the sweep of Killiney Bay is compared (frequently and tediously, but truly) with the Bay of Naples.
A booming economy and a young, affluent urban population have both given rise to a surge of commercial development throughout Dublin's city centre. While the 1980s were arguably a depressing time for socialising in the city, Dubliners now have more disposable income than ever, and as a result, the restaurant and bar industry continues to thrive. Countless new pubs and eateries open monthly and a visitor to the city may be somewhat bewildered by the diversity of choices on offer.
Restaurants Dining in the city has become a more cosmopolitan experience than ever and includes everything from traditional Irish restaurants and American-styled diners to Italian pizzerias and Japanese noodle houses. Ireland has a particularly good reputation for the quality of its fresh produce from both land and sea. An obvious port of call if you're looking for a quick bite to eat is the Temple Bar area of the southside. Rather inappropriately labled Dublin's "Left Bank," this popular tourist area is packed with a variety of affordable eateries. Restaurants like the ever popular Elephant & Castle , Tante Zoe's , Yamamori Noodles , the Indonesian-themed Chameleon and the theatre-friendly Trocadero all offer a range of varied dining options that won't put too serious of a dent on your wallet. More upmarket, meanwhile, and considerably more sophisticated, Eden , Odessa and Cooke's are all stylish restaurants with excellent service and a modern, often innovative, approach to cooking.
The southside Georgian area that encompasses St Stephen's Green , Fitzwilliam and Merrion Square is considerably more affluent and the restaurants that boast such a prestigious address pride themselves on a more formal dining experience. The Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud , L'Ecrivain , and La Stampa have all won international acclaim, and often put emphasis on French cuisine. Reservations are almost essential in such restaurants, but the experience is usually worth it. Those seeking something a little different are advised to check out the Good World restaurant, Saagar or the critically-acclaimed Jacob's Ladder .
The northside of the city is not particularly well-served when it comes to quality eateries. The area's main thoroughfare is O'Connell Street, packed with fast food diners like McDonald's and Eddie Rocket's , has an occasional gem to be found if you look hard enough. 101 Talbot is a favorite with vegetarians, the Winding Stair cafe is an excellent spot for lunch, while the Chapter One restaurant in the basement of the Irish Writers' Museum remains very popular with discerning locals. The Halo restaurant in the Morrison Hotel, has a great reputation for itself, while the tiny Bangkok Cafe on Parnell Street has also won acclaim and serves authentic Thai cuisine in an unpretentious and friendly setting.
If you are travelling further afield, suburban areas such as Dun Laoghaire, Howth or Malahide offer a wide variety of quality restaurants, which are particularly noteworthy for their seafood. The King Sitric and Cavistons are both good options.
Bars and Pubs While Dubliners are wealthier, better-dressed and more culturally sophisticated than ever, some have argued that the city is fast losing its authenticity and character. The days of the traditional Dublin pub thriving with intellectual debate and spontaneous humor are certainly numbered, although it's possible to argue that the idea was a myth in the first place. Many traditional establishments, such as Farrington's , The Foggy Dew and the White Horse Inn have all undergone renovations. Much of the newer development is centered around the Temple Bar area: once a decaying part of the south city, the district is now thriving, and if you're staying in the area, you certainly won't have any difficulty finding somewhere to have a pint. Pubs like the Oliver St. John Gogarty and the eponymous Temple Bar Pub are almost permanently packed with visitors and (sometimes disgruntled) locals, and if it's a boisterous and convivial atmosphere you're in search of, look no further.
If Temple Bar is just a little too hectic for your liking, where can you go? That depends what you expect from a night out. More contemporary bars like the Bailey and the Front Lounge , put the emphasis on style and sophistication, and are generally full of stylishly attired twenty-somethings who enjoy chilling out in plush and expensive surroundings. For the die-hard fashion victim, the longer established Hogans and the Globe are arguably a little passe these days, but still draw a committed, hip and clued-in clientele. Many of these bars feature live DJs and are often open until late on the weekends.
The more seasoned drinkers amongst you might find this self-congratulatory bar scene a little smug, however. There are a significant number of Dubliners who would never be seen dead in these denizens of cool and prefer to stick to more traditional pubs, where the emphasis is on conversation and atmosphere, as opposed to music and style. Some include The Long Hall , Grogan's , Mulligan's , Kehoe's , The Stag's Head and McDaid's are all steeped in literary and musical heritage, and offer an atmosphere second to none, where you're also more likely to get a good pint of Guinness. For the more adventurous amongst you, the northside of the city also offers a variety of excellent pubs. Forever synonymous with the Abbey Theatre , the Flowing Tide is certainly worth a visit, as are the Welcome Inn , the Life Bar and the Kavanagh's (Gravediggers) , which takes its curious nickname from the fact that the pub is adjacent to the historical Glasnevin Cemetery.
If you have a somewhat nostalgic view of Ireland and expect a traditional music 'session' to be the staple of every pub, you're in for a disappointment. It can be found, but expect to go a little further afield than the immediate city centre: O'Sheas , O'Donoghues , the Harcourt Hotel and the Cobblestone in Smithfield are just a few.
Despite the huge number of bars and pubs across the city, Ireland's licensing laws still remain rather prohibitive. Pubs generally close at 11:30p (Th-Sa 12:30a), and nightclubs begin turning away customers as early as 2a. There are, of course, some exceptions: many of the larger, more popular pubs in the city have negotiated 'late' licences, which allows the establishment to remain open a little longer during the weekends. Finding somewhere to drink later than 2a is virtually impossible, however. There are a variety of wine bars in the Leeson Street that serve until the late hours, but alcohol is often scandalously over-priced and the atmosphere has a reputation for being rather seedy. You're probably best off just going to bed, in the hope that your hangover won't prevent you from rising early the next morning to do some sightseeing.
Dublin has become an increasingly popular holiday destination and, unsurprisingly, there are several guided tours available for visitors who wish to familiarize themselves with the city's cultural and historical legacy. If you're a little more adventurous, however, and feel like going it alone, here are two self-guiding excursions: an introduction to some of the highlights of literary Dublin, and a delightful train journey along the scenic east coast.
TOUR 1: Literary Dublin Dublin offers bookworms endless possibilities when following the trail of literary figures, both fictional and in the real lives of their creators. A visit of every single sight of literary significance in a single day would constitute a physical impossibility, therefore this tour offers a mere taster of places of literary interest.
The natural introduction to Dublin's literary world and obvious starting point is the Dublin Writers Museum on Parnell Square. This museum, set in a restored 18th century townhouse, gives a broad introduction to the authors and works of literature that have put Dublin on the map—starting with the first Gaelic translation of the Old Testament and continuing on to modern classics. Downstairs in the Gorham Library you can find a wide collection of first editions and various exhibits from the private lives of the writers, including correspondence and other memorabilia. Upstairs houses the Gallery of Writers. Sumptuously decorated in white and gold, with ornate doors and a stucco ceiling, there are frequent poetry recitals and lectures held here.
Walk up Great Denmark Street to where it meets North Great George's Street. You will pass Belvedere College—the prestigious school that was built as a Catholic answer to Trinity College and where Dublin's beloved James Joyce (1882-1941) spent his unhappy school days.
If you walk back down along North Great George's Street you will come to the James Joyce Centre , an absolute must for any Joyce enthusiast. Located on the city's northside, which was Joyce's own stomping ground, a short walk affords a glimpse of no. 7 Eccles Street - home to Leopold and Molly Bloom in Joyce's epic novel. The centre itself is a beautifully and lavishly restored Georgian townhouse which also is featured (albeit in a minor role) in Ulysses. The building is a rare example of Michael Stapleton's stucco mouldings, which makes it one of Dublin's most prized museums, even without the Joyce exhibits. Talks are regularly held here, and exhibits detailing Joyce's literary and private life, including an exhibition of prized family portraits, are all on display.
The Joyce Centre is also the chief organizer of the annual Bloomsday celebration. Every year Joyce enthusiasts congregate on June 16th to make a pilgrimage to important points of reference in the novel Ulysses. There is also a Ulysses portrait gallery with depictions of some of the many hundred characters that appear in the novel. The Guinness Library houses a collection of different editions and translations of Joyce's work, so you can read up on what all the fuss is about.
Cross Parnell Street and continue down Malborough Street until you reach Abbey Lower Street. Number 26 is the Abbey Theatre , effectively Ireland's national theatre, which continues to promote Irish talent. Founded as the Irish Literary Theatre in 1904 by W.B. Yeats and other members of the Irish Literary Society, it gained notoriety for upsetting nationalist sensibilities with the 1926 staging of Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars. Over the years, the theatre continued to gain a reputation for controversy, often requiring a heavy police presence to avoid bloodshed. The original building was lost to fire in 1955 and replaced by the current (architecturally undistinguished) Abbey in 1961.
Continue down Abbey Street Lower until you reach O'Connell Street Lower, then turn left into it and head over the river. Now in the historical heart of Dublin, head straight for Trinity College in the middle of College Green. Trinity College, like Oxford or Cambridge, is a famous seat of learning with a long list of distinguished ex-students. They include: Oscar Wilde—renowned playwright and author of the Importance of Being Earnest; Samuel Beckett—author of Waiting for Godot; Jonathan Swift—author of Gulliver's Travels; Bram Stoker— Dracula; and J.M. Synge—who wrote The Playboy of the Western World. This last piece caused such outrage when it was staged at The Abbey in 1907, that police were required to avoid serious violence.
Facing College Green is the college's West Front, framed by two statues of distinguished ex-students: the philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke and the poet Oliver Goldsmith. Try to ignore the frenzy of tourists at Trinity and enjoy the beautiful and inspiring surroundings by wandering around the quads. But eventually, it's time to follow the herd of visitors and head for the Old Library, which is easily accessible from Fellows Square. The greatest treasure of the Old Library is undoubtedly the Book of Kells —Ireland's most richly decorated manuscript, containing the Four Gospels in Latin. The beautiful calligraphy and intricate detail make it immediately obvious as to why the Book of Kells is one of Ireland's most prized treasures. Legend has it that Queen Victoria graffitied the book with her signature!
Amble over from College Green to St Stephen's Green at a nicely relaxed pace—the quickest route is to cross Nassau Street and head straight down Dawson Street. This beautiful and spacious green was intended by the Georgian town planners as the centrepiece for the elegant development of the city. Such elegance can still be seen in the design of Fitzwilliam and Merrion Squares. Apart from a beautiful and inspiring place to take a walk, St Stephen's Green also pays homage to two of Dublin's most prized literary greats: Joyce and Yeats. W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) was arguably Ireland's greatest poet, winning the Nobel prize in 1923. The statue in honor of him, on St Stephen's Green , is by Henry Moore.
Leave the Green using the southwest corner, where it meets Cuffe Street and Harcourt Street. Continue down Harcourt Street until you reach Camden Place on your right—the third turning will be Synge Street. Number 33 Synge Street was the birthplace of the renowned playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), author of Pygmalion and yet another Nobel laureate (he donated a substantial share of the prize money to the National Gallery). The house where Shaw lived with his family until he was ten-years-old has been furnished in authentic Victorian style and, although there are few original Shaw family belongings, it manages to capture the sombre mood of the stiff society and crumbling family life that featured so heavily in Shaw's household at the time.
TOUR 2: A Day Trip on the DART Line With crippling traffic problems that can bring the city to a virtual stand-still at rush hour, Dubliners should indeed be thankful for the DART. An electrified light-rail system that has just one line, the route stretches 25 miles from the picturesque village of Howth all the way south to Bray. A trip on this regular and surprisingly clean service is about a pleasant and stress-free journey as you can have in Dublin. The DART line also takes in some of the city's most charming suburban villages, and if you purchase a one-day pass from Dublin Bus, you can hop on and off the train as you please. It's an ideal way to explore the outlying areas of this rapidly expanding city.
If you're in the city centre you can board the DART train at either Connolly or the Tara Street Station, both of which are within walking distance of O'Connell Street. Alternatively, the Pearse Street station is located at Westland Row. You have the option of travelling either northbound or southbound: both destinations put a variety of entertainment options and historical landmarks at your disposal.
Southbound (City Centre to Bray) A journey from the Tara Street station to the seaside town of Bray (at the outskirts of Co. Wicklow) will take just under an hour. Once leaving the city centre, you'll pass by stops at Ringsend, before the train joins the coast, and the line curves around the majestic Dublin Bay. Travelling through Sandymount, with its fine strand and spectacular views of the Wicklow mountains, you'll then arrive at Booterstown, an affluent Dublin suburb. As you travel further south, you'll pass through the bustling town of Blackrock, renowned for its restaurants and weekend market ; the suburbs of Salthill and Monkstown; and the town of Dun Laoghaire. Originally known as Kingstown, Dun Laoghaire is an elegant Victorian port with imposing harbour walls and a rocky beach, and the town serves as a popular spot for those with a passion for sailing. Dun Laoghaire is also a thriving commercial district and features a reasonably good shopping mall in the centre of town.
Travelling through Seapoint, the next stop is Sandycove. A seaside village popular with some of Dublin's more fashionable suburbanites, Sandycove is home to the famous Forty Foot bathing place and a curious Martello Tower , which features as a location in the opening chapter of Joyce's Ulysses. Built originally by the British during the Napoleonic wars, there are several such towers scattered across the Dublin coastline. Joyce himself lived here during 1904, and the tower now houses a museum in tribute to his staggering contribution to Irish literature.
Passing through the mainly residential area of Glenegeary, you'll soon arrive at Dalkey: a historic town favored by both Irish and international celebrities, whose homes on the Hill command enviable views of Dublin Bay. This well-preserved Medieval village dates back over 3500 years and is highly regarded for its seafood restaurants and charming pubs. A visit to the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre provides a fascinating insight into this delightful, but rather exclusive area; and if you're feeling particularly adventurous, hire a boat out to the deserted Dalkey Island and explore the ruins of an early Christian church.
Killiney, which is the next stop on the line, is rather comically known as the Irish "Bay of Naples," and its pebbly beach is much loved by Dubliners in search of the sun. The DART stop is adjacent to the beach and offers fine panoramic views of the whole area. Passing through Shankhill, you'll find yourself crossing over the county border, and into Wicklow, which is known colloquially as the "garden of Ireland." Immortalized in Neil Jordan's movie The Miracle, Bray is a curious town: its rather gaudy seafront, lined with amusement arcades and hoards of bed & breakfast guesthouses, seems right out of another age, but with city centre house prices in Dublin being what they are, it's still a bustling neighborhood. A somewhat arduous walk up Bray Head is rewarding: the view from the top will really make your day trip worthwhile.
Northbound (City Centre to Howth) The northside of Dublin is changing fast, and there's no better way to view the city's economic and social diversity than from the comfort of the train. Like many aspects of Irish life, the social geography of northside Dublin is somewhat contradictory: prosperous suburbs like Howth and Malahide sit uncomfortably with economically stagnant areas such as Harmonstown and Killester.
Boarding at Connolly, the first stop on the route is Clontarf Road. Although the station is some distance from the village itself, Clontarf is certainly worth a visit, not least for its signature building, the Castle, and a plethora of fine restaurants. You'll also pass by Dollymount Strand and Bull Island, the latter of which is the only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in a capital city, and home to a wide variety of domestic wildlife and birds. A visit to the Island's comprehensive Interpretative Centre on Causeway Road will fill you in on the area and the intriguing history of the origins of Bull Island itself.
Next on the line is the town of Killester: a solidly working class neighborhood probably best known for Roddy Doyle's affectionate representations of its people in the Barrytown trilogy of novels: The Commitments, The Van and The Snapper. The villages of Harmonstown, Raheny and Kilbarrack are all residential areas; stay on the train here, continuing north through the neighborhoods of Bayside and Sutton.
You'll then arrive at Howth Junction. Remain on the train if you wish to visit the seaside town of Howth, but transfer for Portmarnock and Malahide. Both of these villages were originally industrial ports, and unsurprisingly feature an abundance of quality seafood restaurants. Locally known as the "velvet strand," Portmarnock offers fine views of both Lambay Island and Ireland's Eye, and is also home to one of the finest golf courses in the country. Malahide features an impressive marina with over 300 berths, and is a popular destination for yachts visiting from overseas. The town also boasts a fine Norman castle and demesne. First built in 1174, the estate remained in the ownership of the same family for over 800 years, and is now under the care of Dublin County Council.
If you haven't transferred at the Junction, you'll soon find yourself at the end of the line, arriving in one of the most fondly regarded towns in all of Dublin. Howth can be breathtakingly beautiful during the summer, and it will come as no surprise to see the village thronged with visitors, who take the short walk along the pier to an elegantly restored lighthouse. With its steep, winding streets, spectacular views of the Bay from Howth Head, and a range of excellent seafood restaurants, Howth appears unashamedly romantic at sunset, even in poor weather. If you're thirsting for a pint after a long walk, the Bloody Stream pub is conveniently located right underneath the DART station.
Full details of DART services are available at http://www.irishrail.ie/.
Viking Splash Tours: A popular tour is the Viking Splash Tours (http://www.vikingsplashtours.com) in which you can see Dublin via reconditioned World War II vintage amphibious militaryvehicles called "Ducks". The costumed and colourful Viking Tour Captains will tell you all about the most exciting sights in Dublin: how the Vikings first settled the City over 1000 years ago and how Dublin has become a thriving, cosmopolitan European city. Finally, you'll experience a real thrill as the tour captain drives the Duck into the waters of the historic Grand Canal Basin for the water portion of the tour. The tour departs and finishes at Bull Alley Street beside gardens of St. Patrick's Cathedral (around the corner from the ticket office). It also departs from Stephen's Green North (opposite the top of Dawson Street) with season runs from mid-February to the end of November.