Imagine Dublin and visions of Guinness, Leopold Bloom, and hearty breakfast plates piled high with Irish bacon and farm-fresh eggs might spring to mind, backed by a U2 soundtrack. Dublin is all that, and so much more; in fact, Ireland's largest city (and capital for more than a thousand years) is currently enjoying its status as one of the hottest, most livable cities not just in Europe, but in the world.
Set on Ireland's central east coast along the banks of the Liffey River, where so many literary greats were born (James Joyce, yes, but also Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett, to name a few), Dublin now shows off trendy coffee houses, foodie-friendly restaurants and smart boutiques filled with Burberry-clad shoppers. However, there's still much to see from days gone by in this historical city.
The city center is bisected by the River Liffey, which makes a good orientation point for visitors. The Royal Canal forms a skirt through the northern half, and the Grand Canal does the same through the southern half, which is where most of the major sights are found. Within the south portion, aim for the triangle between O'Connell Bridge, St. Stephen's Green, and Christchurch Cathedral, where you'll find Trinity College, Grafton Street (for shopping), Temple Bar (for hot nightlife), and Dublin Castle.
The city's upscale neighborhoods and the majority of hotels, restaurants, shops and sights lie south of the river. The main shopping thoroughfare is Grafton Street, but you'll find the more exclusive shops along the side streets. Dublin's most beautiful squares -- St. Stephen's Green, Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square -- are within 10 minutes' walking distance of Grafton Street. Temple Bar lies along the Liffey near Ha'penny Bridge. North of the river is working-class Dublin, but also Dublin's most important theaters, the Gate and the Abbey. There is also a pocket of fine Georgian townhouses on and around North Great George's Street.
Dublin has a mild, temperate climate, and though showers can come up suddenly at any time of the year, they usually pass just as quickly. Average temperatures in summer range from 16 to 20 degrees Celsius (60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit) and in winter from 4 to 7 degrees Celsius (39 to 44 degrees Fahrenheit).
North Wall Quay Extension: Smaller ships can dock on the River Liffey at North Wall Quay Extension, near the East Link Bridge; it's less than a 10-minute taxi ride into Dublin's center. There's not much when you disembark, as the area is mostly industrial, so your best bet is to board one of the shuttle buses most cruise lines arrange for a trip into town or, alternatively, take a cab into town. If you want to walk to the city center, it's about a two-mile walk along the river.
Alexandra Quay: Larger ships can dock at Alexandra Quay, near the mouth of the River Liffey. There is city bus service near the terminal, as well as taxis, and the nearest tram stop is about a mile away. Some cruise lines provide a shuttle service, but double-check to make sure a taxi isn't cheaper. Walking isn't advised due to heavy traffic in the area. Dublin Port Company has plans to redevelop the Alexandra Basin to include two cruise ship berths and to accommodate larger ships than can currently be served.
Dun Laoghaire: Some lines choose to dock in a completely different area. Dun Laoghaire, a suburb about seven miles south of the city center. This historic port is just over 200 yards from shops and other services. There's also a Dublin rapid transit system (DART) station located near the pier; from there, it's about 20 minutes to the city center. Taxis are available, too; the drive is also about 20 minutes. This port is closer to attractions like County Wicklow and the mountains, which is ideal if you enjoy the countryside.
When you pay with a credit card, you may be asked if you want to pay in euros or dollars. Always opt for euros. Otherwise, you'll be socked with a "convenience fee" for converting your payment to dollars, and the exchange rate won't be favorable either. Known as Direct Currency Conversion (DCC), this practice is prevalent in Ireland, and will usually cost you at least 3% more that if you pay in euros. Check the receipt every time you pay with a credit card, and demand that the charge be cancelled and re-run in euros if it appears in dollars. We also recommend getting a credit card that doesn't add a charge to foreign transactions.
The national currency in the Republic of Ireland is the euro. Currency exchange can be made in most banks and post offices, as well as some hotels and travel agencies. Traveler's checks should be exchanged at banks or exchange offices, as very few businesses will accept them; ATMs and credit cards have made them nearly obsolete. For the best exchange rate, use ATMs, which are found almost everywhere. Check www.xe.com for the latest currency exchange information.
Note: Many European ATMs display only numerals on the keypad. For pin codes that include letters, commit to memory or jot down the translation to numbers.
If you're visiting from outside the European Union, you can get back the Value Added Tax (VAT) you paid on certain items, which can be as much as 17.36%. You will need to carry your passport with you and fill out a form at the time of purchase. Present the forms to Customs at your final departure from the European Union, but keep in mind the agents will most likely ask to see the purchased goods as well. Mail the forms, and once it all works through the system, you'll get your refund. There's also a program operated by Global Blue, which gives you a refund on the spot when you leave the EU, but they take a cut for the convenience and you have to shop at a store displaying the Global Blue Tax-Free Shopping logo.
English is the primary language in Ireland. Irish, also referred to as Gaelic or Gaelic Irish, is the ancient Celtic language of the country, spoken by about five percent of the population, particularly in the western counties.
Stock up on fine Irish linens, especially the ones from Bottom Drawer, which is nestled sweetly inside the Brown Thomas department store (88-95 Grafton Street). Hand-knit woolen anything can be found practically anywhere, but we love the soft-as-butter hand-loomed cashmere knits from hot Irish designer Lainey Keogh, also available at Brown Thomas and several other shops in Dublin.
Tip: If you've got your heart set on a traditional Irish fisherman's sweater, shop carefully. Many that you'll find in souvenir shops are imported or machine-made. If it seems like an unbelievable bargain, don't believe it.
Skip the mixed drinks and tip a pint of tar-colored Guinness Stout or sip some Irish whiskey. Guinness doesn't taste as strong as you might think, and there's a real art to serving it properly. Watch as a bartender tips and fills the glass partway, then lets it rest so the head subsides, before finally topping it with just the right amount of creamy foam. As for the whiskey, you won't taste the "peaty" characteristics of Scotch, but you'll discover that brands like Jameson are smooth and dangerously easy to drink. If you must mix it, go for an Irish coffee. Invented in County Limerick, this drink combines hot coffee, Irish whiskey and sugar, topped off with thick cream.