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Dublin,

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Ask any Dubliner what's happening and you may hear echoes of one of W. B. Yeats's most-quoted lines: "All changed, changed utterly." No matter that the decade-long "Celtic Tiger" boom era has been quickly followed by the Great Recession—for visitors Dublin remains one of Western Europe's most popular and delightful urban destinations. Whether or not you're out to enjoy the old or new Dublin, you'll find it a colossally entertaining city, all the more astonishing considering its intimate size. It is ironic and telling that James Joyce chose Dublin as the setting for his famous Ulysses, Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man because it was a "center of paralysis" where nothing much ever changed. Which only proves that even the greats get it wrong sometimes.

Indeed, if Joyce were to return to his once genteel hometown today—disappointed with the city's provincial outlook, he left it in 1902 at the age of 20—and take a quasi-Homeric odyssey through the city (as he so famously does in Ulysses), would he even recognize Dublin as his "Dear Dirty Dumpling, foostherfather of fingalls and dotthergills"? For instance, what would he make of Temple Bar—the city's erstwhile down-at-the-heels neighborhood, now crammed with restaurants and trendy hotels and suffused with a nonstop, international-party atmosphere? Or the simple sophistication of the open-air restaurants of the tiny Italian Quarter (named Ouartie Bloom after his own creation), complete with sultry tango lessons? Or of the hot/cool Irishness, where every aspect of Celtic culture results in sold-out theaters, from Once, the cult Indie movie and Broadway hit, to Riverdance, the old Irish mass-jig recast as a Las Vegas extravaganza? Plus, the resurrected Joyce might be stirred by the songs of U2, fired up by the sultry acting of Michael Fassbender, and moved by the poems of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.

As for Ireland's capital, even after the Celtic Tiger party has faded, elegant shops and hotels, galleries, coffeehouses, and a stunning variety of new, creative little restaurants can be found on almost every street in Dublin, transforming the provincial city that suffocated Joyce into a place almost as cosmopolitan as the Paris to which he fled. The recent economic downturn has provoked a few Dublin citizens to protest that the boomtown transformation of their heretofore-tranquil city has permanently affected its spirit and character. These skeptics (skepticism long being a favorite pastime in the capital city) await the outcome of "Dublin: The Sequel," and their greatest fear is the possibility that the tattered old lady on the Liffey has become a little less unique, a little more like everywhere else. Oh ye of little faith: the rare ole gem that is Dublin is far from buried. The fundamentals—the Georgian elegance of Merrion Square, the Norman drama of Christ Church Cathedral, the foamy pint at an atmospheric pub—are still on hand to gratify. Most of all, there are the locals themselves: the nod and grin when you catch their eye on the street, the eagerness to hear half your life story before they tell you all of theirs, and their paradoxically dark but warm sense of humor. "In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty"—so went the centuries-old ditty.

Today, there are parts of the city that may not be fair or pretty, but although you may not be conscious of it while you're in the center city, Dublin does boast a beautiful setting: it loops around the edge of Dublin Bay and is on a plain at the edge of the gorgeous, green Dublin and Wicklow mountains, which rise softly just to the south. From the glass-wall top of the Guinness Storehouse in the heart of town, the sight of the city, the bay, and the mountains will take your breath away. From the city's noted vantage points, such as the South Wall, which stretches far out into Dublin Bay, you can nearly get a full measure of the city. From north to south, Dublin stretches 16 km (10 miles); in total, it covers 28,000 acres—but Dublin's heart is far more compact than these numbers indicate. Like Paris, London, and Florence, a river runs right through it. The River Liffey divides the capital into the Northside and the Southside, as everyone calls the two principal center-city areas, and virtually all the major sights are well within less than an hour's walk of one another.



Dining

With the Irish food revolution long over and won, Dublin now has a city full of fabulous, hip, and suavely sophisticated restaurants. Award-winning Euro-toques and their sous-chefs continue to come up with new and glorious ways to abuse your waistline. Instead of just spuds, glorious spuds, you'll find delicious new entries to New Irish cuisine like roast scallop with spiced pork belly and cauliflower au gratin topped with a daring caper-and-raisin sauce or sautéed rabbit loin with Clonakilty black pudding. Okay, there's a good chance spuds will still appear on your menu—and most likely, offered in several gloriously different ways.

As for lunches or munchies on the run, there are scores of independent cafés serving excellent coffee, and often good sandwiches. Other eateries, borrowing trends from all around the world, serve inexpensive pizzas, focaccia, pitas, tacos, and wraps (which are fast gaining in popularity over the sandwich). And, yes, alas, Starbucks long ago planted its ubiquitous flag in Dublin.

Dubliners dine later than the rest of Ireland. They stay up later, too, and reservations are usually not booked before 6:30 or 7 pm and up to around 10 pm. Lunch is generally served from 12:30 to 2:30. Pubs often serve food through the day—until 8:30 or 9 pm. Most pubs are family-friendly and welcome children until 7 pm. The Irish are an informal bunch, so smart-casual dress is typical.

Hotels

A reduction in demand for rooms means that Dublin's boom-time high rates have fallen somewhat but are still in line with the best hotels of any major European or North American city. Service charges range from 15% in expensive hotels to zero in moderate and inexpensive ones. Be sure to inquire when you make reservations.

As a general rule of thumb, lodgings on the north side of the River Liffey tend to be more affordable than those on the south. Bed-and-breakfasts charge as little as €46 a night per person, but they tend to be in suburban areas—generally a 15-minute bus ride from the center of the city. This is not in itself a great drawback, and savings can be significant. Many hotels have a weekend, or "B&B," rate that's often 30% to 40% cheaper than the ordinary rate; some hotels also have a midweek special that provides discounts of up to 35%.

Nightlife

Long before Stephen Dedalus's excursions into "Nighttown" in James Joyce's Ulysses, Dublin was proud of its lively after-hours scene, particularly its thriving pubs. But the now tamed Celtic Tiger economy, once the envy of all Europe, turned Dublin into one of the most happening destinations on the whole continent. Things have calmed down in the last few years, but the city's 900-plus pubs are still its main source of entertainment; many public houses in the city center have live music—from rock to jazz to traditional Irish.

Theater is an essential element of life in the city that was home to O'Casey, Synge, W.B. Yeats, and Beckett. Today Dublin has seven major theaters that reproduce the Irish "classics," and also present newer fare from the likes of Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson. Opera, long overlooked, now has a home in the restored old Gaiety Theatre.

Check the Irish Times and the Evening Herald newspapers for event listings, as well the Big Issue and the Event Guide—weekly guides to film, theater, and musical events around the city. In peak season, consult the free Fáilte Ireland (Irish Tourist Board) leaflet "Events of the Week."

Shopping

The only known specimens of leprechauns or shillelaghs in Ireland are those in souvenir-shop windows, and shamrocks mainly bloom around the borders of Irish linen handkerchiefs and tablecloths. But in Dublin's shops you can find much more than kitschy designs. There's a tremendous variety of stores here, many of which are quite sophisticated—as a walk through Dublin's central shopping area, from O'Connell to Grafton Street, will prove. Department stores stock internationally known fashion-designer goods and housewares, and small (and often pricey) boutiques sell Irish crafts and other merchandise. Don't expect too many bargains here. And be prepared, if you're shopping in central Dublin, to push through crowds—especially in the afternoons and on weekends. Most large shops and department stores are open Monday to Saturday 9 to 6, with late hours on Thursday and Friday until 9. Although nearly all department stores are closed on Sunday, some smaller specialty shops stay open. You're particularly likely to find sales in January, February, July, and August.

Arts/Entertainment

Long before Stephen Dedalus's excursions into "Nighttown" in James Joyce's Ulysses, Dublin was proud of its lively after-hours scene, particularly its thriving pubs. But the now tamed Celtic Tiger economy, once the envy of all Europe, turned Dublin into one of the most happening destinations on the whole continent. Things have calmed down in the last few years, but the city's 900-plus pubs are still its main source of entertainment; many public houses in the city center have live music—from rock to jazz to traditional Irish.

Theater is an essential element of life in the city that was home to O'Casey, Synge, W.B. Yeats, and Beckett. Today Dublin has seven major theaters that reproduce the Irish "classics," and also present newer fare from the likes of Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson. Opera, long overlooked, now has a home in the restored old Gaiety Theatre.

Check the Irish Times and the Evening Herald newspapers for event listings, as well the Big Issue and the Event Guide—weekly guides to film, theater, and musical events around the city. In peak season, consult the free Fáilte Ireland (Irish Tourist Board) leaflet "Events of the Week."