In Dublin you have to expect the unexpected, and that’s exactly what happened when I went on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Professional actors were taking us from pub to pub where Ireland’s literary greats spent a lot of their time, pausing outside each one to give a reading from Yeats, Bernard Shaw, Beckett, Behan or Joyce. One was dressed as a tramp, but as time went by I realised he wasn’t an actor but a genuine man of the streets. He knew his stuff, too – and went away full of the black stuff and with coins jingling in his pocket.

Being able to combine a love of literature with a love of traditional pubs is one of many reasons drawing me back to Dublin, as here famous writers were and are part of everyday life rather than an elite living in ivory towers. You can even visit the real tower in the opening of James Joyce’s Ulysses – without doubt the most lauded but least read novel of all time.

Dublin is a place which you feel, as much as see – and many people’s fondest memories are of a particular moment when the atmosphere seeps through, rather than of a particular sight. You could certainly spend a week sightseeing here, yet it doesn’t have one stand-out attraction to compete with Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building.


Walking

It’s a great city for walking, with most of the atmosphere and major sights within a one-mile radius of O’Connell Bridge. Look north towards the General Post Office, which still has bullet holes from Ireland’s liberation struggle, and the Parnell Monument (both O’Connell and Parnell were heroes of the independence movement). To the south are the genteel Georgian districts around St Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square, and Grafton Street, the main shopping hub.

To the west are the quays where riverside trade once flourished on the “Whiffy Liffey”. The river doesn’t smell bad any longer, but some of the streets of the Temple Bar district certainly do, as this is where young people flock for a night out. To the east is Docklands, where some of the many modern buildings that went up during Ireland’s financial boom now lie empty in the teeth of the economic crisis.

Don’t let the crisis put you off. Visitors are welcomed all the more, and prices in pubs, restaurants and shops are more competitive than a few years ago. But as the Irish Republic is part of the Eurozone, British visitors will find the pound doesn’t go as far as they might wish. The choice of dining is now very eclectic, but look for set menus to save money.

Drinkers at the Gravity Bar,Guinness Storehouse

So what do visitors most enjoy in Dublin? According to the Dublin Pass, a pint and a prayer. The most popular attractions are the Guinness Storehouse, Old Jameson Distillery, Christ Church Cathedral and St Patrick’s Cathedral, with 43% of pass users visiting both a brewery and a cathedral.

The Guinness Storehouse is where you can learn about and sample Ireland’s most famous export. Whiskey is no longer made at the Old Jameson Distillery, but you can sample it before a “Shindig Evening” with a tour, tasting, four-course meal and traditional music and dancing.

Fun element

St Patrick’s Cathedral honours Ireland’s national saint, with Christ Church reminding us that Ireland has Protestant as well as Roman Catholic traditions. Dublin’s main attractions might be historical and cultural (with a range of national museums including archaeology, natural history and art), but the fun element is never far away.

If you’re travelling with children, then there are lots of family-friendly things to do, including Viking-themed Dublinia and Dublin Zoo, situated in Phoenix Park, the city’s historic piece of greenery. I can never visit the park without thinking of the raucous Dubliners song, Zoological Gardens, telling of the antics of a honeymoon couple.

Posing with a statue of Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott © DRTADublin has a fine musical heritage, and you can find traditional music all over the city. The Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl at Gogartys could be a good way to start, but to find your own way round see the website Dublin Sessions that lists all types of contemporary music. Dublin has produced some great names in rock and pop too, and the Rock ’n’ Stroll walking trail highlights places where U2, Bob Geldof, Sinead O’Connor and The Corrs made their names.

Dublin’s love of a party extends to many special events, but remember to book travel and accommodation well in advance, especially when rugby internationals are played at the Aviva Stadium (the old Lansdowne Road).

The Jameson International Film Festival is from February 16-26 this year, and St Patrick’s Festival from March 16-19. A gay festival takes to the streets from June 16-26, and the Tall Ships are in town on August 23.

Beyond dublin

There’s more than enough to keep you within the city limits, but Dublin is also close to some lovely coastline and countryside. The DART suburban rail network reaches seaside towns including Howth and Bray, and the Wicklow Mountains make an easy day trip by road.

I’ll finish where I started, with a few more words about Dublin’s pubs. The Irish pub has been exported worldwide complete with off-the-shelf artefacts, but in Dublin you will enjoy the real thing.

I won’t be giving away any secrets by naming McDaid’s, Mulligan’s and the Palace Bar as among my favourites, so if the barman asks, do say I sent you…


Dublin facts

When to go

Any time is good, but spring and autumn are not as crowded as in summer.

Getting there

You can fly to Dublin from most airports in Britain with scheduled routes. The main carriers are Ryanair and Aer Lingus, with Aer Arann operating some regional services. Ferry services to Dublin Port are operated by Stena Line and Irish Ferries from Holyhead, and by P&O Ferries from Liverpool. Stena Line also operates the HSS fast ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, seven miles from the city centre.

Tour operators

Dublin is a mainly tailor-made destination these days, with a vast choice of airlines and hotels. Thomas Cook has a lead-in price for three nights in March from £129 per person twin-share at the Croke Park Hotel, including Aer Lingus flights from Gatwick. Upmarket Kirker Holidays quotes from £628 for three nights at the deluxe Merrion Hotel, including private car transfers.

Getting around

In addition to bus routes, Dublin has the DART coastal rail system and LUAS tramway, which has two lines. The three-day Freedom Ticket covers regular and airport bus routes, and the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing service (26 euros).

Dublin Pass

Covering over 30 attractions and 20 special offers, it costs 35 euros for one day, 55 euros for two days, 65 euros for three days and 95 euros for six days, Dublin Pass.

Tourist information

Dublin Tourism

10 things to do in Dublin

All prices and details were correct when published in tlm - the travel & leisure magazine, please check before you travel to Dublin.