Travel: Dublin

JONATHAN Swift, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce (that's him above) – Dublin has numerous writers that would justify its claim as a cultural capital alone, but throw in musicians such as Handel, who made the city his home and first performed the Messiah here, and its more recent trailblazing in the worlds of modern art, graphic design, photography, music and film, and you can see why the beautiful city on the River Liffey attracts lovers of the arts.

Ever since the 18th century, when Dublin was transformed from a medieval town into one of the finest Georgian cities in Europe, it has been an intellectual centre. This reputation was boosted by the Celtic Tiger economy of the 1990s that saw the city become an increasingly vibrant cosmopolitan capital and, while its cultural aspirations remain undimmed – a brand new 2,000-seat, purpose-built theatre designed by Daniel Libeskind opened this year in the Docklands – the recession means it is suddenly an awful lot cheaper to visit as hotel rates take a tumble. And in Dublin, the best things in life really are free as there is no charge for all museums run by the state. Go now and catch Bloomsday on June 12, a celebration of James Joyce's classic Ulysses, which in turn celebrates the city itself.


A half-hour's drive from Dublin are the Wicklow mountains, where Chris and Teresa Stacey of Footfalls Walking Tours (www.walkinghiking will lead you on a stroll or hike and provide information on the history, geology, culture flora and fauna, as well as packed lunches. Our seven-mile walk took in the sixth century gem, Glendalough.


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The National Gallery of Ireland has a comprehensive collection of Irish and international art (, while the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art ( has works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries by artists such as Degas, Monet, Manet, and it's next door to Dublin Writers' Museum (www.writers Then there's the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham (, currently showing Rothko, Pollock and Mondrian, and in the busy Temple Bar area, the Arthouse (, a multimedia centre for the arts, with regular exhibitions and events, and the Irish Film Centre ( for festivals and international films. History buffs can't miss Kilmainham jail or the General Post Office in O'Connoll Street, symbol of the 1916 Easter Rising.


Actors and musicians can't get enough of The Merrion ( – it's where Sarah Jessica Parker, Bruce Springsteen and other A-listers stay when they're in town. It has another unique cultural draw in that it's filled with art, making it a gallery in itself. Converted from four terraced Georgian houses, the hotel is also home to the private art collection of owners Lochlan and Brenda Quinn. There are works from over 40 Irish artists such as Louis le Brocquy and Jack B Yeats, plus contemporary artists such as Sean Scully and Robert Ballagh (right inset, Homage to Fernand Leger) and tours with a curator from the National Gallery just over the road are available as part of the Art of Living overnight package. If you can't afford to stay and enjoy the art, gardens, pool and spa, pop in for the hugely successful afternoon Art Tea, that includes pastries inspired by the paintings – a vivid Saurin Elizabeth Leech self portrait becomes a delicious lime sponge, orange chiboust and lemon jelly curd interpretation. Sean Scully-coloured Battenburg anyone?

Rooms are currently on offer at E199 per room per night on a room-only basis. Otherwise, standard rooms start from E240 with breakfast.


Pat Liddy's Walking Tours of Dublin ( offers a variety of routes, but ours kicked off at the Guinness Storehouse and took in the resting place of St Valentine in Whitefriars Church, the site of the old Viking city, the theatres, galleries and shops of Temple Bar, and Trinity Colllege, with its 8th-century Long Room housing more than 200,000 books, including the must-see famous Book Of Kells, a ninth-century illuminated manuscript.


Bewley's caf in Grafton Street is an institution that has welcomed everyone from Joyce to Beckett within its dark panelled booths. And for Michelin fare, the Merrion is home to Ireland's only two-starred eatery, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, where the Connemara lobster ravioli with coconut-scented lobster cream and toasted almonds, washed down by fine wines served up in glasses big enough to accommodate Dita von Teese, is a speciality. Or try the hotel's Cellar restaurant where executive chef Ed Cooney's specialities include a sublime version of fish and chips. If it's traditional Irish dishes you fancy, head for Temple Bar and find yourself some buxtie, or potato pancake.


A million visitors a year head for the Guinness Storehouse (, a seven-storey centre fashioned from the same girders as the Forth Railway Bridge. There you'll learn everything about the black stuff, including how to pour a perfect pint: use a branded glass for the shape, hold it at 45-degrees, aim at the harp then let it settle for 19.5 seconds. Precisely. Plus, the best 360-degree view in Dublin is from the bar at the top, the perfect accompaniment to the free pint.

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• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, June 6, 2010