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Dubliners are fiercely proud of their city, and while DUBLIN is the Republic of Ireland's capital it is quite apart from, and can be dismissive of, the rest of the country - one Dublin wag once remarked with characteristic caustic humour that "the only culture outside Dublin is agriculture". Over the past decade, as young people from rural Ireland and all over Europe, gravitate toward the city to share in the wealth, not experienced since Dublin's much celebrated Georgian heyday, this urban/rural divide has started to wane. As a result Dublin exudes the style and confidence of any cosmopolitan European capital - most apparent at night when Dubliners party with a panache verging on the reckless. Dublin's economic upturn is impacting on the city's rapidly changing urban landscape too, with restaurants, cafés, bars and clubs opening in abundance, and Dublin's famous pub scene is now matched by an equally celebrated club scene. On the downside, however, its reputation as one of the party capitals of Europe has attracted droves of "alco-tourists" who arrive in the city for booze-fuelled weekends; they have become such a problem that some areas of the city, such as Temple Bar, have actually banned stag and hen parties.

The continual drift of population from the land to the capital has brought its fair share of problems too as Dublin is now bulging at the seams. Spend just a couple of days here and you'll come upon traffic congestion and inner-city deprivation as bad as any in Europe. The spirit of Dublin is undergoing massive upheavals too, with youthful enterprise set against a leaden traditionalism that harks back nostalgically, as in the words of one popular folk song, to "Dublin city in the rare old times". However, the collision of the old order and the forward-looking younger generations is an essential part of the appeal of this extrovert and dynamic city.

If you approach Dublin by sea, you'll have an opportunity to appreciate its magnificent physical setting, with the fine sweep of Dublin Bay and the weird, conical silhouettes of the Wicklow Mountains to the south providing an exhilarating backdrop. Central Dublin is not big, and it's easy to find your way around. One obvious axis is formed by the river, the Liffey , which runs from west to east and acts not only as a physical, but also a social and, at times, psychological dividing line. The northside , distinctly working class, with some areas blighted by unemployment and drugs, stands in stark contrast to the affluent neighbourhoods of the southside .

The transformation to top of Europe's economic class has cast the city economically and culturally into the heart of the continent. This new-found cosmopolitan chic has its home in the vibrant Temple Bar area, "Dublin's Left Bank", with its numerous pubs, clubs, galleries and restaurants. However, for many visitors, the city's heart lies around the best of what is left of Georgian Dublin - the grand set pieces of Fitzwilliam and Merrion squares, and their graceful red-brick houses with ornate, fan-lighted doors and immaculately kept central gardens, and the wide but strangely decorous open space of St Stephen's Green. The elegant southside is also the setting for Dublin's august seat of learning, Trinity College and its famous library where you can see the exquisitely ornate Book of Kells ; Grafton Street , the city's upmarket shopping area; and most of the city's museums and art galleries.

North of the Liffey, the main thoroughfare is O'Connell Street , on which stands the General Post Office , the scene of violent fighting in the Easter Rising of 1916. Further north, among Georgian squares older and seedier than the ones you'll see on the southside, are the Dublin Writers' Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery . West again, and you come to Dublin's biggest open space - indeed, one of the world's largest city parks - Phoenix Park , home of both the President's Residence and the zoo.

The urban sprawl quickly gives way to the genteel villages which punctuate the curve of Dublin Bay, from the fishing port of Howth in the north, to the southern suburbs of Sandycove with its James Joyce connections, Dalkey , made famous by the comic writer Flann O'Brien, and salubrious Killiney , now colonized by the rich and famous. Added to this is the fact that Dublin must be one of the easiest capitals to escape from, making it a good base for exploring the hills and coastline of Wicklow to the south and the gentler scenery to the north that leads up to the megalithic monuments of the verdant Boyne Valley .

The City
Dublin is divided into north and south with the river Liffey acting as a physical, social and at times psychological dividing line. Traditionally the southside has been regarded as the wealthier end of town, and certainly from a visitor's perspective it...
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