Imagine Dublin and visions of Guinness, Leopold Bloom, U2, and hearty breakfast plates piled high with Irish bacon and farm-fresh eggs might spring to mind. Think what you will, but Ireland's largest city -- and its capital for more than a thousand years -- is currently enjoying its newfound status as one of the hottest and most livable cities in not just Europe, but the world.
On Ireland's central east coast along the banks of the Liffey River, where so many literary greats beyond James Joyce were born -- including Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett, to name a few -- these days Dublin is showing off trendy coffee houses, foodie-friendly restaurant stops, and smart boutiques filled with Burberry-clad shoppers combing the racks and shelves. However, there's still much to see from days gone by in this historic city.
The city center is bisected by the River Liffey, 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 interesting sights are found. Within the southern half, aim for the triangle roughly bordered by O'Connell Bridge, St. Stephen's Green and Christ Church Cathedral, where you'll find Trinity College, Grafton Street (for shopping), Temple Bar (for hot nightlife) and Dublin Castle.
The upscale neighborhoods and the majority of hotels, restaurants, shops and sights are 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 you'll also find Dublin's most important theaters there -- the Gate and the Abbey -- as well as a pocket of fine Georgian townhouses on and around North Great George's Street.