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Dublin

trinity college dublin ireland There are many reasons to visit the ivy-draped Trinity College, but the big draw is the priceless Book of Kells -- a lavishly illustrated Christian manuscript of the four gospels. Doggedly Protestant until 1793, when Catholics were theoretically allowed in (although the Catholic Church banned its faithful from entering until 1970), the college went coed in 1904.

Elite alums include Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. A self-guiding walking tour is terrific here, but there is a 30-minute guided tour led by students, available at select times of year, which includes entry to the Book of Kells in the Old Library.

A cool way to get an in-depth overview of the city in no time flat is a tour with one of the history graduates who run Historical Insights walking tours. Stops include Trinity College, Old Parliament House, Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral, among others. You'll be filled in on everything from Dublin's origins and political struggles with Britain to the state of Ireland today. The same group also offers special tours focusing on women in Irish history, Dublin's statues and monuments, and the sexual history of Ireland.

Built in 1204 by King John, Dublin Castle was the seat of British rule in Ireland for 700 years. It was the official residence of the viceroy who implemented the will of the British royalty when, in 1922, the Brits handed power over to Michael Collins and the Irish. Guided tours, which include a walk through the many rooms and lavish apartments as well as a look at the foundations of the Norman tower (the best remaining chunk of the 13th-century town wall), are worth the time.

Built by the Guinness family, the 22-acre St. Stephen's Green is Ireland's oldest park. It was enclosed in 1664 and gradually became surrounded by the fine Georgian buildings you see today. Join the locals any sunny afternoon on this grassy oasis.

Theater buffs must stop at the Abbey Theatre. Founded by Yeats, it opened in 1904. All these years, it has enjoyed fame for its impeccable staging of Irish classics. A fire in 1951 destroyed the original theater, but 15 years later the Abbey was rebuilt in the same spot. Though some might say the newer Abbey doesn't have the passion of the old theater, efforts are being made to "preserve" some of its history. One way they do this is with a wonderful collection of portraits hanging on the walls of the lobby -- some saved from the 1951 fire.

The Abbey may be more famous, but the Gate Theatre is often considered the best, at least for contemporary drama. The Gate dates back to 1928.

Christ Church Cathedral is a majestic mix of Norman, Gothic and even Victorian neo-Gothic styles. Its unusually large crypt is Dublin's oldest building; among a number of monuments and treasures, it's also home to"Tom and Jerry" -- a mummified cat and rat that were trapped in the organ in the 1860's.

temple bar dublin ireland flowers One of the city's oldest areas, the once run-down neighborhood of Temple Bar, with its zigzag maze of cobblestone streets, is hotter than New York's SoHo and the Left Bank of Paris. Though it's a must any day of the week, you'll see it at its best on weekends when hordes of eager revelers pub-crawl till all hours. Check out Fishamble Street, one of Dublin's oldest thoroughfares.

The impressive 19th-century National Gallery is the city's main art museum, with works from artists including Rembrandt, Monet, Gainsborough and Picasso -- as well as a wonderful Caravaggio that was rediscovered in Dublin. One of the most interesting galleries houses the paintings of Ireland's own Jack Yeats.

Showing off treasures from the Stone Age to modern times, the archaeological branch of the National Museum of Ireland is wonderful. Wait till you see the world-class collection of medieval ecclesiastical objects and jewelry, the Ardagh Chalice, and the amber 18th-century Tara Brooch. Other branches of the National Museum focus on decorative arts and history, country life, and natural history.

Enjoy a visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift (author of "Gulliver's Travels") was dean in the 18th century. Ireland's largest church, this 13th-century cathedral was founded near a well where St. Patrick is said to have been baptized in 450 A.D.

You won't regret a stop at the Dublin Writers Museum to see wonderful memorabilia of Ireland's best storytellers, including W.B. Yeats and Jonathan Swift, spanning more than 300 years. The collection includes early editions of works like "Gulliver's Travels" and "The Importance of Being Earnest."

Practically everything you ever wanted to know about Ireland's famous brew can be found at the Guinness Storehouse. Arthur Guinness began brewing on this site, now an honest-to-goodness museum, in 1759. Top off your visit with a stop at the store. For more potent potable fun, check out the Old Jameson Distillery, which dates back to 1780.

A visit to the Irish Jewish Museum will give you an opportunity to peek into Jewish life in the early to mid 20th century. You'll climb the stairs to the former Walworth Road Synagogue in the Portobello neighborhood -- more than 150 men and women came to worship here before it fell into decline with the large movement of Jews out into the Dublin suburbs. The museum has a substantial collection of memorabilia that dates back 150 years.

If you loved "Riverdance," you'll want to check out the Irish Traditional Music Archive, a multimedia archive and resource center for the traditional song, music and dance of Ireland. First established in 1987, it now holds the world's largest collection of books, recordings, photographs and videos on the subject.

About an hour's drive from Dublin, Newgrange is a 5,000-year-old megalithic tomb mound set in County Meath. For history buffs, Newgrange, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not to be missed. Each year on the day of winter solstice, the sun shines directly into an opening to one of the tomb's underground passages and brilliantly illuminates the chamber for about 17 minutes. Visitors can enter the tomb on any day of the year and experience a re-creation of this magical event with artificial lights. Various shuttles and tours are available from Dublin to Newgrange; Boyne Valley Tours is one popular tour operator.
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