Dublin is divided by the curves of the River Liffey, which empties into the sea at the city’s eastern edge. To the north and south, canals encircle the city center: The Royal Canal arcs across the north and the Grand Canal through the south. Traditionally, the area south of the river has been Dublin’s buzzing, prosperous hub. It still holds most of the best hotels, restaurants, shops, and sights, but the Northside is on the upswing, and hip new bars and hotels give it a trendy edge.
Dublin is compact and easily walked in an hour. In fact, a 45-minute walk from peaceful St. Stephen’s Green, up bustling Grafton Street, and across the Liffey to the top of O’Connell Street offers a good overview of the city’s prosperous present and troubled past.
The most interesting suburban towns tend to be along Dublin Bay -- these include (heading north along the bay) Drumcondra, Glasnevin, Howth, Clontarf, and Malahide; and (heading south along the bay) Ballsbridge, Blackrock, Dún Laoghaire, Dalkey, Killiney, Rathgar, and Rathmines. Due to the conspicuous wealth and prosperity that came to these towns in the late 1990s, locals have wryly dubbed this area "Bel Eire."
Main Arteries, Streets & Squares -- In the town center just south of the river, the main east-west artery is Dame Street, which changes its name to College Green, Westmoreland Street, Lord Edward Street, and High Street at various points as it connects Trinity College with Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral. A short walk north of Dame Street you’ll find the winding medieval lanes of the Temple Bar area, Dublin’s party central, packed with noisy late-night bars and cheap, cheerful restaurants.
At its eastern end, where Dame Street becomes College Green, the sturdy gray stone walls of Trinity College make an excellent landmark to get your bearings. At the southwest corner of the campus is the top of Grafton Street, a lively pedestrianized lane lined with clothing boutiques and eateries. It leads, eventually, to the bucolic park of St. Stephen’s Green. From there, head back up Kildare Street past Leinster House (seat of the Irish Parliament) and turn to the right to reach Merrion Square, another of Dublin’s extraordinarily well-preserved Georgian squares.
To cross the River Liffey and get to the Northside, most visitors choose the photogenic arch of the Ha’penny Bridge, while locals take the less attractive O’Connell Bridge nearby. You can be different and cross via the Ha’penny’s sleekly modern neighbor, the Millennium Bridge, which is beautifully illuminated after dark. The O’Connell Bridge leads directly onto broad O’Connell Street, the Northside’s main thoroughfare. O’Connell Street runs north to Parnell Square, which holds a couple of marvelous museums and marks the top edge of central Dublin. The street running along the Liffey’s embankment is called the North Quays by everyone, though its name changes on virtually every block, reflecting the long-gone docks that once lined it; today a pedestrian boardwalk runs along the riverfront here.
In the older section of the city, High Street is the gateway to medieval and Viking Dublin, from the city's two medieval cathedrals to the old city walls and nearby Dublin Castle. The other noteworthy street in the older part of the city is Francis Street, Dublin's antiques row.
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