Dublin's a great place to visit, says PETER MARTINI. Just don't go confusing it with the Taj Mahal...

ACCORDING to the bus driver, the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin has more visitors every year than the Taj Mahal in India.

Apparently, the Taj Mahal – a wondrous mausoleum completed in 1643, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World - attracts 7-8 million tourists per annum. Almost double the population of Ireland.

The driver, therefore, may have been using the Irish gift of the gab.

Guinness, nevertheless, is Guinness, one of the most sacred brands in world booze with a legendary advertising legacy, and no first-time trip to Dublin is complete without a pilgrimage to its St James’s Gate Brewery, where Arthur Guinness famously first signed a 9,000-year lease in 1759.

The Storehouse, once the fermentation plant, is now a seven-storey visitor experience dedicated to the production and history of this beer.

It was rammed when we were there, mid-afternoon on a Friday, and, shuffling through with everyone else, it felt a bit like queueing for Communion. But the Eucharist here is a free pint, and you even get a chance to pour it yourself if you’ve never worked in a bar. The Taj Mahal doesn’t offer that.

It’s true that Guinness tastes nicer in its homeland, too.

The brewery's tower-top ‘Gravity Bar’ also gives you panoramic views of Ireland’s capital from the western edge, helping you get your bearings.

The aforementioned bus – a hop-on-and-off tour of the city, with about 30 stops and commentaries of sights you’re seeing – helps with that too. (NB If you're going to get a 24-hour pass, plan a full day’s sightseeing to get your money’s worth.)

Much of the city is small enough to walk around, though, assuming you have good shoes, decent lungs and preferably dry weather. That’s unless you go to the attractions further out of town such as Kilmainham Gaol to the west.

This historic prison, which showcases heroic and tragic events in Ireland’s emergence as a modern nation, is well worth a visit by all accounts but be warned: pre-book, as the tours were all full up when we arrived unannounced.

We remained on foot for much of our long weekend city break, having been lucky enough to stay centrally at the splendid Jurys Inn on Parnell Street, to the north of the River Liffey which cuts through the city.

This hotel chain, founded in Dublin, should be famed for its buffet breakfasts (banquets they are too), which set you up for any day whatever the weather. The service is welcoming, too, and the rooms are good-sized, with free wi-fi and very comfy beds. There’s also a fitness suite, and a really good bar and restaurant to, erm, work off all that well-being.

There’s also a Jurys Inn in the Christchurch area south of the river – a wonderful spot overlooking the cathedral of the same name, and not far from St Patrick’s Cathedral either.

Both those religious buildings, by the way, are very much worth a visit, forming part of the rich history of this city.

Christ Church, founded in 1030 by the Hiberno-Norse, rebuilt by the Anglo-Normans and restored in the 1870s, has a choir dating back to 1480 and a medieval crypt housing several artefacts including, oddly, a mummified cat and rat. (They had apparently been trapped in an organ pipe, like some kind of real-life Tom & Jerry).

St Patrick’s was built near to where the saint himself apparently baptised converts to Christianity. Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, was dean of this cathedral from 1713 to 1745 and is buried under the floor.

Dublin is naturally popular for stag and hen parties, given the ubiquitous craic, but there really is much more to the place than a joy of Guinness, whiskey (various distillery tours are available), music, traditional pubs and other such boozy cultural charms.

It’s very much a cosmopolitan city, and a standout university city too.

Trinity College is an historic place of learning with stunning grounds.

Its great library is also home to the world-famous Book of Kells – a lavishly decorated manuscript, in Latin, of the four Gospels, believed to have been written around 800 AD, when Ireland’s population of less than half a million lived primarily in homesteads.

You don’t get to flick through its pages, unfortunately, although you’d probably need 30 years of spare time and a degree in crazy lettering to be able to read it.

A bunch of visitor attractions are all close by in this part of town.

The Natural History Museum (or Dead Zoo, as it’s called), with taxidermy of all sorts of creatures from both within and without Ireland, is a must-see. Skeletons of the extinct Giant Deer, which roamed these lands thousands of years ago, are jaw-dropping.

The National Museum of Ireland, meanwhile, currently has a Roger Casement exhibition called the “Voice of the Voiceless”, exploring Irishman Casement’s (1864-1916) humanitarian work investigating atrocities in the rubber trade in Africa and South America. It’s moving stuff, and parental guidance is advised for some of the stories you may read.

On the subject of history, Dublin as a city, like Ireland as a country, has a unique past, with famines, poverty, poetry, invasions, emigration, and religion playing huge parts. Not to mention politics, of course. Various museums and works around the city pay homage.

Rather than the hop-on bus, we initially got our bearings of the city – and an idea of some of its history - via one of the Dublin Discovery Trails that walk you along points of interest. Each trail has its own theme, with the one we walked entitled Six Days That Shook Dublin.

It gives a small glimpse of that political past, taking you through the events around Easter 1916 when legendary rebels took on the British in a claim for Irish independence.

It starts at Dublin Castle, where the first act of violence took place, and the nearby City Hall, where British forces counter-attacked. (The castle, with its palatial interior, is worth a visit on its own.) It takes you past Trinity College, which was a base for the British Army, and the famous General Post Office, which acted as the rebels’ headquarters.

You also trace the rebels’ escape route and the place of final surrender prior to their execution, and fittingly finish at the Garden of Remembrance at the top of the famous O’Connell Street.

Actually, you should probably finish with a much-deserved pint in a traditional pub. Like with any day in Dublin.

One final tip: pick up a free Visitor Guide. It’s got details of most things within and without the city and also Dublin In A Day suggestions.

There is much to explore further.

Good job it’s barely an hour away from Leeds-Bradford Airport, with Aer Lingus having regular flights making it an easy place to get to. Unlike the Taj Mahal.


Visit www.Ireland.com

Dublin Visitor Centre is located at 17 O'Connell Street Lower, Dublin 1, D01 DW22.

Where we stayed:

Jurys Inn, Parnell Street, Dublin 1, D01 E0H3

Website www.jurysinns.com/hotels/dublin (Instagram @jurysinnhotels; Facebook Jurys Inns; Twitter @JurysInnsHotels). Prices from 129 euros for a standard double. Jurys Inn has 36 hotels throughout the UK, Ireland and Czech Republic.

How to get to Dublin:

Regular Aer Lingus flights from Leeds-Bradford Airport.

LBA offers more than 75 direct destinations, with connections worldwide. The Yorkshire Premier Lounge provides a relaxing atmosphere with complimentary food and drink. There are various parking options within a few minutes’ walk or shuttle bus ride, including meet and greet. LBA also has a free one-hour parking zone for drop-off/pick-up.