The city centre comprises just a few manageably sized neighbourhoods, bisected by the Liffey, and you'll find that it's no distance at all from the top of O'Connell Street (on the north side of the river) to the peaceful Grand Canal on the south side.
By far the best way to set about exploring the place is on foot. In fact, if you've got a car, park it right now and try not to think of it again unless you're heading out of town. The traffic is too heavy and the town too small to make driving worthwhile. All you need is a good map, a bit of sunshine and a pair of comfortable shoes.
Despite its compact layout, Dublin manages to pack in a good deal of variety. There are historic buildings by the dozen, plenty of green spaces and quiet squares, and enough shops, bars and restaurants to gobble up your holiday allowance ten times over. It is a city with a strong sense of its past (it seems that every few steps brings you to another statue, another heritage plaque announcing the birth place of this playwright, the first home of that poet). And yet, an equal portion of its landscape has been consigned to the future, with a crop of modern structures and buildings contending with the Georgian terraces and the ancient bell towers - of these, O'Connell Street's Spire is undoubtedly the most recognisable, while the many signature bridges that span the Liffey and the multi-million euro developments and regeneration projects from Smithfield to Docklands are there to be discovered.
The main action is concentrated in and around the two most central neighbourhoods of Temple Bar and St Stephen's Green. The former, a maze of tiny cobbled streets and busy thoroughfares, has the largest concentration of bars, restaurants, night spots and trendy shops.
It is also home to the city's two major cathedrals, St Patrick's and Christ Church. But somehow, it copes admirably well with its personality clash of holiness and consumerism. While the idea of awe-inspiring monuments to Christianity and raucous parties of staggering stags existing side by side may have caused friction among the locals, it seems to go almost without a hitch as far as visitors are concerned. The rule of thumb is simple: if you want to raise hell, hit the pubs and clubs of Temple Bar after dark; if it's heaven you're interested in, stick to the cathedrals.
St Stephen's Green
More sophisticated by far is the neighbouring St Stephen's Green and its clutch of excellent museums around Kildare Street (notably the National Museum of Archaeology & History) and the treasure trove of fine art that is the National Gallery of Ireland. And for consumer culture, this is also Dublin's ground zero, thanks to nearby Grafton Street with its shops, cafés and restaurants.
The other main shopping hub is O'Connell Street (and its tributary, the ever-busy Henry Street), which culminates in a spearhead of excellent museums dotted around Parnell Square (most notably the Hugh Lane Gallery). To the west of here is the up-and-coming Smithfield and, further still, the vast Phoenix Park (also home to Dublin Zoo) while just across the bridge to the south is the formidable campus of Trinity College, with its ancient claim to fame in pride of place in the Old Library & Book of Kells.
Finally, to the east is the heady mix of past, present and future that is the city's Docklands.