Dublin City - An Introduction

Ireland's Largest City, and the Capital of the Republic of Ireland

Looking at Dublin across the Liffey - with Liberty Hall, the Spire, and the Custom House
© Bernd Biege 2016

Dublin City, does it need an introduction? I mean, everybody knows a bit about the capital of Ireland. But what are the basic facts you really need to know? That it is the home of Guinness? That it is on the Liffey? That it is not as large as it seems to be? Here's what you should know about Dublin before arriving at the airport ...

Dublin's Location

Dublin City is located in County Dublin - which, however, does not exits any more, technically speaking. The sprawling entity has been split since ages, first into Dublin City proper, and County Dublin surrounding the hard-core urban part. In 1994 the Dublin County Council was abolished, having become too big. It was succeded by three separate administrative county councils - Dún Laoghaire and Rathdown, Fingal, and South Dublin. All surrounding Dublin City, the fourth administrative entity.

The whole Dublin area is part of the Province of Leinster.

Geographically speaking, Dublin lies nestled around the mouth of the river Liffey (which bisects the city), and along Dublin Bay. On Ireland's east coast. The geographical coordinates are 53°20′52″ N and 6°15′35″ W (follow the link for maps and satellite images).

Dublin's Population

County Dublin as a whole entity has 1,270,603 inhabitants (according to the census held in 2011) - of this 527,612 live in Dublin City proper. Dublin is the largest city in Ireland, heading the list of the twenty largest cities and towns of Ireland)

Having always had a very multicultural population, Dublin these days is somewhat of an ethnic melting pot. Around 20% of the population are not Irish, with around 6% having an Asian of African ethnic background.

A Short History of Dublin

The first documented settlement here was a "permanent raiding camp" of the Vikings, established in 841. Only in the 10th century a trading colony was founded by the Vikings near today's Christ Church Cathedral and called after the nearby "dark pool", in Irish dubh linn. After the Anglo-Norman invasion and during the middle ages Dublin was the center of (Anglo-Norman) power and an important merchant city.

Major growth started during the 17th century and part of the city was rebuilt in the formal Georgian style. Around the time of the French Revolution (1789) Dublin was considered to be one of the fairest and richest cities in Europe. At the same time abysmal slums developed and the inner city declined after the Act of Union (1800) with many wealthy citizens leaving for London.

Dublin was the centre of the Easter Rising in 1916 and became the capital of the Free State and finally Republic - while the fabric of the city decayed dramatically. As late as the 1960s first moves were made to to rebuild Dublin as a more modern city, mainly by tearing down old houses and building new office blocks. Social housing was built on a grand and uninspiring scale, leading to new problem areas.

Only in the 1980s a sensible policy of reconstruction, combining preservation and renewal, was started. The booming "Celtic Tiger" economy of the 1990s led to further growth, with the now affluent Dubliners moving out into suburban areas. Here poorly planned "estates" destroyed the green belt with their cancerous growth.

Dublin Today

The capital is a strange mixture of the busy city centre, outlying village-like communities, and huge suburban estates all melting together into one big metropolitan sprawl. The tourist will more than likely stick to the walkable center (roughly defined by Parnell Square to the North, St Stephen's Green to the South, Custom House to the East and the cathedrals to the West), with only excursions to the Phoenix Park, Kilmainham Gaol, or the Guinness Storehouse taking him out of this area.

But even in this small part nearly all aspects of Dublin life can be seen - from the hustle and bustle of the ultra-modern IFSC to the drug-riddled areas of social housing nearby, from the Georgian splendour of Merrion Square to the utilitarian office blocks placed between here and the Liffey, and including cobbled side-streets, magnificent parks, stately (and mostly state-owned) buildings ... and seemingly millions of young people.

What to Expect in Dublin

Dublin used to be Europe's "Number One Party Destination" - and on busy weekends can still feel like Daytona Beach during Spring Break. Without the sun, or the bikinis, naturally. Cheap air travel and a hedonistic image (ceol agus craic is the big thing here) fostered by the tourism industry attract crowds of young Europeans that brave the Dublin weather and prices. Add to this language students (mostly from France, Italy and Spain), as well as sightseeing tourists, and you will appreciate that Dublin is best described as "busy".

Under no circumstances should the visitor expect a quaint and quiet, old-fashioned town (though all these attributes can be applied to parts of Dublin). Dublin can be noisy and overwhelming, especially between April and September.

When to Visit Dublin

Dublin can be visited throughout the year. The annual St Patrick's Festival (around March 17th) draws huge crowds and may be seen as the start of the tourist season. The city then stays busy well into September. Pre-Christmas weekends are positively claustrophobic with shoppers, and best avoided.

Places to Visit in Dublin

Dublin is full of attractions so you will have to pick. Try my recommendations for the best attractions of Dublin, and an essential walk through Dublin's city centre for inspiration. Or head straight for the best pubs of Dublin.

Places to Avoid in Dublin

The side-streets of O'Connell Street and the Liffey Boardwalk are not generally considered "safe" at night. Otherwise, you should be okay anywhere - but check up on safety in Ireland to avoid nasty surprises.