If You Have One Day
Begin with Trinity College—the oldest seat of Irish learning and home to the Old Library, the staggering Long Room, and Ireland's greatest art treasure—the Book of Kells, one of the world's most famous illuminated manuscripts. Leave the campus and take a stroll along Grafton Street, Dublin's busiest shopping street and the pedestrian spine of the Southside. Take in a few shops and entertaining buskers on the street and at the end of Grafton you will find yourself at the northwest corner of St. Stephen's Green, Dublin's favorite relaxation spot. Head over to the northeast corner of the park to find ground zero for the city's cultural institutions. Here, surrounding the four points of Leinster House (built by the earl of Kildare, Ireland's first patron of Palladianism), are the National Museum, replete with artifacts and exhibits dating from prehistoric times; the National Gallery of Ireland (don't miss the Irish collection and the Caravaggio Taking of Christ); the National Library; and the Natural History Museum.
For a lovely lunch, head back to St. Stephen's Green and the Victorian-era Shelbourne—the lobby salons glow with Waterford chandeliers and blazing fireplaces. From St. Stephen's Green walk west for 10 minutes to pay your respects to St. Paddy—St. Patrick's Cathedral. If, instead, the Dublin of artists and poets is more your speed, hop a double-decker bus and head north of the Liffey to the Dublin Writers Museum. End the day with a performance at the nearby Gate Theatre, another Georgian stunner, or spend the evening exploring the cobbled streets and the many cafés and shops of Dublin's bohemian quarter, the compact Temple Bar area, back on the south bank of the Liffey.
If You Have Three Days
Dedicate your second day to the areas north and west of the city center. In the morning, cross the Liffey via O'Connell Bridge and walk up O'Connell Street, the city's widest thoroughfare, stopping to visit the General Post Office—the besieged headquarters of the 1916 rebels—on your way to the Dublin Writers Museum (if you didn't have a chance to visit on your first day) and the Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane. Be sure to join the thousands of Dubliners strolling down Henry, Moore, and Mary streets, the Northside's pedestrian shopping area. In the afternoon, head back to the Liffey for a quayside walk by Dublin's most imposing structure, the Custom House; then head west to the Guinness Brewery and Storehouse. Hop a bus or catch a cab back into the city for a blowout dinner at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud at the Merrion Hotel. Spend the evening on a literary pub crawl to see where the likes of Beckett and Behan held court, perhaps joining a special guided tour. On the third day tour the northern and western outskirts of Dublin from Glasnevin Cemetery and the National Botanic Gardens across to the majestic Phoenix Park and the quaint fishing village of Howth. Back in the city, have tea at Bewley's and catch a musical performance at the Olympia Theatre or a play at the Abbey Theatre.
If You Have Five Days
Follow the two itineraries above and then head west to start your fourth day at Dublin's dawn—a living history of Dublin can be seen at medieval Dublinia, across the street from ancient Christ Church Cathedral, whose underground crypt is Dublin's oldest structure. Head north, jumping across the Liffey to the Four Courts, James Gandon's Georgian masterpiece and the home of the Irish judiciary. Recross the river to the Southside and go west again to visit the Royal Hospital Kilmainham—which houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art—and Kilmainham Gaol, where the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed following their capture. Return via Dublin Castle, residence of British power in Ireland for nearly 800 years, and star of Neil Jordan's film Michael Collins and then move on to the Chester Beatty Library, which connoisseurs prize because of its Chinese and Turkish treasures. On your fifth and final day, explore the northern suburbs of Dublin, home to three architectural jewels: the Marino Casino, which looks like a temple to Zeus perched over the sea but is, in truth, a monument of Irish Neoclassicism; picturesque Malahide Castle; and Newbridge House, famed for its gorgeous 18th-century salons. Back in Dublin, have a final farewell dinner, hopefully at your "local": your favorite neighborhood pub.