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Dunluce Castle, which now lies in ruins along the coast of the Irish Sea, was the inspiration for Castle Harrenhal in the HBO series "Game of Thrones." (Photo by Anne Braly)

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A single-minded focus on finding fun in Dublin

Generally speaking, when you arrive in a new country you do not expect to see all of the clichés at the same moment, but in Dublin things are completely different. Just a short taxi ride from the airport, the pubs begin to appear. And if you roll down your window when the taxi stops at a red light near the River Liffey, you may hear the sounds of a fiddle and a flute, and your toes may start tapping.

What to do

For an all-around tour of the city, board one of the Hop-on Hop-off red buses. It will cost you around 20 Euros, but it's worth the investment as your ticket is good for 24 hours from the time of purchase — just make sure you hold on to it because you will want to hop off at several stops and spend some time touring by foot.

The historic prison, Kilmainham Gaol, is an important stop. Opened in 1796, it tells a sad but important story in Ireland's history. It housed starving children who stole bits of food during the potato famine in the mid-1800s, as well as martyrs of the struggle for independence from England, including those executed by firing squad at the jail following the 1916 Easter Rising.

Movie buffs might recognize the large east wing of the prison used in movies such as "The Italian Job" and "In the Name of the Father." Tours are held throughout the day. If you have a wait, stop in the Patriot's Inn across the street for a Guinness.

Phoenix Park is another site to behold. It's the largest enclosed park in Europe and a massive 1,750 acres. Both the president of Ireland and the American ambassador to the Emerald Isle have residences inside the park.

The Dublin Zoo, a must-see, is also within its borders. Young ones will be entertained for hours seeing the more than 700 animals from around the world.

You can't go to Dublin without feeling and seeing the presence of Guinness. Everywhere you look, there's an advertisement for the city's beloved brew. Tours of the massive brewery, which include a hefty tasting at the end, are self-guided, allowing you to explore the seven stories of the visitor experience at your leisure.

Also making its presence known is Jameson Whiskey, triple-brewed for smoothness and doubly fun if you take a tour that includes tastings. Though it's no longer made in Dublin, it's heart is there, and you can visit the original brewery and learn how it got its start and the history of Irish whiskey.

No visit to Dublin is complete without a walk through Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. The book is the world's oldest and contains, in Latin, the four Gospels along with exquisite, colorful ornamentations on its pages. A word to the wise: This is one of Dublin's most-popular tourist destinations, and the line for tickets is long. Purchasing your ticket ahead of time (www.tcd.ie) will get you in a shorter line. We purchased tickets on our smartphones while waiting in the long line and were quickly moved to the shorter line and inside looking at the Book of Kells within five minutes.

If you have a couple of days in Dublin, consider an outing that will take you outside the city to explore the island's many treasures, such as the Cliffs of Moher; Blarney Castle and County Cork; and Giant's Causeway. The latter might include a "Game of Thrones" tour, which includes several sites familiar to fans of the HBO series, which is partially filmed along the Irish coast north of Belfast. There are several tour companies from which to choose, including Finn McCools Tours, Paddywagon Tours and Wild Rover Tours. A Google search will find these names and more.

Where to stay

If you're a light sleeper or not into the party scene, avoid overnighting in any of the Temple Bar hotels. The neighborhood is lively and filled with folks ready for a party and a good hangover by morning. Things get into full swing by midafternoon, but it's worth a walk through Temple Bar to see what it's all about. Historic bars and pubs, handsome brick-lined streets and a few interesting shops are pretty much what you'll find.

Two of the better-known pubs are The Norseman, visited by Leonardo DiCaprio during the filming of "The Titanic," and the Temple Bar Pub, opened in 1840. If you can find a seat, plunk yourself down, order a pint and sit back for live music, dancing and people-watching.

There are a few hotels in Temple Bar, such as The Fitzsimons. But honestly, for the money, choose a hotel a little farther from the madding crowd. The Jury Inn is a couple of blocks away, directly across the street from Christ Church where Handel first played "The Messiah" in 1741 at the invitation of William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Good hotels in the city's quieter zones can be found in the City Center, an area within walking distance of many of Dublin's popular attractions. These include The Morgan, The Westbury and The Morrison, the latter of which is now a Hilton property. There are plenty of hotels — just do your homework and don't go by the photographs alone.

Eat your fill

You'll have plenty of chances to try tastes of the homeland, such as Irish stew and shepherd's pie. You might also partake in black pudding — just wait until after you've finished to check the internet for the recipe.

When you dine at The Quay in Temple Bar, look for the seafood dishes. The Irish Sea and North Sea are close by, so you're guaranteed some good fish. One of the top picks is the Creamy Smoked Salmon, Prawn and Spinach Pasta. More often than not, there will be a line, so settle in at the bar until your number is called. It's worth the wait.

Tables at Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland, turn quickly. Our order was on the table in less than five minutes after our drinks were delivered, so if there's a wait, it won't be long. I even asked our server if he knew what I wanted before I did. The place is big, noisy and lots of fun. It's not the best food in Dublin, though the Irish stew seemed pretty popular, but it's a sight to see with lots of Irish charm.

Elephant & Castle may sound like a strange name for a restaurant in the heart of Ireland, but it brings a herd of folks — both locals and tourists — to its tables for delicious Irish fare, as well as great wings and burgers, if you're longing for a taste of home. Tour guide Michael Hayes says if you venture into Temple Bar, this is the place to go.

Seafood chowder is on many menus in Dublin, but check out the offering at Arlington Hotel's restaurant. It's not on the top 10 list of seafood chowders in the city, but it should be. The chowder is extra creamy and loaded with shrimp, big chunks of lobster and rings of calamari. If you can't get a window seat, you can watch the goings-on along Bachelors Walk, an active neighborhood on the banks of the River Liffey.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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