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Other cities are better-looking and/or cooler, but the hotchpotch of architecture and charming, garrulous and child-friendly people give Dublin a huge personality that makes it great for family breaks or as a stopover. Having enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last 20 years, with help from the EU, Dublin has embraced change and modernity and become, almost overnight, a city with osmopolitan swagger. Café culture and hip bars exploded onto the scene and buildings couldn’t go up quickly enough, with everyone wanting a piece of the pie.
The result is a city that has transformed itself, with old and new everywhere you turn: striking modern buildings beside Georgian squares, horse-drawn carriages pulling tourists alongside a modern transport system. But Dublin is also a pleasure to simply stroll around, busy and bustling with lots to see and do: plenty of museums, parks, and pubs and clubs. And you can be on the beach or in the mountains in just five minutes.
Visit the Natural History Collection at the National Museum of Ireland in Merrion Street, then head for Dublin Zoo in Phoenix Park.
Take an open-topped bus tour around the city, hopping on and off at your leisure. Parents will be pleased to know that you can stop off at the Guinness Brewery at St James’ Gate for a superb tour and a pint. Alternatively, take a horse-and-cart ride around the city.
Wander round St Stephen’s Green, with ducks to feed and a decent playground. Other interesting spots are Temple Bar with its arty, fun (if sometimes rowdy) feel and the beautiful grounds of Trinity College.
Make a beeline for Airfield, a lovely city farm with Cath Kidston-esque styling, family activities and a spacious café with a large terrace overlooking the walled garden.
Have a browse at Farmleigh farmers' market, which often has good kids' events and makes for a great day out in a stunning setting. There’s another farmers' market at People's Park at Dun Laoghaire, offering a massive range of foods next to a play park and the sea.
Back in the centre, the Science Gallery at the back of Trinity has cool hands-on exhibits and another nice big café. Or get creative at the Museum of Modern Art of Ireland (IMMA) with its excellent response room packed with pencils, paper, pens, pipe-cleaners and so on for kids to get busy. There's also a great café with a huge playroom with easels, acres of open grass for picnicking and running about, and stunning formal garden with maze-like hedges.
Visit the GAA Museum, where interactive and touch-screen technology help bring to life the unique moments of hurling and gaelic football. You can also have a behind-the-scenes tour of Croke Park Stadium itself.
Spend time at Imaginosity!, Dublin Children’s Museum, a unique creative space for children up to 9 and their families, inspiring young minds through play.
Mooch around the various historical monuments and castles, especially Dublin Castle with its state apartments, medieval undercroft and Viking defence bank.
With older kids, explore the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship/Famine Museum – a fairly heart-wrenching experience.
Discover Bushy Park in Rathfarnham, with a duck pond and playground, and the less-visited but great St Anne’s Park on the northside, once owned by the Guinness family – the mansion burnt down but the grounds, rose garden and stream to the duck pond make it worth a visit, and there's a café and gallery in the old stables.
Enjoy a Liffey River Cruise – even if your children don’t take in all the facts and historical titbits, they’ll enjoy having the cobwebs blown away.
Make the most of the long summer days! Dublin has many beaches dotted along its coastline, so pack a picnic, build a sandcastle, go for a long walk, devour an ice-cream and even take a dip. The small beach at Sandycove next to Joyce's Tower (where Ulysses begins) is perfect for kids – it's a protected cove, with a van selling buckets and spades and the legendary Forty Foot bathing place for adults. Up the road in Sandycove are some great tapas/wine bars that welcome kids.
Alternatively, head for Hoath Beach and go for a walk around Hoath Head, with great views out across the bay. There's also Claremont Beach, known to locals as The Hole in the Wall.
Other beaches to check out are The Velvet Strand and Portmarnock, both gorgeous and sandy. In Portmarnock, the Artworks Café offers kids' pottery courses.
If you fancy getting out onto the water, head to Bullock Harbour, where you can hire boats and, while you’re waiting to get onboard, watch the seals that are normally cavorting by the boats.
There’s no shortage of places to eat in Dublin and most are very welcoming to kids – Temple Bar alone has a heady mix of local pubs and more international restaurants that could keep you satisfied for a few days. We recommmend Elephant & Castle, a NYC-style all-day brunch joint with to-die-for spicy chicken wings.
Or try Bewleys Coffee Shop in Grafton Street – a popular institution offering great value slap-bang in the middle of the city, whether you want a full breakfast, a quick hot chocolate or a cooked meal for the kids at 5pm.
The Market Bar on Fade St does excellent tapas and a great kids' menu, and staff are very tolerant of children running around the massive floor space (the place used to be a sausage factory and kids love looking down through the Victorian grilles designed to siphon off the blood!). The Odeon at the top of Harcourt Street is a massive old station building resembling Paris's Musée d'Orsay, with more good food and space for kids to dash about.
And the stunning Cake Café on Pleasants Lane offers wonderful home-made cakes and biscuits in the shape of butterflies, horses and other such loveliness, and also does a mean sardines on toast or baked egg with soldiers.
Dublin is a great place for family city breaks year-round, but if you're planning to use it as a jump-off point for family holidays in Ireland, May and October half terms or summer are best. If you're here in March, don't miss the colourful St Patrick's Day Parade.
You can fly to Dublin Airport (Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath) from many cities in the UK, with a range of no-frills and standard airlines including British Airways. Public transport options are plentiful from the airport into central Dublin 9km away.
Dublin isn't as cheap as you might expect given its down-to-earth atmosphere, with eating out especially likely to send family holiday bills soaring. Self-catering accommodation can help keep costs down.By Rachelle Keyes
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