Dublin isn’t all shamrocks and beer – News & Observer

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BY L.A. JACKSONCorrespondent
Tags: travel

DUBLIN — St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Guinness Storehouse, Book of Kells, Temple Bar, Trinity College – mention these famous Celtic icons and thoughts of Dublin come to mind. But while those must-see attractions are forever linked to Ireland’s capital, they aren’t the only sites worth visiting.

Dublin is a sophisticated European city that will surprise those expecting to find a four-leaf clover slant to every activity and attraction. Sure, the spirit of “Erin go bragh” is strong in this historic city, but it is also an enjoyable, diverse destination enhanced by such unexpected pleasures as:

Phoenix Park: At 1760 acres, Phoenix Park is twice as big as New York City’s Central Park. On sunny days, the wide-open spaces are magnets for Dubliners wanting to bask and play in the fair weather.

Originally a Royal Hunting Park, it was opened to the public in 1745 and has been the home of a herd of wild fallow deer since the 17th century. Two monuments that are hard to miss in the park are a large papal cross that commemorates Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979 and the Wellington Monument, a towering 210-foot obelisk honoring the Duke of Wellington, a native Dubliner who gained fame at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Phoenix Park is also home to Aras an Uachtarain, the official residence of the president of Ireland.

Dublin Zoo: Inside fPhoenix Park, the 66-acre Dublin Zoo ( www.dublinzoo.ie) is the fourth-oldest zoo in the world, having been established in 1830 by the Zoological Society of Dublin. It is home to more than 235 species of animals, including such endangered species as the white-faced saki, Goeldi’s monkey, Moluccan cockatoo and golden lion tamarin.

Its paths are abundantly landscaped with plants from around the world, and they lead visitors through eight themed areas that display animals in roomy simulations of their natural habitats. Last year, the zoo welcomed almost 1 million visitors, making it one of Ireland’s top attractions.

Dublinia: Dublin is the capital of Ireland, but it began as an outpost for Norsemen who raided the Irish countryside in the ninth century. Dublinia ( www.dublinia.ie) is a museum that takes visitors back to the time of the Vikings and shows the city’s transition from a Nordic settlement to an important medieval European city. Housed in the architecturally impressive neo-Gothic masterpiece that used to be Synod Hall of the Church of Ireland, the museum is a time capsule of Ireland from the Dark Ages to the Reformation in the 16th century.

National Botanic Gardens: Nowhere in Ireland is it greener than at the National Botanic Gardens ( www.botanic gardens.ie ), where more than 20,000 plant species live on 48 acres along the banks of the Tolka River. Established in 1795, this must-see destination for plant lovers takes visitors through a horticultural wonderland of plants from around the world. History also has a presence in the form of two magnificent Victorian greenhouses: The Curvilinear Range, built in 1848 to house Southeast Asian plants, cycads and specimens from the Southern Hemisphere, and the restored Great Palm House (1884), which contains tropical trees, bamboos, bromeliads, orchids and cacti.

Millennium Spire: Officially called the “Monument of Light” or simply “The Spire” by Dubliners, it was built in 2003 in the center of the city to commemorate the new millennium. At 390 feet, this stainless steel beauty is the tallest sculpture in the world.

The needlelike monument’s base is 10 feet in diameter and gradually narrows to 6 inches at the top. Standing on bustling O’Connell Street close to the historic General Post Office, the spire also serves as an excellent point of reference for tourists who stroll the busy shopping district that surrounds the monument.

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