Dublin on a shoestring - a night away for €99
Pol O Conghaile shows you how to spend a night in Dublin for just €99.
1 Big ideas at The Little Museum of Dublin
Small but perfectly formed, the Little Museum of Dublin is a hare-brained scheme that proved hare-brained enough to work.
Spread across two rooms in a Georgian building on Stephen's Green, it's a quirky complement to the city's mainstream cultural institutions.
The best way to experience the museum is by guided tour, which draws out the stories behind the items.
That bottle of lemonade? It was recovered from the wreck of the RMS Leinster. That passport? It belonged to Ronnie Drew. That lump of granite? It was recovered from Nelson's Pillar.
My favourite exhibit is a cracked stained-glass panel hanging by one of the sash windows. Its depiction of St Brendan is an original Harry Clarke, rescued from a skip by quick-thinking conservationist Peter Pearson.
Apparently, Peter kept the panel's shape by fitting it into an old bread tray. The tray remains as its frame today, with two words printed on its top side: 'Irish Pride.'
Details: €5/€3 (unwaged visitors go free). Tel: 01-661 1000; littlemuseum.ie.
2 A stroll in the Botanic Gardens
Now spring has sprung, there's no better place for a wander in Dublin than the National Botanic Gardens.
A public institution since 1878, the rockeries, flowerbeds and palm houses here are home to more than 17,000 species, some of which no longer exist in the wild.
You don't need green fingers to enjoy it, either. A barcode on the 19th-century gates can be scanned with smartphones to download an audio tour.
Pathways are as suited to canoodling couples as families with buggies. In the woodland gardens, snowdrops are poking through barky soil.
Best of all is the great palm house, a big, Victorian spaceship of a building in which I find a bed of Dionaea muscipula -- better known as the Venus fly trap -- "the fastest-moving plant on earth".
Under the palm trees, a plaque marks the spot where philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein sat when visiting Dublin in the 1940s.
The humidity feels less like Glasnevin than the Grenadines.
Details: Free. Tel: 01-857 0909; botanicgardens.ie.
3 A €10 'lunchbox' at Alfie's
The 'lunchbox' menu at Alfie's on South William Street is an ingenious concept: €10 buys you one dish from each of three menu categories, with a soft drink included.
Flicking through the menu, my choices are a house salad from a category including soup, garlic mushrooms, garlic bread and fishcakes; a chicken wrap from another category including a burger, Thai chicken curry and a steak sandwich; and a bowl of chips from the final category -- a selection of sides including potatoes, vegetables and rice, among other dishes.
It's a decent spread, and it arrives quickly with a fat glass of iced Coke.
The tortilla wrap contains tasty shreds of chicken with green peppers and onion; the chips are thin and tasty -- McDonald's-style -- and the house salad is fresh and well-dressed, if undermined by an endless list of ingredients (peppers, carrots, tomatoes, roasted cashew nuts and grapes, to name but some).
Alfie's itself is pure South William Street, a dimly lit space with wooden floors, funky electric chandeliers, a leather banquette, bustling waiters dressed in black and an upstairs bar that draws a young crowd for cocktails in the evening.
It certainly beats a packed lunch.
Details: Lunchboxes are served Monday to Friday. Tel: 01-671 8767; alfies.ie.
4 3pm: Creative kids at the National Galler
Think of kids in the National Gallery, and the words 'ants' and 'pants' come to mind.
Visits don't have to be a battle of wills, however.
When I take my five-year-old daughter and her pal along, they end up creating masterpieces of their own -- in the shape of airplanes and rocket ships.
We show up at 3pm on a Saturday for one of the free children's workshops in the atrium. The tutor invites the girls to sit down, and they dip into a toolbox full of crayons and colouring pencils.
Old cartons, cardboard tubes and string are produced, and the kids are shown how to piece them together into planes and spaceships, colour in their creations and take them home.
The family programme doesn't stop there, either.
Children can colour and draw in the atrium at any time, art packs and activity sheets are available at the information point in the Millennium Wing, and you can pick up kids' audio guides too.
Caravaggio, here we come...
Details: Tel: 01-661 5133; national gallery.ie.
5 Le Cool Dublin Experience
Most tours of Dublin focus on the obvious -- historical buildings, literary pubs and the like.
The Le Cool Dublin Experience, run by the eponymous e-magazine, is different.
Concentrating on 'of-the-moment' cultural initiatives around the city, it's an insight in Dublin as it is, not as it used to be.
I hook up with the magical mystery tour on the steps of the Powerscourt Townhouse, where laid-back guide Michael McDermott makes his introductions.
First stop is Project 51, a new design collective featuring young Irish designers on South William Street. The Guinness Storehouse it ain't.
Next, it's over to Laser, the specialist DVD store on South Great George's Street.
Here, novelist Belinda McKeon (who it turns out has been walking with us all along) whips out a copy of her book, 'Solace', and reads a passage set in the very aisles in which we are standing.
Other stops include a meet- and-greet with artists Adrian+Shane and a visit to tattoo parlour, Dublin Ink.
It's a super insight into a living city, and, what's more, no two tours are the same.
Details: €15pp. lecoolwalk dublin.tumblr.com.
6 9.30pm: Overnight at the Pembroke Townhouse
You don't have to spend a fortune to stay in Georgian Dublin. And I don't mean by holing up in some crummy two-star high-rise either.
The Pembroke Townhouse is that rare creature: a cosy hotel accommodating guests in a stately building at affordable rates.
The hotel fits 48 basic bedrooms into six stories, including -- my favourite -- a small mezzanine suite overlooking leafy Pembroke Street. It can sleep three people, for just €25 extra.
Though the rooms are fairly basic, little touches make it memorable: a larder stocked with tea and cookies; free Wi-Fi; a carafe of homemade grenadine on the reception desk.
A binder lists restaurant and takeaway options, too. If you order in, cutlery can be sent to your room with the food.
Breakfast costs €12.50, is served in a bright room beneath prints of lilies and sweet peas, and everything on the menu is Irish, manager Fiona Teehan tells me.
That includes yogurt cake, banana bread, homemade muesli, and hot breakfast cooked to order.
Details: Rooms from €89. Tel: 01-660 0277; pembroketownhouse.ie.
7 A sneaky shop at The Secret Sell Off
One upside to the current downturn is the rash of pop-up restaurants, shops and galleries sprouting around Dublin, offering a much-needed tonic to the bland brands of Grafton Street.
Take The Secret Sell Off on Dame Court, a warehouse-style space discounting designer brands at 60-90pc.
Owner John Mohan originally intended the pop-up to last three months, but with dresses, coats and separates by the likes of Sarah Pacini and Malena Berger selling like hot cakes (the average price tag in the store is €32, he says), the plan now is to make it a permanent fixture.
The Secret Sell Off is a deliberately pared-back space, painted white from front to back, with everything hung on portable rails and divided by size. The fashion does the talking, in other words. And going to press, a black Yumi dress had been marked down from €100 to €35.
Details: Tel: 01-672 7235; facebook. com/TheSecretSellOff.
All prices are calculated per person, and include one night's accommodation, two meals (breakfast and lunch/dinner) and all activities. We've allowed €10 for transport within the city.
NB: Prices correct going to press, but are always subject to change and availability.
The Dublin Pass (€35/€19 for one-day; dublinpass.ie) gives entrance to 30 attractions, including Dublin Zoo, Dublinia and the Old Jameson Distillery.
For more information, see visitdublin.com.
Botanic Gardens Free
The Little Museum
of Dublin €5
Lunch at Alfie's €10
National Gallery Free
The Secret Sell-Off
(Just browsing) €0
Le Cool Dublin
Pembroke Townhouse €44.50
Plus Breakfast €12.50
Travel (bus, Taxi) €10