A young man with dreadlocks strums his guitar and belts out a first-rate cover of Pink Floyds Wish You Were Here as the sun beats down on Grafton Street.

The signs of spring are everywhere. Flower sellers have materialized seemingly from nowhere and are selling their wares to shoppers patiently cued up for the privilege. Young adults of both genders stroll along wearing trendy, expensive clothes, sipping designer coffee drinks and talking into cell phones.

This energetic scene, common in areas all around the Irish capital, epitomizes the Dublin of today perhaps more than the stereotypical images from years ago: dark pubs with sawdust on the floor, knit woolen sweaters and stately Georgian buildings bursting with art and theater.

This is not to say that the traditional Ireland is not in Dublin for tourists to enjoy: It is and likely always will be.

The fun for visitors, however, is the contrast between the old and new and the challenge, especially for those with only a few days to spare, of trying to take it all in.

Shop til you drop

For avid shoppers, Grafton Street is arguably the heart of the city, starting at the statue of Molly Malone on the corner of Nassau Street, referred to irreverently by locals as the Tart With the Cart. The pedestrian-only district offers access to such upscale shoe and clothing outlets as Clarks and Nine West, which sit cheek-by-jowl next to the Brown Thomas department store and the more moderately priced Marks & Spencer.

Book lovers can spend hours at the Dublin Bookshop, where they can find everything from best-sellers to works by Irish authors, followed by coffee or tea at the celebrated Bewleys Oriental Cafe.

Budget-minded shoppers can head north on Grafton Street, crossing the Liffey River onto OConnell Street and turning left on Henry Street, where pedestrians have the right of way as they troll for bargains in such stores as Penneys and H&M.

For a sampling of Irish crafts, the Kilkenny Design Workshop on Nassau Street showcases local handicrafts, from ceramics and textiles to jewelry and art.

Sweaters, shawls and other clothing fashioned from hand-woven and -dyed fabrics, and designed with an individual twist are stacked to the ceiling in tiny Cleos on Kildare Street. You wont find any bargains here, but neither will you see your outfit in other stores in the city or at home.

Further up the scale in terms of budget is the Louise Kennedy studio on Merrion Square, where visitors can browse among the eclectic offerings of one of Irelands most noted designers. Known in part for her crystal and clothing, Kennedy also sells unique silver objets dart and products by other designers.

Dublin your fun

For those not born to shop, the city offers plenty of historical attractions, the foremost being the Book of Kells, housed in the Old Library at Trinity College. We advise springing for a guided student tour of the campus to get the maximum benefit from the experience.

Consider mixing culture with refreshment via a literary pub crawl, which combines performances of works by favorite sons such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Brendan Behan with visits to historical Dublin pubs.

The tours, which are priced at about $15, meet at the Duke Pub on Duke Street at 7:30 p.m. each evening.

Or bypass pubs altogether and head straight to the source at the Guinness Storehouse at St. Jamess Gate for an in-depth look at the making of Irelands most famous brew, complete with visual and tactile exhibitions along the way.

The inner structure of the building is meant to resemble a tankard of beer, with the highlight being the foam, if you will, which is a roof-level bar where visitors can knock back a free pint while admiring a 360-degree view of the city.

Be prepared to line up for tickets and jostle for position at the bar, as this is the top international visitor attraction in Ireland, drawing a whopping 2.5 million visitors since it opened in 2000.

Inside, outside

Theater is robust in Dublin, where visitors can take in the hard stuff -- a Beckett Centenary Festival during a recent visit showcased Samuel Becketts Waiting for Godot, for example -- or go lighter with some comedy at the Laughter Lounge, at Eden Quay on OConnell Bridge.

For something more offbeat, try outdoor Op-air (Opera in the Square) performances in Meeting House Square in Dublins Temple Bar district, considered the citys Left Bank. The performances are free, but seating is limited; viewers, however, come and go as they please, so seats do open up.

Nature lovers can experience Irelands green fields in Phoenix Park, the largest city park in Europe; St. Stephens Green, which has a bust of James Joyce; and the hidden gem Iveagh Gardens -- pronounced Ivy --   formerly the private estate of the Guinness family.

Alternately, head out of town with Dirty Boots Treks, which offers guided walks through the flora and fauna of the countryside.

Unless you enjoy sitting for hours in traffic, avoid renting a car while staying in Dublin. Opt instead for walking -- the city is small enough that most people can easily get around on foot -- taxis or public transportation.

Dublin Bus Rambler passes for the citys bus network run from 5 euros (about $6.35) for one day to 15 euros (about $19) for five days.

Rambler passes can be bought in conjunction with the Dublin Pass discount card from the Leisure Pass Group, which includes free transfers to and from Dublin Airport. Priced from about $37 for one day to about $112 for six days, the pass also gets visitors free admission to more than 30 attractions as well as discounts at shops and restaurants.

While locals navigate the streets by bicycle, its a bit dangerous and not recommended for visitors.

For more information about Dublin, check out www.visitdublin.com, www.dublinpass.com or www.dublinpubcrawl.com.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].

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