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Doing Dublin on a budget

Fresh out of college and on a strict budget, I flew to Ireland for the first time 25 years ago. In those days, a room at a top hotel averaged $25 and a night at a homey bed-and-breakfast was less than $2. Those were the days. In 1991, as Dublin basks in the limelight of being Europe's cultural capital, the city hopes to attract a steady flow of Americans by staging dozens of celebrations and concerts and opening two attractions _ a Museum of Modern Art and a Writers' Museum. There also will be many people paying $200 and up for a hotel room, and $100 and up for dinner for two.

But, like all major cities, there are good values in Dublin. Having returned almost yearly since my first journey, here's some advice to help stretch a buck in Dublin's Fair City. All prices are calculated at $1.75 = one Irish pound, or punt; 100 pence = one pound.

Getting around

Take the bus from Dublin Airport to the city center. The fare is about $4 (2.3 pounds). A taxi costs $17.50 to $23 (10-13 pounds) plus tip and an additional 70 cents (40 pence) for each piece of luggage.

Walk. A compact city, Dublin is easy to tour on foot. Just bring good walking shoes and follow the city's well-posted "Tourist Trail." A handy booklet, on sale at all tourist offices and book shops, will guide you. Price: $1.75 (1 pound).

Hop on a double-decker. Like Londoners, Dublin folk are devoted to the bi-level bus. It's worth a ride just for the view from the upper deck, but you'll also find it a quick way to get from one side of town to the other. Minimum fare is about 90 cents (50 pence). If you want to cover a lot of ground in a short time, buy a one-day bus pass, priced at approximately $4.20 (2.40 pounds).

DART around. Although Dublin has no subway, there is a new, above-ground, electrified train system, known as DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit). DART traverses the city center and fans out to the suburbs. Within a half-hour, you can be touring the gardens at Howth Castle on the north side or walking along the pier at Dun Laoghaire, to the south of the city. Minimum fare is just under $1 (55 pence).

Get an "Explorer Pass." This visitor's transit ticket provides unlimited access to all Dublin City bus and DART services for four days, along with a discount booklet valid for reduced admission charges at major attractions. Cost: $14 (8 pounds).

Cut costs

on accommodations

Yes, it is possible to get a room in Dublin for less than $200 a night. All of the prices given below are for two people in a double room per night, with private bath/shower.

Visit on a weekend. Like many major cities, Dublin is full of business travelers on weekdays but happy to get tourists on Friday or Saturday nights. Here are some samples of current weekend packages at three of the top hotels:

Jurys Hotel has struck a fixed dollar rate of $137.80, including full breakfast, taxes and service charge. Two-night minimum required. Weekday rate for room only is $192.50 (110 pounds).

Hotel Conrad has a weekend rate of $131-$149 (75-85 pounds), including full breakfast each morning, taxes and service charge. Two-night minimum required. Weekday rate for room only is $250-$262 (143-150 pounds).

The Shelbourne Hotel offers a weekend rate of $159 (94 pounds), including full breakfast. Two-night minimum required. In addition, if you stay on a Sunday as your third night in a row, the rate for Sunday night is $105 (60 pounds). Weekday rate for room only is $262 (150 pounds).

Think small. For a comfortable and often charming room, you'll get a good deal at one of Dublin's family-run hotels or guesthouses. These range from midtown inns near St. Stephen's Green, such as Georgian House at $92-$126 (53-72 pounds) or The Fitzwilliam at $77-$103 (44-59 pounds), to properties in fashionable Ballsbridge, such as Ariel House or Anglesea Town House, both pegged at $105 (60 pounds) a night, or the Mount Herbert Guesthouse at $56-$90 (31.90-51.90 pounds). A good choice near the airport is Egan's Guesthouse, priced from $53-$67 (30.50-38.50 pounds).

Book into a private home. Hundreds of Dublin families open their homes as bed-and-breakfasts. These accommodations are usually in suburban locations and are close to main bus routes. The number of rooms available usually varies from four to six, and usually about half of the rooms have private bath/shower. Rates average $50-$70 (28-40 pounds) for two people including a hearty home-cooked breakfast.

Trim tabs on meals

Sample the expensive restaurants for lunch. You'll enjoy a four-course meal with the same quality food, ambiance and service, at one-third to half off the dinner price. For example, lunch at Gallery 22 on St. Stephen's Green is approximately $17.50 (10 pounds); dinner from $30 (17 pounds). A complete mid-day meal at the stylish brasserie Cafe Klara costs $16.60 (9.50 pounds), while dinner starts at about $25 (12 pounds). Lunch at the highly touted French restaurant, Patrick Guilbaud, is $26 (15 pounds); dinner starts at $44 (25 pounds). Lunch at the seafood specialty house Ernie's is $22 (12.50 pounds); dinner averages $52 (29.50 pounds).

Look for tourist menus. Many restaurants and cafes post budget-stretching fixed price "tourist menus" for lunch or dinner during specific hours, both mid-day and evening. These are substantial three-course meals and sometimes include a glass of wine. There are three price levels, $10.50, $14.45 and $21 (6 pounds, 8.25 pounds, and 12 pounds), depending on the restaurant and time of day.

Eat at a pub. You don't have to imbibe to enjoy a Dublin pub. You'll find lots of inexpensive food, as well as camaraderie and entertainment, in many pubs throughout the day. The selection includes hearty soups, sandwiches, stews, salads, and hot meats and vegetables, as well as the occasional quiches or seafood pies. Substantial pub meals run from about $5 to $9 (3-5 pounds) per person.

Some of the best

things are free

You can spend several days in Dublin, savoring the sights and soaking up the ambiance, and never have to pay an admission fee.

Among the major museums and buildings that do not charge general admission are the National Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Natural History Museum, Dublin Civic Museum, the Four Courts, the Old Parliament House and Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. Free outdoor attractions range from St. Stephen's Green and the National Botanic Gardens, to Phoenix Park, one of the largest enclosed public parks in the world, where you can follow nature trails, stroll in the gardens, observe wildlife and watch free polo matches on weekends.

More information

Aer Lingus, toll-free (800) 223-6537, flies to Dublin from gateways at New York, Boston and Chicago.

Delta Airlines, toll-free (800) 221-1212, flies to Dublin from Atlanta.

Irish Tourist Board, 757 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017, telephone (212) 418-0800, publishes free booklets on accommodations and dining as well as Best Value Vacation Offers for 1991.

C.I.E. Tours International, 108 Ridgedale Ave., Morristown, N.J. 07960-4244, toll-free (800) CIE-TOUR, provides information on the Explorer Pass, bus and rail services and tours.

Free-lance writer and author Patricia Tunison Preston is based in Red Hook, N.Y. Her latest book, Reflections of Ireland, will be published this summer by W.H. Smith/CLB Books of New York and London.