The best way to truly understand Ireland’s capital city is to cross a pub’s threshold for a night of raucous conversation, impromptu sing-songs and plenty of black velvet pints.

The best way to truly understand Dublin is to cross a pub’s welcoming threshold for a night of raucous conversation, impromptu sing-songs and plenty of black velvet pints. With folk music and camaraderie by the dozen, a reputation for jovial pubs and spot-on spirits is alive and well in Ireland’s capital city.

Founded in 1833 by John Kavanagh and still in the family, Kavanagh’s has hardly changed. Adjacent to Glasnevin Cemetery, it’s also known as Gravediggers after the undertakers who had a secret serving hatch so that they could drink on the job. In summer the square is full of Guinness drinkers basking in the sun (00 353 1 830 7978; 1 Prospect Square; pint of Guinness £3.50).

With wildly ornate Victorian woodwork, mirrors and chandeliers, The Long Hall in SoDa (South of Dame St) is one of the city’s most beautiful and best-loved pubs. From musk-coloured walls to mirrored columns behind the bar, it’s elegantly dingy. The bartenders are experts in their craft, an increasingly rare sight in Dublin these days (00 353 1 475 1590; 51 South Great George’s St; pint of Guinness £3.50).

Built in 1770 and remodelled in 1895 at the height of Victorian opulence, Stag’s Head has not changed a bit since then. It’s so picturesque that it has featured in many films and even in a postage-stamp series. True to its name, you’ll find mounted stags’ heads, plus stained glass, chandeliers and carved wood – the fitters who worked here also worked on local churches (00 353 1 679 3687; 1 Dame Ct; pint of Guinness £3.90).

If you want to hear true Irish folk music, head for M Hughes. Off the beaten track, this authentic pub hosts nightly sessions that often result in a closed door, that is, they go on long past the official closing time. Expect a decent pint, frenzied set-dancing and shaggy bearded locals (00 353 1 872 6540; 20 Chancery Street; no admission fee; no food in the evenings; pint of beer £3.80).

Situated in Georgian Dublin, O’Donoghue’s is the most renowned traditional music bar in the city, and where well-known folk group the Dubliners started out in the 1960s. The walls, adorned with photographs of the musicians who have played here, demonstrate the heritage of its musical credentials. Sessions begin at 9pm every night and on summer evenings people spill out into the courtyard (15 Merrion Row; no admission fee; pint of beer from £4.50).

Another pub whose walls talk is Cobblestone, on the main square in Smithfield. Rising stars and tried-and-tested old hands of the traditional folk scene play sessions nightly in the front bar until everyone’s turfed out of the door. Look online for gig listings at the Back Room (downstairs), which hosts intimate gigs where you are unlikely to be more than a foot away from the musicians (77 North King St; no food served; back room gigs £8).

Modern bars
Co-owned by singer Huey from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, the Dice Bar in Smithfield looks very New York, Lower East Side. Its black-and- red-painted interior, dripping candles and distressed seating, combined with rocking DJs, make it a magnet for Dublin’s beatnik crowds. They also brew their own beer in case you’ve, had your fill of the black stuff (93-94 Benburb St; cocktails £6).

The Globe, Dublin’s original and best café-bar, draws hip young locals and clued-up visitors. With wooden floors and brick walls, it’s as much a daytime haunt for a latte as a watering hole by night. Eclectic music during the week, DJs at the weekends and daily drink specials help the place thrive into the early hours (11 South Great George’s St; admission £6.50 after 10pm on Weds & Thurs, £8 on Sat & Sun; cocktails from £7).

The Clarendon Bar is spread across three floors, each with its own bar. There’s a beer garden and a Penthouse bar with floor-to-ceiling windows – which makes a bright change to some of Dublin’s dingier traditional pubs. The main draw though is the no-nonsense bar food: fishcakes, burgers and a tapas menu from 3pm (30 Clarendon St; cocktails from £8, mains from £8).

Aer Lingus, Air France, BA, Flybe, KLM and Ryanair fly to Dublin airport from most major UK cities (from £65 from London Gatwick). You can also get the ferry from the Isle of Man, Liverpool and Holyhead (from £60). Numerous buses link the airport to the city (singles £4.90), just six miles away. Getting around the city is best done on foot or by bike – the city’s tourist heart is very compact.

Where to stay
The Grafton Guesthouse, a slightly offbeat B&B in a Gothic-style building, gets the nod in all three key categories: location, price and style. It offers the traditional, friendly features of a B&B (including a terrific breakfast), coupled with a funky design – check out the psychedelic wallpaper. It’s hard to beat at this price (26-27 South Great George’s St; from £55).

A short train ride from the city, in Ballsbridge, you’ll find the exquisite Aberdeen Lodge. The owners ensure you feel at home and service is personalised. Most rooms have a four-poster or brass bed (53-55 Park Avenue; £120).

In the Merrion Square district, Number 31 is the most distinctive of Dublin’s hotels. Its rooms are individually furnished with French antiques and are split between the modernist mews and the Georgian house (31 Leeson Close; superior from £175).

The article 'Mini guide to drinking in Dublin' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.