DUBLIN, Ireland -- In 1988, Dublin was bohemian and rough around the edges. A little bit scary, even.
In 1998, Dublin was cool and interesting, with a slightly cleaner and less gritty image.
In 2008, Dublin is a world-class city, booming with vibrant life, economic prosperity, educated youth and uninhibited culture.
Oh yes, the Celtic Tiger is indeed mighty.
It wasn't long ago that Ireland was among Europe's poorest countries. But after joining the European Union and making key financial decisions over the past 15 years -- a period dubbed "the Celtic Tiger" -- Ireland is now among Europe's wealthiest nations.
You feel the changes the minute your sneakers hit the rain-smoothed pavement in the capital city.
Parks are well-groomed and, yes, 40 shades of green. Public transportation is faster, more convenient and serving new neighborhoods. Museums, libraries and theaters are marked clearly and attractively, beckoning with regular free days and generous discounts to students and seniors.
Calling it "gentrification" seems like a misguided understatement. This is a makeover so gigantic that no "Trading Spaces" host could ever dream of taking it on. Even the River Liffey seems brighter, greener.
Yes, life is good in Ireland.
Granted, you're paying for this world-class experience. It used to be that Dublin was a cheaper, easier little brother to the behemoth that is London. But while Dublin is still less expensive than London, the gap is closing.
Ultimately it's a good thing. Dublin is fulfilling its promise as one of the world's great cities. The Irish people have always been among Europe's warmest and most welcoming, and now their capital is growing into a more complimentary welcome mat for travelers looking for the true Irish experience.
A few attractions a visitor
-- Guinness Storehouse and St. James Gate Brewery. Guinness, the national drink of Ireland, is still brewed in Dublin Town Centre. And the tour at St. James Gate is fascinating and thoughtfully curated, taking you through the history of the stout while also teaching you a thing or two about how it reaches that chocolatey color.
-- Walking tour. Dublin is one of Europe's most walkable capital cities. Chances are you already have a solid guidebook -- we recommend those by Lonely Planet and Rick Steves for independent-minded traveling on the cheap -- so flip to one of their easy-to-follow walking tours, and take off at your own pace. Of course, don't be afraid to stray from the map. That's the whole point of having
-- Trinity College. One of the seven ancient universities of the British Isles, Trinity College is known and celebrated for many things -- its stunning architecture, rich royal history and stellar academics programs. But what tourists often find most interesting about the college is that its old library is home to the Book of Kells, a gorgeous illuminated manuscript dating to the Middle Ages.
-- National Gallery of Ireland. This is one of the most underrated museums in Europe. As with England's National Gallery, there is no admission charge. And while this museum doesn't have the star power of Britain's mammoth gallery complex, it does feature a potent collection of international works alongside some of the most