The River Liffey cuts right through the heart of Dublin. The folks who live on the northern side are generally seen as the poorer cousins of the more well-to-do locals of the southern part. For visitors, there are plenty of attractions on both sides of the river, and a few that are right along it. The following sights will go along the river from west to east.
Phoenix Park is an enormous park that is the largest enclosed park in Europe at 1760 acres. It was groomed into a park in 1671, but was opened to the public by Lord Chesterfield in 1747. The park includes an incredible variety of attractions, including the Dublin Zoo, the President’s residence (Aras an Uachtarain), the Ashtown Castle, a police museum, grounds for the sports of cricket, hurling and polo, and much more. There are red deer in the park that are tame. Landmarks include the Corinthian-style Phoenix Column, the Wellington Monument obelisk, the Magazine Fort, and the Papal Cross. Supposedly the park is unsafe at night, as one can imagine a huge urban park may be.
Just a bit east of Heuston Station is the beautiful James Joyce Bridge, designed by the great Spanish architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava and finished in June 2003. The curving, tilting modern bridge contrasts with the quaint and colorful older bridges that span over the river.
The Four Courts building was designed by James Gandon, one of Dublin’s most prolific architects. Supposedly Gandon bypassed the opportunity to be the state architect of St. Petersburg in order to be an established architect in Dublin. The building was started in 1785 and was finally completed in 1802. It was damaged by shelling and fire in 1922, and was rehabbed in 1932. The central block is fronted by Corinthian columns and is flanked by neoclassical wings. The whole ensemble is capped by its prominent copper-topped rotunda drum. The original Four Courts (Exchequer, Common Pleas, Chancery, King’s Bench) surround this central rotunda.
The popular Temple Bar area along the south bank of the river is linked to the northern side by the Grattan Bridge (1875), two footbridges (Millennium Bridge of 1999, and the Liffey or Ha’penny Bridge of 1816), and the O’Connell Bridge (1880). The Liffey Boardwalk lines the north bank of the river in this area.
The Custom House was also designed by James Gandon and is generally regarded as his finest architectural design. It was constructed from 1781 to 1791. The building was gutted by a major fire in 1921, and its last major renovation was completed in 1988. It enjoys perhaps the most dramatic setting along the river, with a symmetrical neoclassical facade. The frieze features carved figures that represent the rivers of Ireland. Gandon’s grandest gesture is the tall Venetian-style copper dome that is capped by a statue of Hope. The Visitor Centre features historical displays on the building and other buildings by Gandon.