It's a gloriously sunny day in Dublin but when I mention this to the hotel receptionist, she puts a finger to her lips and warns me not to jinx it. Switching subjects, I ask for directions to Glasnevin Cemetery.

"Oh, you'll love it there," she says, with what appears to be a straight face.

Dubliners are an optimistic bunch for whom the (pint) glass is invariably half full. Humour and self-deprecation pepper conversations so that even a proposed visit to a graveyard elicits good-natured envy. Within 20 minutes of my meteorological faux pas, storm clouds gather and a light drizzle dimples the River Liffey. Perfect weather for traipsing around a cemetery.

First, though, there's the gift shop to negotiate. I join a group of ancestor-tracing Americans browsing bookshelves filled with titles such as Dead Interesting: Stories from the Graveyards of Dublin and the DVD One Million Dubliners, which "explores life, death and the afterlife".

There's also an assortment of Guinness merchandise and a range of chunky knitwear on special offer but it's the guided tours that draw curious visitors. Ours is led by a man with the pallid appearance of an undertaker and a wry sense of funereal humour.

We learn that Glasnevin opened in 1832 and was Ireland's first Catholic cemetery. More people are buried here than there are living in Dublin, including many of the politicians who shaped modern Ireland. We're regaled with tales of bodysnatchers, ghosts and gravediggers who used to order drinks on the job via a secret serving hatch at a nearby pub.

Thirsty punters require far less ingenuity nowadays. Dublin boasts more than 1,000 watering holes and couldn't shake off its "party city" reputation even if it wanted to. As the saying goes, an Irishman's idea of a balanced diet is a Guinness in both hands.

Guided pub crawls are all the rage (three pubs for €7 [HK$60] or five pubs for €12), with a tour of the Old Jameson Distillery thrown in for good measure.

In a cosy tavern on O'Connell Street, a rowdy crowd is engrossed in a televised football match. Ireland win, providing regulars with an excuse to further blur the line between raucous revelry and binge drinking. Outside, a notice requests that patrons show consideration by leaving the residential district quietly. Some hope!

Sporting celebrations are more muted in the Temple Bar area, Dublin's version of Lan Kwai Fong. Instead of football fans, the entertainment hub is busy with tourists enjoying live music over a pint or two of the black stuff. And although it's after midnight, the place is just getting going.

I begin a DIY walking tour at Temple Bar early the following morning, navigating pavements sticky with stale beer. There are very few people on the streets - it's as though Dublin has a collective hangover. The first businesses to open are gift shops keen to cash in on the football feel-good factor with their emerald inventory of sportswear and leprechaun hats.

It's a five-minute walk to Trinity College, Ireland's oldest and most prestigious university. Bleary-eyed students wander unhurriedly through the cobbled squares and gardens while tourists pause to gawp at the magnificent 18th-century library building. Notable Trinity alumni include Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and Samuel Beckett, yet on a nearby street, Dublin's most photographed statue is of a character who may never have existed.

Commemorated in the folk song Cockles and Mussels, Molly Malone was a semi-historical working-class figure who sold shellfish from her wheelbarrow. Some believe Molly may have supplemented her meagre income by other means and droll Dubliners refer to the statue as the "tart with the cart".

I head over the River Liffey via Ha'penny Bridge, an unofficial symbol of the city and so named as it once cost half a penny to cross. Some superstitious locals refuse to set foot on the cast-iron span as renovations in 2001 were undertaken by shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, the company that built the Titanic.

Parts of the Northside (of the Liffey) have an edgy feel. Convenience stores employ security guards and unsavoury characters prowl side streets. Sean MacDermott Street was once known as Handbag Corner, after a series of thefts from cars idling at traffic signals.

Lost against the grey sky, Dublin's newest landmark is a 120-metre spire referred to as the Monument of Light or, sometimes, as the Stiletto in the Ghetto. Given the Northside's drug problems, perhaps a giant needle wasn't the most sensitive sightseeing addition to the city.

Escaping Dublin's bright lights and darker corners requires very little effort. Thirty minutes after negotiating the morning rush hour you can be haring into the heather-clad hills of the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The spectacular Military Road, which was built so that the British Army could capture Irish rebel positions, slices through a soggy, boggy region of untamed natural beauty.

More recently, a fearless band of Scottish highlanders armed with swords and shields descended on the same hills and valleys. This time there were no casualties - the face-painted warriors were filming scenes for the Oscar-winning 1995 epic, Braveheart.

A fine layer of moss coats the approach road to Glendalough; a reminder that today's dry, bright weather is the exception rather than the rule. The "valley of two lakes", with its medieval monastic sites and distillery, draws day-trippers who hurriedly photograph the sweeping landscapes then make a beeline for the souvenir stores, in search of key rings and leprechaun print tea towels.

Whitewashed farms glint in the watery sunlight as my hire car groans up towards Sally Gap, one of the highest paved roads in Ireland. Lush valleys unfurl below and pelotons of plummeting cyclists keep us motorists on our toes. The pedallers are a friendly crowd - when they slow down long enough for a chat.

"It's a grand day, so it is," one says, nodding at the cloudless skies. Doing my best impersonation of a local, I put a finger to my lips and warn him not to jinx it.