The street runs north east from Abbey Street and Bolton Street at Dominick Street junction, north of Parnell Square and Mountjoy Square, and leads into Drumcondra Road at Binn's Bridge on the Royal Canal. It makes up part of the most common route from Dublin Airport to the city centre, and the R132 regional road follows Dorset Street for part of its route. It meets the R135 route at the junctions with Blessington Street, location of the Blessington Street Basin, and St. Mary's Place; other major roads feeding onto this spine street include North Circular Road, Gardiner Street, Eccles Street, North Frederick Street, and Granby Row.

Physically the street rises up from the Liffey valley at its south western end, to its apex at roughly where it meets with Blessington and North Frederick Streets; proceeding north west the street slopes down again on the approach to Binn's Bridge at the Royal Canal.

Some early Georgian houses are dotted along the street, primarily identifiable by the stone Gibbsian door case entrances, and close to the crossroads with Blessington and North Frederick Streets. Much of the street redeveloped during the Victorian era, with a number of significant buildings built, such as the Gothic style stone-built Dominican priory, designed by J. L. Robinson in 1884–87 at the corner of Dominick Street, while across from it is the red brick Italianette former fire station, designed by C. J. McCarthy and completed in 1903. Much of the street consists of vernacular Victorian terraces, with shops opening straight onto footpaths at ground-floor level. During the latter part of the twentieth century, stretches of the street were again redeveloped by Dublin Corporation for social housing flat complexes near Dominick Street.

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