Dublin may not be the cheapest destination in Europe but don’t let that stop you; some of the best stuff to see and do is completely free. From walking tours to tranquil gardens and Oscar Wilde to Samuel Beckett, here's our guide to enjoying Ireland's capital without reaching for your bank card.
Amble around Trinity College
It costs nothing to amble around the cobbled grounds of Trinity College, Ireland’s foremost university, following in the footsteps of famous alumni such as Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Jonathan Swift. You can admire the elegant courtyards and neoclassical architecture and, weather-permitting, stretch out on the cricket grounds outside the Pavilion Bar for nothing.
Hunt for treasures at the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology
History buffs will love the collection of Celtic and medieval treasures housed in the National Museum. Its most famous artifacts are the Tara Brooch and the Ardagh Chalice, as fine an example of Celtic metalwork you'll ever see, but also worth checking out are the “bog bodies” in the Kingship & Sacrifice exhibit – four Celtic Age bodies in varying states of preservation.
Go back in time at the Chester Beatty Library
Bibliophile Alfred Chester Beatty’s marvelous collection of ancient books, scrolls and other objets d’art is spread across two floors of this wonderful museum and is free to explore, as are the regular mindful mornings of yoga and meditation (book ahead and bring a yoga mat). In summer there are free Qi Gong sessions in the rooftop garden.
Download the Dublin Walking Tour Podcast
Local historian Donal Fallon has created three short, themed podcast tours with the Fitzwilliam Hotel. You don’t have to be a guest to use them, just listen to an advert. The walks take you past Dublin's historical highlights, the city's Georgian squares, the locations of the Easter 1916 Rising and the city's essential fashionista stops.
Feel presidential at Aras an Uachtaráin
Free tours of the official residence of the Irish president, Aras an Uachtaráin, a handsome Palladian mansion whose design inspired the architect of the White House in Washington, DC, depart from the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre every Saturday and operate on a first-come-first-served basis. Occasionally, tours might not run due to state business, so always check the website beforehand.
Explore the galleries at the Irish Museum of Modern Art
This former 17th-century hospital – built in the Anglo-Dutch style and inspired by Paris’ Les Invalides – is now the country’s foremost modern art gallery, with a fine collection of contemporary Irish artists as well as some heavy-hitting moderns including Picasso and Miro. When you’re finished with IMMA’s cutting-edge collection, stroll around the building and the beautiful surrounding gardens.
Travel around the city on Dublinbikes
With over 100 locations throughout the city and over 1000 bikes on-demand, the trick is to rent and return the Dublinbike to a station within 30 minutes to use it for free. If you need a bike for longer, release another bike and off you go. All the details are on the website and you can download a free app.
Walk among Irish greats at Glasnevin Cemetary
The tombstones at Ireland's largest and most historically important burial site read like a “who's who” of Irish history, as most of the leading names of the past 150 years are buried here, including Daniel O'Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell.
It was established in 1832 by O'Connell as a burial ground for people of all faiths – a high-minded response to Protestant cemeteries' refusal to bury Catholics. The selection of themed tours are all highly recommended. Stroll through to the National Botanic Gardens.
Tour the Science Gallery
Hands-on, interactive and compellingly relevant, the Science Gallery is devoted to explaining the intricacies of science and how it applies to everyday life. Exhibitions explore big ideas, so bring your curiosity with you.
Enjoy a seaside stroll by Poolbeg Lighthouse
One of the city’s most rewarding walks is the nearly half-mile(800m) stroll along the Great South Wall to the Poolbeg Lighthouse, that red tower visible in the middle of Dublin Bay. It’s best enjoyed around sunset on a clear day, when you’ll have a stunning view of the bay and the city behind you.
Marvel at the art at the National Gallery
The National Gallery’s collection of art stretches across seven centuries and includes a terrific Caravaggio and striking portraits of Ireland’s most notable figures. It’s all free to explore, but it’s worth joining one of the free tours that run Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays - the 12:30pm Sunday tour is designed with younger audiences in mind.
Grab a pint O’Donoghue’s Pub
It costs nothing to enjoy the nightly traditional sessions in O’Donoghue’s, a fine pub that was where folk and trad legends The Dubliners cut their musical teeth in the 1960s. Sure, the music and the atmosphere is better with a drink of something stronger in your hand, but a glass of water doesn’t cost a penny.
Visit National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History
This branch of the National Museum is located in the magnificent neoclassical Collins Barracks building, dating back to the early 18th-century. Today it houses an eclectic mix of historic memorabilia, design and craftwork - check out the history of the 1916 Rising exhibit and the one dedicated to designer Eileen Gray.
Stroll the National Botanic Gardens
A glorious green haven north of the city center, the historic greenhouses and tranquil atmosphere make the National Botanic Gardens worth a visit in every season. Keep an eye out for the entertaining squirrels.
Celebrate Irish artists at Dublin City Gallery - Hugh Lane
The Dublin City Gallery – Hugh Lane, most of which is housed in the William Chambers-designed Charlemont House, focuses exclusively on modern and contemporary art, with a strong representation Irish artists, Highlights are the Impressionist paintings of the Lane Bequest and the faithfully reconstructed studio of hell-raising painter Francis Bacon in all its messy glory.
Fill your belly at Temple Bar Food Market
It costs nothing to amble about the stalls of the Temple Bar Food Market, which runs every Saturday on Meeting House Square. And if you show enough appreciation for the lingering aroma of all the delicious food, there’ll undoubtedly be the tempting offer of a free sample.
Look out for deer at Phoenix Park
You could easily spend an entire day exploring Europe’s largest inner-city park. You don’t need to pay for Dublin Zoo to see animals either – Phoenix Park is home to an enormous collection of deer, just wander off into the woodlands to find them.
Head to the Museum of Natural History
Dr. Livingstone (of “I presume” fame) cut the ribbon at the Natural History branch of the National Museum in 1857 – and little has changed since. Dusty, weird and utterly Victorian, the “dead zoo” is one of the finest museums of its kind in Europe.
Take a dip at any of the Dublin beaches
Dublin's coast is liberally coated in golden beaches. On the Southside choose from Sandymount beach, Sandycove and Seapoint, popular with local sea swimmers. Seapoint is home to a Martello tower that's now the headquarters of the Genealogical Society of Ireland. On the Northside you have Dollymount Strand, a 3.1-mile (5 km) long stretch set to the backdrop of Dublin's Poolbeg Chimneys and Howth Head, and is surrounded by the North Bull Island Nature Reserve.
Take part in Sandeman’s New Dublin Tour
Sandeman’s free, three-hour walking tour of the city departs Barnardo Square on Dame Street every day at 10am, 11am and 2pm (though there can be more depending on the time of year). The guides are informed, energetic and lots of fun – tipping is optional but deserved.
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This article was originally published in July 2013.