Planning a trip to Ireland? These are the top free (and not-free) attractions

If you plan to visit Ireland, you may be interested in a list of the country's most popular free and fee-paying visitor attractions for 2018. The list was compiled by tourism body, Fáilte Ireland, and it shows that some new additions have joined perennial favourites to showcase the best of Irish history, culture, nature and entertainment.

The top fee-paying visitor attractions 2018

1. Guinness Storehouse

Two men pour pints in the Guinness Storehouse.
Staff pour pints in the Gravity Bar of the Guinness Storehouse. Image by ©Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin welcomed 1,736,156 visitors in 2018.  The most popular visitor attraction in town is a multimedia homage to the famous Irish stout, Guinness, located in a converted grain storehouse that is part of the 26-hectare brewery. You'll discover everything about Guinness across its seven floors, before getting to taste the brew in the top-floor Gravity Bar, which offers panoramic views of the city.

2. Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
Cliffs of Moher have entirely vertical cliffs that rise to a height of 214m over the Atlantic ocean. Image by: honster/GettyRF

The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience in Clare attracted 1,580,000 visitors in 2018. The west coast attraction has vertical cliffs that rise to a height of 214m, and it has a high-tech visitor centre, a 19th-century lookout tower and a wealth of walking trails. Visiting by boat can bring the best views.

3. Dublin Zoo

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Dublin Zoo opened in 1831 and is based in the Phoenix Park. Image: Sinead McCarthy

The 28-hectare Dublin Zoo was established in 1831 and is one of the oldest in the world. It is well-known for its lion-breeding programme, which dates back to 1857. In 2018, it welcomed 1,230,146 visitors and the fact that it is home to a dozen elephants with nine calves born in almost as many years is one of its principal attractions.

4. Book of Kells

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The Long Room in Trinity College Library is home to the Book of Kells. Image: Shutterstock

Trinity College's greatest treasures are found within the Old Library, built by Thomas Burgh between 1712 and 1732. The star of the show is the Book of Kells, a breathtaking, illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament, created around AD 800 by monks on the Scottish island of Iona. The 65m Long Room, the library's main chamber, houses around 200,000 of the library's oldest volumes, and 1,057,642 people visited it in 2018.

5. Tayto Park

An aerial view of Tayto Park
Tayto Park came in fifth position among fee-paying attractions. Image: Tayto Park

Tayto Park in Meath attracted 700,000 visitors in 2018. An Irish icon, Tayto has been producing much-loved potato crisps since 1954. Alongside the factory, its amusement park has attractions including Europe's largest wooden inverted roller coaster, a 5D cinema and the Viking Voyage. There's also rock climbing, a zipline and a fantastic playground.

6. St Patrick’s Cathedral

Travel News - St Patrick's Park, Dublin City, Ireland
St. Patrick's Cathedral is Ireland's largest church. Image: David Soanes Photography/Getty Images

Ireland's largest church was built between 1191 and 1270 on the site of an earlier church that had stood there since the 5th century. Last year, 627,199 people visited St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, which stands on the spot where St. Patrick himself reputedly baptised the local Celtic chieftains.

7. Kylemore Abbey & Garden

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Kylemore Abbey is a crenellated 19th-century neo-Gothic fantasy in Galway. Image: Budget Travel

Kylemore Abbey & Garden in Galway had 561,657 visitors in 2018.  Photogenically perched on the shores of Pollacapall Lough, 4km east of Letterfrack, Kylemore is a crenellated 19th-century neo-Gothic fantasy. Ground-floor rooms are open to visitors, and admission includes entry to the extravagant Victorian walled gardens.

8. Muckross House & Gardens

The exterior of Muckross House is in Killarney
Muckross House is in Killarney, Kerry. Image: Chris Hill/Failte Ireland

Located in Killarney National Park in Kerry, Muckross House & Gardens welcomed 550,649 visitors in 2018. The impressive Victorian mansion is filled with fascinating objects, including portraits by John Singer Sargent, antique Killarney furniture, Persian rugs, silverware and china specially commissioned for Queen Victoria's visit in 1861.

9. Powerscourt Estate

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Powerscourt is located in the spectacular Wicklow Mountains. Image: Getty

Powerscourt Estate in Wicklow is a magnificent 64 sq kilometre estate, and last year it welcomed 472,523 visitors. At the heart of it is an elegant Palladian mansion, but the real draws are the formal gardens and the stunning views that accompany them. Most of the house is not open to the public, but there's a café and several gift and homeware shops, while the grounds are home to two golf courses.

10. Blarney Castle & Gardens

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Blarney Castle in Cork. Image: Chris Hill/Failte Ireland

Blarney Castle & Gardens welcomed 460,000 visitors in 2018, and its principal attraction is the Blarney Stone, which supposedly gives anyone who kisses it a loquacity known locally as "the gift of the gab." The 15th-century castle is located 8km northwest of Cork.

The top free visitor attractions 2018

1. Kilkenny Castle Parkland

The castle and parklands at Kilkenny Castle
The parklands at Kilkenny Castle came in first of the free attractions. Image: Failte Ireland

Kilkenny Castle Parkland includes all the walled demesne parkland to the south of Kilkenny Castle and the formal terraced gardens to the north comprising a total of 50 acres. Close to the Rose Garden is a central fountain. The estate overlooks the Nore River and features mature trees and shrubs with an ornamental lake numbered among the many items of interest. There is also a children’s playground located on the grounds, and last year 799,032 people visited it.

2. National Gallery of Ireland

The facade of the National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery of Ireland came in second place. Image: Olivier Cirendini/Lonely Planet

The National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin came in second position with 775,491 visitors in 2018. This was particularly helped by the reopening of its permanent collection halfway through the year, as well as the gallery hosting two major exhibitions of Caravaggio and Vermeer.

3. Glendalough

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Sunrise over the ruins of Glendalough in Wicklow. Image: Ray Wise/Getty Images

Glendalough in Wicklow was visited by 732,824 people last year, and is considered to be the epitome of Ireland's rugged, romantic landscape. The substantial remains of this important monastic settlement are certainly impressive, but an added draw is the splendid setting: two dark and mysterious lakes tucked into a long, glacial valley fringed by forest. Despite its immense popularity, it's a deeply tranquil and spiritual place.

4. National Botanic Gardens

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National Botanic Gardens has plant collections from all over the world. Image: Brian Morrison/Tourism Ireland

A premier scientific institution, National Botanic Gardens in Dublin had 655,609 people checking out its stunning flowers and collections of plant species and cultivars from all over the world in 2018. Founded in 1795, the 19.5-hectare botanic gardens are home to a series of curvilinear glasshouses, which contain the latest in botanical technology, including a series of computer-controlled climates reproducing environments from different parts of the world.

5. Castletown House Parkland

The house and grounds of Castletown House
The grounds of Castletown House are open all year round. Image: Joe Houghton/Getty Images

When it was built in the 1720s, Castletown House in Kildare became synonymous with architectural excellence, fine style and lavish entertaining. It was Ireland’s first mansion built in the Palladian style, with a central house with two pavilions, connected by Ionic colonnades. Its grounds are open daily all year round and are free to enter and explore, and 642,278 people visited it in 2018.

6. Irish Museum of Modern Art

The exterior of the Irish Museum of Modern Art
Modern and contemporary Irish and international art is housed at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Image: Jonathan Smith/Lonely Planet

Ireland's most important collection of modern and contemporary Irish and international art is housed at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. It was built between 1684 and 1687 as a retirement home for soldiers and fulfilled this role until 1928, after which a restoration in the 1980s saw it come back to life as a wonderful repository of art. Last year, 505,891 people visited to check out its collections.

7. Doneraile Park

The exterior of Doneraile Court and estatestate
Doneraile Court is the centrepiece of one of Ireland’s most beautiful estates. Image: Clare Keogh/Office of Public Works

Doneraile welcomed 490,000 visitors last year, attracting them for its natural beauty, ornamental gardens and avenues of mature gardens. It has 166 hectares of land that are full of groves of deciduous trees, and deer can be viewed from along the many pathways within the estate. There is also a playground for children and a tea room in the courtyard of the Cork attraction.

8. National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

The exterior of the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology
The National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology in Dublin houses Ireland's most famous crafted artefacts. Image: National Museum of Ireland

Established in 1877 as the primary repository of the nation's cultural and archaeological treasures, the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology in Dublin houses Ireland's most famous crafted artefacts, the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch, from the 12th and 8th centuries respectively. There is also a collection of mummified bodies from the Iron Age, preserved by Ireland's peat bogs, and last year 466,038 people visited the museum.

9. Farmleigh House Estate

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Harry and Meghan stayed at Farmleigh House during their visit to Dublin. Image: Failte Ireland

Farmleigh House Estate in Dublin's Phoenix Park welcomed 389,932 visitors in 2018, and its vast pleasure gardens, with a lake and walled and Japanese gardens, are delightful for a stroll. The grounds are free to visit but there is a charge for a guided tour of the house itself, which is the official Irish State guest house, providing accommodation for visiting dignitaries and guests of the nation.

10. Battle of the Boyne/Oldbridge Estate

A view of Oldbridge Estate in Meath
Oldbridge Estate in Meath has self-guided walking trails. Image: Falite Ireland

Battle of the Boyne and Oldbridge Estate in Meath welcomed 355,608 visitors in 2018.  The battle site has an informative visitor centre (charge applied) but optional self-guiding walks are available through the core battle site and Oldbridge Estate, and the use of these walks is free of charge.