Top free things to do in Dublin
Like many in the EU, Dublin is not a cheap city to visit. After buying tickets to must see attractions like the Book of Kells, the Guinness Storehouse, EPIC: the Irish Immigration Museum and Kilmainham Gaol you'll have already clocked up about €65!
There are however many things you can do that won't cost you a Euro - here are our top picks for free things to do in Dublin that will help you stretch your holiday budget further:
National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology - an amazing collection of Irish treasures including 3000 year old prehistoric gold jewellery, artefacts from the Vikings and Medieval Ireland. Don't miss Kingship and Sacrifice, a humbling exhibition where you can literally come face to face with Iron Age bog bodies, amazingly preserved in Irish peat, who were ritualistically sacrificed over 2000 years ago.
Step inside St Stephen's Park shopping centre - right at the top of Grafton Street, on the corner of St Stephen's Park, is an architectural hidden gem. We've written more about it in our 7 places to take photos in Dublin blog - you'll definitely want to take your camera inside this beautiful building!
Visit a service at one of Dublin's cathedrals - both St Patrick's and Christ Church cathedral have entry fees if you'd like to visit as a tourist and walk around with an audio guide. But if you'd just like to enjoy the grandiose interiors and join in with worship, you can attend a religious service for free. Obviously these are not performances or tourist attractions, put your camera/phone away and enjoy the choral evensong in the beautiful historic cathedrals!
National Museum of Ireland: Natural History- Also known as the Dead Zoo, this Victorian style museum of wood framed glass cabinets was opened by Dr Livingstone (as in "I presume"). You can see the skeletons of whales and taxidermied mammals from around the world, as well as an exhibition dedicated to Irish Fauna, including the skeletons of ancient gigantic deer that once roamed the country. NB: this museum is currently closed for refurbishment, so check online before your trip to Dublin to see if it has reopened.
Trinity College - founded by Elizabeth I in 1952, famous alumni include Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Jonathan Swift. While its most famous attractions, the Book of Kells and Long Room library, will cost you €18 to visit, you can wander the beautiful Georgian campus for free.
National Gallery of Ireland - get your fine art fix at this amazing collection of European art including works by Degas, Turner, Picasso and Irish artists like Jack B. Yeats. Entry to the permenent collection is free (some temporary exhibitions require a paid ticket) and there are free gallery tours at weekends.
Snap a selfie with famous Dubliners - seek out the statues of Oscar Wilde (Merrion Square), Molly Malone (Suffolk Street), James Joyce (North Earl Street) and Phil Lynott (Harry Street).
Chester Beatty Gallery - according to Lonely Planet, the Chester Beatty Gallery is one of the best museums in Europe! Tucked away in the grounds of Dublin Castle, the gallery was established in 1950 and is home to a treasure trove of cultural artefacts collected by American mining magnate and collector Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, including "manuscripts, rare books, and other treasures from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia."
National Botanic Gardens - escape into greenery 3km out of the city centre at the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens. Explore the beautiful Victorian glasshouses, created by Richard Turner (who also did the Palm House at Kew Gardens, London) and see orchids, cacti, towering palms and alpine plants. In summer the rose garden is lovely.
Search for deer at Phoenix Park - spend some time wandering through this beautiful park searching for the resident fallow deer. Introduced in the 17th century, there are now around 600 deer in the park. Bear in mind that these are wild animals, so don't touch or feed the deer, enjoy them from a distance!
Dublin Castle - You'll be forgiven for not realising Dublin had a castle - it certainly isn't castle-shaped in the fairytale sense, in fact apart from one round grey stone tower, the building looks more like a Georgian Palace (most of the original Medieval structures were destroyed in the 17th century in a fire). The castle was the seat of English, then British rule until 1922, and today is used for State events and Presidential inaugurations. Dracula author Bram Stoker worked there as a civil servant from 1866 to 1878!
You'll need a paid ticket to go inside the State rooms, but you can walk the courtyard and look at the towers and chapel from the outside for free - there are plenty of info boards to read that will help to fill you in.
Watch the Grafton Street buskers - there are always musicians performing great Irish folk and pop on this famous shopping street, and around Temple Bar.
Snap some colourful doors - Despite having a history going back to the Vikings, the Dublin you see today is a Georgian city architecturally. Wander the elegant terraces and square and see how many different coloured doors you can spot! Some of Dublin's most beautiful houses can be found on Merrion Square, Henrietta Street and Fitzwilliam Street. Don't miss the black and white extravagant door at 46 Fitzwilliam Street, belonging to the Embassy of Peru!
Irish Museum of Modern Art - situated within the historic Royal Hospital Kilmainham, this elegant building with lovely formal gardens is home to IMMA's collection of over 3,500 artworks by Irish and International artists, dating from the 1940s onwards.
Cross Dublin's famous bridges - Dublin's two most famous bridges, one old, one new, are very photogenic. 200 year old Ha'penny Bridge leads the way into Temple Bar, and at night it's iron ribs are lit with lanterns. The bridge takes its name from the toll you used to have to pay in order to cross, it's now free.
Further out of town towards the EPIC museum, the Samuel Beckett Bridge was only opened in 2009 and is already an iconic Dublin landmark. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the bridge resembles a huge white Irish harp, the symbol of the country and not unlike the logo you'll find on Guinness pint glasses.
Famine Memorial - not far from the Samuel Beckett Bridge, close to the Jeannie Johnson ship museum, a group of heartbreakingly thin bronze figures clutching their belongings make their way along the riverfront of Custom House Quay. They represent the tragedy of the Irish Famine in the mid 19th century, when a devastating potato blight led to the deaths of around 1 million people, and between 20 - 25% of the Irish population emigrated to escape starvation.
Designed and created by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie in 1997, a second group of bronze sculptures in Toronto's Ireland Park was unveiled 20 years later as a poignant memorial to the 38,000 Irish citizens who arrived in the Canadian city. One of the five figures raises his arms in relief to the Toronto skyline across the water.
Gillespie's sculptures in Dublin (left) and Toronto (right)
And two more things to do in Dublin that are almost free:
Listen to some trad music in a pub (I say almost free because you'll be buying a drink or two!) -head into Temple Bar and virtually every pub will have some kind of live music on. If you'd like something less touristy and a little more real, head to the Cobblestone where they've been hosting trad musicians for five generations!
Claim a free glass of Guinness on the Big Bus Tour - granted this requires you to buy a ticket for Dublin's Hop on Hop off bus (read our blog about the bus here), but who doesn't love a cheeky freebie! Alight at stops 19 or 21 (either side of the road) and present your bus ticket at Nancy Hands pub for a free 1/3 pint of Guinness. You can also upgrade to a full pint for €3.20 which has to be the cheapest in town!
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