Though not exactly a budget destination, there are plenty of things to do in Dublin that won’t cost a dime – from exploring medieval castles to sampling Celtic music. The Irish capital may be known for constant eagerness to share some craic (usually fuelled by pints of the creamy black stuff). But don’t mistake this for a purely hedonistic hangout. A Unesco City of Literature and the former second city of the British Empire, Dublin overflows with cosmopolitan culture. As well as its gorgeous Georgian architecture, this liberal metropolis is home to an innovative restaurant scene and world-class museums at every turn. And thanks to government-subsidised free entry – and plenty of historic green space – travellers at pretty much every price point are catered to. If you’re more at the budget end, here the very best free things to do in Dublin.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Dublin
Best free things to do in Dublin
Today, St. Stephen’s Green provides a peaceful refuge from the bustle of Dublin city centre. But this large Victorian park is also a symbol of Ireland’s fight for independence. As you stroll through the grounds, observe the 1916 Easter Rising plaques, appreciate the Great Famine memorial, feel your way through the garden for the blind, feed the ducks, and learn about Irish leaders and artists. Other revolutionary hotspots include the Kilmainham Gaol prison at Croke Park and the GPO post office, which Irish rebels used as a base.
All of Dublin’s government-run museums and galleries are free. Locals favour the Natural History Museum, also known as the ‘Dead Zoo’, for its weird and wonderful taxidermy display. The National Museum for Archaeology has an impressive collection of gold pieces, while items at the Decorative Arts & History Museum paint a clear picture of Irish life through the ages. If you prefer fine art, head to the Caravaggio, Monet and Turner exhibits at the National Gallery of Ireland or the contemporary wonders at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
From Rory Gallagher and The Chieftains to Bono and Hozier, Ireland has given us some big names over the years. There’s something special about your first Dublin show – so if you haven’t seen live music here before, do. Crash a gig at O’Donoghue’s on Merrion Row or Whelan’s on Camden Street to hear some trad tunes for free. If they aren’t quite your thing, head to Dublin Sessions to see what else is on. You can even get an impressive performance from the buskers on Grafton Street.
Spread across 40 acres of central Dublin, Trinity College (or ‘Trinners’) is Ireland’s oldest university. As you enter through the wrought iron gates, urban commotion fades as you step back in time. Celebrated alumni include Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and Mary Robinson, Ireland’s first female president. You may have to pay to enter the Book of Kells and Long Room Library, but touring the campus art gallery and drinking at the cricket field’s Pavilion Bar are free.
The River Liffey bisects Dublin into north and south, growing wider the further downtown it flows. The Ha’Penny Bridge has helped pedestrians cross since 1816, when it replaced the fee-funded ferry service. Its cast iron and arch ribs are just as magical at night as they are when the sun shines. Lucky for present-day visitors, it doesn’t cost a ha’penny to cross.
The National Botanical Gardens are one thing, but for fresh blossoms and quiet reflection nearer the city centre, head to the Garden of Remembrance at Parnell Square. Designed by Daithi Hanly, it’s dedicated to all those who have lost their lives in the quest for Irish freedom. The ‘Children of Lir’ sculpture signifies rebirth and the pool is decidedly non-denominational to welcome people of all backgrounds.
Artists from around the world have left their mark on Dublin, enlivening the streets with powerful sculptures and colourful murals. Temple Bar and the Italian Quarter are prime places to start a self-guided walking tour. Just be sure to wander the side streets and back alleys, too.
The cobbled streets of Temple Bar are always chocka, and you shouldn’t miss out on the chance to wander these atmospheric parts at night. The weekly farmer’s market is when the cultural quarter really buzzes, though. Every Saturday from 10am to 4:30pm, stalls selling cheese, baked goods and (of course) oysters set up shop under Meeting House Square’s permanent canopies. It’s the ideal place to sit back and watch the real Dublin unfold.
Once you’ve investigated Dublin Castle, amble over to the gardens where the Chester Beatty Library is located. Despite its diverse array of manuscripts, religious texts, artworks and artefacts, this spot flies surprisingly under the radar. It’s more museum than library, and frankly it’s one of the best in Europe. Be sure to bliss out in the rooftop ‘meditation garden’.
This city’s not your classic beach mecca – it’s often freezing, for a start – but Dublin’s coastline is certainly beautiful. Embark on a three-mile trek along Dollymount Beach on North Bull Island and watch as kite surfers catch the breeze and migratory birds build nests. The sea air and sand dunes provide a refreshing contrast from city life. Keep your eyes peeled for brave Dubliners out for a chilly swim in the bay.
To say inner-city Dublin was Insta-worthy would be a understatement. Discover postcard-perfect doors that date back to the 18th century along Henrietta Street, Leeson Street, Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square. The vibrant colours, elegant knockers and lattice windows are so remarkable they’ve made their way into a tourism campaign for the city.
The Dublin Zoo has all sorts of animals, but the best ones can be found roaming free in the surrounding Phoenix Park. One of Europe’s largest city parks, the expanse brims with natural beauty, stately homes, and very curious deer. If you head over on a Saturday, you can also score a complimentary tour at Áras an Uachtaráin, the President’s house.