Everyone knows the most-visited tourist attractions in Dublin because the same ones turn up on every boring list of what to do when visiting Dublin. The Guinness Storehouse is usually at #1 on the list along with the Book of Kells and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, none of which are free to enter. When you have already made it through one of those top 10 lists and wish to have a more authentic, budget-friendly way to enjoy Dublin, here is my list of the top free things to do in Dublin.
1. Strolling in The National Botanic Gardens
I am happy to report that the botanic gardens in Dublin is one of the best I’ve visited in the world. It offers free admission to stroll among the myriad landscapes from formal flower beds to meandering green pathways to steamy greenhouses to duck-filled ponds. Did you know there was such an idyllic setting just north of city centre in Dublin?
The park staff conducts guided walks throughout the year to see the gardens from an expert’s perspective. My favourite event of the year is called “Sculpture in Context.” Everyone can appreciate the variety of whimsical, bold, and often hidden sculptures that are neatly situated across the park. Last year there was even a Pac Man sculpture! When you do visit, grab a map from the visitors centre before you go out to enjoy these gardens.
2. Be an Art Buyer or Browser along the gates of Merrion Square
Browse the wonderful artwork that surrounds the gates of Merrion Square every Sunday. Talented local artists set up shop to display their paintings every Sunday, rain or shine. The number of artists participating increases during the prime tourist season as well as when the weather is pleasant. Take a walk around the outside of the park (go inside too of course) to browse the artwork and strike up a conversation about a piece that catches your fancy.
While you don’t have to buy any paintings to enjoy this free experience, think about a future occasion when you might buy one. An original piece of art makes for a wonderful Birthday gift, for Mother’s or Father’s Day, or at Christmas time. The prices are all very reasonable. A second local artist exhibition and sale called People’s Art Dublin happens around St. Stephen’s Green Park as often as five times a year.
3. Become a Big 5 “Hunter” at the Victorian Dead Zoo
The National History Museum (what a boring sounding name) more commonly goes by the moniker “The Dead Zoo” and you’ll quickly find out why during a visit. This free natural sciences museum is unlike any you’ve seen because it features mostly stuffed animals. No, not the snuggly kind but the taxidermy kind.
Explore the first gallery that you enter and be astonished by the variety of birds, reptiles, insects, and small mammals, but be prepared for the big show on the upper floor. It is there that you’ll come upon the Big 5 and so much more of our large mammal friends. It is a jaw-dropping display with heads mounted along the walls as far as the eye can see. You’ll leave with a new appreciation of the need to protect wildlife and endangered species.
4. “Window” Shop for Crafts and Bric-à-brac at a Market
Whether you call them flea markets, craft fairs, antiques markets, or just plain old market, they also offer the same appeal – the opportunity to browse a miscellany of goods with your eyes. These markets attract collectors and creative people from all across Dublin and with no entry free, you can browse the art, clothing, jewelry, crafts, and whatever at your leisure. Do chat with the vendors to learn more about what they are selling, especially if they made it themselves.
There are a few craft and flea markets that are held throughout the year while some pop up from time to time such as the one in Smithfield. Here are a few recommendations such as at The Grand Social which is right alongside the Ha’Penny Bridge and the market in Blackrock which is a suburban community just a short bus or DART ride away on the south coast.
5. Give a Listen to the Irish Trad Music Enjoyed by Tourists from Around the World
Find a trad music session in Temple Bar (you might get away without buying a pint) to enjoy the musical fun. Yes it is a touristy thing to do and the cost of a pint can be utterly ridiculous (i.e. ripoff) in Temple Bar, but it is still loads of fun to go here sometimes. People watching is part of the enjoyment and the quality of the trad music is usually quite good. I’m sure you’ll hear the popular tune “Galway Girl” (I always do) when you stop by one of my favourite pubs for a listen.
These are just of few of the iconic pubs that are located in Temple Bar and offer live Irish traditional music most nights. My advice is to arrive in the early part of the evening when the crowds and the craziness are at a minimum, especially during the prime tourist season. There is no cover charge at any of the pubs, but eventually you may feel guilty unless you order a pint or at least a coffee or soda at the bar.
6. Embrace Your Artistic Side on a Rainy Day at the Museum
I’ll admit that art museums are not my first choice for what to do on holiday in Europe or America, but I do enjoy them on a rainy day. There is something special about getting to know an art museum when the weather is less than ideal. It makes you stop at a painting that catches your eye and ponder its beauty or meaning for more than just a second. Not every piece of artwork will be to your liking, but you’ll surely find pieces that will awaken your senses and emotions in both the National Gallery of Ireland and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).
Pick the one that better fits your mood, or my other top choice for arts + history below, and make a rainy, blustery half-day visit of it. Both of these art museums have onsite cafes, plus they often have special exhibits as well as free lectures and tours. Check the their schedule online or when you arrive to find out more.
7. Summer is Festival Season in Dublin
Who doesn’t love an outdoor festival, especially when it is sunny outside? The visit Dublin events calendar is chock-full of festivals over the summer months to satisfy any interest. Along with the music festivals covering every genre imaginable, we have street performers, waterways, pride parades, outdoor films, science & learning, neighbourhood picnics, and worthy fundraisers.
Here are several to add to your calendar of free festivals happening in Dublin.
8. Scan the Book Shelves in the Literary City of Dublin
Dublin is a literary city, therefore there are a lot of bookshops to explore. Browse the shelves of the flagship Eason’s on O’Connell Street, the endless used books upstairs at Chapters, the historic Hodges & Figgis, Dubray on Grafton Street, or the independent spirit of The Gutter Bookshop.
I like to donate my used books to charity such as Age Action or Oxfam, so browse over there if you can afford to support a good cause as well.
9. Storm Dublin Castle to View Ancient Texts
I agree that Dublin Castle may be a bit disappointing if you’ve visited the most famous castles in England and Germany for example. However I still enjoy stopping by the grounds of the castle to admire the mix of architecture and poke inside when the doors are open. Besides the castle structure itself there are the state apartments, a carriage house, the royal chapel, plus a Garda (police) museum and the Revenue (yes, a museum on taxation) Museum.
The other plus is one of the most unique and fascinating historical museums in the world next door – the Chester Beatty Library. It holds a treasure trove of ancient, medieval, and renaissance artifacts, manuscripts, and drawings. This includes a collection of religious texts, objects, and art dating from 2700 BC to the present representing all regions of the world. Before you do visit this free museum, read the biography of person behind this priceless collection.
10. Go for a Top 10 Walk in a Dublin Neighbourhood
Ready to go for a walk? SubscribeDublin already has its own list of the top 10 walks to take, so have a look at our picks. Of course there are much more than 10 amazing walks in Dublin so be sure to add yours to the comments section of that top 10 list. Walking is the best way to appreciate the history, heart, and soul of Dublin.
Choose a walk based on where you plan to be, but also to match your interest that day. Consider such Dublin walking themes as Georgian architecture, formal gardens, vibrant neighbourhoods, street art, peaceful nature, hi-tech Dublin, shopping buzz, or embassy mansions.
More Free Events in Dublin
As for finding out the most up to date free things to do in Dublin (my tip #11), subscribe to the MASSIVE Dublin Event Guide (for Free Events) weekly newsletter. It is a must-read, so I recommend that you support the incredible time and effort Joerg personally invests to put out this newsletter every Friday night (more likely Saturday morning).
[Images are copyright travel blogger Dr. J at Sidewalk Safari]