- Free Things to Do
Free Things to Do in Dublin
The Celtic Tiger may be long gone, but the boom times of the late 1990s and early 2000s saddled the Irish capital with the rep of being a pricey place to visit. Look closer, however, and you’ll find a city generous with its countless cultural blessings, like Dubliners themselves.
Dig up your family history in the extensive records at the National Library of Ireland—a free genealogy advisory service (available weekdays 9:30 a.m.-4:45 p.m.) will help you get started. Or visit one of the library’s exhibitions, like the acclaimed "Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats." Admission is free.
About two miles from downtown, the National Botanical Gardens sprawls across 48 acres on the Tolka River. Known for its herbarium—with some 600,000 preserved plants—and historic wrought-iron glasshouses, the garden attracts visitors who come to stroll its bucolic grounds and habitats, including the arboretum and rose and rock gardens. No charge for entry; guided tours cost two euros, except for Sunday at 12 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., when they’re free.
The National Gallery of Ireland houses more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures, and other works that date from the 13th century through the mid-20th century. Peruse its highlights in the exhibit "Masterpieces From the Collection," which includes several paintings by Sligo native son Jack B. Yeats. Among them is "The Liffey Swim," depicting the annual open sea race (still held today) from the spectators’ point of view, for which Yeats won a silver medal at the Paris Olympic Exhibition in 1924. Admission is free.
Established as a modern art museum more than a hundred years ago by art collector and philanthropist Sir Hugh Lane, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane is free to all visitors. Its permanent collection features works by prominent Irish artists—such as Harry Clarke’s stained-glass masterpiece "The Eve of St. Agnes"—and paintings from Lane’s personal bequest, including "Lavacourt Under Snow" by Claude Monet. On Sundays at noon in the Sculpture Gallery, the museum presents concerts in genres ranging from traditional Irish fiddle music to piano sonatas (September to June; a two-euro donation is suggested).
A New York mining millionaire with a weakness for decorative art and textiles from East Asia and the Middle East, Alfred Chester Beatty became an honorary Irish citizen in 1957 and left his vast collection—think Egyptian papyrus texts, Chinese dragon robes, and Japanese picture books from Nara—to his adopted country. See it, gratis, at the Chester Beatty Library.
Spend an afternoon wandering the festive scene on pedestrian-only Grafton Street, the city’s main shopping artery. Duck in for a look around the flagship Brown Thomas department store; peruse the handwoven blankets, throws, and scarves—made at Ireland’s oldest weaving mill, founded in 1723 in County Wicklow—at Avoca on adjacent Suffolk Street; and take in scads of street performers, from musicians (remember Once?) to magicians.
Kids under the age of 14 ride free on the double-decker Dublin Bus Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour, which hits some 30 stops on two different routes starting at 9 a.m. daily. Sites include the prison cum museum Kilmainham Gaol, where several leaders of the Irish rebellion were jailed and executed, and the U2 Wall, the former site of the band’s Windmill Lane Studios, now riddled with psychedelic fan graffiti. Tickets (19 euros for adults; 17 euros for students and senior citizens; two kids free with each paying adult) are good for two days. Additionally, the 30-euro Freedom ticket from the same company includes a free Dublin Highlights Walking Tour with city historian Paddy Liddy and free entry to the Little Museum of Dublin at St. Stephen's Green (normally 7 euros). The museum tells the story of the modern-day capital with donated artifacts such as postcards and photographs.
Make a raven mask, handle a meteorite, and pet a (stuffed) bear at the Natural History Museum, which offers a host of programming and events for kids of all ages, all for free (as is admission). Many events are drop-in; some must be prebooked.
Food and Drink
Admission to the Guinness Storehouse, the hugely popular paean to the city’s beloved black stuff, is 18 euros (16.20 euros if you book online), but the highlight—a perfectly poured pint in the Gravity Bar, with its 360-degree view of Dublin—is complimentary.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Let a Dubliner buy you a pint or a cup of tea through the City of a Thousand Welcomes program, an initiative that connects first-time visitors with friendly locals.
The Temple Bar district may be stag-party central by night, but foodies take over come Saturday mornings. Starting at 10 a.m., Meeting House Square transforms into the Temple Bar Food Market, where the best of Irish bounty is on display, from fresh-out-of-the-Atlantic oysters at the Temple Oyster Bar stall to Paddy Jack’s sharp goat cheese. Sample your way around or spring for a snack; beef and vegetable pasties at the Gallic Kitchen are 4.50 euros.
St. Stephen’s Green is the heart of the city, both a destination for office workers and students in need of a breath of fresh air and a living monument to the city’s turbulent history. A one-time common used for grazing and public executions, the park was occupied by members of the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Uprising of 1916 (they and the British Army troops famously held their fire so groundskeepers could feed the ducks). The 22-acre park is more peaceful today, with about two miles of walkways, an ornamental lake, a garden for the visually impaired with Braille signs and scented plants, a playground, and several memorials to the city’s literati, including W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, and Henry Moore, as well as a statue of Irish revolutionary leader Wolfe Tone, known as “Tonehenge” for the semicircle of columns surrounding it.
At more than 1,700 acres, Phoenix Park is one of Europe’s largest public green spaces. When the sun comes out, Dubliners take constitutionals along the park’s extensive walking trails, where they keep a keen eye out for deer (“deer-watching” is a common pastime in the park, where a herd of fallow deer was introduced in the 17th century) or spread out on the picnic grounds in the Victorian People’s Flower Garden near the Parkgate Street entrance. Free guided walks are offered each Wednesday at 11 a.m. to explore the grounds; Farmleigh House, a meticulously restored Georgian-Victorian estate within the park that was sold to the government by the Guinness family in 1999; and Arbour Hill Cemetery.