Although it has a bit of a reputation for being expensive, there are plenty of fun free things to do in Dublin without being a budget traveler. The capital of the Republic of Ireland has excellent museums, beautiful architecture and lots of history that visitors can enjoy without spending a single Euro. Spend a weekend (or longer) getting to know Dublin without breaking the bank or feeling like you’re missing out!
Visit a Museum
Dublin is full of great museums that are a lot of fun. But not all of these museums charge admission. Some of the best are free! I love free museums because you can come and go as you please. Plus, you can take your time and not rush trying to “get your money’s worth” seeing the entire museum.
Some of the museums, such as the Irish Museum of Modern Art, may charge for special exhibits. But if you can afford to, it’s always a nice gesture to leave a donation to support the institution and ensure that they remain free and open for generations to come. Undoubtedly, visiting these museums are my favorite free things to do in Dublin!
Free Museums in Dublin
- The Gallery of Photography Ireland
- National Print Museum Ireland
- Chester Beatty Library
- The National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, – Decorative Arts & History, – Natural History
- National Gallery of Ireland
- Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane
- Irish Museum of Modern Art
Tour the President’s Home
The president of Ireland is an elected position. In fact, there was just an election at the end of October 2018. The building that the president lives and works in is called the Áras an Uachtaráin. There the president receives visits for heads of state and other important leaders from around the world. If you’re curious for a look inside then clear your calendar for a Saturday. Hour-long tours are given for free on a first-come, first-served basis each Saturday. Advance bookings are not accepted so be ready to queue up for an insider’s look.
Stroll Around Dublin Castle
While you’ll have to buy a ticket to see inside of Dublin Castle, there’s no fee to simply walk the grounds. Dating originally to a Viking settlement and, later in the 13th century, a castle, the spot is rich in history.
The medieval tower, which you can’t miss on the street, is the oldest surviving part of the castle and dates to the early 13th century. To its one side is the Chapel Royal. With its gothic design, it’s worth taking a look at the chapel up close. Human heads (famous faces, not skulls) decorate the building.
Don’t forget to visit the gardens before you leave, too. Dublin Castle has a number of gardens that you can enjoy for a walk or just to take a break.
Go Window Shopping
It doesn’t cost anything to look, right? If you don’t mind tempting yourself, you can always go window shopping in the city. Dublin’s main shopping streets are along Grafton Street and Henry Street. In these spots you’ll find famous department stores as well as smaller independent shops.
I also really enjoyed Nassau Street, near Trinity College. There you’ll find The Sweater Shop and Kevin & Howlin Irish Tweeds. Both shops are full of absolutely gorgeous clothing that are carefully crafted.
Cross the Ha’penny Bridge
There are plenty of bridges that span the River Liffey, connecting northern and southern Dublin. But none seem so beloved or, indeed, famous as the Ha’penny Bridge.
The pedestrian bridge dates to 1816. Ferries had served to transport people back and forth across the river. But when the ferries fell into disrepair, a bridge was built. The bridge’s original toll was a halfpenny. And thus the name stuck.
It’s difficult not to like the handsome bridge. The cast iron arch is painted white and spans 141 feet. These days the only “toll” is dealing with the passers-by that want to take photographs.
Enjoy Dublin’s Architecture
Around Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square you’ll find Georgian architecture brick townhomes covered in ivy with front doors of seemingly every color of the rainbow. There’s no shortage of lovely buildings to enjoy on a stroll through Dublin. Go for a walk and admire Dublin!
Explore the Docks
The Dublin dock area in the east of the city can, from my experience, offer a pleasant break in an otherwise bustling city. While the tourists flock to Temple Bar in the afternoon and evening, the docks see less foot traffic. And it’s such a lovely walk. The Custom House, a government building from the 18th century, stands majestically on the northern bank and statues and memories dot both sides of the river. Bridges of varying styles — some very modern — span the River Liffey.
Explore Dublin’s Viking Past
Today, Dublin is a bustling, modern city. But the Irish capital owes it all to the Vikings. Well, sort of. In and around Dublin several Viking settlements have been found. Visitors to Dublin Castle can get a peek at the archaeology around the castle’s foundation with a paid guided tour.
But you can still get a hint at these previous occupants without reaching for your wallet. Around the corner from Christ Church Cathedral on Winetavern Street there are markers in the sidewalk outlining a full-size Viking home. Similarly, the Wood Quay area underwent significant study. You can visit some of what was uncovered at the National Museum of Archaeology.
Stroll Along the River Liffey
The River Liffey cuts through the heart of Dublin, flowing west to east and out to the sea. And if you’re looking for a taste of Dublin, simply go for a walk along the river. It’s remarkable how quickly the neighborhoods change in style and architecture. Similarly, the views you get within the city change, too. In spots businesses sit close along the river with storefronts vying for your attention. But as you head east toward the docks, it opens up a bit more. The Custom House stands proudly on the edge. And in places, there are areas for sitting right along the riverfront.
Relive Ireland’s Struggle for Independence
As you walk the streets of Dublin, you are passing spots where history was changed. There is the General Post Office, or GPO, with its gorgeous Georgian architecture, served as headquarters for the 1916 Easter Rising. Or try 16 Moore Street, where the Easter Rising ended in surrender. There’s Kilmainham Gaol, a prison where the leaders of the uprising were executed before being laid to rest at the Arbour Hill Cemetery or Glasnevin Cemetery.
Some of the spots do charge admission, such as the GPO’s museum and Kilmainham Gaol. Others you can explore to varying degrees. The GPO is still a working post office! Take a walking tour of Irish history and get a better understanding of what makes Dublin and Ireland what they are today.
Explore Temple Bar
The city’s Temple Bar neighborhood is a popular tourist attraction where you can find much of the city’s nightlife. During the day, it’s a charming area to explore. Narrow, cobblestone streets and buildings of seemingly every color draped in flags, flowers and other decorations. During weekends and in the evening, the area becomes very crowded. If you’re looking for excitement and action, this is where you’ll find it.
Tour Irish Parliament
After you’ve seen the Áras an Uachtaráin, you’ll want to see Parliament. The Irish Parliament, or Oireachtas Éireann, sits in the heart of downtown Dublin on Kildare Street in Leinster House. On weekdays, visitors can take approximately 20-minute long tours of the building for free. Public tours run on days when the houses of Parliament (Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann) aren’t in session.
Alternatively, you can go on a tour if you’re sponsored by a member of Oireachtas, however, this largely applies to Irish citizens. To attend a public tour, arrive fifteen minutes prior to the scheduled tour time or you can book in advance from their website.
Relax at St. Stephen’s Green, Phoenix Park or Merrion Square
There is no shortage of parks and squares in Dublin. The most prominent parks are St. Stephen’s Green, in the heart of the city, and Phoenix Park, just outside of downtown.
Just across the street from the Grafton Street pedestrian area, St. Stephen’s Green is a Georgian garden square with more than one lake (where you will no doubt find large numbers of ducks, seagulls, and other birds), a bandstand, a fountain, and many monuments and memorials. Among the memorials is the large Fusiliers’ Arch at the Grafton Street entrance.
Phoenix Park, meanwhile, is a more green park. A herd of deer roams the park, passing sites like the Papal Cross, erected for Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit. You’ll also find the Dublin Zoo on the grounds as well as Magazine Fort. Phoenix Park is more than 1700 acres so there’s no shortage of spots to explore.
Or, you can visit the Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square. The urban park was once only accessible to local residents with a key. But, since the 1960s, the park is open to the public. In addition to the Wilde statue, there are a number of other memorials and monuments around the grounds of the park.
Go Back to School and Explore Trinity College
The campus of Trinity College in central Dublin is simply put: lovely. The college was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I. The list of alumni is lengthy and impressive: Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, as well as current Taoiseach (or Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar.
The buildings on the campus are historic and impressive. At the heart is the Campanile, a bell tower from 1853 designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and sculpted by Thomas Kirk, on Library Square. Also notable is the Museum Building, a Palazzo style building from 1857 that is covered in detailed carvings.
Sit Outside and Marvel at Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The city’s most famous churches charge admission to tourists to tour. But there’s nothing to stop you from exploring the exterior of the buildings. Both are quite remarkable and worth a closer look. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in particular, has a green spot directly outside complete with a playground. It’s a spot that beckons visitors. Alternatively, you can attend services at the churches.
All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.