Dublin, despite its relatively small size, is one of the most vibrant cities of Europe and also tends to be one of the more expensive cities—low airfares are just the start of any journey, and travelers tend to be surprised by the prices in Ireland's capital city.
With even budget accommodation exceeding some budgets, traveling on a shoestring seems to be a thing of the past, but there are still things to be had for free or at least for the moderate cost of a day ticket on Dublin Bus or the DART.
The best way to reduce the price of your trip to Dublin is to find out about the best places to visit and things to do that are either free or offer highly discounted prices. Otherwise, you'll be spending a lot more for the same things you could get elsewhere in Europe for much cheaper.
Walking Tours of the City
Even if Dublin's urban traffic is constantly vacillating between two extremes, either near-standstill or manic speed, the city still has a lot to offer for those willing to walk. As long as you avoid crossing the busiest streets without heeding traffic, walking is also safe and, especially surprising for US visitors, normal in Dublin. Rush hour traffic on the pavements can be hell!
For the visitor, several routes are signposted, highlighting different aspects of the city. Information on these is available at the Tourist Information Centres, sometimes with free maps. Alternatively, you might want to try a self-guided tour through the city, which will show you some great bits of Dublin without costing you anything.
A walk to the main attractions of Dublin should take you about half a day to complete, while a walk along the banks of the Royal Canal past Croke Park, Mountjoy Prison, over the M50 and into Blanchardstown will take you most of a day to complete. Alternatively, you could stroll casually along the River Liffey through the city.
Sculpture and Street Art Hunting
Dublin is jam-packed with sculpture in public places—including works by Henry Moore—but one has to know where to look. From the towering Spire in O'Connell Street to the cinema usher near the "Screen," you can spend an entire day hunting down sculpted masterpieces in Dublin.
Alternatively, you can take a walking tour to explore Dublin's often amazing—though, at times, quickly vanishing—street art, massive murals, or colorful small additions to the city's walls. Graffiti artists from around the world leave their marks all over Dublin, but city officials are quick to cover up these spray-painted murals, so you never know what you'll see or how long it'll be there after you leave.
Dublin Street Performers
While you're looking at the sculptures and graffiti walls on Dublin's streets, don't forget to stop and watch the street buskers performing. Although tips are greatly appreciated—after all, tips are how these artists feed themselves—you can watch hours of entertainment free of charge just by wandering around popular tourists areas until you come across a bit of music or dance. If you're a really big fan of street performers, be sure to visit Dublin in July for the World Street Performance Championship, which is also free of charge.
Festivals in the City
The Irish Capital of Dublin knows how to throw a party, and no matter what time of the year you visit the city, you're sure to find an annual festival celebrating the culture, history, and diversity of this island nation.
In January, check out the Temple Bar TradFest for a sampling of Irish music and dance, and in February, the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival brings cutting-edge cinema from around the world together for a weekend of screenings and awards. In March, the St. Patrick's Day Festival takes over the city for a number of days, and in April, you can grab a book at the Literary Festival or pig out on fresh seafood at the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival.
The summer really heats up with events, and in May you can get your groove on at the Dance Festival or hear some of the newest stories at the Writers Festival. In June, the world-renowned Bloomsday Festival and the colorful LGBTQ Pride Festival take over the city streets, and in July, enjoy live entertainment at the World Street Performance Championship; August's Ukulely Hooley and September's Culture Night close out the summer in style.
When the weather starts getting cooler, festivals move indoors starts with October's Dine in Dublin Restaurant Week offering tourists and residents a chance to enjoy some of the city's best cuisine for bargain prices. The Dublin Book Festival in November and the NYE Dublin Festival in December close out the year.
Dublin Double-Decker Buses
Dublin Bus offers some great routes for tourists—and they include a free tour of Dublin. Although these are not regular tours of Dublin, they are the normal public transport routes Dubliners take to work and play daily. Just grab a great value bargain with a Leap Card (which will also give you access to the rail services of DART and LUAS) and a bus map, and then hop on any of the routes going through the city center. See Dublin from the top of a double-decker, warts and all. You will be sure to see the city like it really is, in all its sprawling splendor.
If you've got a taste for the macabre, consider a visit to the Glasnevin Cemetery, just a short walk away from the National Botanical Gardens. Over one million Dubliners have been laid to rest in this historic burial ground including notable historic Irish figures like Charles Stewart Parnell, Daniel O'Connell, Éamon de Valera, and Michael Collins. Visitors can take daily tours of the museum and cemetery, experience a state-of-the-art interactive exhibit, and even find their ancestors in the Genealogy area. Glasnevin Cemetery became the first Catholic cemetery in Ireland when it was opened in 1832, a result of Catholic rights activist Daniel O'Connell pressuring the city to allow for Catholic burial ceremonies to be conducted in Dublin.
DublinBikes: Free Bikes in the City
Embrace the bike-sharing culture of Dublin by renting a bicycle from one of 40 vendors across the city and cruising to some of the best tourist destinations with relative ease. With over 450 bikes on demand throughout the city that you can "rent" for 30 minutes for free, using the DublinBikes service is a great way to save on transportation costs during your trip. You can download a free app so that you can track your time and make sure you don't get charged for going over 30 minutes; if you need more time, just check in your bike and take out another to reset the "free ride" timer.
Museums, Libraries, and Galleries
Located centrally (well, relatively, at least) in Dublin, no less than three national museums of Ireland are open and free to visitors, each of which holds some priceless collections.
You can visit the National Museum in Kildare Street for Prehistoric, Celtic, Viking, and Medieval History or check out the National Museum in Collins Barracks for arts, crafts, numismatics, and the military history of Ireland—and don't forget the unique Natural History Museum, also known as the "Dead Zoo." But you might want to hurry if you want all this for free as plans are constantly being discussed to make the National Museums charge entry fees due to budget problems.
Also free of charge is the stunning Chester Beatty Library, which is worth half a day's visit on its own. Its collection of ancient and medieval books and artworks is simply gorgeous, but there may be a charge for special exhibitions.
The National Gallery of Ireland at Merrion Square has an eclectic collection, some of which were bequeathed by George Bernhard Shaw to the gallery. Art on display includes "big names" as well as lesser-known artists, and the collection is especially strong on Irish art and artists. Please take note that while entrance to the main collection of the National Gallery is free, there may be a charge for special exhibitions.
The Chester Beaty Library
Visiting the Chester Beaty Library is especially great for a rainy day in Dublin—of which there are many. Established in 1950 for Sir Alfred Chester Beatty to house his collection of religious texts, this library is free to the public and contains some of the best scholarly articles and texts on the Old and New Testament as well as Islamic and Far Eastern artifacts. The library is also home to samplings of the world's artistic, religious, and secular heritage, with a collection of manuscripts and texts that dates back to 2,700 B.C.
While St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral do charge an entry fee (outside mass hours), numerous splendid churches are free to visit in Dublin, though they may be a bit off the beaten path.
St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral on Marlborough Street allows visitors to enjoy the Palestrina Choir at mass on Sundays while St. Ann's on Dawson Street still distributes loaves of bread to the poor in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Whitefriars Street features a Carmelite church housing the relics of the old romantic Saint Valentine.
You can also check out the Byzantine hidden gem known as the University Church on St. Stephen's Green or Our Lady of Lourdes on Sean MacDermott Street, which holds the remains of the Blessed Matt Talbot, Dublin's saint-in-waiting.
Dublin's City Parks
A day spent at the park is the perfect way to people-watch in Dublin. Simply take a seat on a strategic bench in any of Dublin's city center parks and watch as Dubliners go about their routines; on any given day, whole dramas of Shakespearean proportions will unfold in front of you.
St. Stephen's Green is especially known for the lively "performances" given by office workers, tourists, school children, and shoppers. Merrion Square is generally quieter, though still lively while the Dubh Linn Gardens are discreetly tucked away, and the Iveagh Gardens are nearly unknown.
Although Dublin has a number of great parks within the city limits, exploring Dublin's Phoenix Park in total could take days. Here, you can see stately houses (including the residences of the Irish president and the U.S. Ambassador), Ashtown Castle, wild deer, the Papal Cross, the Magazine Fort—all within the confines of the world's largest urban park.
Getting to the park is not as much of a problem as it seems at first—from the Liffey River near Heuston Station, the park is just a five-minute walk. However, keep in mind the real walking starts after you pass through the main gates as there are miles to discover once you arrive.
The President of Ireland's House
Once you're done walking through Phoenix Park, be sure to stop by Aras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the President of Ireland. Constructed in 1751 and most-recently enlarged in 1816, this historic home was occupied by British viceroys from 1782 to 1922 then British governors-general until Ireland declared its independence in 1937.
Free tours depart from the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre every Saturday on a first-come, first-served basis, and you should always call ahead before planning your trip as official state business will sometimes close the tour unexpectedly. However, if you do manage to grab a free ticket, you'll be able to see five staterooms and the president's study along with watching a 10-minute video explaining the property's rich history.
Howth Summit and Harbor
Howth really has it all—bracing cliff walks, spectacular vistas, lots of fresh air, a busy harbor, and even wild seals. If you want to come eye-to-eye with marine mammals, Howth is the place to go. You can spend anything from an hour to a whole day here as there should be plenty going on any day of the year.
While it would be possible to walk to Howth from Dublin's center as it's just a few miles down Dublin Bay, the easier alternative is to take either the bus or hop onto the DART train as both forms of transit terminate in Howth and the bus even takes you up to Howth Summit.
South Dublin Bay
Take a southbound DART from the city center and ride the rails to Dun Laoghaire where you can walk through the harbor and along the promenade to Sandycove, finally arriving at the James Joyce Tower and Museum, which is also free to visit. Another great attraction out in South Dublin Bay is the nudist beach at the "Forty Foot," a popular destination for naturalists from around the world.
Alternatively, you can stay on the DART a bit longer and arrive in Bray, the once fashionable suburb of Dublin known for it Victorian-era promenade located in County Wicklow. From here, you can easily take a cliff walk to Greystones, and both Bray and Greystones are connected by DART so you can return back to Dublin without having to retrace your steps.
Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I and modeled after Oxford and Cambridge, visiting the campus of Trinity College is like walking through Dublin's history. One of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland and the oldest-surviving college on the island, Trinity College is free to visit. However, you will have to pay for a chance to see the famous Celtic epic "The Book of Kells," which is on display at the college's Old Library. Located on College Green across from the historic Irish Houses of Parliament, take in a bit of the governmental history of Ireland all in one trip to this historic district.
North Bull Island
North Bull Island is a popular destination for nature-lovers visiting Dublin and just a short bus ride away from the city center. At this UNESCO reserve, you can enjoy the sandy Dollymount Strand beach that runs the entire length of the three-mile island or bird-watching in the National Bird Sanctuary that over 180 different species of flying creatures call home. Other attractions include kite-surfing, swimming, golfing at the Royal Dublin Golf Club or the St. Anne's Golf Club, and exploring 19th-century architecture like the Bull Bridge.
The South Wall Lighthouse
Still in operation more than 200 years after its construction in 1768, the South Wall Poolbeg Lighthouse was reputedly the first one in the world to operate its beacon by candlelight. Located at the far end of the two-mile-long South Bull Wall, which was the longest seawall in the world when construction finished in 1795, walking to the Poolbeg Lighthouse is a great way to catch some fresh air relatively close to the city. To get there from Dublin's city center, you can take the Dublin 1 bus toward Sandymount and get off at Seafort Avenue or take a cab to the parking lot for the sea wall itself. From the Seafort Avenue bus stop it's about three and a half miles (an hour's walk) to the lighthouse, but departing from the parking lot cuts off about half the time.
National Botanic Gardens
Located just under two miles from the city center, the National Botanic Gardens is another popular free day-trip for nature lovers who visit Dublin. Originally established in 1795, Richard Turner added curvilinear glasshouses to the property between 1843 to 1869 which still house the latest in botanical technology including computer-controlled climate rooms that create natural environments that can sustain exotic plants from around the world.