Top Five Cheap (or Free!) Things to Do in Dublin

Dublin can be an expensive city to visit. The average breakfast or lunch runs €10 to €15 or more, while a decent dinner will cost around €25, more with drinks. Add in the cost of transportation, lodging, shopping and sight seeing and you can quickly run up a big bill. If you can come to Dublin with a big budget, good for you. You can stop reading now. For the rest of us, spending less can mean staying longer. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up having a good time. You’re on vacation after all. After spending some time in Dublin on numerous trips, I’ve come up with a list of things you can do that are fun and frugal at the same time.  Here are my top five in reverse order—I’m sure you can come up with your own list when you visit.

1. Hop-on Hop-off Tours: I’m listing this last because it’s the most expensive item. But with your ticket good for two days and 24 stops, it’s still a good deal. The open top buses take a long route through the city, with a tour guide explaining everything along the way. Stops include Phoenix Park, the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle, Temple Bar and more. For €18 adults, €16 seniors and students, it gives a great overview of the city and makes it easy to get to some sites that are quite a hike from Dublin center.

The seawall between Dun Laoghaire and Sandycove, south of Dublin, features this James Joyce quote. ©Marcie Miller

The seawall between Dun Laoghaire and Sandycove, south of Dublin, features this James Joyce quote. ©Marcie Miller

2.  Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART): This is Dublin’s commuter rail system serving towns along the coast north and south of the city. While workers use it for getting to and fro, it’s also a cheap way to see some of the beautiful coast and check out village life outside the big city. Traveling south you can visit the free James Joyce Museum in the Martello Tower at Sandycove, while going north you can check out the magnificent Malahide Castle. Start your trip at the Connolly train station and buy a return (round trip) ticket for the final destination in the direction of your choice. Going south this is Greystones, north it’s Malahide or Howth. You can get off at any stop along the way, look around, grab a bite to eat, then get back on. Trains run every 15 minutes. An adult, return ticket to Greystones is €9.60, while to Malahide it’s €5.25.

3. Grafton Street: While the shops along Grafton Street can be a budget buster, there’s no better place in Dublin to people watch. The pedestrian-only thoroughfare stretches from Trinity College to St. Stephen’s Green, so there’s no worry of getting run over while taking in the sights. Buskers (street musicians and performers) come here to hone their skills, make some money and maybe get discovered. On a recent Saturday the avenue featured a team of jugglers, a full band playing rapid trad tunes, an accordionist and several solo guitarists. If you’re lucky, you can get a seat in the window of Bewley’s Café and enjoy a cup of tea while watching the parade of humanity.

4. The parks of Dublin: While the fast-paced city can be exhilarating, it can also be overwhelming. Fortunately Dublin is studded with parks that offer a cool respite from the madding crowd. At the top of Grafton Street you’ll see the stone arch welcoming you to St. Stephen’s Green, the 22-acre city park enjoyed by Dublin citizens and visitors since the 1800s. It features shaded walking paths, green lawns, flower gardens, duck ponds, fountains, and numerous statues. Look for James Joyce, Yeats and Oscar Wilde. The park is set in what’s known as a Georgian Square, with the buildings surrounding it built in the Georgian style.

It would take days to wander through 1,752 acre Phoenix Park , which features the Dublin Zoo, botanical gardens, tea rooms and a castle. It’s twice the size of Central Park! Start at the Visitor Center, which is housed in Ashtown Castle, a fully restored 17th century tower house. For a short visit check out the 22-acre Victorian People’s Flower Gardens. These gardens were initially established in 1840 as the Promenade Grounds and show Victorian-style horticulture at its best. The rose beds in summer are to die for. The People’s Gardens and Visitor Center are located close to the Parkgate Street entrance, which is accessible by the tram that runs through Dublin, the Luas.

Neo-Celtic silver tea set, circa 1900.

Neo-Celtic silver tea set, circa 1900.

5. The National Museums: And saving the best for last, Dublin boasts not one but three branches of the National Museum. And they are free! It can be a little confusing that they are all called “National Musuem,” so here’s the breakdown: The Archaeology Museum on Kildare Street holds treasures from the Mesolithic through Medieval periods in Ireland, including the Ardagh Chalice, the Tara Brooch and a massive amount of prehistoric gold. If you love Celtic Ireland, this is the place to go. It’s about a five minute walk from Grafton Street. The Natural History Museum is on Merrion Street, a short, well-signed  walk from Kildare Street. Also known as “The Dead Zoo,” the museum features the requisite skeletal remains and stuffed specimens, but of particular interest are the ones that are unique to Ireland, such as the giant Irish deer skeleton with a 10-foot antler span. The Decorative Arts and History Museum is housed in the Collins Barracks, once used by the British garrison in Dublin, and contains a comprehensive history of war in Ireland, as well as a large section on decorative arts such as silversmithing and woodworking. A separate building, across a gravel lot, is worth visiting as it houses the 1905 wooden sailing yacht, the Asgard, infamously used on a gun running trip to provision Irish rebels in 1914. It’s easily reached on the Luas Red Line from O’Connell Street.

So there you go, several days worth of sight-seeing that will save you enough money to buy at least a pint or two of the black stuff. It’s all about priorities…


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