Nestled between the Dublin mountains and the expanse of Dublin Bay, the capital of Ireland is rich with beauty and true Irish character. However, as beautiful as the city is, it does, of course, come at a price. But don’t panic! From mummies to buskers, I’ve put together a list of fun, cheap and free things to do in Dublin if you’re on a budget.
Free things to do in Dublin: Visit the Phoenix Park and stalk some wild deer
Dublin’s Phoenix Park is reputedly the biggest city park in Europe to the west of the city centre. The parkland covers over 700 hectares and is home to rolling green hills, dark, mysterious forests and meandering streams running through shaded valleys. The best part of the park is the roaming herd of adorable Fallow Deer who occupy the park throughout the year. It’s fantastic to see such a large herd of deer within the city limits. The deer can be found close between the Papal Cross and the American Embassy – but weary in October, rutting season for the males!
The Phoenix Park is filled with magical forests, swan-filled ponds, rolling hills, and vast playing fields. Landmarks within the Park include Dublin Zoo, the Papal Cross (one million people came to see the Pope here in 1979) and Aras An Uachtarian (the President’s Residence). There’s always the swans who are looking for a quick feed. And there are loads in the ponds dotted around the park.
Free things to do in Dublin: Spooky mummies at St. Michan’s Church
Three of the mummified bodies in the crypt enter at your peril!! So, mummies, they’re from Egypt, right?! Nonsense! St Michan’s, an inconspicuous church close to Smithfield and just around the corner from the Jameson Whiskey Distillery, is the home of one of Dublin’s most well-kept secrets – a crypt containing mummies dating back centuries.
Deep down in the Crypts beneath the church lie the 700-year-old mummified remains of a former Crusader Knight and some of Dublin’s wealthiest residents from the 16th up to the 19th Century. The dry air and limestone within the crypt have preserved these spooky remains exceptionally well. If you are nice enough to the very eccentric tour guide, you can rub the finger of the Crusader for good luck (mind the fingernails, it’s kinda gross).
Cheap/Free things to do in Dublin: Take the DART
The DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) is one of the most scenic railway lines globally. It takes in the sea views at a leisurely pace on both the North and South sides of the city. From delightful Howth fishing village, through the city centre and out to the Killiney, the Dublin Riviera, it is an inexpensive way to escape the city and interact with everyday Dubliners. I’ve outlined two different itineraries below.
Jutting out to sea from the north of County Dublin, Howth is a lovely fishing harbour with fantastic walks along its dangerous cliff edges. It is 30 minutes from the city centre. I recommend walking along the path to Howth Head lighthouse – from there, you have panoramic views of the whole of Dublin Bay and as far as Northern Ireland’s Mourne Mountains.
On returning to Howth village, you can indulge in some wonderful fresh seafood if you fancy. I highly recommend fresh mussel’s, or of course, you can go for traditional crispy Fish and Chips from one of the local fish & chip shops.
Dalkey and Killiney are home to Dublin’s rich and famous; you may end up drinking a Guinness in the company of Bono or Van Morrison. It’s the southern equivalent of Howth (minus the seafood), but the views are spectacular, and the village of Dalkey is a great place for a pint of the black stuff. I’d recommend catching the DART to Killiney station and strolling back towards Dalkey village. Up and over Killiney Hill, you’ll have a panoramic, sweeping view over Dublin city, the Bay and the Wicklow mountains to the south. In Dalkey village there are some fine bars and restaurants, have a look around, you will find something that suits your budget. Good pubs for a pint are the Queen’s and The Magpie Inn, both at opposite ends of the main street. The Supervalu store in the centre of the village has a deli with inexpensive sandwiches.
Free things to do in Dublin: Live traditional (and not-so-traditional) music
Numerous free gigs are happening across Dublin all year round. For the more traditional Irish music, some bars with regular free music include the Cobblestone in Smithfield and my personal favourite, McNeill’s on Capel Street (see picture below), which has music upstairs on most weekend nights.
To the wise, though, a word is to refrain from drinking in the Temple Bar district. Despite all the hype (guidebooks, I’m talking to you), it’s by far the most expensive place to drink. Moreover, it suffers far too much ‘diddile-aye’ (i.e. touristy crap). Instead, stick to the local pubs, and you’ll have a much better experience. Dozens of bars have free live rock music every week for more modern tastes. DimeStore, for instance, hosts live rock/Hip Hop with various bands in Sweeney’s (Dame Street) every Thursday. At the same time, Electric Fridays in The International is a popular open mic night.
Free things to do in Dublin: Just strollin’
Dublin is full of characters, and simply strolling the streets will open your eyes to Dubliners’ unique and quirky ways. While not as glamorous or upmarket as it once was due to the proliferation of chain stores and the high rental fees, Grafton Street remains Dublin’s premier shopping street.
Many famous Irish musicians and comedians started out on Grafton Street. In addition, you will see banjos, panpipes and a few poetic “junkies” looking to make an impression along the street. At the top of Grafton Street is Stephens Green, where you can feed ducks at the pond and simply lay on the grass enjoying a picnic – weather permitting, of course.
O’Connell Street is the main thoroughfare on the northside of the River Liffey, with Henry Street intersecting it halfway up. Henry Street has, in some ways, overtaken Grafton Street in recent years.
Moore Street is Dublin’s last remaining outdoor market street; it has become quite derelict in recent years, but it still has its lively stall owners and an influx of immigrants from Africa. The Far East has given the area a much-needed lift. Traditional Irish fruit & veg traders share common ground with new African and Asian sellers, creating a unique Dublin experience.
Take a stroll along the leafy banks of Grand Canal through the city’s southside in Autumn.