30 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Ireland


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Although Ireland isn't typically known as a budget destination, temptingly low exchange rates and reasonable airfares from the East Coast to Dublin may put it on the radar of budget travelers -- who then have to open their wallets pretty wide to kiss the Blarney Stone, tour the Guinness Storehouse, or partake in many of Ireland's most popular tourist activities. Fortunately, there is plenty to see and do all over the country that doesn't cost a euro. (Also, while many popular sites charge steep admission, those managed by the Office of Public Works offer free admission the first Wednesday of each month. That includes must-sees such as the Rock of Cashel, the megalithic tombs at Brú na Bóinne, Kilkenny Castle, and many more.)

Related: 50 Affordable Vacations to Add to Your Bucket List

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No need to take a costly guided tour of the Irish capital. Instead, download the free Dublin Discovery Trails app. It includes five two-hour tours on specific themes -- for instance, "Story of Dublin" teaches visitors about the city's early history, including its Viking roots.
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Just a couple of miles from central Dublin are more than 300 endangered plant species, including six no longer seen in the wild, at the National Botanic Gardens. Wander among the extensive gardens and inside Victorian-era glasshouses. Self-guided audio tours are available as podcasts for no charge.

Related: In Full Bloom: Gorgeous Botanical Gardens in All 50 States

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People with Irish roots will want to visit central Dublin's National Library of Ireland. Staffers provide free help with genealogical searches weekdays during business hours -- no appointment needed. Also worth checking out: Library exhibitions on topics such as William Butler Yeats and Ireland during World War I.
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It doesn't cost a dime to gaze at the more than 15,000 masterpieces at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. Big names include Fra Angelico, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and more. The museum also provides free audio guides, including special kid-friendly guides for children 6 and up.
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The name Chester Beatty Library is somewhat misleading -- it's as much a museum about books as it is a library. On the grounds of Dublin Castle, it houses a collection of Qurans dating from the 9th century and beyond, Egyptian papyrus texts, and a biblical fragment surpassed in age only by the Dead Sea Scrolls.
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Visitors sticking close to Dublin can still get a taste of Ireland's rugged scenery on the Howth Cliff Walk, about 30 minutes outside the city. The 3.7-mile loop affords lovely meadow and sea views and passes a picturesque lighthouse. Hikers can even spot the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey, built in the 15th century.
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Housed inside the Newbridge Silverware Visitor Center, this museum lets visitors view clothes and memorabilia from silver-screen luminaries including Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Music fans get to see famous outfits worn by Michael Jackson and the Beatles. Admission is free, but visitors can opt for a paid guided tour.
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Tucked in Wicklow Mountains National Park, the tranquil Glendalough Valley is home to a well-preserved monastic city with structures built in or before the 12th century. Don't miss the round tower, ruined cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, and surrounding cemetery. It's just a short walk to Glendalough Upper Lake. A fee applies if you visit the on-site heritage center.
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Ireland's first lavender farm provides a lovely setting for a stroll. Mapped routes of up to two hours begin in the lavender fields and wind through nearby woods. Children especially will love spotting fairy doors built into some of the trees. A parking fee of 2 euros applies during June, July, and August.
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Take an enchanting walk in the 40-acre Altamont Gardens, which features a long riverside stroll under mature trees. Visitors will find a mix of informal and formal gardens, including a walled garden. Highlights include exotic shrubbery, rhododendrons, azaleas, roses, and more. Guided tours are available for a fee.
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Anyone who expects to see traditional Irish crafts at Kilkenny's National Craft Gallery will be disappointed; it's a decidedly contemporary showcase of glass, textiles, ceramics, and more. The surroundings are certainly historic -- the gallery is housed in what once was the stable yard of medieval Kilkenny Castle.
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Not far from the spectacular Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary's Holycross Abbey is easier on the wallet. It's free to visit this restored 12th-century Cistercian church, and guided tours are available Wednesday and Sunday (donations accepted). Sights include Ireland's oldest church bell, a whispering arch, and a dazzling variety of medieval window patterns.
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County Cork's Drombeg Stone Circle is atmospheric in its own right, but the seaside setting makes it a must-see. The 13 standing stones, dated to as early as 153 B.C., likely once surrounded a burial urn. Excavations at the site have uncovered bones and other artifacts.
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Visitors will find a permanent collection of more than 2,500 works at Crawford Art Gallery, including a collection of Greek and Roman sculpture casts from the Vatican. European paintings are also on display, and temporary exhibitions display Irish art from all periods.
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It's one of the most breathtaking drives in Ireland, but the Healy Pass is often overlooked because it is on the Beara Peninsula instead of the more-traveled Kerry or Dingle peninsula. This winding mountain pass between Cork and Kerry offers spectacular panoramas at every turn. Watch for fog, mist, hairpin turns, and errant sheep.
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The Kerry Way is one of Ireland's best-known trails, winding more than 120 miles around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. Any part of the route provides spectacular scenery, but highlights include Killarney National Park and its Torc Waterfall, the charming town of Kenmare, and views of the rugged Skellig Islands, home to a monastic settlement dating to the 6th century.
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Visitors hoping to explore Ireland's many crumbling stone attractions won't be disappointed with Quin Abbey, a ruined Franciscan abbey in County Clare built in the 14th and 15th centuries. Don't miss the extensive cloisters, atmospheric graveyard, and bell tower, which visitors can climb for views of the countryside.
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Warm-weather visitors shouldn't forget about Irish beaches. One of the best is Trá an Dóilín in County Galway, a ruggedly scenic beach popular for swimming and snorkeling because of its crystal-clear water. Though many say it's a coral beach, what's actually underfoot is maerl, the remains of a coralline algae. There are changing facilities and lifeguards during swimming months.
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Wander the vibrant cobblestone streets of Galway, a popular harbor city on Ireland's west coast. Galway City Museum presents a free look at the city's medieval past, while the Salthill Promenade offers beautiful bay views and fresh sea breezes. Don't miss the Spanish Arch, frequently home to street musicians and performers, which dates to 1584.
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Connemara National Park in County Galway is jammed full of every kind of scenery: rugged mountains, sleepy bogs, extensive grasslands, and quiet woodlands. Visitors may spot the famous Connemara ponies, known for their kind nature and sturdy build. There are four marked trails on the park's Diamond Hill.
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Croagh Patrick in County Mayo is known as Ireland's holiest mountain, and the trek to its summit is a pilgrimage with a history dating back thousands of years. The climb takes about two hours, and sturdy footwear is advisable. Nearby sights include the National Famine Monument and the Boheh Stone, carved during the Neolithic era.
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Ireland's largest island, Achill Island in County Mayo, can be accessed by bridge and boasts a wide range of sights. One must-see is a deserted village, Slievemore, which has about 100 crumbling stone cottages. At remote Keem Bay, high cliffs plummet to a sandy beach at the edge of the frigid Atlantic.
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As its name suggests, this branch of the National Museum in County Mayo celebrates traditional Ireland, from folklore to traditional trades and crafts. Outside, visitors can spot one of the county's five surviving round towers and explore Victorian gardens. A free guidebook can be downloaded online.
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Ireland is replete with castles, and nearly all have admission fees to offset the cost of maintenance. One exception is Doe Castle on Sheephaven Bay, which likely dates from the 1400s. Restoration work is ongoing, so some spots may be off limits, but guided tours of the imposing Tower House are available Fridays through Sundays in July and August.
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The Cliffs of Moher are more famous, but the Slieve League cliffs in Donegal are taller -- and free to visit. From their highest point, it's nearly 2,000 feet down to the Atlantic Ocean. There are several designated viewing points and also hikes closer to the edge for more daring souls.
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The well-manicured gardens surrounding Glenveagh Castle stand in stark contrast to the more rugged beauty Donegal is known for. Visitors will find a dazzling display of rhododendrons from late March through May, but there is color anytime during spring, summer, and fall. Note that there is an admission fee for the nearby castle.
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Visitors to Ireland's northern County Donegal can take in the sweeping views from Grianán of Aileach, a hilltop monument and restored ring fort that dates to 1700 B.C. Likely made by pre-Celtic invaders as a burial monument, it was built without mortar and has three terraces inside.
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Check out one of the largest waterwheels in Ireland at Donegal's Newmills Corn and Flax Mills, open to visitors from late May through late September. The oldest building has been around for 400 years, and the complex is still busy grinding locally grown grains including barley, maize, flax, and oats. Guided tours are available.
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The Hill of Tara rises dramatically from the surrounding countryside in County Meath, where access to its archaeological sites doesn't cost a dime. One highlight, a grassy tomb called the Mound of the Hostages, dates to 2500 B.C. The Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny, may have been a coronation stone for Ireland's ancient kings. A fee applies if you visit the on-site heritage center.
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"Free" might be stretching it, but ponying up for a Guinness in many pubs across Ireland is your ticket for an evening of traditional music, otherwise known as a "session" (or seisún). Most sessions are informal gatherings of musicians that inspire toe-tapping, clapping, and even a jig or two. About.com maintains a list of well-known sessions across the country.