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. While getting to Dublin is very cheap (€9.99 on Ryanair), for budget backpackers it remains an expensive city for accommodation, food and drink.
But don’t panic! From mummies to buskers, we’ve put together a list of cheap, free, and fun things to do while visiting Dublin on a budget.
Visit the Phoenix Park and Stalk Some Wild Deer
Dublin’s Phoenix Park, to the west of the city centre, is reputedly the biggest city park in Europe and among the largest in the world. The parkland covers over 700 hectares and is home to rolling green hills, dark mysterious forests and meandering streams running through shaded valleys.
In our eyes the best part of the park is the roaming herd of adorable Fallow Deer who occupy the park throughout the year. It used to be OK to feed the deer vegetables, but the Park Wardens have stopped this and unfortunately you can no longer do this. Nonetheless, it’s fantastic to see such a large herb of deer within the city limits. The deer can be found close between the Papal Cross and the American Embassy – but weary in October, which is rutting season for the males!
The Phoenix Park is filled with magical forests, swan filled ponds, rolling hills and vast expanses of 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).
The park is open year round and is on the northwest edge of the city centre. Walk or catch the LUAS to Heuston Station and cross the bridge from there. Ideally 3 – 4 hours is enough but you could easily spend the whole day there wandering around.
Spooky Mummies at St. Michan’s Church
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 as well as some of Dublin’s richest residents from the 16th up to the 19th Century.
The dry air and limestone within the crypt has preserved these spooky remains extremely well and 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). This short tour is definitely well worth it. We’ve done it twice and there’s usually just two or three other people on the tour so for the spook factor alone it’s well worth it and you will definitely come out impressed.
Where: St. Michan’s Church, Church Street Dublin 7
Cost: €5 Adult / €4 Student / Children €3.50.
Opening times: Everyday except Sunday. Open times vary but tours usually take place between 10.00 – 16.00.
Take the DART
The DART (bizarrely the Dublin Area Rapid Transit – you’ll soon realise it’s not quite Rapid) is one of the most scenic commuter railway line in the world. 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, aka the Dublin Riviera, it is an inexpensive way to escape the city and interact with everyday Dubliners. We’ve outlined two different itineraries below.
Jutting out to sea from the north of County Dublin, Howth is a lovely fishing harbour with great walks along it’s perilous cliff edges. It is 30 minutes from the city centre we’d 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 the return to Howth village, if you fancy you can indulge in some wonderful fresh seafood. We highly recommend fresh mussel’s (O’Connells Bar offer a gigantic bowl in white wine sauce for €9.95, enough for 2 people!) 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. We’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 views 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 and I’m sure 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.Info: DART trains depart from the main city centre stations (Connolly Station, Tara St. and Pearse Station) every 5 – 20 minutes daily. Journey time to both Howth (northbound) and Dalkey (southboard) is 30 minutes from the city centre. Return fare to Howth is €5.75 and to Dalkey €6.40. One day ticket costs €11. www.dart.ie
Live Traditional (and not-so-traditional) Music
There are numerous free gigs happening across Dublin all year round. For the price of a pint (or a free glass of water if you’re totally broke) you can catch some quality music in a great venue.
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 which has music upstairs on most weekend nights (also Thursday nights). A word to the wise though, is to refrain from drinking in Temple Bar district. Despite all the hype (guidebooks, I’m talking to you) it’s by far the most expensive place to drink and is suffering far too much ‘diddile-aye’ (i.e. touristy crap). Stick to the local pubs and you’ll have a much better experience.
For more modern tastes, dozens of bars have free live rock music every week. DimeStore for instance hosts live rock/Hip Hop with various bands in Sweeney’s (Dame Street) every Thursday while Electric Fridays in The International is a popular open mic night. Check the Dublin Event Guide for full listings updated weekly.
Dublin is full of characters and simply strolling the streets will open your eyes to the unique and quirky ways of Dubliners. 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 and is home to numerous buskers plying their trade morning, noon and night.
Many famous Irish musicians and comedians started out on Grafton Street and you will see banjos, panpipes and a few poetic “junkies” looking to make an impression along the street. At the top of the 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.
On the northside of the River Liffey, O’Connell Street is the main thoroughfare with Henry Street intersecting it halfway up. Henry Street has in some ways overtaken Grafton Street in recent years and at Christmas time is home to dozens of street stalls selling unique and somewhat dubious Christmas fare.
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 and the Far East has given the area a much needed lift. These new Dubliner’s have opened up plenty of cheap eats around Parnell Street to the north of Moore Street.
Wandering the streets and alleyways along both sides of the Liffey will reveal small bars, cafes, boutique shops and the odd “head the ball” (Dublinese for an eccentric character) – at the end of the day this is the most adventurous way to explore a new city and who knows who and what you will come across!
Have you been Dublin? What was your favourite memory? And do you have any additional tips for our readers?