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10 free things to do in Dublin, Ireland
Stroll through the National Botanic Gardens
The National Botanic Gardens is home to various plants as well as serene woodland settings, lush trees, romantic bridges, and peaceful ponds that make for enjoyable scenery on a midday stroll. To help expand your knowledge of flora even further, programming that includes discussions, workshops, and films is available to the public. Furthermore, every Sunday visitors can take a free guided walking tour at 12 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
When traveling through Europe, I swear by SANDEMAN's NEW Europe walking tours. These tours are completely free and guides get paid in tips only. While this may seem risky, the quality of the tours is so high it really isn't a problem for the guides. During the Dublin tour, you will learn the history of city sites in a fun and interactive way while also stopping off at a traditional English pub for lunch. If you still want more, sign up for their nightly pub crawl.
Explore Trinity College
Trinity College is not your average university college; in fact, it's not only beautiful but historical. The college, which is the oldest in Ireland, was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592 and features neatly manicured lawns, charming cobblestone paths, and beautiful Georgian architecture. While it's free to walk around the campus and take photos, there is an admission fee to go see the ancient "Book of Kells" which is located in the Old Library.
Check out the street performers on Grafton
Street performing, or busking, is very popular in Dublin. If you want to increase your chances of seeing top-notch performances, head over to Grafton Street, which is the unofficial stage for street entertainment. Here you'll be able to see everything from acoustic performers to people on stilts juggling basketballs.
Trek the Howth Coastal Path and feed the seals
At the northern tip of Dublin Bay, you will find the beautiful area of Howth Head (shown right). During a coastal walk of the region, you will be able to view Lambay Island, Ireland's Eye, Baily Lighthouse, Howth Castle, and the Wicklow Mountains as you traverse over rugged cliff tops. Additionally, you'll be able to feed seals once you reach Howth Harbour and stop for lunch at local pubs along the way. You can begin the hike east of Howth Village at the Balscadden Bay parking area and make your way around the Nose of Howth.
Learn some history and culture at a local museum
When visiting a city, it's always a good idea to get a sense of the place by visiting a museum. One of Dublin's best free museums is the National Museum of Ireland, which is actually a set of separate museums containing exhibits on archeology, history, culture, decorative arts, and more. Additionally, if you stop by the former Mariner's Church there is the National Maritime Museum of Ireland, which allows visitors to explore the country's maritime history. The museum is closed right now but will reopen on April 3, 2012. The Irish Jewish Museum, the National Photographic Archive, and Pearse Museum are also excellent free museums to add to your budget-friendly itinerary.
Get creative at an art museum
There are plenty of options in Dublin where you can experience high quality art for free. Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art features an array of impressionist and postimpressionist artists, with the main component being from Hugh Lane, an Irish art connoisseur who died in the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania. If you're there April-June, you can enjoy a free summer concert series that takes place each Sunday. There is also the country's most popular art gallery, the National Gallery of Ireland, where you can explore Irish and European art from the 14th-20th centuries. Other options for free art include the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Chester Beatty Library, and the Temple Bar Gallery and Studio.
Explore the Docklands
This is one of my favorite area's of Dublin, especially since you don't need to spend any money to enjoy its aesthetic features. There's nothing like witnessing the city skyline behind the River Liffey and visitors will get the chance to take in unique art galleries, lively markets, beautiful bridges, Mayor Square, Chimney Park, Grand Canal Square, and lots of public art.
Get religious at a local church
While the more well-known churches like St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral charge an admission fee outside of mass times, there are many other beautiful and worthwhile places of worship that are free to enter. There is Saint Ann's Church of Ireland (shown right), which incorporates an array of unique architectural styles and features memorials of well-known Dublin locals; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, where you can see a 16th-century shrine of Our Lady of Dublin along with relics of Saint Valentine; and Saint Mary's Pro Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Take in natural beauty at a Dublin park
There are many picturesque parks in Dublin where visitors can play sports, people-watch, read a book, or just lounge on a sunny day. First there is St. Stephen's Green, with bright floral gardens, charming fountains, and various memorials honoring notable Dubliners. There's also Phoenix Park, which was established in 1662 and is one of the "largest enclosed recreational spaces within any European capital city." Merrion Square Park is also a worthwhile visit and features historical sculptures, beautiful gardens, and live performances.
[flickr images via infomatique, budgetplaces.com, infomatique, qthomasbower, Saint Ann's Church of Ireland]