Get cultural for free
There are lots of interesting things to see in Dublin that don't cost a cent. Drop into the National Gallery for fabulous paintings including Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ, and works by Jack B Yeats. Fans of modern art should drop into the Hugh Lane Gallery, where you’ll find Francis Bacon’s studio carefully recreated. IMMA (the national collection of contemporary art) is a must-see and is housed in the 17th century Royal Hospital Kilmainham, which sits in magnificent grounds.
Meanwhile, the Gallery of Photography, in Temple Bar, is a centre for contemporary photography, where you can see the island through the lens. The Chester Beatty Library holds a fantastic collection of manuscripts, drawings and decorative arts covering about 5,000 years of human history. The National Museum of Ireland has three locations in Dublin. There’s archaeology in Kildare Street (Celtic gold, bog bodies, ancient artefacts), decorative art in Collins Barracks (fashion, furniture, ceramics), and natural history on Merrion Square – and all of these attractions are absolutely free. And if you're interested in Ireland's poetry, then make sure to visit the YEATS exhibition at the National Library of Ireland, which covers WB Yeats's personal life, work and influences.
Go bargain hunting
Markets, second-hand stalls, bric-and-brac – Dubliners love a bargain. Check out the Temple Bar Book Market every weekend for new and second-hand books for adults and children. At the Designer Mart at Cow’s Lane every Saturday you’ll find all sorts of Irish-made craft, including hats, jewellery, paintings and photography. If you’re wandering around Merrion Square on a Sunday, you’ll find art lining the railings. Browse, chat with the artists (who sell their work directly) and perhaps pick up a unique souvenir at a great price.
Get back to nature
Go for a wild swim in the sea at the 40 Foot (get the DART – suburban train – to Sandycove/Glasthule), you can swim there even at low tide, and you’ll meet the locals, the hardiest of whom swim every single day – winter and summer – and are always ready with encouragement and tips. Otherwise, take the DART north and make for Howth for a brilliant walk along the Howth Cliff Path, which gives great views across Dublin Bay. Less strenuous is the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, where you can walk amongst rare plants and visit the beautiful Victorian glasshouses.
Take advantage of the free entertainment on offer on some of Dublin’s streets – there are lots of buskers, especially on Grafton Street, in this music-minded city. Enjoy traditional music for free at a real Irish pub such as the Cobblestone in Smithfield, where talented musicians (including the pub’s owner) play tunes every night. O'Donoghue's is one of the city's oldest pubs and also boasts music seven nights a week. Classical music lovers on a budget should drop into the Sunday@Noon concerts at the Hugh Lane Gallery. The concerts – which are free beyond a suggested donation of €2 – take place in the beautiful Sculpture Gallery every weekend from June to September.
Theatre in Ireland is a bargain compared with most other countries. You can get discounted tickets at the Abbey when they are previewing a show, but even so, tickets at smaller theatres can be as cheap as €15-€20. There are often free events and festivals too, such as the City Spectacular festival, which features Irish and international street performers, or Heritage Week, when many of the city’s buildings open their doors for events such as story-telling and pop-up exhibitions. Even if you don’t get lucky with a festival, Dublin’s Talking Statues will tell you the stories of 12 Dublin greats, via an app that is free to download to your phone.
Food and drink
Dinner needn’t break the bank for canny customers. Get an upscale takeaway from the Dublin Pizza Company on Aungier Street (think artisan Irish ingredients turned into Italian delights) and enjoy it in St Stephen’s Green nearby. Or get the DART to Dun Laoghaire and drop into Teddy’s, a piece of Dublin’s history, for a whipped ice cream and a stroll along the sea front. Be flexible on your timetable and you can bag some seriously delicious deals.
Look out for specials – 777 for example has Taco Tuesday with two taco dishes for €7, and 777 Sundays with all dishes €7.77. In this city of theatres, the early-bird menu (usually from 5pm to 7pm) is a fixture and there are plenty to choose from. Some of Dublin’s most interesting and innovative restaurants have a marked-down offering in the early evening, or go for lunch instead and try the fixed menu – just remember to book ahead.
Getting around on a budget
In a city as compact as Dublin, you can see an awful lot just on foot. Try a free walking tour starting at 11am for Southside and 3pm Northside, from the Spire on O’Connell Street. The tour is officially free but supported by tips, so have some cash handy. However, to get out to the pretty coastal spots, or if your visit is short and you want to cram as much in as possible, there are lots of ways to travel cheaply. Travel cards such as the Leap Visitor Card offer unlimited travel on bus, DART, Luas and commuter rail for one, three or seven days. The DoDublin Card offers a hop-on-hop-off bus tour that you can take at will, and gives reduced entry to Guinness, Jameson, EPIC and GPO witness history.
Choose from 24, 48 or 72 hours (with the 72-hour option you can use all Dublin Bus routes, get free entry to the Little Museum of Dublin and take a free walking tour). If you like travelling under your own steam, Dublin Bike Scheme offers a three-day ticket for visitors for €5. Take a bike ride around Phoenix Park (it’s enormous) for example, where on Saturdays you can do a free tour of Áras an Uachtárain, or pedal up to Kilmainham on the southside and go to IMMA.
Bag a discount
Smart travellers book online. Not only can you beat the queue to attractions at busy times, but online tickets will often save you some money. Guinness Storehouse tickets online, for example, have discounts of up to 30%. Heritage Ireland properties (there are 12 or so in Dublin alone) offer free admission on the first Wednesday of every month. If you buy a Heritage Card, you can access all fee-paying Heritage Ireland properties across Ireland for free for a year (€40 adult, €10 child, €90 for a family – two adults and up to five kids), so you can come back to Ireland again and again to enjoy more of our culture.
For a really flexible option, buy a Dublin Pass. You’ll get hop-on-hop-off buses and free access to over 30 of Dublin’s top attractions, as well as deals and offers at restaurants and shops across the city. Choose from one-, two-, three- or five-day passes.
Places to stay
There are several hostels in Dublin, but none as hip as the Generator in Smithfield. You can share a dormitory with others or book a private room; either way, the exposed brick and calm spaces are a cut above the usual hostel experience. If you’re visiting in the summer holidays, take a look at university accommodation. Trinity is right in the city centre; UCD is a great spot for visiting south Dublin, and DCU has rooms in several campuses across north Dublin.