Planning a fun day out for your family this August? It can be hard to find activities that don’t cost the earth, but Ireland’s cities offer plenty to do and see for free.
One of the best ways to explore Dublin is on foot. Free tours of the city are available every day at 11am and 3am leaving from the Spire, though donations are accepted.
Did you know that entry to the National Museums of Ireland is free? Locations, exhibit information and opening hours are available on www.museum.ie.
Visit Chester Beatty
The Chester Beatty Library (located on the grounds of Dublin Castle), is a great way for history buffs to spend an hour or three, home to a variety of captivating manuscripts from Biblical papyri to the Egyptian Books of the Dead. And admission is free!
The scent of science
A great place to bring the family, the Science Gallery Dublin is a meeting of art and science. The current exhibition examines ‘how eyes, brains and robots see’, and is sure to be both informative and thought-provoking.
Arrive at the Áras
If you’re free on Saturday morning, you may be able to take a free tour of Áras an Uachtaráin. Tickets are available on the day from the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre on a first-come-first-served basis. Having almost missed out on tour tickets recently, I’d advise arriving by 9am at the latest if you want to grab an early spot.
History of Cork
Housed in a two-storey Georgian House in Fitzgeralds Park, the Cork Public Museum is home to a rich and diverse collection ranging from Ireland’s oldest pick and shovel (discovered in a mine in Mount Gabriel) to an Iron Age helmet. Admission is free, and the café has some nice views over the River Lee.
Take a walk
Follow the official walking trails which meander through the city, linking places and buildings of heritage interest from the steeple of Shandon to the academic environs of University College Cork. Cork Walks are free and self guided tours which feature interactive panels with local historic information and colour coded finger posts along the way. Each trail takes around 90 minutes to complete, with brochures available from the tourist office.
Gander at the gallery
Take in a bit of culture at University College Cork’s Lewis Glucksman Gallery, home to a mix of modern and contemporary Irish art from artists including Alice Maher, Clare Langen and Brian O’Doherty. The suggested donation is €5, but admission is free.
The English Market
Established in 1788 and one of the oldest markets of its kind in the world, Cork city’s English Market is filled with vibrant colours and smells, with everything from sauces, fruits and vegetables to crockery, t-shirts and novelty items on sale beneath its roof. Well worth paying a visit, particularly on a rainy afternoon.
Time for a session
The Lee Sessions are traditional Irish music sessions held in various locations in Cork city centre, offering some truly hair-tingling experiences. See theleesessions.com for details of upcoming sessions.
Located on the west bank of the River Corrib, Galway’s Cathedral is usually open to visitors from 8.30am to 6.30pm, with free parking on Sundays. Although it is one of the continent’s newest additions – consecrated in 1965 – its blend of Gothic and Romanesque features is well worth a look.
The Long Walk
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, why not take a stroll on the ‘Long Walk’ along the Promenade on Galway Bay, crossing the river and winding your way down to The Claddagh which lies just across the River Corrib from the Spanish Arch. Once a fishing community, it has the distinction of being one of the oldest former fishing villages in the country, and is famous across the world for the Claddagh Ring. Free and good for your health!
Charlie Byrne’s bookshop is something of a landmark in Galway city, home to over 100,000 new and used books – plenty to browse at your leisure. Bookworms may have trouble leaving without a bag full of bargain books!
Overlooking the city’s famous Spanish Arch, the Galway City Museum is an engaging experience filled with exhibitions detailing Galway’s story from prehistoric to modern times, alongside a variety of talks and workshops throughout the year.
Fancy a free tour of the city? Galway Civic Trust hosts free walking tours every Tuesday and Thursday between May and September, which you can prebook. Taking in the city’s medieval streets and sections of the old city wall, the tour lasts for about 90 minutes.
Legend of the Claddagh
A visitor centre based in Galway city, The Legend of the Claddagh Ring takes visitors through the story behind this iconic ring, how authentic Claddagh rings are crafted, and how it became symbolic of Irish culture. Open seven days a week, admission is free.
Visit City Hall
While you’re in Belfast, stop by the magnificent City Hall for a free tour on the history of the building, available at certain times seven days a week. Tickets are available on a first-come-first-served basis, and tours for private groups of between 10 and 50 people are also available for free.
If the sun is shining, Botanic Gardens Belfast, one of the best public parks in the city, is well worth the trip. Featuring the Palm House – home to tropical plants, hanging baskets, seasonal displays and birds of paradise – and the Tropical Ravine (currently undergoing renovation), the park is also a popular venue for concerts, festivals and other events.
Back to school
A fabulous building in the heart of the city, Queen’s University Belfast is the perfect place for a leisurely stroll. It’s also home to The Naughton Gallery, featuring works from the University’s collection, touring exhibitions and free admission.
All about Ulster
Found within the Botanic Gardens, the Ulster Museum features collections on art, human history and the natural sciences, including fossils from the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras, and an exhibition commemorating the Belfast Blitz.
Stop at Stormont
Free tours are also available at Parliament Buildings (commonly known as Stormont), home to the Northern Ireland Assembly. One of the most striking buildings in the country, tours are available Monday to Friday at 11am and 2pm during normal operations, and on the hour between 11am and 3pm during the summer recess.