With a bit of forward planning, it’s easy to have a bargain weekend in Dublin. After all, there’s plenty to do in the city that won’t cost you a cent, whether you want to see ancient gold in a museum or take a specialised art tour in a gallery.
If you’re looking to plan a budget break in Dublin, these ideas will get you started.
Get yourself acquainted with the city’s recent history on a guided tour of the Little Museum of Dublin. On a walk around this Georgian townhouse you’ll be led through the last 100 years of Dublin, from the tenements of the 1900s to the rise of U2. There’s a whole room dedicated to Bono and the gang, with signed records, a giant guitar and even a Trabant car on display. Tickets to the museum are available for around €10 and are discounted for students and seniors. There’s a free, self-guided tour every Wednesday at 10am.
Eating on a budget needn’t mean resorting to fast food. At Sprout, you can order a huge salad bowl made with ingredients grown on their own organic farm in Kildare. Think Kale Caesar with sundried tomatoes, chicken and garlic croutons, or the Super Guacamole, with heaps of greens, quinoa and feta. Delicious.
On the edge of Stephen’s Green, the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) is dedicated to Irish writers, from James Joyce to Roddy Doyle and plenty in between. The featured writers rotate regularly, so you’ll see handwritten manuscripts from various authors as well as immersive installations of their work. Be sure to allow some time to explore the museum’s Readers Garden, too. With sculptures around the edge of the courtyard and a rare view of the back of these Georgian townhouses, it’s well worth a detour.
On the first Friday of every month, there’s free admission from 6pm – 9pm, usually with live music or readings from writers.
Make your way to the Korean fried chicken joint Chimac on Aungier Street for a burger dripping in ssamjang cheese sauce and gochujang mayo, or their ‘nuggs’ with a side of spicy sriracha caramel. Their homemade frosé (frozen rosé) goes down a treat, too.
If you’re looking for an after dinner activity, check out the schedule at the Irish Film Institute, where there are often special movie screenings, Q&A sessions with filmmakers and festivals taking place. They also offer a bargain meal deal in the evenings, combining the cost of a ticket and a main course in the IFI Café Bar.
Head over to the 18th century Marsh’s Library and pay a small entrance fee to explore a building that has barely changed in 300 years. The tour is self-guided, but there are usually librarians sitting in the middle section who are happy to chat about the building and its ghostly goings on. While the books are all understandably off limits, there’s always a rotating exhibition of titles on display, giving you a glimpse of some rarely seen pages.
St Patrick’s Cathedral is just next door, and you can pay under €10 to see the grand vaulted ceiling and the final resting place of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels and the Dean of the cathedral for over 30 years. Afterwards, sit in the gardens for a while with a coffee from the nearby Two Pups.
There are cheese toasties, and then there are Loose Canon cheese toasties. In this tiny wine and cheese shop in George’s Street Arcade, they serve up sandwiches stuffed with the finest artisanal cheese and grilled with lashings of salted butter.
Like several of Dublin’s biggest museums, the National Gallery of Ireland is always free to visit. But at the weekend you can go one better, with a free guided tour led by art experts. There are regular tours that lead you to all the highlights of the gallery’s permanent collection, like the pieces by Monet, Picasso and Caravaggio. But there are also themed tours, including one incorporating mindfulness techniques and another aimed at families.
Less than a five-minute walk away is the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, where the entrance is just as striking as the exhibits, with a domed rotunda and mosaic floor depicting the signs of the zodiac. Inside, you’ll find ancient gold dating back to 2200BC, Viking treasures excavated in Dublin and bog bodies from the Iron Age, perfectly preserved with details like eyelashes and fingernails intact.
At Sano Pizza, you can feast like a king without breaking the bank, with sourdough pizzas made in the authentic Neapolitan style. Tasteful toppings like nduja and Calabrian salami are scattered on top of pizzas with a perfectly charred crust. After dinner, catch a play at the Abbey Theatre, where you can grab a front row seat for under €20.
Ease yourself into the day with a walk around the Hugh Lane Gallery, which opens at 11am on Sundays and is always free. The focus is on contemporary art, with works from Irish artists like abstract painter Sean Scully as well as pieces from Impressionists including Manet. At the entrance, you’ll find a small room dedicated to the stained glass work of Harry Clarke. But one of the most popular exhibits is Francis Bacon’s studio, brought over from London piece by piece and reassembled exactly as it was found, dirty paintbrushes and all.
Stick around, because every Sunday at noon there’s a free concert held in the Sculpture Gallery.
There are plenty of Asian restaurants around the Capel Street area, where you can eat authentic cuisine at a bargain price. Just around the corner on Great Strand Street is Han Sung, a Korean restaurant at the back of a grocery store where you’ll get a great bibimbap for less than €10.
Make your way south of the river and head over to Merrion Square to browse the free Open Air Art Gallery held every Sunday. As you walk through the selection of original artwork from traditional and contemporary painters, you can take in the Georgian architecture surrounding the square, as well as the Oscar Wilde Memorial on the northernmost corner of the park.
Walk down Mount Street Upper and stop off at the Salt Cellar Café for a latte or tea and a fresh scone.
The sushi at Aoki is top notch, with classic rolls and nigiri as well as fried noodles and ramen. Their bento boxes are great value, too. Whelan’s, one of the most popular live music venues in the city, is just up the road. There’s usually a gig on the main stage as well as cheaper events in the smaller room upstairs, but every Sunday evening there’s a free gig from The Dublin Blues Cartel, fronted by a member of local band Republic of Loose.
Explore Dublin’s city parks and nature spots for a day out that’s both picturesque and budget friendly.