10 free things to do in Dublin for families
Between day trips, attraction tickets and pleas for treats, keeping kids entertained can be a pricey affair.
Thankfully, you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a great day out in Dublin – there are loads of things to see and do that are completely free, from art workshops to outdoor concerts.
Whether you’re looking for an activity to do on a Sunday afternoon or just want to keep the kids happy during the school holidays, here are some of the best family attractions that won’t cost you a cent.
Get lost in an art gallery
You might think that the hushed tones of art galleries aren’t ideal for kids, but Dublin’s top art spaces often host events and tours specially geared towards families. In the National Gallery of Ireland, there are drop-in art workshops for kids of all ages, as well as family tours, usually held on Sundays.
Over in Kilmainham, IMMA frequently organises special events for kids, and children also get free access to the exhibitions throughout the year. The best time to visit is during IMMA Outdoors: from May to September, there’s a whole calendar of events that make use of the 48-acre estate, with the family-focused activities usually falling on Sundays. There are artist-led workshops, drop-in art sessions and live music in the courtyard, all of which are completely free.
Hit the books
Think the library is just a place to pick up a book or two? Think again. Over the summer holidays, there are plenty of events for kids held in Dublin city libraries. You might take part in a Herbology Class led by Professor Sprout, or see a puppet show inspired by The Gruffalo. There are also loads of art workshops, as well as storytelling events and creative play sessions. Even if you visit outside of these times, there’s loads to keep younger kids happy – the Kevin Street Library even has a slide inside.
Dive into history and heritage
On the first Wednesday of the month, a select number of OPW sites around the country are completely free to visit. In Dublin, you can head to Farmleigh House and Estate to take a tour of the Edwardian mansion and sunken gardens, or check out the relatively new Custom House Visitor Centre in the middle of the city. Head a little further afield and you can peek into the Casino Marino or explore Rathfarnham Castle.
Explore the National Museum
There are three branches of the National Museum in Dublin, all of which are fantastic for children and free to enter. Younger kids love the National Museum of Ireland - Natural History (also known as the "Dead Zoo") where prehistoric skeletons and Victorian cabinets stuffed with specimens have been captivating visitors of all ages since it opened in 1857. Don’t miss the Discovery Zone, where kids can handle taxidermy specimens and rifle through open drawers, all under the watchful gaze of helpful museum guides.
There’s a similar set up at the nearby National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology , where there are drop-in activities for kids held during the school holidays. Start off in the Learning Resource Room on the first floor, where staff are on hand with replica artefacts that kids can touch, or colouring exercises that teach them about megalithic and cave art. It’s a great way to introduce younger kids to the themes before setting off to explore the exhibits themselves.
While there aren’t as many specialised events for kids at the National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History, there’s still plenty for them to see, from the giant Asgard yacht to the exhibits on war, Irish clothing and furniture.
Head to Howth
If the weather is on your side, a day trip to Howth is always a treat. Younger kids can look at the boats in the harbour and try to spot the neighbourhood seals who hang around the fishing vessels. And if your brood are up for it, a walk along the Howth Cliff Path is a great way to burn off some energy – you don’t need to walk the full 6km loop, but even a quick trip up the headland to see the waves, seabirds and cliffs is a great way to explore the coastline and get active.
Play in your favourite park
If you’re looking for something to do in the heart of the city, St Stephen’s Green is a great shout. You can take a stroll around the edge of the park and look at the statues, feed the ducks (and seagulls) swimming in the pond, or play in the playground. And if you want to make it a double park day, head up the road to Merrion Square for more of the same – the Giant’s Garden playground, based on an fairytale written by Oscar Wilde, is one of the best in town.
Entrance to the Chester Beatty and its wonderful collection of ancient books and artefacts is always free, but the real draw for families is the varied selection of classes and activities. Kids (and adults) can learn about a bunch of fascinating subjects from how to draw the perfect horse to mastering the art of origami. Some of the activities are for set age groups (like 6-11 year olds), but others are suitable for all ages, including the Qigong workshops held on the rooftop garden, which are a good option for teens curious about the practices of the East.
As one of the biggest city parks in Europe, Phoenix Park has plenty of space for everyone to stretch their legs. You can go on a walk through the woodlands and try to find the resident herd of deer, have a picnic in a grassy meadow or spend a few hours in the playground. There are also free guided tours that you can take within the park, like one of Ashtown Castle offered daily. On Saturdays, tours of Áras an Uachtaráin are available on a first-come, first-served basis from 9.30am at the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre.
Take in the ocean air
Sometimes, you just need to blow away the cobwebs with a walk by the sea. Bull Island is a handy spot for a seaside stroll – once you park up, you can head out and walk as much of Dollymount Strand as you can muster. If the weather is good, you can get out for a paddle in the water and if the breeze is strong you can watch the kitesurfers do their thing. Afterwards, head into St Anne’s Park for a picnic on the green or a stint in the playground. There’s a Story Trail within the park, which leads you between places like the wishing well and hermit’s cave – you can pick up a free map in Olive’s Room café, as well as a black-and-white version that kids can colour in themselves.
Stop and smell the roses
If your kids have green thumbs, a trip to the National Botanic Gardens is a great way to spend the day. While the guided tours are generally geared towards adults (and cost €5), during summer there are free drop-in activities for kids aged three and up in the dedicated Children’s Erasmus Education Garden. They might learn how to sow their own seeds, play a nature-themed game or make their own piece of eco-art. The sessions run on Sundays until the end of September, but also Tuesdays in July and August.
Want to head out with the kids on a beach walk or a cycle through the park? Here are 23 walks and cycles in Dublin to explore.