The Best Free Museums in Dublin You’ll Want to See

While people typically come to Dublin for its historical monuments and lively pubs, the Irish capital has another ace up its sleeve to attract visitors: its free museums. Whether art or history, Dublin boasts several museums that are worth a visit.

From French impressionist masterpieces to illuminated medieval manuscripts, the Irish capital hides cultural treasures that are free to discover. Living in the Irish city myself, I regularly visit the best free museums in Dublin. So here are the ones I recommend adding to your itinerary.

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Best Resources to Plan Your Visit to Dublin

  • Where to Stay | Visit for a wide range of accommodation available in the city, or read the latest reviews on TripAdvisor.
  • Things to Do | GetYourGuide has plenty of guided tours and day trips to choose from. Check Context Travel for private, full-day tours led by local experts.
  • Internet | Irish company WiFiCandy provides high-speed Wi-Fi without expensive roaming charges.
  • Planning | Lonely Planet Dublin city guide is a handy guidebook I often recommend for a first trip.
  • Travel Insurance | Heymondo offers tailor-made travel insurance.

More Travel Resources

The Best Free Museums in Dublin You Shouldn’t Miss

The National Gallery of Ireland

In the heart of Georgian Dublin, and just a few minutes’ walk from Trinity College, the National Gallery is Ireland’s leading art museum that you shouldn’t miss while on a trip to Dublin. The grand mid 19th-century building houses an extensive collection of European art from the 14th to the 20th century, including art by world-renowned Caravaggio and Picasso.

National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

The museum hosts temporary exhibitions that you can access for a fee, but the majority of the works on display are part of the permanent exhibition, which is free to enter, making it the ideal visit if you’re exploring Dublin on a tight budget.

These are Christian icons, Renaissance artworks, portraits, and landscapes by Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and French masters from the 17th century that adorn the walls of the venerable institution, illuminated by crystal chandeliers.

If you have a keen interest in Irish history, do not miss the stunning depiction of the Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife in Waterford by Daniel Maclise, a union that would seal the fate of Ireland for centuries to come. The Battle of the Boyne by Jan Wyck is another must-see masterpiece, also representing a significant event in Anglo-Irish history.

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife, Daniel Maclise (1854)
The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife, Daniel Maclise (1854) – The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

A visit to the National Gallery of Ireland is also the opportunity to get acquainted with Irish art. The city of Dublin features in The Liffey Swim by Jack B. Yeats as the backdrop for his painting. And you might recognise Aston Quay in Dublin Streets: a Vendor of Books by Walter Osborne.

The Archaeology Museum

Located in the city centre, the Archaeology Museum is one of my favourite free museums, and I gladly consider it a must-see if you visit Dublin for the first time.

The museum is home to the “bog bodies“, which date back to the Iron Age and were found in the Irish bog, believed to be connected to sacrificial practices. This free museum also boasts an extensive collection of gold objects from the Bronze Age, primarily jewellery, though the function of some remains a mystery.

St. Manchan's Shrine, Archaeology Museum in Dublin

Furthermore, the museum explores Ireland’s Viking era through various artefacts found in burial sites and settlements from the 9th to the 12th century. Even more fascinating, medieval religious art is revealed through finely crafted processional crosses and shrines.

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The Chester Beatty Library

At the crossroads of history and art, the Chester Beatty Library is home to a world renowned collection of ancient manuscripts. Collected by mining magnate Alfred Chester Beatty and bequeathed upon his death to a trust for the benefit of the public, the richly-decorated books are a real wonder.

The collection has found a home in the Chester Beatty Library, an 18th-century building. Hiding just at the back of Dublin Castle, this free museum can be easily added to a self-guided walking tour itinerary of Dublin. Over two floors visitors can view for free beautifully (and painstakingly, I suppose) crafted, 12th-century bibles with colourful historiated initials. Extremely rare Christian biblical papyri from the 2nd-3rd centuries are some of the priceless treasures also on display.

The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland

Asia is well represented with 18th-century Turkish qurans in exuberant rococo and baroque styles covered in gold. Japanese manuscripts from the 16th-18th centuries painted in bright colours are also hard to miss. They depict popular fairy tales, folk tales and religious legends that take visitors to another world and time. 

Thanks to its unique collection of ancient manuscripts, the Chester Beatty Library has established itself as one of the best free museums in Dublin.

The Hugh Lane Gallery

Housed in Charlemont House, an 18th-century townhouse on the North side of the River Liffey, the Hugh Lane Gallery was founded in the 19th century by art collector Sir Hugh Lane. The gallery’s ambition was to provide a dedicated space for and promote contemporary art in Dublin.

Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin Free Museum

19th century paintings from famous French Impressionists have found a fitting place in this museum devoted to modern art. World renowned pieces by Manet, Degas and Renoir are today some of the gallery’s big draws, turning the Hugh Lane into one of the best free museums in Dublin.

During the 20th century, contemporary art remained the gallery’s main focus. Following the death of famous figurative painter Francis Bacon, his London studio and its entire contents were relocated to the Hugh Lane in 1998 as part of a permanent exhibition. 20th-century art is again the centre of attention in the Sean Scully room where the artist’s abstract work is on display.

The Irish Museum of Modern Art

Fans of modern art would like to see the Irish National Collection housed in the 17th-century Royal Hospital Kilmainham. The former home for Irish soldiers has been renovated (do not miss its stunning formal garden) and turned into Ireland’s leading institution for the collection of modern art and a free museum. 

Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin

Pieces by international and Irish artists have found a home in the former hospital. Diverse artworks from oil paintings to short movies, photographs and sculptures from the collection are exhibited all year long, curated to match the featured theme of the moment.

Artworks can also be seen outside, dotting the IMMA’s lawn. Blending old and new, modern art invites itself in the museum’s formal garden: colourful shapes of various sizes adorn the garden’s central basin, surrounded by meticulously trimmed hedges and trees.

The Decorative Arts and History Museum

Located in Collins Barrack, an impressive 18th-century decommissioned army base with a view over the Guinness factory, the Museum of Decorative Arts and History is home to a vast and diverse collection. 

Decorative Arts and History Museum, Dublin

From priceless pieces of Asian porcelain to precious Irish silver, the museum is full of little gems that should spark anyone’s interest. The museum interestingly retraces the history of Irish coins and the changes in Irish fashion. You will also discover pieces of furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries. This museum hosts temporary exhibitions showcasing Irish modern art and contemporary fashion as well.

The second part of this free museum in Dublin is dedicated to history, particularly Ireland’s military history and its involvement in various conflicts around the globe. You can admire examples of uniforms from different periods, as well as the weapons that were used.

Thanks to its free museums, Dublin offers everyone, residents and tourists alike, access to culture and the opportunity to discover unique artworks without spending a penny. Why miss out? If you have a special interest in Irish History, don’t hesitate to check out my guide on Dublin’s Easter Rising museums.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link, I earn a little money at no extra cost to you.


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