Things to Do in Ireland on a Budget | 11 Affordable Experiences

With soaring hotel room prices, expensive car hire, and restaurant prices on the rise, visiting Ireland can quickly turn into a costly trip. When you watch essential spending add up, you might sadly be tempted to cut down on tours and activities. So how do you visit Ireland on a budget without compromising on things to do and losing out on the cultural experience?

One way to limit your expenses while in Ireland is to take advantage of all the free activities available during your trip. In fact, there is plenty to do in Ireland even on a shoestring budget. Having lived in the country for the last 10 years, I’ve put together a list of things to do in Ireland on a budget to help you enjoy the country’s heritage and culture without breaking the bank.

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Best Resources to Plan Your Trip to Ireland

  • Things to Do | You can buy tickets and a large selection of day tours on GetYourGuide and Viator
  • Internet | Avoid expensive roaming charges with WiFiCandy.
  • Insurance | Check out Heymondo for tailor-made travel insurance.

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Enjoy Ireland’s Free Museums

There is no doubt about it: the best museums in Ireland and Northern Ireland are the free ones. While these museums are primarily located in the country’s main cities, they provide an invaluable opportunity to delve into the rich history and art of Ireland without spending a penny. If you’re passionate about history and art, Ireland’s free museums are definitely worth prioritising during your visit.

You won’t have any trouble finding several in the capital. Among Dublin’s top free museums, don’t overlook the National Gallery of Ireland, the country’s leading art museum. Its collection of works by grand masters is definitely worth exploring; it’s also a chance to discover lesser-known Irish painters housed in a splendid neoclassical building. Just a stone’s throw away, the Archaeology Museum is also free. Here, you can admire beautifully crafted medieval processional crosses and shrines, as well as an incredible collection of gold objects from the Bronze Age.

If you decide to spend a day in Galway in the West of the country, its free museum is worth a look. During my last visit to Belfast, I loved the Ulster Museum. While the science department will entertain the kids, its art galleries are particularly noteworthy, showcasing remarkable pieces from the 16th to the 19th century. As a history enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed its permanent exhibition focusing on Christian Ireland, spanning from 400 AD to 1600 AD, with superb religious artefacts to admire.

Visit Ireland’s Countless Free Historical Sites

Like everywhere else in the world, the must-see historical sites and monuments in Ireland are often paid attractions. And sometimes, they are not cheap. Just the visit to the Trinity College Library in Dublin alone costs 25 euros. We will all agree that its magnificent barrel-vaulted ceiling at dizzying heights is worth the trip, but it still hurts the wallet.

If you are looking for things to do in Ireland on a budget, but still want to experience the country’s rich heritage, know that not all historical sites have an entry fee. Across the country, many places, perhaps not as famous or spectacular but no less historically significant, are accessible for free. Among them is the monastic site of Glendalough, one of the best historical sites in Wicklow. At the bottom of the “valley of the two lakes,” the ruins of what was once one of Ireland’s most important pilgrimage sites and centres of power welcome visitors for free.

Monastery, Hill of Slane, Ireland

If you are visiting the Boyne Valley, just north of Dublin, you can freely stroll around the ruins of the Old Mellifont Abbey and enjoy the view from the hill of Slane. In Northern Ireland, don’t miss the old abbey in the village of Greyabbey on the shore of Strangford Lough, whose church is the first example of Gothic architecture in Ireland.

These are just a few examples of historical sites that will transform your visit to Ireland without breaking the bank. You will stumble upon countless intriguing sites dotting the Irish countryside, from old tower houses to monasteries. For a complete list of places to visit managed by the Irish government and to find out whether they are free or not, visit the official website of Ireland’s National Heritage.

Go Hiking

Ireland is famous for its breathtaking landscapes of sheep-dotted rolling hills, green valleys, and towering cliffs, so it would be a shame not to experience Ireland’s natural wonders before heading home. And going on a hike is a great budget-friendly activity in Ireland, as it won’t cost you much, if not a few calories.

From walking along the iconic cliffs of Moher, hiking on the slopes of Slieve Foye mountain overlooking the waters of Carlingford Lough, to walking amidst the lunar landscape of the Burren National Park, you’ll find trails of all levels and distances in Ireland.

The All Trails website is an excellent online resource that will help you choose your hike in Ireland. You can browse and select your trail based on several criteria. However, make sure to come equipped appropriately, with hiking shoes and rain gear. And before heading out on a hike, don’t forget to check the weather forecast. The Irish sky is infamously unpredictable.

You might also be interested in:
3-Day East of Ireland Road Trip | 3 Itineraries from Dublin
The 4 Best Distillery Tours in Dublin To Learn About Irish Whiskey
The Best Places to Stay in Wicklow, Ireland
The Best Historical Sites in Kilkenny, Ireland

Enjoy Traditional Irish Music in Pubs

Another cheap thing to do in Ireland without compromising on the fun while experiencing Irish pub culture as its best is to pop down to an Irish pub playing live traditional music. Attending a traditional music concert is typically free, with the expectation that you’ll purchase a drink, alcoholic or otherwise. Pubs offering live music are plentiful in Ireland, especially in towns and cities, often advertising performances on their front doors, along with the starting time.

A local band can be booked for the evening by the venue itself. However, some sessions can be more impromptu, with local musicians being invited to gather in a pub and play for the enjoyment of all.

Galway is particularly renowned for its traditional music sessions, which can be heard echoing through the streets of the Latin Quarter. As you stroll down High Street at sundown, you’ll find yourself trying to decide which pub, vying for your attention, is best for an evening of musical entertainment.

In Dublin, Temple Bar is often the go-to destination for those looking to enjoy Irish music. The lively pubs of Dublin’s most iconic neighbourhood attract crowds of tourists in search of a good time and a unique cultural experience. However, this may come at a cost! Often labelled as tourist traps, the pubs of Temple Bar can be overpriced. Other neighbourhoods like Camden Street and Smithfield have plenty of pubs more popular with locals and expats alike, offering a more authentic experience at a more affordable price.

Camden Street, Dublin

Wander Ireland’s Free Gardens

Thanks to a mild climate all year long, magnificent gardens have been thriving in Ireland. National Geographic has even named Powerscourt Gardens as one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, making this sprawling estate in the heart of County Wicklow one of the best places to visit around Dublin. In Northern Ireland, I was gobsmacked by the beauty and creativity of Mount Stewart Garden. However, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to lay your eyes upon those natural wonders.

If that’s too much for your budget, don’t fret just yet. There are many other gardens you can explore without spending a penny, from colourful ornamental parks to wonderful botanic and ancient walled gardens.

St. Stephen's Green in Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is known for its public gardens, whose lawns are crowded at the first ray of sunshine. St. Stephen’s Green, once a private park before it was donated to the city by the Guinness family, and Merrion Square are two iconic public parks in the city centre where works of art and statues of historical and literary figures are hidden, including James Joyce and Oscar Wilde among others.

Rose Garden, Ardgillan Castle, Ireland

Behind their high walls of old stones, walled gardens hide superb arrangements of hedges, beds of vibrant flowers, and even tropical plants. Often associated with grand aristocratic residences, walled gardens are sometimes accessible for free, like the one at Ardgillan Castle, north of Dublin, also known for its rose garden. If you are driving from Dublin to Belfast, Oldbridge House hides a magnificent walled garden, complemented by a unique octagonal sunken garden surrounded by centuries-old yew trees, accessible for free.

National Botanic Garden in Dublin, Ireland

Even more impressive are the botanic gardens found in Ireland. The main garden of its kind is located in Dublin, north of the city centre, and its access is free. The Dublin Botanic Garden boasts several beautifully restored Victorian-era glasshouses, where you can immerse yourself in a tropical world of palm trees and orchids.

In Belfast, the botanic garden is a favourite spot of mine, with its palm house surrounded by vivid flower beds. A hidden gem and one of the best gardens to visit in County Wicklow, Kilmacurragh Botanic Garden is a conservation site for rare plants brought from all corners of the world by several generations of the Acton family, passionate botanists. This fantastic estate is accessible for free.

Take a Peek Inside Ireland’s Cathedrals and Churches

Whether you’re visiting St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny or Christ Church in Dublin, you will need to spend a few euros to be allowed in. Some may be shocked that such religious sites, supposed to be open to all, charge an entrance fee. The truth is, they desperately need the money to deal with significant maintenance costs, or else we might see these magnificent heritage sites disappear altogether.

However, not all places of worship in Ireland systematically charge entrance fees; instead, many rely on voluntary donations from their visitors. If you are on a budget, you can add these amazing sites to your bucket list without hurting your bank account too much.

For example, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Kilkenny is freely accessible. Built during the Great Famine of the 19th century, the cathedral boasts finely painted interiors that are worth a look. In Galway, the city’s cathedral, erected in the mid-20th century, is a blend of various styles adorned with modern interior decoration. The Catholic Cathedral of St. Peter in Drogheda features beautiful classic Gothic architecture and houses the relics of St. Oliver Plunkett, a Catholic bishop who died as a martyr in England in 1681.

Head to the Beach

Ireland is not traditionally known as a swimming destination, but the international success of the 2022 film The Banshees of Inisherin unveiled to the world the beauty of Ireland’s beaches. Featured in Martin McDonagh’s film, Keem Beach on Achill Island is just one of the many stunning beaches that Ireland offers to budget-conscious travellers.

Whether you’re heading to the North, West, East, or South of the country, you’re bound to find a public beach for a scenic stroll. During the summer, many beaches are lifeguarded and have been awarded a blue flag for the quality of their waters.

Brittas Bay Beach, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

In Wicklow, Brittas Bay‘s unspoiled sandy beach is my top pick on the East coast of Ireland. Tramore in the South of Ireland exudes a true holiday vibe with its ice cream parlours and chippers to enjoy after an afternoon in the invigorating waters of the Celtic Sea. Lahinch Beach on the Wild Atlantic Way is the ideal spot for learning to surf or simply taking a refreshing dip in the midst of summer’s heat.

Enjoy the Food and Craft Markets

Food and craft markets offer a fun way to immerse yourself in Ireland’s culture. They provide an opportunity to discover local products such as homemade jam, locally produced honey, organic cosmetic items like seaweed-based soaps, candles, and more. Additionally, you can indulge in cheap and delicious street food options such as burgers, crêpes, and brownies.

St. George's Market, Belfast

Weather improving, open-air food and craft markets are more prevalent during spring and summer. Seaside towns near Dublin like Dun Laoghaire and Howth each have their own market, where I love to buy treats to eat as I stroll along the waterfront. In Belfast, St. George’s indoor market is bustling each weekend with various food stands where you can enjoy a meal for just a few pounds while browsing a wide array of craft stalls.

Explore Irish Cities and Town on Foot

Irish cities and towns often have a compact and pedestrian-friendly layout, making them ideal destinations to explore on foot in just one day, thereby avoiding any transportation costs. This allows visitors on a budget to fully immerse themselves in the unique character of these cities and towns and to soak up the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of their surroundings at their own pace. Moreover, lucky adventurers may stumble upon hidden gems while wandering the bustling Irish streets.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

In Dublin, the main attractions are conveniently located within walking distance in the city centre, making it easy to explore on foot in a day. For added convenience, I’ve even curated a self-guided walking tour of Dublin to help you make the most of your time in the Irish capital. Similarly, Galway is another city that lends itself well to a visit on foot, with must-see sights like the Quadrangle and the Spanish Arch within walking distance from the city centre. I’ve even put together this walking itinerary of Galway to help with directions.

Go for a Bike Ride Along Ireland’s Greenways and Scenic Routes

In recent years, traffic-free routes, known as Greenways, have been developed to allow cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy often neglected old railway lines and canal paths. These routes offer an incredible opportunity to experience the Irish landscape for free and sustainably. While these Greenways can extend for dozens of kilometres, they are also divided into smaller sections that can be explored in just a few hours. Cheap bike hire services are often available in the main towns or cities along the Greenway routes.

Sky Road, Clifden, Ireland

In addition to Greenways, many towns are renowned for their scenic cycling routes. In Clifden, the Sky Road is not to be missed—a 16-kilometre loop offering panoramic views of the coastline. I rented a bike from Mannion Bike Hire in Clifden and cycled around the peninsula for an afternoon of breathtaking scenery. In Carlingford, cyclists can enjoy views over the lough and the distant Mourne Mountains while riding safely all the way to Omeath.

Attend Free Events and Festivals Throughout Ireland

From Dublin’s St. Patrick’s week-long festival in March to Derry’s notorious Halloween Parade in October, there are numerous events you can enjoy for free while visiting Ireland. While it may require some planning, it’s worth it as you’ll have the opportunity to partake in unique cultural experiences during your trip. 

The biggest event of the year in Ireland is, of course, the St. Patrick’s Parade. While the parade itself is free to attend, accommodation on this date can be expensive and difficult to find. Alternatively, you might consider attending other events such as Bloomsday, a festival in Dublin celebrating James Joyce’s novel Ulysses in June, which offers both free and paid events. If visiting Ireland in September, Cultural Night offers free music events, exhibitions, and tours throughout the country. To stay informed about all major festivals and events happening across Ireland, bookmark Discover Ireland’s helpful calendar.

In conclusion, Ireland offers a wealth of experiences for travellers on a budget. From exploring free museums and gardens to enjoying scenic hikes and vibrant markets, there are countless ways to immerse yourself in the country’s rich culture and heritage without breaking the bank. I hope the information provided in this guide has been useful and will inspire you to embark on your own budget-friendly adventure in Ireland. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, nature lover, or simply seeking new experiences, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this beautiful country, regardless of your budget.

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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