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As one would expect, Dublin is a fun town with pubs everywhere prompting the natural Irish gift for storytelling – it's good craic (see below for meaning).
As the capital of Ireland and the center for its historic struggle for independence from Great Britain, Dublin is also a city with a serious history.
The third thing that struck me about Dublin is that it is an extraordinarily literary city. From Joyce to Yeats to Wilde to… the city has produced an amazing number of exceptional writers.
But Dublin is not a cheap city. It struggled after the 2008 recession but it is bouncing back. In the news when I was there was the skyrocketing cost of renting an apartment. So for this 32 Tips post I offer you a variety of free and low-cost advice for Dublin.
Table of Contents
My Top Tip for Dublin
This is the first time that I've had a Top Pick for one of our destinations but I was so blown away by Epic, a museum that opened this spring, that I couldn't let it get lost in a crowd of other tips.
- See how Ireland's diaspora changed the world. Epic Ireland is a museum in central Dublin that explains the history of people leaving the island and how those people and their descendants changed the world. Ever wonder why so many places celebrate St. Patrick's Day? It's the massive Irish diaspora. A visit to Epic, the most immersive museum experience I've ever had, tells you all about it.
The Best of Free Things to Do in Dublin
- Free walking tours. There are a variety of free walking tours in Dublin. Sandman's New Europe has a tour as does Next City Tours. The latter also has a free Easter Rising 1916 tour. Check out a few more free tours of Dublin here.
- Art and history museum. The National Museum of Ireland has four locations, each with a specific focus. The museums are free but closed Mondays.
- A science gallery. The Science Gallery Dublin is part of the Global Gallery Network that was initiated by Trinity College. It changes its exhibitions regularly. When I was there the exhibition was Field Test an exploration of “radical adventures in future farming”. It's in the same block as Trinity College though accessed from Pearse Street.
- Walk O'Connell Street. This is the main street in Dublin. Beginning walking north from the Liffey. You'll first see a statue of Daniel O'Connell, an Irish political leader in the first half of the 19th century who campaigned for Catholic rights. Going north on your right you'll see the General Post Office (GPO). It was the headquarters for the Irish rebels during 1916 Easter Rising. (See below for details on the museum that is located in the GPO.) Pop inside for a free look. Notice bullet holes on the building that remain from that rising. Further along is the Millennium Spire, also known as the Stiletto in the Ghetto. At the top of the street and a little beyond is the Dublin Writer's Museum. Dublin is likely the most actively literary city per capital in the world. See the literary tour below.
- Trinity college. A walk through Trinity College is a must for its cobblestones and grand Victorian buildings. You can't miss it. It's very central on the south side of the Liffey.
- Dublin's City Gallery. Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane is a public gallery of contemporary art. They have Sunday afternoon concerts from September to June.
- Free tour of the President's residence. Go to Phoenix Park, a huge park in the city, and take a free tour of Aras an Uachtaráin, the President's official residence. Open Saturday's from 10:30am.
- Explore Temple Bar. Temple Bar is an area in central Dublin that's filled with pubs (the highest density of pubs in the city), galleries, street musicians, open markets, shops and even theatres. It's where the partying happens.
- Relax in a park. St. Stephen's Green, Merrion Square and the grounds surrounding the Irish Museum of Modern Art are all places to relax, stroll and people watch. The MOMA has a lot of tourists but you'll see mostly locals in St. Stephen's Green and Merrion Square. On the Northwest corner of Merrion Square is the Oscar Wilde statue. Read: Found in Dublin: 11 Oscar Wilde Quotes to Live By
- Take in a festival. Dublin has tons of festivals. Here's your guide. Plug in your dates and and see what's on OR choose your event type and plan your travels around the one you'd like to see.
Budget Dublin: Tourist Tips
- Witness History. The GPO Witness History Museum is the place to go to understand the 1916 Easter Rising. Open 7 days a week, admission is €10.
- Literary Tour. Yes, Dublin was the birthplace of many famous authors and poets and the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl brings this to life. Each pub stop along the way has its literary significance revealed to you in performance by the guides.
- The small theatre scene. In Temple Bar there are a number of small theatres with equally small ticket prices. There you'll find The New Theatre, Smock Alley, and the Project Arts Centre. Dublin also has a number of larger theaters offering the major musicals from London's West End.
- Tour the cemetery. Glasnevin Cemetery is the resting place of some of Ireland’s most famous people. Choose from a general history tour or one about the 1916 Rising. Tour prices start at €8.
- The Guinness Storehouse. The Guinness Storehouse is a very popular stop in Dublin and, essentially, a museum about Guinness. There are seven floors with a glass atrium in the center that is shaped like a Guinness glass. The story of Guinness is told in terms of its ingredients, brewing, transport, cooperage, advertising and sponsorship. The Storehouse also includes bars, restaurants and shops full of Guinness goods.
- Kilmainham Gaol. The Kilmainham Gaol opened in 1796 as the new County Gaol for Dublin. It closed in 1924. It's tightly connected to the beginning and the end of the union of Ireland with Britain. The gaol is on some hop-on, hop-off bus routes. Prices at the door are €8 and in advance, €7. Not much of a savings but you're not guaranteed to get in at the time you want unless you book in advance.
Shopping. The main shopping are is Grafton Street but great shopping spills out into the side streets nearby as well. Don't forget to use your Fexco Horizon Card to save the VAT (details below).
Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells. While the Book of Kells is an important, beautiful document I enjoyed the library more. Bus loads of people see the Book every day as this is a stop on just about every itinerary of Ireland. Get there at opening to avoid the buses which seem to start arriving around 9am. Tickets start at €11. I recommend reading their website before going to ensure you get all you can from your visit.
Visit the little Museum. The Little Museum is all about Dublin from the Victorian era to the U2 era. It has had stellar reviews though I did not manage to get there so I cannot attest to this personally. Visits are by tour only so book online as you might not be able to get in otherwise.
- Go to a hurling match. You don't have to pay big ticket prices to see a professional Hurling match. To get the feel of it check out Dublin GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) for dates, times and locations of upcoming matches.
What you Need to Know About Dublin
- General Geography. It's good to get the lay of the land before going to any city. In Dublin, the River Liffey divides the city between North and South. The North is generally considered to be the tougher side of town however there are plenty of things you'll want to see north of the Liffey like the General Post Office (GPO), the National Museum and, my favorite, Epic Ireland. On the south side are Trinity College and the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle and shopping on Grafton Street.
- One street many names. You may be following what you think is one street but find yourself on another. Streets change their names frequently in Dublin. When on foot you need to pay attention.
- Tax-free Shopping. You can get a Fexco Horizon Card online at shoptaxfree.com, at many shops and at the Dublin, Cork or Shannon Airports. The card is accepted at about 650 shops. The card tracks all your purchases to make it easier to process your VAT refund at the airport. Read the three-step saving process here.
- Tipping. Tipping is not a big deal in Ireland but it is still a deal. As a visitor, you want to do it right. As a solo traveler you won't be tipping a server or bartender in a pub – their tips are usually received when serving larger groups. For restaurants tip 10-15% or, for a smaller bill such as a bill in a cafe or bistro for one, you may just round up to the nearest 10. You don't tip taxis unless you made a special request such as multiple stops or loading in a bike.
- Pub etiquette. If you ask for a Guinness you'll get a pint. To get a half pint ask for a glass. There is more than Guinness on tap in the city but it is a local favorite.
- Good craic is only the beginning. “Craic” (/kræk/ KRACK), or “crack” is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland. It is often used with the definite article – the craic. But be careful. If you say it was good craic you're saying it was an ok time. There are six levels of craic, from good to 90.
Getting Around Dublin
- Walk, Walk, Walk! Dublin is an amazingly walkable city. From the top of O'Connell Street in the north, south to St. Stephens Green and points east and west of this I walked everywhere. I never got on public transit when exploring the center of the city.
- Hop-on hop-off. Whether it's because you don't have much time (just a day in Dublin perhaps) or you want to get an overview of the city and make sure you cover all the major sites a hop-on, hop-off tour is a great idea. In the case of Dublin there are a few destinations like the Museum of Modern Art and the Gaol that are beyond walking distance.
- Grab a bike and explore. Dublin Bikes has 40 locations offering free bikes for 30 minutes or less. Want to cycle for free. Watch the time. Rent and return the bike within 30 minutes and grab another if you want to continue.
- Transit in and around Dublin. Get the Dublin trip planner app. If your hotel isn't in the city center a Leap card to take local transit is likely worthwhile. The Leap card offers significant savings for bus service in Dublin as well as to many towns nearby and on the Luas trams and the DART & Commuter rail service.
- Dublin to and from the airport. Dublin Bus has routes 747 and 757 running between the airport and the city center. The fare is €6 one way and €10 return.
- Uber or Lyft. You can use your Uber or Lyft apps as usual in Dublin (ordering and paying automatically through the app) however the service is provided exclusively by taxis.
Where to Stay and Eat in Dublin
- The Solo Traveler Accommodation Guide. I've been to Dublin three times but I've yet to stay in a place that I'd recommend for solo travelers. However, our Accommodation Guide has been crowdsourced from the readers of Solo Traveler and it contains a recommendation. But just one. It may be the perfect place for you to stay. If you stay somewhere else that you'd like to recommend, please help us expand the guide by completing the form here.
- Cheap eats in Dublin. I'm no authority on this subject so I'm offering a couple of links to current lists of the best cheap eats in Dublin. Here's Lovin Dublin's Top 10 Meals For Around A Tenner In Dublin and 10 delicious lunches in Dublin for less than €5 from The Journal.