Like London and Washington, D.C., Dublin, the capital of Ireland, offers a wealth of free national museums. Whether the exchange rate is good or bad, you can find plenty of free family fun in Dublin, and save your euros for excursions and the wonderful food.
European vacations were once very rare for most people. As airplane travel became faster and cheaper, visiting Europe became more prevalent, but the weak dollar caused may to forgo trips to Europe. Only six months ago, we spent two weeks in Spain, visiting my daughter, and we took a quick four day trip to see her in Dublin, a much less expensive ticket for us and a place where we knew a host of free attractions awaited us.
The National Museum of Ireland
There are four separate museums of The National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology, Natural History, Decorative Arts & History and Country Life. You could spend a couple of days just visiting these, though there is of course plenty to see and eat in Dublin.
The National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology is where you can see the famous bog people, preserved mummified remains that were found in bogs throughout Ireland. These gruesome remains are a hit with kids, who can discover the grisly way these corpses met their deaths.
One of the famous historical sites of Dublin, this museum also has exhibits on the Vikings and Irish kings, Celtic artifacts and prehistoric gold.
The Natural History Museum is a must for younger children; you can see giant Irish deer skeletons and other native animals. The Discovery Zone offers hands-on experiences.
We didn’t make it to Country Life museum, which has exhibits on folklore and rural Ireland, or the Decorative Arts & History site, which has a rich collection of country furniture, silver, and fashion.
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The Chester Beatty Library features illuminated Bibles and manuscripts. My daughter, who has been living in Madrid, had actually been to Dublin two weeks before returning to meet us (she had a 19 euro round trip ticket!) and said we had to see this museum. We saw a special exhibit on the Ruzbihan Qur’an, manuscripts from the Islamic collection and a surprising number of Hebrew texts.
One of the best things about this museum is the rooftop garden. We experienced several season just in course of our short visit; it was warm when we entered the museum, raining while we explored the collections, then sunny but cold when we check out the roof.
You can also enjoy the outdoors in Phoenix Park, or the much smaller St Stephen’s Green, in the intervals between rain storms. Phoenix Park was built as a Royal deer park in the 17th century, and deer still roam freely, but you are advised not to touch them. There are two universal access playgrounds, designed for kids ages 4-12, and The Victorian People’s Flower Gardens. The visitor’s center has a free exhibition on the history and the wildlife of the Phoenix Park and free free children’s workshops on Sunday mornings. The park is open 24/7.
St Stephen’s Green, which has historical plaques throughout, doesn’t open until 8 a.m., and it closes at 9 p.m. We planned to run here, since our hotel was right on the green, but the gates were shut. We ran the perimeter, along with a group of others; the path around the park is about 3/4 of a mile.
Irish Museum of Modern Art features Irish and international artists, both contemporary and modern. The museum is on the gourds of a 17th-century Royal Hospital, and if you don’t want to visit another museum, you can just explore grounds, which include a formal garden, meadow and medieval burial grounds. The museum is also easily combined with a visit to Kilmainham Gaol (which is not free), across the street.
The National Library is a must for former English majors (guilty). When we visited in May, there was a special exhibit on W. B Yeats, who was the subject of my year-long honors thesis class in college. The gorgeous reading room is still a working library, and visitors are limited to viewing from the sidelines the inspiring rows of books and writing carrels, along with renovated woodwork; sadly, no photography is permitted here.
Dublin City Hall is a gorgeous 18th century Georgian building. It is free in 2016 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising events. It has a temporary exhibit about the Dublin Fire Brigade’s role in the 1916 Rising, along with and exhibit on Sir. Robert Shaw, Mayor of Dublin in1815. The Rotunda, with 12 murals, is worth a visit.