50 fantastic Irish days out that won’t cost you a cent

The best things in life are free, says Travel Writer of the Year Pól Ó Conghaile — and he’s got the proof here.

50 fantastic Irish days out that won’t cost you a cent

1. A Free Bus to the Burren

Not only is the national park free to visit, the National Parks and Wildlife Service has a free bus running from the Information Point in Corofin until August 29. The hop-on-hop-off service runs from 10.15am to 6pm seven days a week.

Details: www.burrennationalpark.ie

2. OPW First Wednesdays

OPW-managed heritage sites are free to visit on the first Wednesday of the month. From Charles Fort to the Céide Fields, from Muckross House to the State Apartments at Dublin Castle, history is your oyster.

Details: www.heritageireland.ie ; July 2, August 6.

3. City Spectacular, Dublin & Cork

The Laya Healthcare City Spectacular is a reboot of the Street Performance World Championships, transforming Dublin’s Merrion Square and Cork’s Fitzgerald Park into summer celebrations. It’s expanding to include concerts, family picnics, artisan food events and outdoor screenings.

Details: www.cityspectacular.com ; Cork (July 19-20), Dublin (July 11-13).

4. The Jackie Clark Collection, Ballina

One man, 100,000 items. That’s the promise at this Mayo marvel, which displays the historical materials collected by businessman Jackie Clarke (1927-2000) in Ballina’s former Provincial Bank. Highlights include letters written by Michael Collins, and newspapers from four centuries.

Details: www.clarkecollection.ie

5. Cruinniú na mBád, Kinvara

Taking place since 1979, the event hosts everything from Hooker races in Galway Bay to guided walks, trad sessions and face-painting in a family-friendly programme that includes the Dublin City Ramblers.

Details: www.cuinniunambad.com ; August 8-10.

6. Templemore Park Fairy Trail

Some of the trees are 250 years old, but they’re mere babas compared to the folklore. The little doors, houses and messages hidden in the forest are a delight….!

Details: www.templemoreparkfairytrail.com

7. Street Arts at Spraoí, Waterford

For three days each year, residents of Waterford take to the streets and enjoy an international programme of street arts and spectacle.

Details: www.spraoi.com ; August 1-3

8. Wexford’s Trad Trail

The trail treats visitors to traditional music, ballads and storytelling at a different pub venue each evening. Daily from 9.30pm and Sundays at 12.45pm.

Details: www.visitwexford.ie

9. Cork Cycling Festival

Beginners and veterans alike are welcome at this free celebration of bike culture.

Details: www.corkcyclingfestival.com ; July 19-27

10. Sneem Family Festival, Co Kerry

Wife-carrying, crab-fishing, talent competitions, sunset walks, fun runs, football blitzes, sheepdog trials and laughter yoga included.

Details: www.sneemfamilyfestival.com ; July 16-20

11. Break for a beach…

!Go beachcombing. Take a brisk, windswept walk. Revisit your favourite, or try a new spot. The ocean awaits…

Details: www.beachawards.ie

12. Durrow Scarecrow Festival, Co. Laois

Check out over 100 scarecrows on show, with added farmers markets, street entertainers and wrestling shows, for good measure. The All-Ireland Scarecrow Championships follow.

Details: www.facebook.com/durrowscarecrowfestival ; July 27-August 4.

13. The Donkey Sanctuary, Co Cork

As well as meeting the animals and educating themselves about the plight of neglected and mistreated donkeys, visitors can enjoy farm walks and picnic throughout the estate.

Details: thedonkeysanctuary.ie.

14. Yawl Racing, Achill Island

The Achill Yawl is a traditional sailing boat, unique to the island. A calendar of races takes place on Saturdays and& Sundays throughout summer — they’re free to attend, with live music and commentary from the shore.

Details: achilltourism.com

15. Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Alfred Chester Beatty’s collection is widely considered the most valuable gift ever given to the Irish nation, but it’s not just the artefacts that are free to visit. Film screenings, intercultural tours, art demos and a Creative Lab Club for Teens are all scheduled throughout summer.

Details: cbl.ie.

16. The Wild Atlantic Way

You’ll get lungfuls of fresh air along the world’s longest defined coastal touring route. The 2,500km trail stretches from Kinsale to Inishowen, but you can save the petrol by cycling or walking a shorter stretch. It’s even got a Twitter account (@irelandswaw).

Details: discoverireland.ie/wild-atlantic-way

17. Freedom of the City: Cork…

You don’t have to spend a cent to enjoy a day out in Cork. The Crawford and Lewis Glucksman galleries are just two of the venues free to the public.

Details: crawfordartgallery.ie; glucksman.org; bco.ie

18. Newbridge Museum of Style Icons, Co Kildare

Why not see the only two Grace of Monaco’s dresses kept outside of the principality? Other celebrity costumes at this free museum include Dean Martin’s tux and Lady Diana’s wedding veils.

Details: newbridgesilverware.com.

19. Headhunters Rail Museum, Co Fermanagh

It’s a barbershop and a railway museum, hidden away in one brilliantly inconspicuous Enniskillen building. Having your locks trimmed costs money of course, but the museum is free.

Details: headhuntersmuseum.com

20. National Botanic Gardens, Dublin

Glasnevin’s botanic gardens are free, as are its exhibitions and kids’ activities such as ‘pond dipping’ (exploring the diversity of insects living in and around the gardens’ pond). Belfast’s botanic gardens are free too.

Details: botanicgardens.ie; visit-belfast.com.

21. National Heritage Week

From medieval fairs to nocturnal bat walks, historical re-enactments and local history walk, hundreds of free events are scheduled for this year’s National Heritage Week.

Details: heritageweek.ie; August 23-31.

22. Find a Forest Park…

From Doneraile in Co Cork to Ards in Co Donegal, Coillte has dozens of forest parks, recreation sites, walking loops and mountain biking trails braided through its forests. All are free, but check in advance for car parking charges (annoyingly, many barriers only take coins).

Details: coillteoutdoors.ie

23. Battle of Giants at Lough Boora, Co Offaly

Lough Boora Discovery Park recreates the battle of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Angus on August 24, with additional Kids Zone, zorbing and a climbing wall for good measure. Nature and bike trails are free too.

Details: loughbooraparklands.com

24. The Freedom of Louisburgh, Co. Mayo

Drop into Louisburgh HQ, grab a free map of the area, and get exploring. Try snorkelling the new Blueway at Old Head, cycling the quiet country roads, or even climbing nearby Croagh Patrick.!

Details: lousiburgh.net

25. Go to Paris… in Kerry

Who needs Paris, France, when you could have Paris, Co Kerry? That’s the name given to the area around Culoo Rock on Valentia Island, home to the gorgeous Blue Pool (poll gorm), a natural swimming pool in the rocks.

Details: activeme.ie.

26. The Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary

Nothing is cheaper than putting one foot in front of the other, and Tipperary’s own Lost World has eight colour-coded walks offering you the chance to do exactly that. They range in length from 30 minutes to four hours.

Details: aherlow.com.

27. The Vinegar Hill Battle Re-enactment, Wexford

!This August Bank Holiday weekend, Enniscorthy hosts Ireland’s largest battle re-enactment. Watch the pros recreate the events of 1798, or sign up to take part as a redcoat or pikeman...

Details: visitwexford.com; August 2-3

28. Freedom of the City: Limerick…

The Limerick City Gallery of Art’s collection of 18th to 21st century Irish Art is free to visit, and the Hunt Museum is free on Sundays between 2pm and 5pm. It runs a free arts and crafts club on the first Sunday of every month, too.

Details: gallery.limerick.ie; huntmuseum.com

29. Farmleigh House & Gardens, Dublin

Food markets, garden tours, music on the bandstand and children’s art workshops are all free to attend throughout the summer at the State’s official guesthouse in the Phoenix Park.

Details: farmleigh.ie.

30. Core Craft Design Centre, Co Westmeath

Ten minutes outside Athlone, this design centre offers open weekends with hands-on bespoke craft making demonstrations and workshops ranging from jewellery design to upcycling… August 15, 16, 22 and 23.

Details: corecrafteddesign.com

31. Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork

Blackrock Castle Observatory hosts free open nights on the first Friday of every month. Or head to the castle on August 23 for Heritage Open Day. Free tickets must be booked in advance.

Details: bco.ie

32. Russborough. Co Wicklow

A three-week outdoor sculpture trail is coming to the former home of Alfred and Lady Beit (July 19 to August 10), with some 150 pieces on display in the hippodrome, walkway to the walled garden, old stables and around the Palladian pile itself. There’s free parking and a playground.

Details: russboroughhouse.ie

33. Carlow Garden Trail

Several stops on Carlow’s summer-friendly trail are free to visit, including Altamont Gardens. It opens daily from 9am to 7.30pm. The Carlow Garden Festival (July 27-Aug 4) also has several free workshops this year.

Details: carlowgardentrail.com; carlowtourism.com.

34. Cycle Ireland

Cycle Ireland has just launched an app featuring 100 of the most scenic routes in the country. The full thing costs €4.99, but you can test-cycle it for free with four routes. Features include turn-by-turn directions referencing visual cues, and conveniently for cyclists peddling down bohareens in the backwoods, it can be used offline too…

35. ‘Appy Days in Enniscrone, Co Sligo

Download the free Discover Enniscrone App and get ready for a day out with a difference in Sligo. Three guided heritage walks, pier jumps, mackerel fishing and a sunset picnic are just some of the suggestions.

Details: discoverenniscrone.com

36. Freedom of the City: Dublin…

Their paintings may be priceless, but many of the capital’s top galleries — including the Hugh Lane and the National Gallery — are free. IMMA comes with the added benefit of the stunning, 17th-century formal gardens flanking the Royal Hospital (where Pól is pictured for this story). The brilliant Science Gallery in Trinity College won’t cost you a cent either.

Details: hughlane.ie; imma.ie; nationalgallery.ie; sciencegallery.ie.

37. Loughcrew Cairns, Co Meath

Mykidstime.ie is a fab family activity website. One of many tips: “In Meath, one place that we love to visit is Loughcrew Cairns, which does require a steep climb, but it is worth it for the magnificent views from the top!”

Details: mykidstime.ie

38. Castlecomer Discovery Park, Co Kilkenny

The Tree Top Walk and museum are ticketed, but the woodland trails, playground, craft courtyard and picnic areas are the makings of a fab free day out on the former Wandesforde family estate.

Details: discoverypark.ie.

39. Coole Park, Co Galway

Lady Gregory’s house may be long gone, but plenty remains of her country estate, including the famous Autograph Tree into which Yeats, Shaw and others etched their initials. There’s a 2km family trail, too.

Details: coolepark.ie.

40. Visit a National Park

All six of Ireland’s National Parks are free to visit. From the Wicklow Mountains to the blanket bog system at Ballycroy in Co. Mayo, that could be your entire summer sorted right there…

Details: npws.ie/nationalparks

41. Mad Hatters & Heritage in Inishowen…

Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula has a free, 14-stop tour of ancient forts, castles, stone circles and high crosses spotted among its scenery. There’s a free Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Buncrana on July 5, too... culminating in an attempt to build the town’s biggest-ever sandcastle.

Details: visitinishowen.com

42. The Copper Coast, Waterford

The Wild Atlantic Way may be hogging the headlines, but the coastline between Tramore and Dungarvan is a short strip of sea stacks, mining husks, hidden beaches and postcard- pretty villages that rivals the Algarve. There’s an amazing play park in Fenor too… a contender for the best in Munster.

Details: coppercoastgeopark.com

43. Great Western Greenway, Co Mayo

This 42km, off-road cycling trail is one of the most inspired pieces of Irish tourist infrastructure so far this century. Linking Westport to Achill along the course of a former railway line, the scenery along the western stretches is especially mind-blowing. Bike hire is available if required.

Details: greenway.ie.

44. Dublin Pride

Dublin Pride is the largest LGBT festival in Ireland, with a host of colourful events (many of them free, including debates, céilís, talks and concerts) culminating in the Pride Parade on July 28.

Details: dublinpride.ie

45. Wexford Maritime Festival

The sunny southeast is in its prime right now, so why not make a day of it during this seaside festival? Science workshops, arts and Viking activities, an air and sea rescue demonstration and a new kids’ boat stage named for the USS Alliance are all on this year’s programme.

Details: visitwexford.ie; to June 29.

46. Visit the National Museum

All three National Museum sites in Dublin are free to visit, and the Museum of Archaeology, Museum of Decorative Arts & History and the Natural History Museum have some brilliant events programmes too. Don’t forget the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar either.

Details: museum.ie

47. Trails in Kilkenny

Trail Kilkenny was a real trailblazer (excuse the pun) when it came to establishing touring routes in Ireland, and its walking, crafts, cycling and food trails (PDFs available online) remain the gold standard.

Details: trailkilkenny.ie.

48. Keep up with the Kardashians

Kim and Kanye did it on their honeymoon, and you can keep up with the Kardashians by taking your bike to one of the free mountain biking trails in Ballyhoura (parking charges may apply). You can rent bikes nearby, but that will cost you around €35 per day.

Details: www.visitballyhoura.com

49. Consider a cliff walk

Ireland does a spectacular line in cliffs, and the waymarked walks along them aren’t bad either. Highlights include Howth, Ballycotton, Kilkee and Greystones, but there’s a humdinger for every week of the year.

Details: www.discoverireland.ie/walking

50. Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, Dublin

Ok, it’s hard not to spend money at this brilliant boutique shopping centre. But you can certainly try — free tours are run from 11.30am every Saturday throughout the summer. The Dolls’ Museum is free too.

Details: www.powerscourtcentre.ie ; www.dollstore.ie

NB: Some attractions may include parking charges.

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