10 Best: Free days out in Dublin
Culture night is coming to the capital on Friday, but there's plenty you can do in Dublin for free year-round, say Pol O'Conghaile.
Wildlife watching in the urban jungle
Think capital cities, and wildlife isn't the first thing that springs to mind.
"But Dublin is one of the best cities I know of for bird-watching," say Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland.
He suggests Bull Island for its Brent geese, wading birds and kingfishers, and the piers in Dun Laoghaire for kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills.
Bring binoculars and you might also see the resident dolphins in Dublin Bay, otters along the River Dodder, or visiting birds in Booterstown Marsh.
Wildlife sighting of the year, however, has to be the humpback whale recently spotted off Lambay Island.
Details: Tel: 01-281 9878; birdwatchireland.ie.
Children's Art Jam in Temple Bar
Culture Night kicks off at 5pm on Friday, with museums, galleries, historic houses and cultural centres all over the country opening their doors for free.
In Dublin, the open-door policy includes everything from Dublin Castle to the National Leprechaun Museum, so be sure to plot your route in advance.
Here's a thought -- while gallery-hopping across the city, why not stop at Curved Street in Temple Bar to knock out a masterpiece of your own?
An outdoor art jam is scheduled from 5pm-7pm, and children of all ages are invited to pick up a brush and do an impromptu Picasso.
Details: See culturenight.ie; templebar.ie.
The art goes on at Dublin Contemporary
Culture Night runs for one night only, but another autumnal arts extravaganza continues through to October 31.
Dublin Contemporary is being touted as Ireland's first biennale-style event, with work by more than 90 international and Irish artists on show at multiple locations throughout the capital.
The theme is 'Terrible Beauty -- Art, Crisis, Change & The Office of Non-Compliance', and the central exhibition is on Earlsfort Terrace.
There are plenty of other free galleries to visit in the city too, including the Chester Beatty, the Hugh Lane and IMMA, at the former Royal Hospital in Kilmainham.
Details: See hughlane.ie; dublincontemporary.com; cbl.ie; imma.ie.
Take a dip in Dublin Bay
Autumn is well underway, but Dublin's sea temperatures can hover at 14Â°C or so well after the peak 'summer' months of July and August.
You know what that means. That's right -- grab your togs and head for the coast, because a dip in the ocean won't cost you a penny. And even if you can't feel your toes, you will feel reinvigorated.
The 40 Foot in Sandymount is a perennial favourite, but don't forget hidden gems such as White Rock beach in Killiney, the Blue Flag Portrane beach near Donabate, or the sweet spot under the Martello Tower at Seapoint.
Details: See visitdublin.com.
Torcs and taxidermy at the National Museum
Admission to Dublin's top museums is free. Take the National Museum of Decorative Arts and History at Collins Barracks, where 'The Way We Wore' exhibition looks at clothing and jewellery worn in Ireland up to the 1960s.
Or what about the Museum of Archaeology on Kildare Street, with its bog bodies and prehistoric gold work?
The Natural History Museum on Merrion Street is famed as Dublin's Victorian 'Dead Zoo' -- it's still a lot larger than you'd think, and those fab whale skeletons are still suspended from the roof.
Details: Tel: 01-677 7444; museum.ie.
Play the angklung at the National Concert Hall
Dublin's National Concert Hall runs regular workshops aimed at getting children to make music, and Culture Night offers the opportunity to try one out for free.
It doesn't matter if you have a tone-deaf toddler or a mini-Mozart on your hands, because all ages are welcome to pop along and play the Javanese angklung -- a tuned bamboo musical instrument.
Hour-long workshops are at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm in the Kevin Barry Room and places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.
Details: Tel: 01-417 0000; nch.ie.
Forest Fun Day in the Dublin Mountains
Culture Night isn't the only free show in town this week. If you're more into forests than fine arts, why not join Coillte and the Dublin Mountains Partnership in Tibradden Forest from 12pm-4pm tomorrow for a fun day with activities for all the family?
Tibradden lies between Cruagh and Kilmashogue Mountains, and real-life foresters and volunteer rangers will be on hand to teach you skills that would put Ray Mears to shame.
Ever wanted to cross cut a log? Or learn how to really win at conkers? Why not try a slackline or den building?
It's all here, right on Dublin's doorstep.
Details: See dublinmountains.ie; coillteoutdoors.ie.
Get into politics at Leinster House
Ever wondered what happens behind closed doors in Leinster House? Curious about how laws are passed, or what Ireland's 166 TDs do from day to day?
Tours of Government buildings run Monday to Friday and, though they need to be booked through your local TD's office, are free. We recommend trying for a slot on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday when the Dáil is in session.
Áras an Uachtaráin is free to visit by guided tour from 10.15am to 3.30pm on Saturdays. Tickets to the President's official residence can be picked up at the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre in Ashtown Castle on the day.
Details: Tel: 01-618 3066; oireachtas.ie/01-677 0095; president.ie.
Lovely hurling at the GAA Museum, Croke Park
The recent All-Ireland hurling and football finals showcased the best of its on-pitch action, but have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes at Croke Park?
A free stadium tour is running from 5pm-9.30pm as part of Culture Night this Friday, and afterwards you can browse the trophies, vintage kits, match programmes and audio-visual displays at the GAA Museum.
Croke Park sits right at the crossroads of Irish sport and Irish culture -- if you can't make Friday, download the free iWalk on visitdublin.com, a podcast that will walk you from Suffolk Street to the stadium itself.
Details: Booking is essential. Tel: 01-819-2323; crokepark.ie.
Chemical reactions at Trinity College
While the rest of us wring our hands at Leaving Cert science results, this brilliant gallery at Trinity College continues to do the sensible thing -- making science fun.
It's free to visit, but Culture Night marks the last day of its current exhibition, 'Elements: The Beauty of Chemistry', and a carbon barbecue is promised to celebrate. What's that? Let's just say if you pop along, you're likely to see, hear and taste more carbon than you thought possible. The exhibition itself explores the design icon that is the periodic table, and stirs up bubbly reactions in its atomic kitchen ...
Details: Tel: 01-896 4107; sciencegallery.ie.