Sunday 27 May 2018

Ireland's top free attractions: The best things in life really do cost nothing

Readers' Choice

Portsalon Beach, Co. Donegal. Photo: Getty
Portsalon Beach, Co. Donegal. Photo: Getty
Enjoying the sunshine in the National Botanic Gardens,Glasnevin.. in background is the Great Palm House.Pic Tom Burkr 10/9/2014
Glenveagh National Park
Dog's Bay beach Galway
The Gap of Dunloe
Curracloe beach
Glenveagh National Park
The Dead Zoo - Dublin's Natural History Museum
Ewe View. A ewe on the popular Kerry Way walking trail near Farraniaragh, just off the Ring of Kerry, overlooking Derrynane Harbour, Abbey Island, Lamb's Head across the Kenmare River to the Beara Peninsula. Ann Talbot

Independent Travel

We asked for nominations for the best free attractions around the country. You told us there's tons of fun to be had for the grand sum of... nothing.

Beaches to beat the band

While on honeymoon in Sorrento a few years ago and because we are from the East Coast of Ireland we of course went to the beach near our hotel. Imagine our shock when we realised we had to PAY to get onto the beach. Ok, we are on honeymoon, let's just pay, we said. Now imagine our shock when we realised the beach had NO SAND and we had to pay again for something to sit on.

All over Ireland we have the most stunning, sandy beaches and we are blessed that in this cash-strapped country of ours that nobody had thought of charging us an entrance fee yet. Sshhhh don't be giving them ideas.

During the good weather there is nothing like a long, lazy day on the beach to top up our vitamin D levels and God knows we need it topped up.

There is nothing more rewarding then a bracing walk on the shore where the air and sea breeze can give you almost a high. My daughter has a collection of stones from the beach each telling their own story and as she is growing up now they are memories of her time on our soft, sandy havens.

My favourite beach is in Morriscastle Strand in Wexford and I can honestly say a day there is better than any tonic the doctor could give.

- Pauline Hayes

Keys to the Kingdom

The Gap of Dunloe

The Gap of Dunloe, Co. Kerry

While on holidays in Killarney with my family in June of this year we were actually remarking on all the wonderful things we could do for free.

We stayed in an apartment attached to the Castlerosse Hotel and the view from this apartment was the first indication of the beauty of the place.

On our first day there we went on a most enjoyable cycle through the very lovely National Park in Killarney. This was the highlight of the holiday and was absolutely free. Over the next few days we visited the lovely gardens in Muckross House, the Gap of Dunloe, Ladies View, Torc Waterfall, the absolutely amazing Inch Beach. None of those cost us anything.

We sat on a bench somewhere opposite The Aghadoe Heights Hotel and the view from there was just amazing. We went on a day trip to Dingle and Ventry and both places were just so beautiful and peaceful. It was a really enjoyable holiday, and cost us very little, because there was so much natural beauty all around us we didn't need to spend money.

- Anna Burke

Eastern promise

Last Sunday we had a magical day in the Victorian walled garden in Festina Lente in Bray. The scent of late flowering blooms, the apple trees laden with tempting red fruit, the vegetable garden with rows of cabbages, onions and courgettes, and the warm, drowsy and peaceful ambience transported us to another by-gone era. The foundation also has stables, produce for sale and teas … and this wonderful secret garden is free.

- Lily Clarke

The Sunny Southeast

Curracloe beach, Co. Wexford

We have recently returned from a week in Curracloe, Co. Wexford, where we go every year as we have relations living nearby.

We have four energetic children, one with special needs, aged seven to 13, and finding activities to suit all their needs in good weather is difficult enough but becomes a nightmare when weather is bad and planned trips to the beach cannot happen.

We ended up spending most days at Ravenwood, Curracloe, having brilliant long walks through the woods where all the children found something to excite them.

They ran on ahead or drifted into the wood and played hide and seek in the huge old trees, found pathways that led to the dunes on the beach, climbed trees, did gymnastics on old cut down tree trunks etc. Most importantly our little girl with special needs was able to take part and feel like her siblings, and all for free.

Even if it rained we were sheltered by the trees. Mam and Dad were even able to take turns going for a run. So we definitely recommend Ravenwood forest walk Curracloe as a great free family activity that caters for the whole family even on those rainy summer days.

- Miriam Morris

The Kerry Way

I think the best free thing to do in Ireland is to walk a section of the Kerry Way from Waterville to Derrynane.

Bring a packed lunch and a camera and be prepared for the most amazing scenery in the world. Skellig Michael looks breathtaking on a clear day.

There's a wealth of archaeological sites along this stretch, dolmens and a medieval burial site for babies who died before being baptised.

Watch out for pine martens. They are so cute. It's one of the best afternoons I've ever had the pleasure of spending, and I left my purse at home.

- Barbara McCarthy

Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh National Park

Ireland is indeed a great little country and Donegal in no small way plays its part. Glenveagh National Park is a treasure to behold.

Extensive formal gardens and rugged woodland line the path to the castle and will cost you nothing.

Firstly let me take you along the bridle path. A truly stunning venture through the glacier-shaped valley with Lough Veagh flowing to your left. Waterfalls, swollen by recent rainfall, cascade over the path's edge and the crunch of gravel all add to the experience.

The views along this route are mesmerising. Pass by the boat house as you trek along and keep your eyes peeled for the golden eagle. The castle will greet you at the path's end which is merely the beginning of your journey.

Beautiful walled gardens can be noted to your right. Indeed the gardens display a huge variety of well-labelled plants. Traditional music often flows from the courtyard creating a unique atmosphere in this rural location.

Having strolled around the grounds, wander towards the rear of the castle and check out the birds of prey. Alert and friendly owls await you.

You will learn how to handle the variety of birds on display. This may help ease any disappointment of not gaining a glimpse of the red deer or the golden eagle, for which the park is widely known.

The path from the castle to the visitor centre is for the sole use of walkers and cyclists. This stunning 7km stretch will take you deeper into the valley, though a bus service is available (free of charge for children).

At the end of this venture a fully equipped outdoor play area awaits the now seasoned traveller.

Swings, slides and climbing frames lie surrounded by picnic benches.

- Rosaleen O'Donnell

Longford: Forests and canals

Walks through Newcastle Forest, Forgney, Ballymahon, Co Longford, followed by your picnic there or along the route of the Royal Canal or the River Inny in Ballymahon. A full fun-filled day, there is even a play ground in Ballymahon beside the River Inny.

If you want you can also bring your canoe or kayak and enjoy the River Inny or Royal Canal, fun fun, fun, and all free, free, free.

- Cait Maye

Reading in Ballybunion

I would like to nominate the library in Ballybunion as the best place to go to do free things in Ireland.

It's located in a quaint old church on the Sandhill Road and summer after summer for the past 10 years my family has been welcomed back by librarian Dolores, who is so helpful and makes reading recommendations for young and old alike.

There is also the facility to read the newspapers and use the internet. And then to top if off, when the rain stops, you can walk the beaches nearby.

- Linda Drennan-McKeon

A Waterford wonder

I'm nominating The Connigear in Ring, County Waterford as a little known spot in Ireland and a wonderful place to go to for a variety of reasons.

The Connigear is a little spit of land that reaches out into Dungarvan bay like a finger. It's approximately a mile and a half long. It's a haven for all sorts of nature and wildlife, depending on the time of year and as such is a special place to bring children.

The beautiful brent geese will be arriving soon. All year round you'll see oystercatchers, turnstones, egrets, gulls and many more and as the spit of land is surrounded by water on both sides (depending on whether the tide is in or out) these birds are never too far away.

The sand dunes about half way along the spit are home to rabbits and these can be seen bolting in all directions when you are approaching.

If you have dogs and they are well behaved they will have a ball chasing bunnies.

If you like to fish you could spend hours at the very point casting in the hope of landing a fine bass while admiring the beautiful town of Dungarvan.

There's plenty for the forager too, and we have collected samphire, nettles, blackberries, rose hips and everything is so clean as there is no passing traffic.

- Mary Kidney

My top ten

Dog's Bay beach Galway

Dog's Bay, Connemara

1. A day in the bog. Away from it all. No network coverage, just complete peace and quiet and at the same time sorting the winter firing.

2. Walk the dog. The Hills of Kerry are a blessing, you can walk till you drop.

3. Muckross House and Gardens in Killarney National Park. Must be the eighth wonder of the world.

4. A day trip to Mount Melleray Abbey in Cappaquin Waterford. The first time you hear the monks sing the prayers, you'll think you're in heaven.

5. Anyone of our fabulous beaches. Sunshine or rain. Sit, watch and listen to the waves. Pure therapy.

6. Visit our country markets. Sample some local produce and at the same time have a chat with the locals.

7. There are some fantastic charity shops. I've picked up some real gems and at the same time supported a good charity.

8. Go for a long drive anywhere. Go off the beaten track and get lost. Always worked for me.

9. The Ring of Kerry. Breathtaking views.

10. The Dingle Peninsula. More amazing views.

- Philomena Lyne

Garden trail

I would like to suggest a walk in Altamont Gardens near Tullow, County Carlow as one of the best and most enjoyable free things to do.

From the beautiful snowdrop collection in spring, followed by daffodils and then bluebells, to the amazing hellebores and roses which line the pathways, the woodland and lake walks, the 40 acres of gardens are a joy to walk around at any time of the year. And admission is free.

- Geraldine Power

Long and short walks

Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Long or shorts walks, exquisite flowers, trees, ponds, conservatories, all of which are safe and free entry always.

Lovely restaurant and café too. Easy to visit, with car park and nearby public transport. Dun laoghaire Piers, East and West. Lovely walks for all, enjoyable activities to watch, easy to access, never closed and lots of good fresh air. All free.

- Sean Quinn

A day out in Dublin

My best things to do in Dublin is a visit to the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street - you could spend a day there it is so interesting.

Then a stroll through St Stephen's Green to enjoy watching the children feed the ducks in the pond, and then a walk down Grafton Street to enjoy the buskers and the whole atmosphere.

Then a little reflection in University Church, St Stephen's Green, and which is great for the mind and body and doesn't cost a penny. It is heaven.

- Rita Gaynor

Best free indoor visits

The Dead Zoo - Dublin's Natural History Museum

The Dead Zoo - Dublin's Natural History Museum

Our editor's choice of the Top 5 free indoor attractions:

* Museum of Style Icons, Newbridge Visitor Centre, Kildare, has collections relating to stars of the silver screen including Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Grace, and Princess Diana.

* Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle, has collections of manuscripts, prints and decorative arts from countries across Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

* National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny, is one of the most exciting artistic venues in the country for contemporary craft and design, and for groundbreaking exhibitions.

* Natural History Museum, Merrion Street, Dublin 2, has been called the 'dead zoo' and was built in 1856 to house the Royal Dublin Society's zoological collection of animals preserved through taxidermy.

* Crawford Art Gallery, Cork City, beside the opera house, has over 2,000 works, ranging from eighteenth century Irish and European painting and sculpture, through to contemporary video.


We teamed up with Discover Ireland to give a fantastic prize for the person who gave us the top suggestion for the best free attraction. Congratulations to Philomena Lyne who wins a two-night break at the beautiful 4-Star Majestic Hotel, Tramore, Co Waterford.

The prize includes a two-night stay for two people sharing with full Irish breakfast each morning and dinner on one evening in the fabulous Garden Room restaurant. The Majestic Hotel overlooks Tramore Bay and is a perfect base for touring the sunny South East. Check it out on

There will also be a fabulous prize for reader's suggestions in next week's category of fabulous hotels. Entry details for this week's A Great Little Country competition are available on page 13 of the Sunday Independent, at the bottom of Brendan O'Connor's column.

For year-round inspiration and loads of special offers, find Discover Ireland on Facebook, @discoverirl on Twitter or check out #thisisLIVING.

Sunday Independent

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