Every town in Ireland has at least one viable attraction, many of which are free to enter, but of course, not all. With the dollar and the euro nearly equal in value (one USD equals .95 euros), fees for popular sights can run very high and it becomes difficult to judge which options are worth the cost. Whether your interests lie in history, art, maritime, nature, food and drink or shopping, get the most bang for your buck at any of these 10 Emerald Isle attractions.
Though the Skellig Islands (pictured above) are one of the most expensive options on the list, the ancient monasteries built into the cliffs of Skellig Michael and the wide array of wildlife (sharks, whales, dolphins, puffins, gannets and other sea birds) awaiting you make it worth the splurge. The ticket price includes a trip through the visitor center and a two-hour guided cruise around the islands. Tickets are 30 euros for adults and 17.50 euros for children.
There was a general outcry when this medieval church started charging admission a few years ago, but the crowds kept coming as it is one of best and most important historic and religious buildings in Dublin. In addition to the sanctuary itself, decorated with fine stained glass and an enormous pipe organ, the dark and eerie crypt below houses the treasures, relics and stone tombs of some of Ireland’s earliest legendary figures, including Richard “Strongbow” de Clare. The cathedral is also a short walk from many other famous Dublin sights, including Temple Bar and the Guinness Storehouse. Tickets are six euros for adults and two euros for children.
Newgrange is a Stone Age monument and temple older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza. What looks simply like a large grassy mound actually houses a stone passageway that leads to multiple chambers and European Neolithic art. Visitors can enter the temple with a guide to see the long entrance passage, “roof box” and cross-shaped chamber, which was once used for rituals and burials. The nearby Brú na Bóinne Visitors Centre provides a user-friendly and informative exhibit as well as a meeting point for tours of the temple. Adult admission for a guided tour of the megalithic tomb as well as entrance to the visitor’s center is six euros. Visitors should arrive early for scheduled tours and allow two to three hours for the entire excursion.
Located of the beaten path on Ireland’s northernmost point in County Antrim, Giant’s Causeway is a natural phenomenon of extraordinary hexagonal rock columns that lead down to the sea. This spot offers one of Ireland’s best scenic views as well as several hikes of varying difficulty. The nearby towns of Bushmills and Coleraine are filled with locally owned cafes, pubs and B&Bs, perfect for warming the weary sightseer. Tickets are nine pounds for adults and 4.50 pounds for children.
Take in views of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick while getting exercise on the traffic-free Great Western Greenway. Clew Bay Bike Hire provides the bikes and gear as well as some fantastic self-guided tour options. We recommend The Artisan Adventure, which combines a trip down the Greenway with stops at local food producers where you can prepare your own lunch while learning about the modern Irish food culture. The Greenway is free but bike rental averages about 40 euros per person.
Glasnevin Cemetery is the final resting place of many of Ireland’s most iconic revolutionaries and historic figures including Michael Collins, Daniel O’Connell and Éamon de Valera. The award-winning Glasnevin Museum, which has three interactive sections, is the world’s first cemetery museum. For 12 euros, an adult ticket includes both a walking tour of the cemetery, led by an enthusiastic guide, and entrance to the museum. With the ticket you also get five euros worth of credit to perform genealogy searches using the cemetery’s extensive records. For a little bonus, visit the National Botanic Gardens next door, which are free of charge.
One of the highest rated attractions in Ireland, the historic Powerscourt Estate is home to shops, restaurants, a golf course, gardens and Ireland’s highest waterfall. The jewel in the crown is Tara’s Palace, which houses an exquisite 22-room dollhouse that took Irish craftsmen over 20 years to complete. Admission fees can run as high as 17 euros per adult if you choose to see everything, but individual ticket prices are more reasonable and all proceeds from Tara’s Palace go to children’s charities.
There are two ways to get a taste (literally) of a Jameson Distillery. You can visit the one in Dublin or you can try the location in County Cork. Both tours have the same entrance fee, the same online discounts and the same complimentary glass of Jameson at the end, but the attraction in Cork is more extensive. Set on 15 acres of lush countryside, the Jameson Experience allows visitors to see a wider historical perspective of the whiskey while touring centuries-old buildings, restored machinery and an original 1825 waterwheel. Tickets cost 15 euros for adults.
Though Ireland is better known for above ground attractions, it also has many historic mines and natural caves. The Aillwee Cave in County Clare is one of the oldest and most popular because it includes an underground river, a waterfall and the bones of extinct creatures. After taking the short 30-minute tour, visitors can check out the highly rated Burren Birds of Prey center on-site, which offers dynamic outdoor flying displays of eagles, hawks, falcons and owls from all over the world. The ticket price for both offerings is 18 euros for adults, but you can find discounts online.
One of Ireland’s living history exhibits, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park presents an excellent mix of history, culture and tradition in a fun and colorful setting. Visitors can see the beautifully preserved 15th century castle or explore the demonstrations of a working Victorian village. For an unbeatable deal, book a package online for 12 euros per adult, which also includes parking and entrance to the nearby Cliffs of Moher, and will save you four euros per ticket.
Maryann Koopman Kelly
is a freelance culture writer and blogger who spent five years in Ireland before moving to California with her family last year.