International travelers to and from Great Britain are traveling in increasing numbers via Dublin. One reason is the congestion at Heathrow makes flying via Dublin just as fast or faster, but a more-powerful reason is that it can be much cheaper to travel via Dublin. The culprit is Air Passenger Duty (APD), a tax charged by the British government on all flights into or out of the UK. The tax is higher on long-haul flights, so the savings in APD coupled with the cheap fares on offer between Ireland and the UK can pay for a weekend stopover in Dublin. While some travellers are enjoying the cost savings, others are taking full advantage to add on a weekend of partying in the Irish capital.
Here are my top six inexpensive (or free) things for families to do in Dublin to protect your APD savings.
Stroll around St. Stephen’s Green
A massive park with duck ponds, fountains and scenic spots aplenty, St. Stephen’s Green is right in the center of the city, adjacent to most of the shopping and culture attractions of Dublin. Grab some sandwiches and enjoy a low-cost lunch in the park people-watching, or feeding your crumbs to the ducks. St. Stephen’s Green is free, but weather dependent…
Take the self-guided Once Walking Tour
When you’re in the vicinity of St. Stephen’s Green, fans of the Oscar-winning film Once can retrace the route through Dublin City Center taken by characters in the film. From watching buskers on Grafton Street, to checking out the quirky art on sale in George’s Arcade, to testing the instruments at Walton’s iconic Music Store, you can go slightly off the tourist trail to experience the real city of Dublin and get some exercise at the same time (essential after — or before — a long-haul flight!).
The Dublin Castle complex was the heart of British rule for centuries, and is still used by the Irish government. The lavish state apartments were shut up and neglected for decades after independence, when they were regarded with distaste by the Irish. In recent years they have been restored and are now used for ceremonial occasions, such as when Ireland holds the EU Presidency. When not in formal use, tours take visitors through the history of the Castle and explain its modern role.
There is a small fee for the tour, but visitors with very young children or those needing to stay within a tight budget, can stroll in the gardens for free. Many of the buildings in the castle complex have been redecorated in modern style, and others have been built, giving the Dublin Castle complex a decidedly modern and artistic appearance. Opinion is mixed as to whether this is an eyesore or visionary architecture, but it tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.
Day trip to Brú-na-Boinne
If you hire a car, you can visit the Brú-na-Bóinne complex of passage tombs a short distance away in Co. Meath. These mysterious tombs are fascinating for the whole family — especially children, as there are some tunnels that only the kids are small enough to crawl into — and the complex is one of the most-famous sites in Ireland. Or, for around the same price, you could join in a small-party private tour and get the benefit of a knowledgeable tour guide and the luxury of being driven around (recommended for those nervous about driving on the left.)
One of the world’s oldest zoos, the Dublin Zoo is a great day out for the whole family. Spread over a huge site, the zoo was modernized a lot during the Tiger years and will keep the kids occupied for hours. You can also keep tabs on your favorite critters by webcam before you go…
Visit the Science Gallery
At the back of Trinity College, beside the Pearse Street train station, you’ll find Ireland’s newest and most-innovative museum, The Science Gallery. Unlike regular museums, the Science Gallery does not have a resident collection; instead it hosts a series of special exhibitions on all aspects of cutting-edge art and science. Admission is free, and whatever the subject of the current exhibition, there’ll be something for the whole family to enjoy. Check their website before you go to see what their latest exhibition is…
Whatever you do, watch out for over-priced pints in trendy city-center pubs. Those will cancel out your APD savings in a hurry!