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Free things to do this August in Ireland: One in every county

Here’s our list of the 32 best things to do on the island of Ireland – and they won’t cost a thing

Finding family activities around Ireland can be expensive. We’re halfway through the summer and many parents are worn out trying to keep their kids entertained in ways that don’t break the bank. We’ve created a list of activities to keep the whole family occupied and, best of all, they’re free. While the list isn’t exhaustive – you wouldn’t believe how many free gems can be found if you know where to look – hopefully you can enjoy a day out or two from our list and the sun will come out.


Belfast City Council is running a programme of live music in various parks until September 30th. With everything from modern country, folk, jazz, trad, brass band and African drumming sessions, there’ll be no shortage of options for Friday and Sunday afternoons throughout the summer. Venues include Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, Ormeau Park and Victoria Park.


Gosford Forest Park near Armagh town was the first to be designated as a conservation forest in Northern Ireland back in the 1980s. The Acheson’s of Gosford established a large woodland demesne almost 400 years ago, which can now be explored through its various trails. A 19-century castle serves as a picturesque backdrop for a walk in the woods – just remember to bring a packed lunch.


Muine Bheag Arts, an artist-run organisation, is inviting the public to attend a series of free events and workshops reflecting on connections with the natural world. The month-long Grass Roots 2023 will consist of a guided tour around Carlow town, an interactive flotation performance in the river Barrow (bring your swimmies), a zine workshop, ceramics workshop and a film screening. Contributing artists include Cóilín O’Connell, Mollie Anna King, Niamh Seana Meehan and Holly Pickering. Events run between August 10th and September 11th.



In the northwest corner of Co Cavan, up by the Border, lies a 20,000-hectare Unesco geopark. Open to the public since 2014, the Cavan Burren Park has more than 10km of hiking trails to guide visitors through prehistoric tombs, unique geology and 360-degree views of the park’s surrounds. The 26km long Cavan Way also passes through the park.


There’s no place in the world quite like the Burren. Seamus Heaney once wrote in his poem, Postscript: “The ocean on one side is wild with foam and glitter, and inland among stones the surface of a slate-grey lake is lit.” Perhaps his was a more favourable interpretation than one of Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers when he said: “There isn’t a tree to hang a man, water to drown a man nor soil to bury a man.” Anyhow, the 360sq km region of exposed limestone rock remains a spectacular gem that’s free to visit. The national park covers 1,800 hectares of the Burren.


If, like the eyes of Hollywood’s biggest critics, you were captivated by the performance of Jenny the Donkey (might not be her surname) in The Banshees of Inisherin, you can meet friends of hers at the Donkey Sanctuary at Knockardbane Farm in north Co Cork. The charity has more than 1,700 donkeys in its care, 15 of which reside in a farm open to visitors near Liscarroll village. There’s free admission and parking but the sanctuary welcomes donations.


For the literary bugs out there, University College Dublin is running two Poetry as Commemoration workshops on August 16th and 23rd, giving members of the public the chance to review local and national archive material from the War of Independence and Civil War and submit some poetry for the project. The workshops will be led by poet Maria McManus at the Verbal Arts Centre on Bishop Street. Booking is advised.


If you’re from the area and you have an interest in its history, the East Donegal Family History Festival, which runs from August 21st to 25th, is made for you. Organised by the Monreagh Heritage Centre, its fourth annual festival will see free performances from bluegrass musicians, an evening of vintage street games, a culinary showcase from celebrity chef Paula McIntyre, a table quiz and an evening of retracing ancestry around Ulster. Booking is advised.


Nestled into the Mourne Mountains, home of the tallest mountain in Northern Ireland, lies Silent Valley. A reservoir holding water for Co Down, the surrounding counties and most of Belfast is a pristine location for a largely flat trail. A car is needed to trek up to the valley but once you’re there, few hikes on a sunny day can compare. About 50,000 people visit the area each year for its lakes, ponds and sometimes the odd running race – perhaps a stroll through the valley is preferable to the Mourne Seven Sevens 18-mile walk around the seven peaks.


Little introduction is needed for this one. Situated on the city’s northside and bordering Glasnevin Cemetery – which is also a fascinating stroll in itself – the famous gardens feature all sorts of plants, statues, sundials and, of course, the famous glasshouses. One for a family outing, a romantic stroll or some Insta-worthy snaps.


It’s a museum and a barber shop: Headhunters in Enniskillen was the Johnston family’s answer to combining their dual interests of local railway history and cutting hair. Since 1981, brothers Nigel and Gordon have been welcoming families in to have a look around a large collection of railway memorabilia, harking back to the days more than 60 years ago when trains passed through Fermanagh, all the while waiting for a fresh cut. The museum is free, the haircut presumably isn’t.

Leitir Mealláin, Co Galway. Photograph: Fáilte Ireland


Though Galway city is teaming with free activities in the summer months, Connemara has no end of beautiful sights that won’t break the bank. Pack some sandwiches and head about an hour’s west of the city to Leitir Mealláin, an island that’ll take a few bridges to reach but is well worth the trek. Local storyteller John Bhaba Jack O’Chonghaola runs a heritage centre on the island packed full of artefacts and trinkets from the old way of life on the island. If you brush up on your cúpla focal, like many on the island, he’ll talk for hours but béarla will do just fine too. Besides the museum, the island itself is worth the journey. On a clear day: the silence, the simplicity – there’s nothing like it.


Co Kerry is spoilt for choice when it comes to getting out and about on spectacular hikes but for a more offbeat option, you could try Ireland’s oldest festival: Puck Fair. Drive 20 minutes west of Killarney to find the small village of Killorglin on the Ring of Kerry Road. Each year, a goat-catcher brings a wild goat from the mountains to the village where it is crowned King Puck. This year’s three-day festivities begin on Thursday, August 10th, for the coronation, parade and horse fair; Friday will see live music, entertainment and stalls for the fair day; and Saturday will conclude with the dethroning of King Puck and a midnight fireworks display. There are 12 hours of free entertainment each day. Last year, the goat was removed from his cage overlooking the village due to concerns over the heat. This year’s King Puck will only spend a limited time in its elevated home.


In 2013, The Irish Times awarded Kildare Farm Foods Open Farm and Shop the title of Best Shop for a Day Out. The place is still going and offers a chance to meet and feed the farm animals on site for free. As you potter around the place, however, there are some enticing distractions (these are not free) including: crazy golf, teddy bear factory, railroad adventure and, of course, its cafe and shop. Located in Rathmuck, the farm is just a five-minute drive from Kildare Village.


While Kilkenny Castle is one of the highlights of the city, its parkland surrounds are a free alternative to the historic tours within. The park and gardens cover 21 hectares by the river Nore and features walking paths, statues, a central water fountain and a mix of greenery that makes it a great amenity in the middle of the city. Many locals will surely know it like the back of their hands but, for the uninitiated, it’s a refreshing afternoon’s visit.


Between Stradbally and Portlaoise lies the Rock of Dunamase and its spectacular views atop its towering structure. The former Anglo-Norman stronghold in Laois was a place of strategic importance in centuries gone by but, now, it’s an opportunity to get out in the fresh air and explore the ruins. One for the history buffs and picnic lovers.


Straddling the river border between counties Leitrim, Roscommon and Longford, the Shannon Blueway offers an opportunity to walk, cycle and, of course, paddle your way along a section of Ireland’s longest river. While you can freely walk or cycle the Acres Lake Boardwalk Trail that covers 6.5km between Drumshanbo and Leitrim town, there are plenty of spots to rent kayaks and paddle-boards on the journey through Carrick-On-Shannon and Lanesborough at the top of Lough Ree.


If you’re looking for some self-guided adventures with your kids, Limerick Sports Partnership has developed a treasure hunt app to encourage families to get out and about with their children. With about a couple dozen hunts around Limerick and Clare, ranging between 1km and 2km, it’s a handy excuse to get out into the sunshine and away from those devices (kind of), even if the prompts are a little silly: “Donald Trump has left $1 million in a safe and has forgotten the code to open it.” Adventure Walks is available from app stores.


Along the shores of Lough Ree near Barley Harbour, Michael and Kevin Casey run a workshop and studio where the father and son create sculptures from bogwood found in Ireland. It’s a niche talent but Casey’s Bogwood Sculptures are renowned for their craftsmanship. Visit between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Saturday to take a look at their work and perhaps you’ll find something worth taking home.


When most people think of a day out in Co Louth, Carlingford is often top of their list. The seaside town is a popular spot for tourists and is the ancestral home of United States president Joe Biden but its hinterland is, in many ways, far more impressive. Flanked by the Cooley Mountains, Carlingford is just one stop on the Táin Way, a 40km hiking route around the Cooley Peninsula. On a good day, the quiet roads, forest and mountains set the scene for a challenging but fulfilling walk.


The Quiet Man might have cemented a particular “diddly-eye” image of Ireland to the world but the 1952 film’s setting speaks for itself. The village of Cong, nestled in an idyllic location just north of Ashford Castle and Lough Corrib, is an ideal location for tourists and very-dated-film-enthusiasts. Even the drive – from the south, on the western side of the lake through Maam Valley – is a sight to behold. The free Quiet Man Museum is a hoot and the John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara statue is one for the picture book. If that doesn’t take your interest, a short stroll around this beautiful place should do the trick.


Visiting the Boyne Valley frequently involves a trip to Newgrange passage tomb but a lesser-visited site further west in the county has better views for none of the cost. Far from the crowds of tourists plaguing Brú na Bóinne, 32 Stone Age cairns spread across four hills are known collectively as Loughcrew Cairns. The walking route up Cairn T, the largest of the group, is well worth it. Although the cairn itself has been closed for five years for safety reasons, the 360-degree views on a clear day are something to behold. Limited parking is located to the west of the cairns, near Loughcrew Megalithic Centre.


Just across the Dromore river, north of Cootehill, Co Cavan, lies Erica’s Fairy Forest. Dedicated to the memory of fairy-loving Erica Ní Draighneain, who died from cancer at the age of five in 2016, this enchanted Fairy Forest turns the woods into its own little magic kingdom. Her parents created the free forest experience “to honour Erica’s memory and her unshakeable belief in fairies and magical kingdoms”, its website says. Classic fairy stories are constructed around the forest and children can pop letters in the fairy post box.


Lough Boora Discovery Park is one for the outdoorsy folk in the family. This creative use of bogland between Tullamore, Birr and Clonmacnoise features acres of walking and cycling routes, a fairy trail, a sculpture park and some angling spots by the lake. You can base yourself at a visitor centre beside Loch an Dochais with its cafe and picnic area and then traverse the park’s five main trails to catch a glimpse of the many sculptures and unique wildlife about the place.


In the village of Knockcroghery, the Claypipe Visitor Centre is keeping the traditional method of making clay pipes alive. In the late 1800s, the entire village was involved in the industry and pipes became an integral part of people’s identity. All this came to an end when the village was burned down during the War of Independence but you can visit Ethel Kelly in the workshop for a free demonstration on how they’re made.


In the heart of Sligo town on the banks of the Garvoge river, the Hyde Bridge Gallery offers free access to contemporary visual arts. Based in the Yeats Memorial Building, the gallery provides a space for local artists to exhibit their work. If you want to stick around, there is a modestly priced exhibition, The Poetic Mind of WB Yeats, which looks at how the poet used visualisation. Also on view are many Yeats family artworks and a recreation of the Yeats family room.


Cahir Castle, located in the south Tipperary town of the same name, is an underrated stop for a morning’s stroll. While entry to the castle will set you back no more than €5 each, strolling the Memorial Garden beside the 12th-century castle on the river Suir is refreshing on a summers day. Plus, if you visit on a Saturday, the popular Cahir Farmers Market (9am to 1pm) hosts local producers selling breads, meats, seasonal fruits, cheeses and all sorts. Get there early before all the wild garlic pesto and home-made lemonade sells out. If you’re just looking for a picnic spot and a stroll, the castle’s memorial garden is not to be missed with all its unusual sculptures.


Just outside Omagh on the edge of the Sperrin Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Philip Faithfull hosts the Abingdon Collection: an assortment of war memorabilia, classic vehicles and general 20th century collectables. Whether you’re interested in old military gear, pristine classic cars or an array of toys, models and trinkets from the years gone by, there’s bound to be something of interest. On Tripadvisor, 245 of 246 reviews are five stars – the other being four. Free to book and donations to Cancer Research UK are accepted.


Opened in 2017, Waterford Greenway covers a disused railway line between Waterford City and the seaside town of Dungarvan 46km away. While bike rental is available, there’s no cost to walking or cycling the route yourself – even a short section will do. Along the way there are views of the sea, the Comeragh Mountains, centuries old castles and the odd bridge or tunnel to spice things up. An attraction many have come to love in the Déise.


Along a 43km stretch of the Midlands Great Western Railway lies the Old Rail Trail, now a greenway fit for walking or cycling. The railway that once brought visitors to the towns of Athlone and Mullingar – the line closed in 1987 – now serves a new purpose as a cyclist’s stomping ground. There are three main stretches: Athlone to Moate (14.5km, mostly flat), Moate to Castletown (16.3km, flat with gentle slopes) and Castletown to Mullingar (11.4km, flat with gentle slopes). You can bring your own bikes or rent some in Mullingar.


Treat your inner foodie with a visit to Enniscorthy on this August bank holiday weekend for the Rockin’ Food and Fruit Festival. It’s food, music and a fun fair – what’s not to like? More than 50 vendors will descend on the town to showcase their latest flavours, all to the soundtrack of free live music. To keep the younger members of your travelling band occupied, there will be a Ferris wheel, fun fair, discos, arts and crafts and puppet shows.


If Glendalough wasn’t already one of Wicklow’s greatest attractions with its pristine lakeside hikes, The School of Irish Archaeology are set to host kids at a replica Viking house excavation site. On Sunday, August 13th, archaeologists will park up their “Big Dig” trailer by the visitor centre and simulate what it’s like to discover and excavate treasures and artefacts more than 1,000 years old. Suitable for children aged 5-12. Booking is advised.