In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of the spectacular country of Ireland is in order. I asked Kate Moran, the Editor of MummyMaps.com — a stylish travel guide for Irish parents loaded with fun advice and reviews — to share tips for traveling to Ireland with kids. Phenomenal information. Thanks Kate!
ITINERARY & PLANNING
Because Ireland is a relatively small country, visitors tend to try and see “everything” in the course of one week. (Lots of friends and family fly into Dublin, drive through Wicklow, kiss the Blarney Stone in Waterford, head to Cork City, eat lunch in Kinsale, drive the Ring of Kerry, ascend the Cliffs of Moher, cruise through the amazing Burren, throw back a Guinness at a trad session in Galway, marvel at awe-inspiring Connemara, and pose in front of Kylemore Abbey before heading back to Dublin to fly home. They are literally in tatters upon their return.
In our opinion, this is a bit mad – and may even spoil the transcendent impact of an Irish holiday. While Ireland shares aspects of both America and continental Europe, it is distinct in so many ways. So pick a couple of must-sees and then, try and slow down a bit – park the car and walk the landscape, repose in front of the fire, order the kids a pack of crisps from the barkeep, savor a Guinness and soak in the relaxed atmosphere.
Although public transportation is available in Ireland, with kids-in-tow, driving is the best way to see the country. Parents and children alike will be delighted by the windy country roads, stone walls, and animals out to pasture. However, please note that when renting (“hiring”) a car, most are manual. If you need an automatic car, make sure to specify this when making your reservation – you’ll pay extra for the pleasure – but this is not the time to teach yourself how to drive a stick shift. Remember, the Irish drive on the left side of the road, so sticking to the correct side should be where your focus lies.
Of course, Hollywood has made traditional Irish bed & breakfasts quite famous. Like any other accommodation, there is a wide range of variety and quality. However, there are also lovely country houses, traditional independent and chain hotels as well as holiday homes that are available for rental. Many visitors to Ireland love traveling the countryside and stopping in a village whenever they fancy it, and finding a place to bunk without reservations. This is a fun thing to do, but not necessarily the most practical – especially if you’ll need a crib for a baby or don’t intend to share your bed with your toddler.
If this is the case, it’s worth booking into a hotel and requesting a crib (“cot”) and an extra bed. Due to the huge property-driven boom over the past decade in Ireland, you’ll find amazing 4 & 5 star hotels (think renovated country estates, farmhouses and castles) throughout Ireland; some in very unlikely, off-the-beaten path locations. In addition, there is a huge surplus of holiday (“vacation”) homes in the country. So, the good news? At the moment, you can score some amazing deals at luxury hotels and holiday homes in great locations.
EATING OUT WITH KIDS:
The Irish food scene has really exploded in recent years and can offer visitors a good range of choices. A plethora of organic ingredients and a resurgence of traditional dishes will delight those unfamiliar with Irish cooking. In the countryside, pubs remain the center of village life and are very family friendly during the day (most pubs prohibit kids after 8pm). In the major cities of Cork, Galway and Dublin, you’ll have many more options. Of course, check MummyMaps.com for our reviews of great, family-friendly eateries.
If you plan on bringing a stroller, smaller is better. The doors to most shops and restaurants tend to be narrower than in America – forget about surviving with those double-wide strollers – most mums of two little ones in Dublin seem to have the buggies that stack one kid on top of the other like the Phil & Ted’s (note: we’ve lived in Dublin for 4 years without a car – the P&T double-stroller is our family car – love it!) Oh, and ALWAYS have your rain cover in the bottom of the stroller, even if it looks bright and sunny. Trust me.
A word about the famous rainy weather. Yes, it does really rain a lot. It needn’t slow you down too much, but if you plan spending the day outside, always bring a light windbreaker with a hood – the kind that can be scrunched down into the bottom of your bag or stroller are perfect.
GREAT FAMILY-FRIENDLY PLACES TO VISIT:
Ha’Penny Bridge in Dublin
Dublin & Environs
Dublin: The country’s capital and cultural heart has lots for families to enjoy. Wander through Trinity College’s cobblestone paths, up the main shopping street, Grafton Street and to St. Stephen’s Green, where the kids can spend some time at the playground. Entry into most museums is free, so they are great to pop into to get out of the rain. In fact, the National Gallery of Ireland has a fantastic gift shop to buy gifts for home as well as a reliable cafe. The Guinness Storehouse is a requisite stop for many adults – and we can report that it’s pretty family-friendly. The displays (like the massive waterfall in the front hall) can engage most children for a while and the Gravity Bar is bright and lively. There are baby changing facilities and well, there is something strangely gratifying about taking your baby’s picture next to a pint of Guinness. Finally, for older children, visit Kilmainham Goalfor a tour of the famous jail where the leaders of the 1916 uprising were jailed and executed.
Powerscourt House Japanese Garden
Wicklow Mountains and Powerscourt House & Gardens: One of our all-time favourite day trips from Dublin. Drive south of the city to the Wicklow Mountains to find Powerscourt Estate. On a sunny day, the drive is spectacular. The tour/video show of Powerscourt isn’t all that interesting (the original building burned down and the existing interior is a recreation) but the planned gardens and Japanese garden are lovely to walk through – and the kids can run wild. The café and shop are feasts for the eyes and stomach – the café, run by the venerable Avoca Café, serves Irish food with a twist and is delicious. There is always a children’s meal that comes with an enormous cookie (“biscuit”) the size of their head. The shoppe is an eclectic mix of Irish goods, kitchen treats and funky clothing and books for adults and kids. If you can, take turns browsing the shop, as it’s usually a bit hectic to bring the kids into, as there are a lot of breakables and it’s hard to navigate a stroller through. (Note: There are several Avoca cafes throughout the country; the food is fantastic and they are always great for kids. The cafes are casual and usually noisy and crowded, but there are always highchairs, places to park a buggy and helpful staff to help carry your trays if you have a baby on your hip!)
Cliffs of Howth
Howth Village and Cliff Walk: The hills of Howth are magnificent and well worth a trip just outside of Dublin to check out. However, the cliff walk literally hugs the cliff’s edge and is only appropriate for adults with babies in a pouch or backpack – the paths are narrow and the drops very steep. There are other less perilous routes to the top , so some of your gang can take the more navigable route and meet at the top. The views are stunning and you can’t beat the fresh air! And, the rumors are true, a great pint awaits at the end of your hike at The Summit Inn. (During the Cliff Walk, you are really exposed to the elements, so if it’s particularly windy and rainy, skip it. The views won’t really be all that great and cliffs and windy days don’t mix. However, a little drizzle “a soft day” need not be a deterrent.)
Howth has some great eating establishments, so working up your appetite is a brilliant move. Our suggestions? The House is our new favourite home away from home. Imagine warm crumbly scones, great coffee and a bacon sandwich served with greens dressed in vinaigrette and a perfect selection of seafood for dinner. They welcome families with open arms – happy to stash buggies at the door, pull a highchair out for your little one and provide coloring supplies. The adventurous children’s menu offers smaller portions from the regular menu. Close runners up include Italian eatery, Casa Pasta or make a picnic with fish & chips from Beshoffs of Howth.
Skerries: Ireland has some seriously impressive playgrounds – really! Indulge the kids with a visit to Ardgillan Castle. The adults will marvel at the gorgeous grounds and view of the sea while the nautical themed playground provides a bounty of entertainment guaranteed to thoroughly tucker the kiddies out. The view of the sea is amazing – it’s our favorite playground in all of Dublin (to date!). If you are hankering for a snack before arrival, nip into Olive on the main drag in Skerries for take-out sandwiches, lattes, and sweets. If you’re planning on a meal after, visit the excellent Stoop Your Head in Skerries harbour for its first lunch seating (they open at noon). If you’re in a big group, try to score the tables in the right corner and dig into some of the freshest, most delectable seafood around. Despite it being a popular (and small) place, they are happy to have children and offer a children’s menu and highchairs.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher: These majestic cliffs rise out of the sea and are truly awe-inspiring for both parents and kids, alike. The visitor’s centre provides some background to this natural wonder. If you are approaching the cliffs from the north, make your drive to the cliffs doubly stunning by getting there via the Burren.
Ring of Kerry: The Ring of Kerry is a tourist favorite, so some try to avoid it – but, it’s a favorite for good reason. Dotted with beautiful Irish villages, dramatic overlooks and stunning beaches tucked below the cliffs – it’s beautiful! Again, opt for driving yourself and be sure to spend lots of time out of the car – make stops wherever inspires you!
West Cork: Magnificent natural landscapes makes West Cork a delight to visit. In particular, Schull is one of the loveliest villages. While there visit the Mizen Head Signal Station for a thrilling walk and view and stop at gorgeous Barley Cove Beach for a stroll.
Galway City: Galway’s streets are lively, full of university students and feels like a very small city compared to Dublin. Stroll the streets, listen to the music and be sure to get some great seafood.
Connemara: Driving through Connemara offers breathtaking scenery (I know we keep saying this, but it’s true!) Nestled behind the mountains is Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Gardens. The children will be delighted to see this amazing castle on the shores of Lough Pollacappul. There are lots of wooded paths to explore and the walled gardens will inspire the gardener in you.
Need help planning a trip to Ireland or any other top family travel destination? Our Family Vacation Planning Team can help! Request assistance on My Trip Planner.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from our friend the Irish-American WanderMom
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