Families are spoiled for choice in Ireland — there are so many stunning landscapes, kid-friendly historical treasures and cultural gems that it’s tough to narrow the options down to a reasonable itinerary. You’ll never be able to see it all in a week or two, or even three. But for a taste of what the country has to offer on a limited time frame, split your trip between the charming towns, rugged coast and pastoral beauty of western Ireland, and the lively buzz and marquee sights of Dublin.
Shannon Airport is the easiest point of entry for Ireland’s western regions. Rent a car and set out for the pretty town of Adare, in County Limerick, which makes a good base for exploring the areas. Three days should allow you to experience the countryside and a sampler of local attractions.
For many families, visiting the majestic Cliffs of Moher and the frozen-in-time Aran Islands ranks among the highlights of a trip to the country. Get a taste of both with a ferry cruise — there are plenty to choose from. Doolin2Aran Ferries, departing from Doolin (about 2 hours from Adare), offers an excursion to the tiny isle of Inis Oírr that also sails past the cliffs. If you or your kids don’t handle heights well, this is a great way to see them.
Inis Oírr is charming, with friendly locals, a lovely beach and interesting sights. A pony cart ride is a fantastic way to enjoy the views of the shoreline, ancient stone structures and the cliffs in the distance; you can even let kids take the reins for a while. Or rent bikes and savor the scenery as you pedal.
Although Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is perhaps the best-known living history castle in the region, King John’s Castle in Limerick is an equally good bet for an interactive peek into the past. With a new visitors’ center and other enhancements added earlier this year, the 13th-century behemoth blends evocative ruins with high-tech flash and dash — such as computer-generated ghost figures — and lots of hands-on activities. Actors tell fascinating stories and put on reenactments.
Spend a pleasant hour that same day browsing Limerick’s Hunt Museum, an off-the-beaten path gem that houses a diverse private collection of fine arts and antiquities. Paintings, sculpture and ceramics mingle with jewelry, tools, sporting and game equipment, and a huge assortment of other miscellany. Many are kept in pullout compartments — kids love opening them up to discover what’s hidden within.
Southeast of Adare lies the coastal town of Cobh, the major point of emigration from Ireland through the mid-20th century (the Titanic docked there before its ill-fated voyage). The Cobh Heritage Centre offers insight into the when, how and why of the exodus from Ireland. If you have Irish ancestors, make time for a visit — there’s a good chance they left from this port.
After you’ve gotten a glimpse of rural life, it’s time to pick up the pace with a few days in Dublin. You can either make the several-hour drive and drop your car off (no need for it here), or catch a flight from Shannon. A hop-on/hop-off bus tour is a classic way to for families to get their bearings in a new city without wearing out little legs, and this is a great option for Dublin as well.
Among the major stops: the unmissable Book of Kells, housed in the Old Library building at Trinity College. Lines to see this exquisite illuminated manuscript can get long, but kids can explore the college grounds with one parent while the other one inches forward (and if you need to cut and run, it’s easy to come back and try again another day). The audio guide, which includes and embellishes on the information from the placards, is well worth the 5-euro fee. Take time to enjoy the library as well, a treasure trove that displays hundreds of thousands of venerable books. Trinity College is also home to the small science gallery, with quirky, changing exhibits that will give kids’ brains a workout.
Budding artists will enjoy the Irish National Gallery, which offers a collection of “greatest hits” from Irish artists as well as fine special exhibits and kids’ drawing activities. Bonus: With lots of things that appeal to the younger set, the inevitable gift-shop visit will be especially fun.
When the sun peeks through, take a break from sightseeing and stroll St. Stephen’s Green. Families from all over flock to this park in the heart of Dublin for its fun play structures and gorgeous gardens. Bring a few scraps of bread to feed the ducks, pigeons and other birds that congregate.
We have a number of excellent family-friendly hotels in Ireland that are featured in the CB! Hotel Collection. In addition, for a base in Adare, go for the upscale Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort, which offers traditional rooms as well as self-catering townhouses and villas. The stately 19th-century building and grounds are beautiful and a nice walk from town. Onsite activities include a Robert Trent Jones golf course, heated indoor pool, and outdoor pursuits tailored for both kids and adults, such as archery lessons and falconry walks. Restaurants at the estate are outstanding. Our travel advisors offer great perks at this property if your stay is booked through our agency!
If you have room in your itinerary and want to break up the drive from Adare to Dublin, make a detour to County Cork for a stay at Liss Ard Estate. Set on 200 acres, this country house hotel offers a spectacular setting near the coast, plus a wealth of family outdoor activities and the stunning Sky Garden Crater. It also makes an ideal base from which to explore the port of Kinsale and the picturesque town of Cork.
In Dublin, it’s hard to top the location of The Shelbourne, which sits right across from St. Stephen’s Green and at the hub of major tourist sites. Families may want to splurge on a junior suite for extra breathing space. Rooms and bathrooms are well appointed, and dining in the hotel is excellent (and kid-friendly). The public spaces are lively, so expect good people-watching.
Want help building a fantastic trip to Ireland with kids? Our Family Vacation Consultants can help!
Photos courtesy of the Wolfe Family except where noted.
Many thanks to our friend Jody Halsted at IrelandFamilyTravel.com for helping us craft this itinerary. Check out her site for more great trip ideas and travel tips!
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