Safe, stunning and packed with family-friendly adventures, Ireland is a perennial family favorite. We asked local expert Kate Moran to share her best tips for traveling to Ireland with kids. Be sure to read her advice to help you plan future Ireland family vacations!
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 Cork, head to Cork City, eat lunch in Kinsale, drive the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula, ascend the Cliffs of Moher, cruise through the amazing Burren, throw back a Guinness and listen to live music 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. 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.
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Although public transportation is available in Ireland, driving is the best way to see the country with kids in tow. Parents and children alike will be delighted by the winding country roads, stone walls and animals out to pasture. However, please note when renting a car that 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-and-breakfasts quite famous. As with any other accommodation, there is a wide range of variety and quality. However, there are also lovely country houses, traditional independent and chain hotels and holiday homes that are available for rental. Many visitors to Ireland love traveling the countryside, stopping in a village whenever they fancy it and finding a place to bunk without reservations. This is a fun thing to do if you’re visiting as a couple to Ireland; family dynamics suggest you might want to plan a bit more in advance. You may need a crib for a baby or don’t intend to share your bed with your toddler. And teenagers might want a room of their own.
If this is the case, it’s worth booking into a hotel and requesting a crib and an extra bed. Due to the huge property-driven boom over the past decade-plus in Ireland, you’ll find amazing 4- and 5-star hotels (think renovated country estates, farmhouses and castles) throughout Ireland, some in very unlikely, off-the-beaten-path locations.
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 8 p.m. but welcome them before that). In the major cities of Cork, Galway and Dublin, you’ll have many more options.
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 or more little ones in Dublin seem to have the buggies that stack one kid on top of another, like the Phil and Ted’s brand. 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.
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 works for a family trip, too. The displays (like the massive waterfall in the front hall) will 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 Gaol for a tour of the famous jail where the leaders of the 1916 uprising were imprisoned and executed.
This is 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 cafe and shop are feasts for the eyes and stomach — the former, run by the venerable Avoca Cafe, serves delicious Irish food with a twist. The shop is an eclectic mix of Irish goods, kitchen treats and funky clothing and books for adults and kids. If you can, take turns browsing; 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. But you’re sure to find souvenirs for the family members and friends stuck back at home!
TIP: 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 high chairs, places to park a buggy and helpful staff to help carry your trays if you have a baby on your hip!
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The magnificent hills of Howth, just outside of Dublin, are well worth a trip 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, paths 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 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 an 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 high chair out for your little one and provide coloring supplies. The adventurous children’s menu offers smaller portions from the regular menu. A close runner-up is a picnic made with fish & chips from Beshoffs of Howth.
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 tucker the kiddies out. 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. Planning on a meal after? Visit the excellent Stoop Your Head in Skerries Harbour for its first lunch seating at noon, 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 kids’ menu and highchairs.
These majestic cliffs rise out of the sea and are truly awe-inspiring for both parents and kids. The visitors’ centre provides some background to this natural wonder. If you are approaching the cliffs from the north, make the drive doubly stunning by choosing a route through the Burren.
The Ring of Kerry is a tourist favourite, so some try to avoid it — but it’s a favourite 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. Killarney makes a great home base, and you’ll want to devote at least a day to exploring the national park there.
Magnificent natural landscapes make West Cork a delight to visit. Schull, in particular, 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’s streets are lively and full of university students, though it feels like a very small city compared to Dublin. Stroll the streets, listen to the music and be sure to get some great seafood. If you’ve got more time here, spend a day visiting the Aran Islands. Treat everyone to one of their iconic sweaters and you’ll stay warm and cozy throughout your trip.
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.
It’s clear: Ireland with kids is a family travel bucket list winner for a reason. So much to do, so much to see, so much beauty. Ireland family vacations are a crowd pleaser and one of our favorite travel destinations.
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