Besides being a great family vacation destination, traveling to the Emerald Isle with kids really could not be easier. There are so many things to do in Ireland with kids.
Ireland is the perfect place to introduce children to international travel. It is a magical place for anyone to visit since it is, after all, the country of leprechauns. Ireland encourages imagination and blends it with history – each and every day will be filled with magic and exploration. Even if you’re beyond the age when you’re “supposed” to believe in faeries, the moment you step foot in Ireland a feeling of possibility washes over you. You just don’t know what could be at the top of those castle towers or at the end of the rainbow.
It’s closer than you think. With direct flights from NY and Boston less than 6 hours long, it is extremely manageable for kids. Most flights are red-eye so you may even be able to get them to sleep for most of the flight. Airfares are also relatively inexpensive compared to other European destinations.
It is easy to navigate. Everything is in English and wi-fi is plentiful so you can always rely on your phone to direct you to where you need to be. It is also smaller than you think, with drive time from North to South of the entire island (Ireland and Northern Ireland) being around 8 hours and East (Dublin) to West (Galway) is less than 3 hours. I would recommend renting a car so you can explore on your own schedule, or if you don’t feel comfortable traveling on the “wrong side” of the road you can plan a private guided tour or arrange transfers.
It is a more laidback experience. People go to Paris to check tourist destinations off their list and usually end up exhausted waiting in long lines; people go to Ireland to experience the culture. There are definitely places to make sure you see, but touring is much more manageable plus getting there is half the fun. If you are worried about car rides with kids don’t underestimate the appeal of a field of cows, a hidden castle or a fairy’s garden.
All of their cities are totally walkable – There is no need to worry about navigating complicated underground systems or being at the mercy of a cab driver. Even in Dublin, Ireland’s largest city, you can walk from one end of the city center to the other in 20 minutes. And the best thing about walking and exploring these historical cities is that you find the most magical places. Duck into just about any pub and you are sure to find live music. I know you are thinking, pubs with kids? In Ireland a pub stands for a public house, and in small towns everyone is welcome at all times. In larger cities kids are more than welcome to enjoy the local food and band all afternoon, but they will be asked to leave by 8pm.
The people are extremely welcoming – There has been no destination I have ever visited where I have encountered friendlier or more welcoming people. They all speak English, at least officially, but their brogue may make them a little difficult to understand. In small towns, life still revolves around the pub where people will swap stories, join the local band, and laugh!! Don’t be afraid to join them.
With young kids, I think it is extremely important to have a plan but not to plan too much. Pick one or two things to accomplish each day and anything else is a bonus. You should definitely rent a car so you can come and go at your own pace. I have put together an itinerary that hits some of the major highlights without more than 2 hours in the car without a stop. It also uses places as a jumping off point so you are not moving hotels every night. Each stay is two nights so aren’t bouncing around too much. I love this itinerary but it is just a base, if you would like me to help me customize it for your family schedule a vacation consultation.
All photos courtesy of Ireland Content Pool
Day One: Arrive in Dublin
Walk around the city, get acclimated and pop into a pub for a bite to eat. I don’t like to plan much on arrival days just in case there are any delays or changes to your travel. It also lets you adjust to the time difference and get to know the layout of the city. You may want to hire a cab to show you around or consider a hop on/hop off bus to get your bearings and a little history of the city.
Day Two: Explore Dublin
This city is fun just to walk and explore. Kids will love Phoenix Park, originally a royal deer park it is home to wildlife, playgrounds, trails and the Dublin Zoo. Grab some great photos in the flower gardens and enjoy a traditional tea at one of the tea shops. Most museums are free so you can pop in and not feel like you didn’t get your money’s worth if the subject matter doesn’t hold your child’s attention. Other activities include wandering through Trinity College’s cobblestone paths, do some shopping on Grafton street, and let the kids run around the playground at St. Stephen’s Green. I am sure the Guinness Storehouse is on many folks’ list of must dos and it is actually pretty family-friendly. Finally, for older children, a tour of Kilmainham Gaol the famous jail where the leaders of the 1916 uprising were imprisoned and executed is a great learning experience.
Day Three: Explore Ruins in Cashel, Travel to Cork
On your way to Cork make a stop midway in Cashel. You have a few options here. You can walk up the hill to the Rock of Cashel, the seat of the Kings of Munster. Explore the plateau populated with medieval buildings crowning the hilltop of Tipperary’s Golden Vale. Or, learn details about the baptism of St. Patrick.
If you need additional stops or are looking for something a little further down the road, Cahir Castle is Ireland’s largest and most well preserved castle and is often overlooked. Athassel Abbey is another rarely explored site, so you’ll likely have it to yourself.
If you have older children you can choose something a little more active, like kayaking during a tour on the River Shannon or Lough Derg.
Day Four: Explore Cork
There are quite a few options for this day. I recommend leaving the day loose and decide on the days activities depending on how everyone is feeling a few days into the trip.
If you need an easy day walk around the city of Cork, visit their world famous English Market and Cathedral. There is a signpost Walking Tour, so get the accompanying booklet and set off to explore the hilly streets and meet the people.
If the kids need to let off a little steam consider Monkey Maze, an indoor activity center, or spend the day at Fota Wildlife Park. Just 10 minutes away from Cork’s city center, the Wildlife Park is home to many endangered animals. You are able to come face to face with cheetahs and giraffes as they roam free in the park.
Another option is to go explore the Ballyhoura Region. From short loop walks to long hikes, seemingly every bit of the area is welcoming to walkers. You can explore a working dairy such as Molanna View Farm. Get to know their cows, ponies and donkeys. Another favorite of animal lovers is the Donkey Sanctuary which is home to hundreds of rescued donkeys and is completely free to wander the trails and pet the mules. You can also go horseback riding at the nearby Hillcrest Riding Centre in the Glen of Aherlow.
Day Five: Blarney Stone, Travel to Killarney
It’s the most well-known attraction in County Cork – the Blarney Stone. But Blarney Castle & Gardens is more than a stone to kiss! Throughout the vast estate you’ll find beautiful walks that lead to gardens, caves, a baronial manor, and even a bit of magic. Let your imagination roam free as you follow the pathways to places like the Poison Garden, the Rock Close, the Witch’s Kitchen, and Fairy’s Glade.
Next to the city centre of Killarney is the edge of Killarney National Park, which includes Ross Castle, Muckross Abbey, and Traditional Farms, and miles of walking and cycling trails. Plus this tourist town boasts plenty of shopping, dining, and lively pubs.
Day Six: Plan a day trip from Killarney
Killarney is often the starting point for many tourists who plan day trips around the Ring of Kerry. Kerry is a small peninsula stretching into the Atlantic Ocean. The ‘ring’ is a looping road that follows its edge and that offers incredible panoramic views. The road is very popular and you can drive it all in one (long) day. It is one of the most scenic drives in Ireland but it is not for the faint-hearted; the road is narrow (Irish roads often are) and some bends bring you worryingly close to the cliff edge.
If your kids are a little younger skip the Ring of Kerry and head to the Dingle Peninsula instead. The Dingle Peninsula (or Corca Dhuibhne) stretches 30 miles (48 kilometres) into the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland’s southwest coast. The peninsula is dominated by a range of mountains, dramatic cliffs, and ancient ruins. Make sure you stop in the town of Dingle to introduce your children to Fungi, the Dingle dolphin. If they need some time out of the car pop into the Oceanworld Aquarium.
Day Seven: Limerick
This morning you will head towards the tongue-tied city of Limerick. Lough Gur is quite possibly one of Ireland’s most magical – and least visited – areas. Lough Gur lies just south of Limerick City. In this small area you’ll find Ireland’s largest stone circle, the entrance to faerie land, castle ruins and incredible archaeological sites. Easily, an entire days’ worth of exploration and discovery for the kids.
You could also explore the picturesque Adare, one of Ireland’s prettiest villages. Adare’s streets are lined with original thatched cottages that house local restaurants, arts and crafts shops, and a few privately owned houses. Other famous attractions in this quaint town include Desmond Castle, the Franciscan Friary, and the Trinitarian and Augustinian Priories. For fans of aquatic history, a little outside of Adare you will find the Foynes Flying Boat Museum which preserves the aviation history of the Shannon region; its 1940’s cinema, Radio and Weather Rooms, and a full sized replica of a B314 flying boat make this museum a constant family favourite.
For older kids interested in history, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and King John’s Castle are both amazing living history castles for an interactive peek into the past. At King John’s, the 13th century castle combines 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.
Day Eight: Cliffs of Moher, Splurge on a Night in a Castle
The Cliffs of Moher seem a very obvious choice of a place to visit in Ireland with kids. It is the most popular tourist destination in Ireland, and people have been coming here for hundreds of years to take in the incredible views. Before walking up to the cliffs – a bit of a hike – be sure to stop in the Visitor’s Centre. The Atlantic Edge exhibit is well worth the time.
As you return, spend some time exploring Burren National Park. You’ll find walking trails of various lengths and difficulty winding throughout the parklands. Even if you are feeling spent, a short nature walk is worth the time. The Burren Nature Sanctuary is made for children to explore, with friendly domesticated animals, a famine village, a disappearing lake, and a fairy woodland. There is also an outdoor adventure playground with zipline, mobilis, and tower slide for kids under 12, and a soft indoor playground that is terrific for toddlers.
For older children, go caving to discover what lies under the Burren’s famous landscape! Two terrific options offer different experiences. Aillwee Cave features underground caverns with waterfalls while above ground you’ll find the Birds of Prey Centre. Doolin Cave is home to the largest stalactite in the northern hemisphere while above you’ll find a wonderful Farmland Nature Trail Walk.
Head back to check in to Drumoland Castle. Spend the evening exploring the Irish estate. Dine in one of the award winning restaurants or grab a picnic to enjoy on the 450 acres.
Day Nine: Explore the Estate, Prepare for your Departure
Spend the morning enjoying all the activities the estate has to offer. Take the kids fishing, horseback riding or cycling. You can also spend the morning learning archery, clay shooting or falconry. Begin preparing for your return home. Drive the 20 minutes to the Shannon Airport for your departing flight and plan where you are going to go next.
Still apprehensive about traveling with your kids abroad? Here are some of my best tips and tricks for visiting Ireland with kids.
Do NOT Try to Do Too Much
Because Ireland is a relatively small country, visitors tend to try and see “everything” in the course of one week. Some of the magic of an Irish vacation is wandering, discovering, and enjoying. Especially with kids, I would recommend choosing 1-2 highlights per day and everything else you get to do is a bonus. Our itinerary is perfect because it allows flexibility and doesn’t have more than 2 hours in the car between stops. Pick a couple of must-sees and then try and slow down a bit – park the car and walk the landscape, relax in front of the fire, let the kids stop and feed the ducks, savor a Guinness and soak in the relaxed atmosphere.
Do NOT worry about the long flight.
Arrive prepared and pack smart. Try to keep your kids on their schedule as much as possible. Book flight times for times that your kids would be sleeping anyway. You should always purchase a seat for your child: no matter their age, you will thank me! If your child is still in a car seat I would use it on the airplane; it is familiar and will help make this new experience a bit less frightening.
DO Learn a bit of the language.
While the Irish do speak English and most of the signs are in English, it is helpful to know a few words of Irish. You can make many friends in the pub with a traditional Sláinte (slawn-cha)- meaning to your health or cheers. In the western part of the country the signs may be written in Gaelic. If you are even just a little familiar with the Irish alphabet, you won’t have any issues.
DO Purchase an OPW Heritage Card.
An Office of Public Works (or OPW) Heritage Card allows access to any fee paying OPW managed site for one year from the date of purchase. The OPW manages a lot of the country’s heritage and therefore many of the tourist sites. If you plan on visiting 4-5 of them during the trip, the family card is a great value.
Don’t Skip the Pub.
You may think because you have your kids in tow, that you are going to have to return to get a taste of traditional pub life. While alcohol is served, the pub – short for “public house” – is like the community center. Families are welcomed and sharing stories is encouraged. Don’t expect to be waited on, place your order at the bar. Make friends and ask the locals where they like to visit!
Do Be Prepared for Rain
There is no way to avoid the rain in Ireland. To prevent it from hampering your fun, make sure you are ready for it. Pack extra shoes and all your rain gear.
Do Rent a Car
While traveling around via public transport or with a bus tour is an option, the only real way to travel Ireland with kids is to rent a car and brave driving on the opposite side of the road. Renting a car allows you to follow your own schedule, have a place to shelter if it starts to pour, or enjoy as many unplanned stops as you want. If you think your would prefer a guided tour, try downloading Cultural Roadmapp – a hands free, GPS audio tour app.
Don’t Worry About Food
Though not historically noted for their cuisine, there has been a huge resurgence in local cuisine, with most or all ingredients coming from local farmers. You should be able to find something on the menu that is familiar to your kids. But there’s also plenty of opportunity for you to encourage them to try something new. Our rule when we travel is someone has to do/try something new on every day of our trip. It makes it a fun little game. Should worse come to worse, much of the fast food options available in the US can also be found in many Irish towns. Or stop by a supermarket and stock up on snacks you know everyone enjoys.
Don’t Bring a Double Stroller
If you plan on bringing a stroller, smaller is better. The doors to most shops and restaurants tend to be narrower than in the US. If you have two little ones, consider a stroller that stacks seats as opposed to placing them side by side. Packing a rain cover is also a great idea.
Do Let the Kids Get Involved in the Planning
Once you have an outlined itinerary in mind, begin introducing your kids to your choices of attractions to visit. Let them know what you can experience at each and have them help choose which you visit. If they feel involved in the planning it will get them even more excited for the trip. Introduce some Irish culture and cuisine to your daily routine. Below are some of my favorite books and movies to enjoy together as a family before your trip.
One of the things that makes Ireland a great destination for family fun is the fairylore. Scattered throughout Ireland are fairy rings – over 40,000 of them! It’s said that fairies live under the rings and if you cross one they will take you to live with them for 100 years. Which likely explains why so many fairy rings lie undisturbed and so many fairies still exist in Ireland. But not all Irish fairies are kind, or beautiful. Spend some time with The History of Irish Fairies to familiarize your children with the legends.
Books to Read About Ireland for Kids
Before heading to Ireland with kids, it’s great to give them a little knowledge about the countries and cultures you will see. It is so much fun to see their faces light up when they see something that they’ve read about in a book, and making those connections will give them a better chance of remembering what they’ve learned in the books and on their trip. Worldschooling at its finest!
I have put together some of my favorite books that take place in Ireland or highlight Irish history or culture. It is never too early to start traveling or reading so I organized it by age. Click the button below to have the list delivered to your inbox.
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