As with any big(ish) city, Dublin can seem a little kid-unfriendly, but never fear -- there's more than enough to do here to keep the little ones happy.
If the weather's fine, Dublin's many parks give families on the go a respite from the city's ruckus. Right in the center at Merrion Square and St. Stephen's Green, there are lawns for picnicking, ducks to feed, playgrounds for swinging, and gardens for dashing around madly. If you feel like splurging, the whole family can take a carriage ride around the parks.
West of Dublin's city center, the vast Phoenix Park is paradise for children on a sunny day. It holds the Dublin Zoo as well as sports fields, playgrounds, and herds of free-roaming deer. Ice-cream vendors and teahouses are on hand. Those weary of walking can take a trail ride through the park from the Ashtown Riding Stables.
For a lively tour of Dublin's Viking history (well, it's a gentle brush across the surface of Dublin's Viking history, to be honest), the Viking Splash Tour, in a reconditioned World War II amphibious "duck" vehicle, is more about fun than history.
If they need a little artistic stimulation, the Ark offers arts classes and cultural experiences ranging from painting and drawing to theater, while the Lambert Puppet Theatre offers good, clean, old-fashioned fun.
At the edge of town in the suburbs, fresh air, ocean breezes, and castles await their wondering eyes. North of the city is the Malahide Castle, with a grand, rambling old stone castle, acres of parks and playgrounds, and the incongruous additions of the Fry Model Railway exhibit and Tara's Palace, filled with antique dollhouses and toys.
The towns south of Dublin are best explored by DART light rail from the city center. You could stop in Monkstown to see a puppet show at the Lambert Puppet Theatre and Museum (Clifton Lane; tel. 01/280-0974; www.lambertpuppettheatre.com), or, if the kids need a little seaside adventure, go on a few more stops to the heritage village of Dalkey. The Ferryman of Coliemore Harbour, just a 10-minute walk from the train, can take the family out to explore Dalkey Island and return you a few hours later. After your adventure, reward yourself with a soft-serve ice-cream cone in the village. The park at the top of Dalkey Hill offers a memorable view of the town and bay beyond, but it's a very steep climb.
One stop after Dalkey on the DART lies the long pebbled beach of Killiney. This is just the place to find the perfect stone for your family collection or to take a beachcombing stroll along the strand. Farther on down the line is the seaside resort town of Bray, where Irish water creatures, from starfish to sharks, can be found in the National Sea Life Centre (Strand Rd.; tel. 01/286-6939; www.sealife.ie). Along with the aquarium, Bray has arcades, games, and other family amusements along its boardwalk. If you get to Bray with energy and daylight to spare, the hike up Bray Head will give you a spectacular view of the Dublin coastline; in summer, it's covered in purple heather and yellow gorse.
Even with so much out there for families to do together, there may be some events -- a romantic dinner, perhaps? -- to which you'd rather not bring the kids. Dublin parents swear by Minder Finders (www.minderfinders.ie), a clued-in agency that uses certified babysitters (many are former nannies or teachers) who arrive armed with a bag full of kid-friendly activities. Each sitter is matched with your kids' ages and interests in mind, to alleviate any "new babysitter" jitters.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.