Traveling with children is always a bit of an adventure, and you'll want all the help you can get. Luckily Ireland -- with its vast open countryside, farm hotels, and castles -- is a fairy-tale playground for kids. You'll have trouble finding babysitters outside the major towns, but just take the kids with you -- most restaurants, sights, and even pubs (during the day) welcome children. The best part of the country for those traveling with kids is arguably Cork and Kerry, where everything seems to be set up for families, so here's a sample itinerary to give you some ideas.
Day 1: Cork City
Start with a stroll through the city on foot. You can pick and choose what your kids will like best. There's a pleasantly scary exhibition at the old Cork City Gaol, where lifelike figures still await their release in the jail cells. Afterward, you can all go shopping at the Coal Quay Market -- a flea market where you never quite know what to expect amid its colorful stalls. Next, pack a picnic lunch and head outside the city to the Blarney Castle, where you can easily fill an entire afternoon kissing rocks, climbing castle walls, and exploring Badger Cave and the castle's gloomy dungeons. The sprawling grounds make a perfect place to dine alfresco. If money is no object, spend the night at the Hayfield Manor Hotel, where the kids will get cookies and milk before bedtime.
Day 2: Eastern County Cork
In the morning head to the star-shaped Charles Fort, where the kids can clamber around the ancient walls while you bone up on a little history. You can head for more ancient wall climbing at Desmond Castle, or, if the kids have had enough historic buildings, indulge them at the Fota Island Wildlife Park, a zoo without borders, where rare and endangered animals have the run of the place -- only cheetahs are behind conventional fencing. You can have another picnic here, as picnic tables are ready and waiting.
Day 3: Western County Cork
Take the kids on an unforgettable ride in a wooden cable car out to Dursey Island, which you can easily explore on foot while taking in the sweeping views. Back on the mainland there are plenty of little colorful towns, including Ballydehob, where all the signs for local shops and pubs are done in pictures rather than words. Take them to the Drombeg Stone Circle to learn about ancient religions; its strange beauty will bewitch even younger travelers. Take a ferry out to Ilnacullin -- just for the ride -- or go swimming off Barleycove Beach, where the sand is white and soft.
Day 4: Kenmare
After driving along a coastal route through a number of tiny beachfront villages, the kids will be ready to hit the water themselves. You can either drive down the Ring of Kerry to the idyllic beach resort of Waterville, where you can spend an afternoon swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking, or stop at Kenmare for a seal-watching trip with Seafari Eco-nature Cruises. The kids will spot everything from frolicking sea otters to sleepy gray seals on the way.
Day 5: Killarney
Welcome to Ireland's ideal town for families: You could keep the kids busy in Killarney for days. Head straight for the gorgeous Killarney National Park, stopping first at Muckross House, where you can get a good park map and a helpful explanation of all of its myriad offerings. Set yourself up near the lakes and spend a relaxing morning rowing out to the islands, which hold medieval ruins ripe for exploration. Bring a picnic lunch and relax on the shore, or dine in one of the island cafes. In the afternoon, pack the kids into one of the many buggies that traverse the park, or head off to Kennedy's Pet Farm for some hands-on learning about traditional farming.
Day 6: The Dingle Peninsula
It's back to the seafront today to get up close and personal with sea life. In the morning, introduce the kids to Fungie the Dolphin on a Fungie Tour -- the town mascot is playful and personable, and has a disarming affinity for humans. Boats go out throughout the day to his favorite play area, and he'll swim right up to you. In the afternoon, there's a chance to play with rays, mollusks, and other sea creatures in the hands-on displays in the Oceanworld Aquarium.
Day 7: Heading Home
If you have the time, in the morning head to the little town of Blennerville to see its huge working windmill. If you go inside, you can see it doing its stuff -- grinding wheat into flour as it has done for more than 200 years. It's a beautiful way to end your tour of Kerry. From here expect a drive to Shannon Airport to take less than 2 hours, and a drive to Dublin Airport to take 3 to 4 hours.
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.