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 like a fairy-tale playground for kids. You may have trouble finding babysitters outside major towns, so 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. Here’s a sample itinerary to give you some ideas.
The sprawling greens of Phoenix Park are a great place for little ones to let off steam (it’s the best place in the city for a picnic, too, if the weather’s good). Within the park, Dublin Zoo is designed to appeal to the younger ones (you can take a train ride around the zoo, for instance). Inquisitive young minds will be inspired by the cabinets of curiosity at the National Museum of Ireland: Natural History, and have their interest piqued by Number Twenty-Nine: Georgian House Museum, a house that has been kept exactly as it would have been at the turn of the 19th century. The guides at another museum, the Little Museum of Dublin, do a great job of putting the ordinary lives of Dubliners in the last hundred years into context for younger visitors. But if your youngsters’ attention spans demand something a little flashier, try a Viking Splash Tour, a historical whirl around the city in a World War II amphibious vehicle, complete with headlong splash into the River Liffey. Kids with a high threshold for the ghoulish may get a kick out of the creepy crypts at St. Michan’s Church; if that’s too scary, even younger kids are all but guaranteed to love an evening aboard the Dublin Ghost Bus.
Day 3: County Cork
Okay, so it’s not exactly untouched by the tourism fairy, but kids find plenty to love about Blarney Castle, just outside Cork City. They can kiss the famous stone if they don’t mind an attendant holding them upside-down. A few miles away, the Fota Island & Wildlife Park is a well-designed zoo where the docile animals (those that don’t bite, kick, or stomp) roam among the visitors.
Days 4 & 5: County Kerry
Kerry is probably Ireland’s most kid-friendly county, so there’s enough to keep you busy here for at least a couple of days. On the Dingle Peninsula, Fungie, star of the Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours has been entertaining kids and grown-ups alike for the last 30 years. On the Iveragh Peninsula, Kenmare’s Seafari cruises and seal-watching trips teach kids about conservation issues by putting them in touch with the underwater residents of Kenmare Bay. Blueberry Hill Farm, in Sneem, is a working, old-fashioned farmstead where kids can help milk cows, make butter, and take part in a treasure hunt. Meanwhile, an underground tour of the atmospheric Crag Cave is a surefire winner—as is a stop for high-energy playtime at the Crazy Cave adventure playground. And don’t overlook what Killarney National Park has to offer little ones—what could be better than a ride around the mountains and lakes in an old-fashioned horse-drawn “jarvey”?
Day 6: Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
You could spend most of the day at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, an attraction that combines one of Ireland’s best medieval castles with a living-history museum. It’s a brilliant recreation of a 19th-century village, complete with costumed actors strolling down the street, chatting to passers-by, and even working in the shops. Bunratty is also the setting for a lively (and hugely popular) Medieval Banquet. It’s raucous, but surprisingly good fun; book an early evening sitting to suit young bedtimes.
Day 7: Heading Home...
If you have time before the drive back to the airport, head into the otherworldly landscape of the Burren, where young imaginations will be fired up by dolmens and other ancient sites. It’s also where you’ll find the Burren Birds of Prey Centre at Aillwee Cave, a working aviary full of buzzards, falcons, eagles, and owls in flight.
Beyond a Week...
If your trip extends beyond a week, your family will find plenty of standout attractions for kids farther north.
In Mayo, Westport House and Pirate Adventure Park has all the ingredients for high-activity fun; young girls in particular will enjoy learning about the region’s real-life pirate hero, Grace O’Malley.
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.