Irish travel often fits into three categories: pub crawls, romantic vacations, or bus tours filled with “well seasoned” travelers. What you don’t often see are families venturing through Ireland’s countryside to explore ancient castles, search for faerie raths, and dance to traditional music.
Here we are outside Ross Castle outside Killarney. Although you can get to the castle by car we hired a jaunting cart to take us from Killarney to the castle and back.
It’s truly unfortunate that more parents don’t take their children to Ireland. The country is as well known for its friendliness as it is for being green. Children are welcomed and catered to in a way I have yet to experience anywhere else. Ireland encourages imagination and blends it with history to weave an enchanting realm filled with magic and exploration.
If you’re considering a trip to Ireland, these five tips will help you remember your holiday fondly:
5) Drive Yourself
When you travel anywhere with kids it is best to have your own schedule. Many travel agents will recommend a tour- complete with a driver, a non-flexible itinerary and limited free time.
In Ireland you drive on the “wrong side” of the road, sit on the “wrong side” of the car, and shift with your left hand. It’s not as difficult as it sounds and you’ll enjoy your trip more if you have control over where you go, what you see and when you do it.
Car Tips: Most cars in Ireland are manual transmission. While you can rent an automatic transmission car, it will cost you quite a bit more. Also, rent the smallest vehicle you can comfortably squeeze your family into. Fuel is sold by the liter and costs about three to four times as much as in the United States.
This sign, near the Cliffs of Moher is wonderful in its warning
4) Avoid Hotels
Ireland is known for her hospitality and is full of bed and breakfasts. A B&B provides personalized service and gives you a chance to talk to your hosts. They can give you tips on where to visit, what to avoid, and the best restaurants in the area. Your hosts are an invaluable resource; besides, I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t love to hear the lyrical Irish brogue.
B&B Tips: Do your research. I like use the Definitive Irish Bed and Breakfast Guide, Irish Farmhouse Holidays, and The Hidden Ireland to find accommodations. Then I follow up with emails or phone calls to answer any questions. Often booking direct with the B&B will save you more money than booking with a company and using vouchers.
Many of the castles have estates with play areas for young children
3) Visit a Pub
Pub is short for public house or a place for the public to gather for food, music and craic (pronounced “crack” it loosely translates to fun and enjoyment). Early in the evening you’ll find many families here, though their numbers drop as the kids need to get to bed. Many pubs will often have live music; either a band or an impromptu session (a gathering of local musicians). It’s a great way to feel like part of the community.
Pub Tips: Ask your hosts which pubs are most child-friendly and if any have live music. Don’t expect to be waited on; wander up to the bar to place your orders and chat with the locals.
2) Visit a Castle
This probably goes without saying. Ireland is dotted with castles, abbeys, and walled towns – many of which are restored to their former splendor and waiting for your knights or princesses to explore. A few even double as hotels. Take your time exploring and let imaginations run wild.
Castle Tips: Dromoland Castle, 15 minutes from Shannon airport, pampers children with games, robes, and golf carts for exploring the estate. Also near Shannon is Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. Here you can explore the village, have fun at the play area, enjoy Irish Night, or experience a Medieval Banquet.
Brenna takes a break at Ross Castle
1) Don’t Let the Rain Stop You
If the Irish waited for it to stop raining, nothing would ever get done! Just come prepared for any weather and remember it will likely blow over quickly. And if it doesn’t… well, go back to tip #3 because if it’s too wet to be outside you’ll likely find much of the village “down the pub.” Join in!
Rain Tips: An Aran sweater is the best Irish souvenir you can buy. It will not only keep you warm but also it will keep you dry. Don’t forget an umbrella.
Ireland is a magical place that can’t be described with mere words but must be experienced. A word of caution, though…one trip won’t be enough!
Do you have a favorite tip or family-friendly destination in Ireland? Let us know in the comments!
Jody Halsted began sharing her tips for family travel in 2005 after being told numerous times, “Now that you have a baby you’ll have to stop traveling so much.” She has since proved her family and friends wrong! Jody is always on the go with her husband (Doug) and daughters (Brenna, age 5 and Caelan, age three). Near or far, every destination is an adventure to be savored and shared on her website, Family Rambling. Ireland is the family’s favorite destination; they try to visit every two years.