Ireland has so much to offer families. I think it is the best country for a first European vacation – there is no (or very little) language barrier, wide open space to explore, and the land oozes magic.
When you're traveling in Ireland with kids it's smart to concentrate on one or two areas.
Not only does it give you a base for a few nights in each location, which means less unpacking and repacking, but it also gives you time to really explore and enjoy where you are.
Traveling in Ireland Podcast episode 192
These ‘County Pairings' Work Really Well for Ireland Family Vacations
There are a few county pairings that work really well for family trips in Ireland.
Wicklow & Kilkenny
County Wicklow is just south of Dublin and is a perfect spot to spend 2-3 days enjoying the ‘garden of Ireland'.
Beyond all the outdoor explorations through the Wicklow mountains you should also add Glendalough, a 6th century monastic site with terrific hikes and walks, and Powerscourt Estate & Gardens to your itinerary. The Powerscourt Waterfall – the highest in Ireland – is another fun spot with a nice picnic and playground area. Bring dry clothes because it's a great place to splash!
Beyond the Trees Avondale is a treetop walk that ends with a 9 story slide. You'll also find a terrific playground, lovely forest walks, and a tasty cafe.
For animal lovers County Wicklow offers Irish Working Sheepdogs and the National Birds of Prey Centre.
The Clara Lara Fun Park has obstacle courses, zip lines, climbing, rope swings, and plenty of water activities for an incredible day of adventure.
Next you'll head to County Kilkenny where the Medieval City will take your breath away.
Plan a day to explore the Medieval Mile – from magnificent Kilkenny Castle to St. Canice's Cathedral where you can scale the round tower. Don't skip the Medieval Mile Museum – it's incredibly interactive.
You could also spend a day at Castlecomer Discovery Park where ziplining, orienteering, and axe throwing are only the beginning of the adventures.
Kilkenny is also a great base for a day trip to County Tipperary to visit the Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle.
Kilkenny & Kerry
Kilkenny is an easy drive from Dublin and a great place to spend a couple days before heading further south to Kerry. Cashel and Cahir both fit in to your drive between your two bases.
Killarney is the centre of tourism in southwest Ireland – you are spoiled for choice!
Killarney National Park is perfect for explorations on foot, bicycle, or in a jaunting cart with a jarvey spinning tales.
Kennedy's Pet Farm is just a few miles from town and a fun hands-on for animal lovers. There are at least 3 sheepdog experiences in the area – Caitin's, Kells, and Kissane – and two falconry experiences – Killarney Falconry and Falconry Kerry.
For a day trip with kids I like the Dingle Peninsula. Oceanworld Aquarium is fun – my daughter loved the penguin exhibit. A boat tour – either a relaxing cruise of the bay or a adrenaline pumping Sea Safari – nearly guarantees ocean life spotting. And a drive around the peninsula has plenty of fun stops including beehive huts, a chance to hold a baby lamb, and even some terrific beaches.
Clare & Galway
These two counties on Ireland's western coast tend to draw the most visitors, but I most don't stay long enough to discover anything beyond the most popular spots.
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park is a terrific spot for families. From the fully explorable castle to the tiny village, it is an amazing ‘living history' spot.
Not far away is Craggaunowen – another outdoor museum with history that goes back even further.
The Cliffs of Moher rank high for families, but fewer visit Doolin Cave and their charming eco trail.
Top spots for animal activities include Caherconnell Stone Fort's sheepdog trials, Ailwee Burren Experience falconry presentation and hawk walk, and the Burren Nature Sanctuary's open farm and fairy pig walks.
And there is so much more to see & do in the Burren!
As you head into Galway you may want to stop in Galway city – though I don't think you need more than a couple hours there when traveling with kids. The best spots lie to the west in Connemara.
By basing yourself in Clifden you can venture out the Sky Road and take a walk to the ruins of Clifden Castle. Continuing on you'll arrive at Connemara National Park where a hike up Diamond Hill may offer some encounters with local sheep as well as amazing views. Next up is Kylemore Abbey with its fantastic walled garden, wild play area, and history hunts.
Brigit's Garden with it's historic Celtic themes is a terrific place to explore. And tidal Omey Island can be driven to when the tide is out – just be sure to cross back before the tide comes back in!
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of great places to take kids in Ireland.
I think a stop at Birr Castle in County Offaly should be on every family's itinerary. The science museum and the extensive estate are incredible.
Malahide Castle, just 10 minutes from Dublin Airport, is another spot that is perfect for families, if only for the playground. But if you add on the fairy trail, butterfly house, and a castle tour (with resident ghost), you have a perfect afternoon.
Both offer suggestions for attractions, accommodations, and dining, as well as Ireland travel tips & advice.
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