The Emerald Isle, the land of the leprechauns and the home of Guinness, Ireland has become a secret hide-a-way for holiday makers in the past 20 years. Ok, so I might be a little bit biased as Ireland is my home country, but it is a must-visit country, with or without the kids, and there is plenty of things to do while in Ireland with kids.
A few facts about Ireland. It has a population of just over 6.5 million people, with about 1 million of them living in Dublin, the capital. The second most populated city, taking Ireland as a whole, is the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. English is the first language with Irish the second language, although there are pockets of the Republic of Ireland where it is the first language. These are known as Gaeltacht areas.
In the early 1990’s, Ireland took an economic turn upwards known as the Celtic Tiger, and the country began to establish itself with economic success. Since then immigration has increased from the European countries, particularly Poland, and the well-hidden secrets of Ireland as a holiday destination began to slip out.
Whether you are visiting the country for a quick getaway weekend or are planning on spending a week or two discovering the wonders of this island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Ireland has something to do for everyone between the ages of 1 day old and 101 years old. And you’ll be left wanting to come back again and again.
Visit Charming Villages
There are many cultural and charming villages throughout the country that offer experience, culture and very wonderful foods! Up and down the country you’ll find a wealth of villages to stop and explore.
One of our personal favourites is Dingle in County Kerry. Home to the famous dolphin Fungie, who made Dingle Bay his home in 1983, this charming village has a fantastic aquarium, the Dingle Oceanworld which will delight kids of all ages. You can watch the fishing boats come into Dingle Marina and if you’re peckish there is a wide variety of cafes, pubs and restaurants sure to be serving up something delicious. My husband and I visited Dingle during our honeymoon bike tour of Ireland and I’m looking forward to introducing our son to this lovely little village.
If you and your children enjoy museums, then most of the major cities will have you covered. From the Titanic Museum in Belfast to the Titanic Experience in Cobh, County Cork, to the National Art Gallery in Dublin and the National Irish Heritage Park in County Wexford, there is an abundance of museums covering all aspects of history and art.
You’ll find the biggest concentration of museums in Dublin and one that I’ve had the privilege of visiting with my son was Dublinia, an interactive museum covering the history of Dublin from the age of the Vikings, through Medieval times to modern day Dublin. Entry to many of the most prominent museums in Dublin are included in the Dublin Pass, the capital’s tourist pass, so if you are visiting the city be sure to grand a one or two-day Dublin Pass to visit some of the best museums in the country.
From rugby and football, to horse racing and GAA, sport is alive and well in Ireland. Two of the biggest events of the year in sport take place in Dublin, so if you’ve got a sports-mad fan on your hands, why not coincide your visit to Ireland with one of them.
Every February and March sees Ireland take part in the Six Nations Championship, and Ireland play their home grounds at the Aviva Stadium formerly known as Lansdowne Road. The area around the stadium, and indeed the wider city, comes alive with colour green. I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing a Six Nations Day in Dublin, but I’d love to.
The other big game of the year, also taking place in Dublin, is the All-Ireland GAA final in September. GAA, or Gaelic football, is the national sport of Ireland and each year sees a championship take place between 31 of the 32 counties of Ireland. Provincial championships occur before the winners of the four provinces and four additional teams battle it out to become All-Ireland Champions. The final takes place at the incredible Croke Park in Dublin and the city is awash with the colours of the two finalist teams. Dublin are the current champions, having won the Sam Maguire Cup (trophy) for the last four years running. If they win next year, they’ll become the first county do win five in a row.
Ireland has some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. Since Ireland is an island, there are a lot of sandy shores to see, as well as pebble beaches, but remember that the summer season is only from June to August, and even then, a light jacket might be necessary as you walk the shoreline.
A beach that I was introduced to by my husband is Keem Bay, located on Achill Island, on the west coast of Ireland. It is a sheltered rural beach surrounded by the cliffs of Achill Island and was once a key location for the Achill Basking Shark Fishery, which is no longer in operation. You can still see the basking sharks, particularly from higher vantage points such as the road leading to the bay, which is beautiful in itself. Achill Island and Keem Bay is one of the most beautiful places in the West of Ireland and is somewhere I am eager to visit with my son, having visited it twice before he came along.
In most coastal areas of Ireland, you’ll find no shortage of beaches to enjoy with the kids. But just remember, the waters on the west coast of Ireland can be very cold as it lies on the Atlantic Ocean. To be fair, those on the east coast aren’t much warmer from the Irish Sea. But nonetheless, the waves, sun and the sand are enticing, and the kids will just love to just go and have fun. So be certain to make at least one of your days in Ireland a beach day. Just remember some layers and wellies, particularly outside of summer.
If you have a budding little historian in your family, or, if like us, you simply enjoy visiting historical sites, you’ll have a hard time deciding which ones to visit while in Ireland. With more than 5000 years of history, you’ll be able to choose from castles and stately homes, to abbeys and cathedrals, mystical valleys, the Giant’s Causeway and the likes of Kilmainham Gaol.
I’ve only just started exploring some of the historical sites of Ireland in the form of abbeys and castles with our son. We spent Easter doing a road trip in the southern half of the country and visited some of the best castles in Ireland to visit with kids. You should try and make sure to visit the famous Blarney Castle to kiss the stone. You might be bestowed with the gift of the gab. Just be aware, though, that children must be eight years of age to attempt to kiss the Blarney Stone.
I am already planning another visit to Ireland with him next August to explore some of the other famous historical sites. Which ones we visit will be a hard decision to make but we’ll start with those in and around Dublin where we’ll be based for most of the two weeks.
Other family-friendly things to do around Ireland include visiting zoos and parks such as Fota Wildlife Park in Cork, Dublin Zoo and the Airfield Farm in County Dublin. Kids might enjoy a pony ride at the National Stud and Gardens in Kildare. The National Reptile Zoo is located in Kilkenny and there are aquariums in Galway and County Wicklow in the form of the National Sea Life Centre. There are adventure centres across the country with everything from trampolining and tree top adventure walks to kayaking and zip lines. There is even an awesome Children’s Museum to visit in Dublin which I can highly recommend.
Also, remember, that one of the best times to visit Ireland is on the 17th of March, St Patrick’s Day. Celebrating the patron saint of Ireland, St Patrick’s Day is one of the most important days in the Irish events calendar. With parades up and down the country, mini festivals and fireworks displays, it’s one of the best times to be on the Emerald Isle. The biggest parade takes place in Dublin and sees marchers and floats from across the world taking part. The city shuts down for this spectacular event and the atmosphere is one to be experienced. I’ve yet to take our son home for his first St Patrick’s Day but I can’t wait to see what he makes of it.
Ireland is a magical place to visit and has a wealth of things to entertain even the fussiest of kids. Whether your visit is short or long, there are plenty of things to do around the country to enjoy as a family. The only question remaining is, when are you booking your trip!
Cath is an Irish expat who now lives in Portugal with her husband and son. A former scientist, she gave up working when they emigrated south from the UK. She is a family travel blogger and hopes that, through her blog, they will inspire more families to travel, especially with the toddlers in tow. As a family they love travelling and have started working their way through their family travel bucket list. Cath writes about their family travels and experiences on her blog, Passports and Adventures.