The rolling green fields, misty mountains, castles and cliffs of Ireland make for plenty of romance – yet this marvelous country also spoils families with its rich mix of cultural sights, hospitality, natural playgrounds, ancient tales and, of course, the craic.
Between all the wildlife, legends, impromptu music sessions and playtime on windswept beaches, you’re likely to have very happy kids by the end of your stay in Ireland. What’s more, everyone from the postman to the village bartender will have a smile and a hair tousle for your little ones.
Here’s our guide to the best ways to experience Ireland with kids.
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Is Ireland a good place to visit with kids?
Ireland’s tagline “céad míle fáilte” (or “a hundred thousand welcomes”) applies to visitors of all ages. Famously fun, the Irish people put children very much at the center of attention and know how to cater to kids’ – and parents’ – needs.
The country abounds with playgrounds and parks, fairies and folklore. It’s a place where you can spend the night in an ancient castle or banter with a familiar local in a friendly B&B, then listen to music in a pub – with the kids – while sipping stout and eating oysters or fish and chips. All in all, Ireland is delightfully unpretentious: exactly what’s required of a family vacation.
Many hotels cater to families with interconnecting rooms, children’s menus, age-appropriate activities, kids’ clubs and babysitting services. Plenty of museums and cultural spaces have child-focused programs, too.
In Ireland, visits to the pub are family affairs. Your kids might even join in with the musicians © Rolf G Wackenberg / Shutterstock
Most (but not all) pubs in Ireland are child-friendly. By law, children have to be out by 9pm (10pm from May to September), though this is usually more than enough time to enjoy the fun ambiance and live music. Many have kids’ menus, with outdoor areas where little ones can play freely while you watch on, sipping a pint.
If you plan on hitting a glut of tourist attractions, it’s worth investing in the OPW family card (€90), which provides entry to some 45 heritage sites and attractions for two adults and up to five children. If you’re spending a lot of time in the capital, download the Go City App and choose between an explorer or an all-inclusive pass, depending on your needs – they cover more than 30 top city attractions and come with a free guidebook.
The best things to do in Ireland with kids
Around every bend in Ireland, you’ll encounter achingly beautiful scenery that will amaze you and elicit appreciative hushes from little ones in the back seat. The country is one big natural playground and there’s no shortage of places to let the kids go wild.
When the rain stops play, this land of castles and sprawling estates means cultural sites are still serious fun for the kids. Ireland’s wealth of cultural heritage will make imaginations take flight – both for kids and their parents.
1. Star Wars fans can’t miss the Skellig Islands, County Kerry
Young Star Wars fans might recognize Skellig Michael as the backdrop for the iconic final scene in The Force Awakens. These stunning piles of Jurassic rock have remained untouched since monks settled there in the 6th century CE, and while the two-hour boat journey can be a little hairy, you’re likely to spot dolphins swimming alongside you. Even if the seas are choppy, it’s well worth the trip and the steep climb to the top to marvel at the dramatic scenery, the colony of puffins that breed nearby, and the site where Luke Skywalker meditated.
The reward for hiking a rock in the middle of the ocean? A trip to family-run Skelligs Chocolate in Ballinskelligs to see how the gooey treats are made – before sampling them, of course.
2. Budding engineers will love Titanic Quarter, Belfast
Located on the site of the shipyard that built the ill-fated ship, this monument to the Titanic is an engaging attraction that includes interactive galleries allowing you to “walk” the doomed ocean liner’s decks, explore its interior and even experience a virtual launch. An indoor cable car takes visitors through the different stages of construction.
The nearby Titanic Hotel is adjacent to the W5 science center, with over 250 exhibits made for entertaining kids of all ages. Here, they can design their own robots, jump into computer games or even climb a giant rocket in Spacebase.
3. Relive Harry Potter moments on the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
You might recognize these hulking, craggy cliffs from the scene in which Dumbledore and Harry Potter hunt for Horcruxes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The 214m-high (702ft) Cliffs of Moher also attract throngs of tourists marveling at the windswept lip – not to mention madcap surfers riding the infamous Atlantic breaker “Aileen’s Wave.”
Kids will especially enjoy the “cliff-edge” virtual-reality experience at the visitor center, carved into the cliff rock. Double up on the drama by driving there through the Moon-like landscape of the Burren. And do check the weather before your arrival, as it tends to get misty at the top.
Kids love bopping around the rock formations of the Giant’s Causeway on Ireland’s northern coast © Angel Villalba / Getty Images
4. Have windswept fun on the Causeway Coast, County Antrim
Legend has it that Celtic giants hurled rocks into the sea to create the otherworldly formation known as the Giant’s Causeway, which lurches from cliff edge to beach along a windy stretch of the northern coast. A Unesco World Heritage site, the pathway of over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns rises up out of the sea, delighting kids who like to bounce along the stepping stones. Thrill-seekers might like to up the ante with a walk across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge – an assemblage of wood and ropes perilously stretched above the ocean.
5. Bookworms and creative types will love Dublin’s cultural delights
Ignore the groans when the kids hear they’re heading for a library: the Long Room of Trinity College’s Old Library College is guaranteed to surprise and delight even the least bookish little one. Besides the soaring hall itself, with its vaulted arches and 200,000+ books on endless shelves, the main attraction here is the Book of Kells, a priceless manuscript illuminated by ninth-century monks.
Across the road, the National Gallery of Ireland has plenty of programs to engage little art lovers, including family-friendly tours, baby and family workshops, and a child-friendly cafe.
6. Seek out rugged adventures by island hopping in the Arans, County Galway
These three windswept isles off the Galway coast – Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer – are as rugged as they come, and easily accessible thanks to the rapid ferry service that zips to, from and between the islands.
Since these specks are small, they’re perfect for families exploring on bicycles (which can be hired locally). Pack a picnic and hit the beaches, or climb the 2000-year-old ruins of Dun Aengus fort. Then, hightail it back to the mainland for a proper pub dinner at O’Dowd’s in Roundstone, where a menu of lobster, crab and smoked mackerel is offered alongside kid faves like pizza and fish and chips.
Kids will find the horse-drawn jaunting cars that clop through Killarney National Park irresistible © gabriel12 / Shutterstock
7. Explore Killarney and the Ring of Kerry for jaunty horse rides and scenic photo ops
A jewel of County Kerry, Killarney is probably Ireland’s busiest tourist town. And with good reason: it anchors the sublime Killarney National Park, which is dotted with mirrored lakes and the country’s only wild herd of native red deer, who have grazed the area since the last Ice Age. Killarney is also famous for its “jarveys” or jaunting cars (horse-drawn carts), whose drivers entertain passengers with lyrical banter (admittedly the local accent is beautiful but takes getting used to).
Your carriage will clip-clop its way through the Gap of Dunloe, around glittering lakes and through forests. And the scene-stealing views just keep on going along the 180km (112-mile) Ring of Kerry: past the golden sands of Derrynane, Inch and Rossbeigh beaches, and through pretty towns like Kenmare and Sneem.
For an all-around family hotel, you’ll scarcely do better than Sneem’s Parknasilla Resort, which has been honing its craft for 120 years – and where boredom isn’t an option. Families can stay at the main hotel or one of the villas or lodges overlooking Kenmare Bay. On the grounds, you’ll find beaches, horse riding, tennis, fishing, golf, eco and treasure trails, sea kayaking, a fantastic spa, pool and even a “hideout” for older kids. Mini explorers will love learning about the dark sky reserve on the nightly “astro walk.”
8. Enjoy a full day of rides at the country’s only theme park in County Meath
Only in Ireland would a theme park bear the name of the country’s best-selling potato chips – though it’s scheduled to rebrand as Emerald Park in 2023. The sole theme park in the country, Tayto Park is the home of the gut-twisting Cú Chulainn, Europe’s largest wooden roller coaster; Viking Voyage, Ireland’s only water flume ride; the “don’t-look-down” Sky Walk; a zoo with over 300 animals; and the World of Raptors, a free-flying bird display. Families can also expect plenty of rides for younger ones, restaurants, picnic spots and…Tayto crisps.
9. Bike-loving families will love pedaling the Great Western Greenway, County Mayo
Part of the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s headline scenic route, the Great Western Greenway offers 42km (26 miles) of child-friendly, traffic-free paths that curve around County Mayo’s Clew Bay, pass through the pretty towns of Westport and Newport, and end at Achill Sound.
You’ll see plenty of sweet spots along the way: historic Westport House (where children will enjoy learning about real-life pirate hero queen Gráinne Mhaol, also referred to by the Anglicised moniker Grace O’Malley), the family-friendly Mulranny Park Hotel, Keem beach, and Kelly’s Kitchen (which serves superior cakes). Bikes can be rented at various points along the route, and since most companies offer shuttle services, you’ll have the option of cycling as much or little as you like.
No little one will be able to resist the dinosaur bones and taxidermied animals on display at the National Museum of Ireland © Boulenger Xavier / Shutterstock
10. Get to know Ireland’s wildlife
Locally known as the “dead zoo,” the Museum of Natural History in Dublin has changed little since it first opened in 1856. And it’s a godsend for parents on rainy days in the capital, as little ones lose themselves in front of displays filled with skeletons of now-extinct elk, preserved wildlife and a giant whale suspended above their heads. For the real (live) thing, Dublin Zoo in the middle of Phoenix Park is home to over 400 exotic and endangered species.
In Country Cork, Fota Wildlife Park lets you get up close and personal with kangaroos, giraffes and other dazzlers. Base yourself next door at Fota Island Resort for a fully contained family experience: you can enjoy golf, tennis, a spa, football, pools, playgrounds, a kids’ club and an adventure center offering sessions in bushcraft and orienteering.
Dublin’s 13 best city parks
11. Visit an adventure park to enjoy high-octane fun
Ireland has plenty to offer young outdoor enthusiasts, from surfing the coastline to night kayaking. And for organized fun, there’s a glut of seriously good adventure parks scattered across the country. Centre Parcs is by far the largest adventure “resort” in Ireland – but not the only place to get 360-degree thrills. You can whizz through the trees on high wires at Lough Key Forest Park, try your hand at water trampolining at Carlingford Adventure Centre, hit the world’s largest inflatable waterslide at Baysports and even throw axes at Castlecomer Discovery Park.
For an adventure with a side of zen, decamp to Delphi Resort in beautiful Connemara, where coasteering, zip-lining and a bog obstacle course will occupy the charges as you decompress in the spa and sample the fabulous food menu.
12. History buffs should go castle tripping around Ireland
In the Middle Ages, Ireland was said to be the most castellated country on earth – so you won’t have to travel far to stumble upon a Gothic-era pile. From crumbling turreted towers to lavish five-star compounds, Ireland is chock-full of fairytale castles with enough lore and legend – and castle-tastic suits of armor – to keep your entire clan entertained for days. Even better: many of them are now luxury hotels, allowing you to bed down like royalty for the night.
Family favorites include County Clare’s famous Dromoland Castle, which offers nobility-appropriate activities like falconry and fishing. Fresh from a €40m overhaul, Ashford Castle in County Galway is the ultimate in luxury castle living. The more modest yet equally charming Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara provides an evocative base from which to explore Ireland’s west.
Planning a day trip? Dublin Castle is home to two museums, as well as two cafes and garden grounds for that post-museum slump. Take a guided tour of Kilkenny Castle, then munch on scones in the tearoom while the kids blow off steam at the onsite playground. For a fun medieval-style evening, the nightly banquet experience at Bunratty Castle sees fully costumed actors and musicians performing in front of 15-century tapestries – a delight for the younger ones.
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Dublin’s Phoenix Park contains a zoo, playground, walled gardens and even wild deer. It’s a fantasy for children of all ages, including toddlers © Irene Fox / Shutterstock
The top toddler-friendly spots in Ireland
Even with the youngest tourists in tow, you can have a meaningful trip in Ireland. The Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens in Kildare contain a small horse museum, buggy-friendly paths and a decent playground. In Meath, the Fairy Trail at Loughcrew Estate offers a proper fairy hunt complete with treasure hunt maps and activities. There’s plenty of space to frolic on the estate’s rolling lawns, plus a coffee shop for a pit stop.
A digger park in County Cork, Leahy’s Open Farm is a big draw for budding builders – as is the onsite ice-cream-and-chocolate factory. There’s also go-karting, a golf park, maze and farm animals aplenty. And in Dublin, 700-acre Phoenix Park is the largest enclosed park in Europe, and home to Dublin Zoo, wild deer, walled gardens, a playground, cafe, bike rentals and even (some say) a few fairies. There’s also plenty of space to stake out the perfect picnic spot. What’s not to love?
The best way to get around Ireland with kids
The best way to see Ireland is by car – and this land is long on inspiring drives that cut through showstopping vistas and charming villages. Car seats are mandatory for children under 12. Remember that most cars have manual transmissions and you’ll be driving on the left.
Though getting lost in Ireland is not the worst thing that can happen, the kids likely won’t enjoy the detour. A car with GPS is essential, since often inaccurate signage (or lack thereof) in more remote parts of the country might lead you down a boggy, sheep-strewn road.
However and wherever you travel in Ireland, keep in mind that the weather is nothing if not unpredictable – expect to learn what the saying “four seasons in one day” really means – so packing a good waterproof jacket and warm clothes is essential even in summer. Good walking shoes are, too – you’re likely to be hitting some uneven terrain as you venture cross-country. On the upside, everyone here is well used to rainy days, with plenty of options for indoor family time at castles, museums, historic houses and cozy pubs.