Ireland is a wonderland for family travel. The warmth of the Irish people and the county’s well established tourist infrastructure make it an inviting and accessible place even for novice travelers. The left-side driving is the only challenging part, but the freedom and spontaneity a rental car allows make it essential. Off-road Ireland is where the adventures begin!
My son Robin will remember this vacation for the rest of his life. Here are 10 reasons you should consider taking a family vacation in Ireland.
Bangers and Mash …and peas, and bacon. Bread and butter. Chips. Crisps. Baked beans. There are simple pleasures on kids’ menus throughout this fair green land. And the omni-present Early Bird dinner means mom and dad can dine in some of the cities’ best restaurants before 7 pm and enjoy two course for under 25 euro. Dinner is served from 5pm onward, and many places remain open serving food between lunch and dinner. We found kids’ menus in some of Dublin’s most sophisticated restaurants.
All the major sites we visited in 5 different counties had family discounts. For a couple euro more than the cost of 2 adults, a family of four can enter, whether at the Rock of Cashel or the cathedrals of Dublin and Kilkenny. Under 6 is usually free. And the major museums of Dublin are free, so you can duck in for short visits and leave as soon as the kids start whining. And in terms of airfare, flights to Dublin and Shannon are among Europe’s lowest in cost, especially if you can plan for very early June.
Parks, fields, and open greens — for kicking a soccer (foot) ball or tossing a foot (rugby) ball. Or hurling, I suppose …if you’re into that kinda thing. (I wouldn’t trust my son with a large stick, and those pro players make our hockey players look like wusses.) Whether it is in a Dublin park, on a castle green like the lush acreage of Kilkenny Castle, or in the wilderness of Country Kerry, there’s open space that invites you to run around and be free. Hiking trails through moss-covered thickets. Rolling hills to roll down. (Robin rolled down the high slopes of the Rock of Cashel for almost an hour; we’ll visit the Hill of Tara next trip to do the same.)
Drink with yours kids. The locals don’t mind and won’t judge you. In fact, they will likely hand you a kids’ menu. Pubs are family friendly before 8 or 9 at night. Guidelines vary a little based on place or season, but pubs are a multi-generational affair. So grab a pint, and a half pint of milk. Did I mention the bar games? Go off peak for extended play time at the ring toss (above).
Whether you are tutoring your child on the importance of early U2 or taking in an early evening trad (traditional music) session in a pub, music is everywhere. Stomp your feet. Clap your hands. Use your bodhran, a traditional drum used in folk music. You can pick up a decent one for 13 euro, and any local who sees your child holding one will warm to you immediately and may even offer a lesson. It seems the school kids here learn to play them, at least in the southwest of Ireland. The little drum is great and travels well. But under no circumstances should you buy your child a tin whistle. Seriously. They should tuck a set of earplugs into the box it comes in, wrapped in the sheet music for “Oh Danny Boy.”
Turn on the tellie and make new friends. Peppa the Pig (though we think she’s British) is a favorite of ours. Better yet, listen in as your old buddy Dora is dubbed into Gaelic. Seriously. Dinosaur Train airs in Gaelic too! It’s just exotic enough to stretch a young mind.
I’m talking sheep. On the road. Cows up close. Goats sneaking up to the fence behind you, their MAAAAAAAAW so loud it makes you jump. Free range happy cows and hay baling. Tractors everywhere and farm pastures as far as the eye can see. In County Kerry there are places like Kissane Sheep Farm, Molly Gallivan’s, and the historic farmstead at Muckross House where kids can see it all up close. Explore the farmers’ markets and sample cheeses. Better yet, stay on a farm like we did. This is where food comes from, kids!
It is so easy to get what you want and need, and the people here are generally so warm and accommodating. Your children can easily befriend the local kids at the playground and you can chat up their parents. The Gaelic signs keep it interesting, but it is really nice to be able to talk to everyone you meet, ask questions and make friends. Talking to the locals is one of the best ways to understand Ireland and discover its hidden gems, and it can get you out of a pickle quickly. Don’t be shy!
Yes, they are real. See this proof? Ireland has a sizable community of fairies and leprechauns. Evidence of their existence is everywhere, if you open your eyes and look. We recommend starting your search in the mossiest part of the forest, where the ferns grow tall. If you don’t succeed, have your child ask an elderly person. They are eager to tell your kids all about them and just as eager to hear reports of your sightings. They must remember a time when the fairies roamed free.
A creamy stout poured from a nitro can. And yes, those are wool slippers that are 76% more comfortable than the Uggs in your closet. Cozy cozy. The sun sets much later this far north, so days are longer and you can grab a little R & R outdoors after bedtime in summer. In cooler months you can just chill by the fire. This is me on a rainy June evening, when outdoor temps dipped and the sun didn’t set until 10pm, leaving us a nice long and quiet evening to enjoy while Robin slept upstairs.