Music, culture, vikings, great casual food options, dramatic vistas and seaside towns and really friendly locals made this a great family trip.
A sample week long suggested itinerary based on our trip and books to get your kids prepped at the end of this post.
As the kids are getting a little older and we’re not pushing strollers or hauling the big car seats around at airports anymore (2 more years before we ditch the booster seats too?) we’re trying to venture out further and thought we’d give Ireland a go.
The key for us was to break it up and visit the more educational attractions (aka museums) with just fun activities. We left really pleased and eager to return mostly because everyone was so darn friendly and accommodating, the sites are incredible and steeped in medieval history, and we never had a bad meal. We went in February during our winter break from school and while it was milder temps than in New York – there were plenty of clouds and rain. It really didn’t stop us from have a good time and we got to complain about the rain right along with the locals who laugh about how wretched their weather is.
There is so much to see and do in this lively city. We traveled by foot or on the city’s buses which were easy to navigate and well organized. We stayed a little further out from the city center in a VRBO apartment rental to avoid paying downtown hotel fees – but nothing is particularly far. In the city we explored Trinity College and the Temple Bar area and even hopped on a ‘Viking Splash Tour‘ – an amphibian vessel that dips into Dublin harbor where you can see U2’s recording studio across the water (and reportedly if you come in the early morning, you’ll see Bono walking across the water – haha – but seriously how cool). The Guinness Storehouse is the Disneyland of beer and is well done – not only demonstrating how beer is made but also the role that this quintessential Irish brand had contributing to innovation and the history of the country.
Start your trip with a visit to Dublin Castle and you immediately get a feel for the rich history that spans over a thousand years and is full of harrowing tails of conquer and survival. Originally set over a viking fortress, the castle has undergone many iterations and your tour starts with an underground exploration of the original tower and outside perimeter wall whose foundation still stands.
We did a dinner show at Celtic Nights on our last evening – because who doesn’t enjoy traditional Irish folk music and Irish step dancing. Plan on at least a couple of days in Dublin.
From there we rented a car and headed west. Now – in retrospect getting used to driving on the right ended up being a teensy bit more challenging than anticipated. Getting out of Dublin was a rather harrowing experience. But once we hit the highway and after about a day of being in the car it did get easier. The highways are tip top and signage is clear.
County Clare and County Kerry
We headed out on M7 on our way to Ennis, first stopping at Irish National Stud in Kildare, a racehorse breeding farm not far from the Dublin city limits, for a tour. We saw many week old foals with their mommas on these gorgeous grounds. In Ennis, we stayed at the Old Ground Hotel that had large comfortable rooms not typical of European hotels. We had a meal around the corner at Brogan’s, a traditional pub with leather booths and wood paneling for classic Irish fare and live music. We were in good company with several large groups and families out for dinner.
We stationed ourselves in Ennis for two nights which allowed us to explore several sites within close driving distance. The waterside town of Galway, the Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle – perhaps my son’s favorite thing he saw the entire trip.
Bunratty Castle is one of the best preserved castles in the country – decked out with period furniture, and a medieval village recreated around it to show what the whole area would have looked like. Tours of the castle are well worth it as you learn a lot of history from the guides and then you can explore a bit more of both the castle and the grounds on your own. You’ll head up narrow staircases to check out the bedrooms and various living quarters. The best part according the Jackson? The dungeon of course right off the main hall where prisoners were thrown down the stairs and left to perish.
The former medieval city of Galway is very walk-able and you’ll enjoy meandering about the several pedestrians streets in the Latin quarter and Quay street. Take a walk along the picturesque river to see the Galway Cathedral. Next to each other are the Spanish Arc, a remnant of a former city wall, and the City Museum which is free and has several exhibits that will interest kids detailing the medieval city and its viking roots, plus an exhibit on sea science. You can do the whole museum in about an hour.
We headed to Killarney where we stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment at the Reserve at Muckross surprisingly affordable for these exquisite accomodations. We did catch the ‘Irish Night’ at the hotel’s restaurant which had an excellent traditional Irish step dance show during dinner. We could have spent more time in this picturesque town to meander about the streets and check out the nature preserve that we didn’t have time for. Don’t miss Ross Castle (no dungeon, but the tour was informative and the castle rooms have been recreated with period furniture).
We drove through the Ring of Kerry stopping along the road for pictures, and then headed to the town of Waterford where an impressive Medieval Museum sits across from the House of Waterford Crystal factory where they have regular tours and can see glass makers in action.
We packed a lot into a week and the trip was a success not only because we were always on the move and continuously entertained, but because we got to have fun while being exposed to a lot of history along the way. We did not get to see everything – we gave up on the Book of Kells at Trinity College library after two visits to see the line around the block and decided that it would be asking too much of our young companions to wait that long.
But we discovered what enticed our kids curiosity (dungeons and vikings) that lead a trip to our local library at home to learn more. And we have the pictures to remind them that they visited those places themselves. Nothing beats walking through history to hook you into learning more.
Suggested Reading for Young Curious Minds