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Killarney, Ireland

Best family vacations in Ireland

Killarney, Ireland

By Europe specialist Lily

Turreted castles like something out of a fairytale, wide-open countryside ideal for burning off pent-up energy, and hands-on experiences that range from Gaelic games to medieval banquets — Ireland is ideal for families who are intrigued by tradition and eager to get out into the wilderness.

Whether you’re visiting the Emerald Isle to retrace ancestral footsteps or simply to experience new cultures and landscapes without the complication of a language barrier, I’ve recommended some of the best places in Ireland for family vacations along with things to do while you’re there.

Dublin for families

Grattan Bridge over the River Liffey, Dublin
Grattan Bridge over the River Liffey, Dublin

Ireland’s capital is best known for its traditional pubs and breweries, but there’s plenty of family-friendly fun to be had too. That said, much of what there is to do and see in Dublin is better suited to children eight and above. If you have younger children, a night or two in the city will likely suffice — enough to unwind after your flight before heading out to the countryside in Killarney, where there’s plenty more space to run free.

With older children, there’s a lot more to do. You could take a tasting tour through the city, sampling sweet treats with a local chef, food writer, or critic. Or head out on an e-bike to cover more ground, passing by the castle, cathedrals, and Georgian streets of Dublin. I can arrange this as a private tour so your guide can slow down the pace, take quieter paths, or make extra storytelling (and snack) stops along the way.

For a more in-depth (but darker) introduction to Dublin’s history, head to Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison that held some of Ireland’s most prolific political and military leaders. The guides are very engaging as they share the stories of the prisoners and, more generally, the Irish people’s struggle for independence. As such, I’d only recommend it for children who aren’t particularly sensitive or easily frightened. But if they’re fascinated by history, warts and all, it’s well worth a visit.

Finally, if you’re in Ireland to return to your roots, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum is a must-see. Besides browsing the many interactive exhibits that delve into what it means to be Irish, you can also spend time with a genealogist. They’ll research your ancestry ahead of time for an in-depth look into your family heritage, an experience that sets the scene for the rest of your time in Ireland — and no doubt long after you return home.

Best family-friendly stays in Dublin

The Davenport is very central, just a ten-minute walk from Grafton Street, Trinity College, and O’Connell Street. There’s also a nearby park with a playground. Most room options can include a crib or an extra fold-out bed, so it’s ideal for smaller families. If you need more space, though, I suggest the interconnecting rooms at the equally central (albeit less characterful) Radisson Blu Royal Hotel.

Killarney for families

Jaunting ride, Killarney
Jaunting ride, Killarney

Moss-green mountains reflected in pools of inky water, herds of deer grazing in the long grass, and an ivy-covered mansion that once hosted Queen Victoria — Killarney will be your first foray into Ireland’s untamed countryside, and I find the dramatic scenery has a way of capturing the imagination of all ages.

For small children, there’s ample space to run and play during short outings into the national park and the chance to watch sheepdogs rounding up their flocks at a local farm. Older children and teenagers can enjoy more adventurous pursuits. I can arrange for you to head out on a guided kayaking tour to the tiny Innisfallen Island on Lough Leane or take a two-hour ‘jaunting’ ride in a horse-drawn cart.

Around 45 minutes away in Kenmare, there’s another opportunity to get out onto the water. This time, just after sunset, when the bioluminescent plankton lights up the water in sparks of electric blue, as if by magic.

If getting to bed early isn’t an issue, I can also book tickets for you all to go and watch Celtic Steps, an Irish music and dance show so upbeat and sparkly that you can’t help but clap and bob along.

Best family-friendly stay in Killarney

Perhaps one of the best child-friendly hotels in all of Ireland, the 19th-century Great Southern Killarney has large family rooms with bunk beds, interconnecting rooms, an onsite playground and playroom, and a swimming pool. There’s also a babysitting service if you’d like to take a quiet stroll in the landscaped gardens or relax at the spa.

County Clare for families

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

Evoking scenes from fairytales, fantasy novels, and period dramas, the castles and manor houses of County Clare are a hit with children and parents alike. You can even stay at one, allowing you all to indulge in the world of make-believe.

There are plenty of ways to keep children entertained within the grounds of your period hotel (more on that below), but to immerse yourselves further in times gone by, you can spend the evening at the 15th-century Bunratty Castle for an elaborate medieval-style banquet.

More than a feast, the evening unfurls into rambunctious storytelling, Irish music, and a chance to interact with the ‘Earl’ himself. While it’s very interactive, it does involve a lot of sitting and there’s no separate children’s menu (though eating with hands is more than encouraged), so I typically recommend the experience for ages eight and above.

County Clare is also home to the Cliffs of Moher, sheer, ocean-battered rock faces that plunge into the Atlantic on one side and plateau into a carpet of emerald-green grassland on the other. I’d say a visit here is best suited to children who have a love for the great outdoors and don’t mind spending a while admiring the view. It might also help that the cliffs featured in a pivotal scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

You can take a boat out onto the ocean to see the cliffs from the water, but it often gets canceled due to the weather. To avoid disappointment (and potential sea sickness), I think it’s best to gaze out across the Atlantic from the lofty clifftop instead. There are pathways suitable for various levels of fitness and mobility, and walled areas for viewing at a safe distance. Before you visit, you could read up on some of the myths and legends that encircle these famed cliffs, from sunken cities to the Moher mermaid, helping to make your visit all the more magical.

Best family-friendly stays in Country Clare

Dromoland Castle, just outside Ennis, offers family rooms for up to three children, as well as interconnecting rooms in the newer annex. There are also plenty of activities to try within the grounds, including falconry, fly-fishing, and a woodland fairy trail for smaller children.

Adare Manor is another of my favorite stays for families — not quite a castle, but still as grand (and, personally, I think the decor here is a little fresher).

Galway for families

Connemara, near Galway
Connemara, near Galway

A port town on Ireland’s west coast, Galway is a lovely setting for a family stroll, with its multi-colored streets alive with music and cafe culture. But, it’s what lies just outside the town that I think will entice little ones the most, including one of my top recommendations for things to do in Ireland with family.

Just a 15-minute drive from the city is Liam Mellows GAA Club. At first glance, it’s nothing special, just a regular-looking sports center with indoor and outdoor playing fields. But it’s where your family can partake in your own Gaelic games. Hurling, handball, football (the Gaelic kind), and rounders are all on the agenda — as well as a good dose of competitive spirit. It’s a surefire way to burn off some energy, giving you a chance to relax come dinnertime.

Galway is also a gateway for exploring nearby Connemara National Park, where stocky native ponies roam the grasslands. I suggest spending a day driving and walking around the countryside, stopping by the tiny rural villages for lunch to get a glimpse into traditional Irish culture.

Another outing you might like to take is to Inis Mor, one of the three Irish-speaking Aran Islands. It’s about an hour on the ferry from Galway, and it can be choppy, in case any of you suffer with sea sickness. Once there, you can go cycling or take a horse and cart ride around the island, soaking up its vast karst landscapes and stone-walled patchwork fields as you go. You’ll head out with a local guide who grew up there and can regale your family with stories of island life and point out the resident wildlife along the way.

Best family-friendly stays in Galway

If you’re traveling with teenagers or adult children, you can’t go wrong with the g Hotel & Spa. It’s very modern and funky, and there are interconnecting suites, if you need them.

For younger children, there are two options I recommend: The Galmont, if you want to stay near the city center, or Glenlo Abbey, if you want to stick with heritage houses in the countryside. Both have family and interconnecting rooms.

Sligo for families

Kayaking on Lough Gill, County Sligo
Kayaking on Lough Gill, County Sligo

The laid-back town of Sligo is the place to go if your family is musical — or if you simply want to uncover more of Ireland’s cultural heritage. The surrounding coastal countryside is also ripe for adventure backdropped by mountains, loughs, and cliffs so striking they were the inspiration behind many of Nobel Laureate W B Yeats’s poems.

During your trip, you’ll likely watch an Irish dance show or two, but, here in Sligo, you and your children can learn to do it yourselves. I’ll pair you with a private instructor, who can adapt the class to suit your children’s ages. Soon enough, you’ll all be skipping around to the beat of the bodhrán, a traditional Irish drum, which you can have a go at playing, too.

Alternatively, I can arrange for a musician to come to your hotel and play a few tunes, giving your children the option to dance along if they please or play games among themselves while you sit back and enjoy.

Out in the wilderness, you can kayak on the woodland-fringed Lough Gill or go horseback riding along the Wild Atlantic Way. Your private guide will carefully match each of you with a horse and will slow down or speed up the ride as you wish. As you plod (or trot) along country tracks and sandy beaches, you’ll discover more about the history, mythology, and ecology of the landscapes around you.

Best family-friendly stays in Sligo

Close to the city’s restaurants, shops, and museums, the Glasshouse Hotel tops my list for families with older children or babies. There are no family rooms, but they can provide a crib for infants and there are connecting rooms available, too.

The Radisson Blu is a little further out but offers family rooms for up to two children if you want to keep the little ones close by.

Belfast for families

Titanic Belfast
Titanic Belfast

Though Belfast is part of the UK, it’s just a two-hour drive from Dublin and crossing the border is simple (you just need your passport). If you have teenagers or adult children, I’d definitely add on a couple of days here.

For food-loving families, there’s a walking tour of the city that can be tailored to your tastes. As you move between market stalls, independent shops, and restaurants, you might try black-pudding-infused soda bread, artisan chocolate, and Ulster fry, a traditional Irish breakfast.

For a more hands-on experience, I can arrange for you to make soda bread at a local farmhouse with Tracy, who I know firsthand is a wonderful host. After working up an appetite, you’ll sit down to a family lunch to enjoy your creations — and some of Tracy’s homemade sweet treats, too.

If you’re into history, the Titanic Belfast museum gives an immersive introduction to the sights, sounds, and stories of the iconic ship in the very place it was built. At one point, you ride a cable car, which takes you behind the scenes of the Titanic’s construction. Another history-focused experience I love is the Belfast Story, a private show in a classic Irish pub that uses music and dance to illustrate Belfast’s complex past and present.

And, finally, if your children are old enough for Game of Thrones, you can also visit the sprawling grounds of Castle Ward, which might be more familiar to you as Winterfell. Donning your own House Stark costumes, you’ll embark on an action-packed day of axe throwing and archery with your own skilled instructor.

Best family-friendly stays in Belfast

My top choices for family stays in Northern Ireland’s capital are The Fitzwilliam, a luxury boutique hotel close to the opera house, and the history-steeped Europa Hotel. They’re both central and have family rooms, suites, or interconnecting options. You could also stay just outside the city at Culloden Estate and Spa, where there are self-catering apartments, ideal for more relaxed family meals.

Getting around with children in Ireland

A scenic route through County Kerry
A scenic route through County Kerry

If you have young children, I recommend hiring a car so you can drive from one destination to the next at your own pace. I’ll organize the hire for you and will help find the car best suited to your family (we have vans that seat up to seven people, if you need lots of space).

Most drives on my suggested Ireland family vacation route take around two to three hours, but I’ll point out cafes and landmarks that you can stop at along the way, helping to break up the journey if your children get restless. I can also arrange a driver to take you from place to place if you don’t feel comfortable driving on the other side of the road, though this is more expensive.

If you’re traveling with teenagers or adult children, driving is still the best way to get around, but you could also take a couple of scenic train journeys to soak up Ireland’s countryside from a different vantage point. The journey between Dublin and Belfast is particularly beautiful, passing through lush farmland speckled with sheep, alongside coastline, and along the top of the 19th-century Craigmore Viaduct.

Best school vacations to travel to Ireland

Though going during summer break will give you the best weather, it’s the busiest and most expensive time of year for a family trip to Ireland. I prefer April, when temperatures start to rise and the flowers are in full bloom. So, if spring break gives you enough time for vacation, I’d go then. At this time of year, you might experience rain, so be sure to pack some layers.

Read more family trip ideas to Ireland

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They're just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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