St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner and it gives us a great excuse to talk about a country I loved: Ireland. There is so much more to Ireland than Guinness Beer and fish and chips (though those are good too). Green rolling hills beg to be explored and the many historical landmarks can easily fill your travel days. It can be fun and educational to trek around this delightful country. I wrote three articles on my family’s trip to Ireland that were featured in the Toronto Star’s travel section. Here is one such article, which focuses on family friendly fun in Ireland. I am looking forward to taking my guys out there soon so they can experience what I saw while I was there: That the locals embrace family, community and pint-sized people. Travel Ireland with us!
Apart from the late night pub scene and the classrooms at Trinity College, there aren’t many places in Ireland you won’t find kids. Family life and time out exploring the city is the norm for the locals and that means fantastic options when you’re visiting with little ones in tow. These 10 family fun spots offer a bit of history, space to run free and enough Ireland to leave you craving a return visit:
- King John’s Castle. How do you transform a 13th-Century military fortress into a family beacon? Just add tech.! The medieval castle underwent a 4.7-million euro revamp and now boasts an interactive exhibition complete with ghostly projections and holograms that take you through the city’s history and the architecturally stunning castle’s place in it. Kids (and kids at heart) will love the non-tech touches, too. You can take a turn at a foam ball canon, learn how to construct a window arch out of foam bricks and dress up in chainmail tunics. Walk through the fortress to the exposed interior and learn, from costumed characters, about life for those who took refuge here during the Siege of 1642, or climb to the top and peer out at those below. Admission for a family of four is 20.60 euros.
- Croke Park. When there’s something happening in Croke Park, everyone in Ireland knows it. The stadium, which fits 82,000, hosts everything from concerts to private events, but the real reason to come is The Gaelic games. The games celebrate Ireland’s history with the sports that were tougher than tough long before helmets and shin pads. If you’re lucky enough to visit when they’re on, don’t miss out. If not grab a mini hurling stick as a souvenir and a reminder to book your next trip so that you can see it live. New galleries at the museum help to tell the story of the Games and offer up a chance to try your hand at hurling and football (Rugby). Admission for a family of four is 34 euro; children under 5 are free.
- Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. The castle is touted as the most complete and authentic fortress in Ireland. That’s saying a lot in a country dotted with them. Why pick this one? It’s packed with things to check out. At the castle, guides, including the effervescent “Jacky,” show off the spots kids love, including the dungeon and secret passageways. Parents will enjoy the stories behind incredible artwork and 15th- and 16th-Century furnishings. Outside, take a trip back in time at the 26-acre folk park, where you can wander in and out of a restored turn-of-the-century town, complete with corner musicians, a schoolhouse and costumed characters waiting to tell you what life is like. Family admission for two adults and up to six children is 30 euros.
- Foynes Flying Boats. The tour of this space that was once the layover airport for transatlantic “flying boats” hits its peak when you tour the full size replica on site. Kids will love having a seat in the pilot’s chair, taking a turn on the flight simulators and seeing what life was like when flights had a honeymoon-seat and living room seats transformed into bunk beds. For parents? Foynes is where Irish coffee was born! Get the kids a drink from the café and settle in for a caffeinated original. Family ticket (two adults and up to four children) is 28 euro.
- Fota Wildlife park. For more than 30 years, families, local and foreign, have ventured here. From up-close encounters with lemurs and gibbons to watching cheetahs race at top speed, animal-loving families will easily spend a day here. Not to be missed: The giraffe crossing that happens once a day and the incubation house where eggs are waiting to hatch. Keep an eye out for activity tents that mean the fun continues rain or shine. The kids will be having so much fun, they may not realize they are getting lessons in conservation. There are playgrounds on-site, too. Family passes start at 44 euro, and children under three are free.
- Giant’s Causeway. Want to blow a kid’s mind? This is the spot! Giant basalt rock columns beg to be climbed. Tidepools you can explore together and stories that include volcanic explosions may make it one of the coolest UNESCO world heritage sites out. You can sign up for a tour of the Northern Ireland site or pick up an audio guide and venture out alone. Check ahead to make sure areas are accessible on the day you choose to visit. Terrain won’t be smooth (that’s the fun of it!), so keep hold of little ones who might be tempted to run. Inside the visitor’s centre, you can make sense of it all, with information boards, souvenirs and a café perfect for mulling things over. Family admission 21 euros.
- Pure Adventures. Pack the kids into kayaks and set out for a different view of Ireland. Whether you’re seasoned pros or new to the waters, Pure Adventures offers trips that will keep all ages and all abilities right-side up. Half, full and multi-day options are available. Family rates start at 170 euros for two adults and two children.
- Quad Attack Adventure Centre. Looking for big thrills? Kids as young as six can mount one of the All Terrain Vehicles at the Quad Attack Adventure Centre. Start on one of the gentle courses and stay there if you like, or move up to courses that are more challenging. With more than 80 acres to explore, you’ll run out of time before you run out of terrain. Prices range depending on the length of rental. Kids start at 22 euros; Adults start at 32 euros.
- Zipit Forest Adventures. Take to the trees on this rope challenge suitable for kids age seven and up. If you can climb it, it’s here: Poles, walls, rope bridges and more. Activities for the brave include riding a BMX across a treetop bridge and zip-lining. Choose between the two locations on the island or book in for both during your stay. Book ahead to make sure there’s room for your family on the day you choose. Prices depend on the level you pick (which is restricted by age, height and difficulty), but start at 15 euros for kids and 27 euros for adults.
- Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre. An interactive wildlife exhibit and a guided nature tour by boat are two of the offerings at this Wetland reserve. Kids will enjoy trying to figure out which birds and critters are which before heading over to the Activity zone for light watersports, including pedal boats and row boats for hire. Pack a lunch to enjoy at the picnic tables available onsite. Family pass (two adults and up to three children) is 20 euros.
Where to Stay
Families who travel know that where you stay is almost as important as where you go. These hotels make traveling with kids in Ireland part of the fun and deliver on the amenities families love most:
Kelly’s Resort Hotel and Spa: This four-star luxury resort is a popular pick among local families. Set on five miles of sandy beach kids will quickly find their favourite activities among the programme of daily events. Family rooms include interconnecting and single room options. Learn more: http://www.kellys.ie
Adare Manor: The manor sits in the picturesque village of Adare but you won’t confuse it with the popular thatched roof homes in the area. The five -star Adare Manor and Golf Resort built in 1897 sits on 840-acres of riverside real estate. It’s home to an 18-hole golf course and self-catering villas and cottages as well as rooms in the manor itself. With an indoor pool, extravagant gardens, archery lessons, horseback riding and more, you’ll feel like you’ve gone to spend the weekend with royalty.
The Newpark Hotel: Set on more than 40 acres of parkland, the Newpark hotel pairs Irish hospitality with a great base for exploring southeast Ireland. A children’s activity schedule and the Games Zone keep little ones busy. In the summer months an on-site wildlife farm awaits is meant just for them and a year round free kids club during dinner hours allow parents to slip away for some alone time. Learn more: http://www.flynnhotels.com
Red Cow Moran Hotel: Big family rooms and centrally located in Dublin are two of the reasons families seek out the Red Cow Moran hotel. Watch for rate packages that include local attractions and special deals.