Thatch-roofed cottages amid a maze of stone walls, fluffy sheep sprinkling the rocky hills, towering cliffs marching in formation to meet the crash of the ocean, and the promise of unrivaled craic and entertainment. County Clare, in the heart of Ireland’s western shores, awaits visitors with the stuff Irish travel dreams are made of: castles, megalithic tombs, majestic abbeys weathered by time, and then some.
As home to Ireland’s second international gateway, Shannon Airport, it’s easy to plan your Ireland itinerary to start or end with a stay in County Clare. Either way, these are my top recommendations for what to do, where to stay, and where to eat when you do visit County Clare with kids.
Activity 1: Step Back in Time at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
Built around 1425, restored in the mid-1940s, and opened to the public as a National Monument in 1962, Bunratty Castle is the most complete and authentically restored and furnished castle in Ireland. Visitors can explore the castle from down in the dungeon up to its battlements, where an excellent view of the folk village stretches below. Traditional cottages from across Ireland present how most of the country lived a century ago.
After your castle tour, a walk through the village takes you through education, trading, and even a pub from days gone by (take time for tea or a pint!). Interactions with costumed characters bring the cottages and village to life, while a new playground, enchanting fairy forest, and a multitude of animals guarantee the kids will enjoy their visit.
Activity 2: Discover the Beauty of the Burren
Far from being a place of barren desolation, the Burren is a wonderfully diverse area bursting with life and liveliness! Adventurous families love the myriad of outdoor activities–from cycling and hiking through the stone-fenced landscape to surfing and kayaking along the rocky shores.
Younger children will enjoy nature walks with friendly goats at the Burren Nature Sanctuary, sheepdog demonstrations at Caherconnell Fort, or falconry shows at Aillwee Caves.
Be sure to search out farms and restaurants along the Burren Food Trail and see the path food takes from farm to plate. With over two dozen members, you can follow the food story as you see fit–from hands-on activities to just enjoying the delicious end result.
Traditional Irish music fills Burren-area pubs most nights so be sure to inquire at your lodging. Most pubs allow well behaved children to stay into the evening, so you may want to plan an afternoon nap into your day!
Activity 3: Explore the Cliffs of Moher By Land and By Sea
The Cliffs of Moher have been Ireland’s #1 natural attraction for at least two hundred years, and for good reason–the views along the towering cliffs are simply stunning.
Begin your Cliffs experience in the visitors center where you can explore the defining elements of the Cliffs of Moher before “The Ledge” takes you on a bird’s eye virtual reality tour just off the cliffs.
Be prepared for walking as you exit the visitors center as it’s quite a climb to O’Brien’s Tower, the viewing center built in 1835. Stone pathways are stroller friendly and a variety of viewing platforms offer different views of the majestic cliffs.
Beyond the pathways at the Cliffs of Moher Visitors Center there is a 20km walk, from Liscannor to Doolin, along the top of the cliffs. (Please use discretion if you plan to do this with children- it is not recommended for those under 8 years old; there are no trails for strollers.)
Once you’ve visited the Cliffs of Moher from the top, why not see them from below- by boat? Doolin2Aran Ferries in nearby Doolin offers a one-hour Cliffs Cruise. If you think the cliffs were massive from the top wait ‘til you view them from below!
Activity 4: Experience a Medieval Banquet
Treat your lords and ladies to dinner at the castle! Shannon Heritage offers Medieval Banquets in both Bunratty and nearby Knappogue Castle.
You’ll be welcomed by the Earl’s butler and one of the ladies of the house, offering a bit of wine (or juice) and entertainment in the gathering room before leading you to the dining hall where tables are set for your arrival.
During the four course dinner guests are serenaded by the ladies of the castle, and after dinner the entertainments become a bit livelier with storytelling, song, and dance.
Not sure your kids would enjoy the Medieval Banquet? Bunratty also offers a Traditional Irish Night in the corn barn! It’s a lively evening of laughter, foot stomping, and dancing.
1 Great Place to Stay: Choose a Castle!
A castle stay is the most requested of Irish lodgings! County Clare offers two incredible options:
For families looking for 5-star treatment, Dromoland Castle offers an unforgettable stay. Rooms designed for families include kid-sized bathrobes, a selection of board games, and milk & cookies at bedtime. But you really won’t spend much time in the room as Dromoland has dozens of estate activities to keep your family busy! Be sure to schedule time with the falconry and test your aim with archery. Babysitting can even be arranged, allowing mom and dad a luxurious evening in the Earl of Thomond Restaurant.
If you’ve ever wished to be Lord or Lady of the Castle, then book at least two nights at Knappogue Castle. Above the dining hall are the Private Quarters- luxurious rooms available for private rental. You’ve space enough to sleep 10, two sitting rooms, 4 bathrooms, a large, modern kitchen, and two ‘fairy godmothers’ who arrive each morning to prepare a large breakfast, setting you right for your day of exploring. The large walled garden to the rear of the castle and the small, gated garden at the front are both yours to enjoy. Knappogue Castle is no longer open to tours so few visitors arrive during the day, making it truly feel like this is ‘your’ castle.
1 Great Place to Eat: Kilshanny House
County Clare has more than its share of incredible eateries. One place we return again and again is Kilshanny House. Located in the heart of Kilshanny village this small, two-person establishment is ‘the local’, where you’re as likely to find nearby farmers enjoying an afternoon pint as you are to find a tourist in for a meal.
Mary creates memorable meals using hyper-local ingredients, and serves them with a presentation you would expect to find in a Michelin-starred restaurant, not a small country pub. Each bite explodes with natural flavors and very nearly melts in your mouth.
Aidan, her partner, mans the bar quietly, a perfect Irish publican. He’s a wonderful listener (and a great baker of bread!) but if you ask him about the history of the bar and the changes he has made his eyes begin to really sparkle and the storyteller comes out.
Though the food is memorable and the craic is high, what will truly entrance you about Kilshanny House is the feeling of community. You may enter a stranger but when you leave you’re a friend–and isn’t that what everyone hopes for when they visit Ireland?
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Though she’s not been everywhere in Ireland (yet), her family travels annually to those verdant shores, always exploring new locations and making new friends along the way. When she’s not traveling, Jody is homeschooling her two daughters or attempting to find her long lost Irish ancestor deep in the pages of forgotten history. During her “down time,” Jody enjoys reading and spending time with her husband Doug, a software developer and IT specialist. Follow her on Twitter: @irelandfamtrvl and Facebook: Ireland Family Vacations, and visit Jody's website:
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