Ireland is a land of magic and mystery, castles and cliffs, faeries and friendly people. In other words, Ireland is an ideal vacation destination for families. Yet in this land filled with ‘must visit’ destinations, the county of Kerry may have a few more ‘musts’ than most.
Located in Ireland’s ‘Sunny Southwest’, County Kerry is revered for its incredible scenery. Stunning coastline, historic castles, and sparkling caves are only the beginning of the wonders you’ll find as you explore County Kerry with kids.
Activity 1: Explore Killarney National Park
Ireland’s first National Park now covers more than 25,000 acres of lakes, woodlands, bogs, and mountains. Days can be spent exploring everything the park has to offer. A terrific introduction can be found in the back of a jaunting cart as it takes you from the heart of Killarney town to Ross Castle, your jarvey (carriage driver) sharing the history of the area as you go.
After returning to town venture by car or rented bicycle to Muckross House, a magnificent Victorian mansion where Queen Victoria stayed during her visit to Ireland in 1861. Continued explorations can take you to Muckross Abbey, the Torc Waterfall, and the beautiful Ladies’ View overlooking the Lakes of Killarney.
Animals, both wild and domestic, can be found within the park lands. Ireland’s only herd of native Red Deer roam the mountain forests while the rare Kerry Cow (which provides the milk and cream for delicious Murphy’s Ice Cream) grazes in the meadows.
Much of Killarney National Park is free to visit, though tours of Muckross House, Ross Castle, and the jaunting cart tours each have their own associated fees.
Activity 2: Take a Day Trip to the Dingle Peninsula
Plan to leave Killarney early to enjoy a full day on the incredible Dingle Peninsula. Your drive to and from this most westerly point of Ireland includes a high mountain pass or a beautiful beach where you can learn to surf.
Once arriving in the village of Dingle you may hear a bit of Irish spoken as the area is a Gaeltecht. Wander the village–making sure to pop into Murphy’s Ice Cream as this is the original shop–before hopping aboard a boat ride to meet Dingle’s most famous resident, Fungi the Dolphin.
Grab lunch at the chipper near the wharf before driving the historic and scenic Slea Head Drive. Stop often as you can explore an Iron Age Fort, famine cottages, glorious beaches, and ancient churches as you circle the peninsula. Take time to visit the Blasket Islands Visitor Centre and maybe even catch a boat to the now uninhabited islands.
Tip: Use this 2-day Dingle Peninsula itinerary to help plan your time.
Activity 3: Take a Hawk Walk
There is really nothing that can compare to the exhilaration and adrenaline you feel as a hawk focuses on you and swoops in to land. Opening your leather-gloved hand to offer food, you notice how incredibly large, yet light, the bird is as it is perched upon you. As it spreads its wings and takes off you feel the incredible power vibrate up your arm, the whoosh of air and maybe brush of a feather as the falcon leaves you, eyes intently searching for prey.
Killarney Falconry offers a family package Hawk Walk overlooking beautiful MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. A splurge-worthy experience your entire family will talk about for years! Note: advance booking is necessary.
Activity 4: Tour the Gap of Dunloe and Lakes of Killarney
Explore the Gap of Dunloe by bike, jaunting cart, or on foot. The 11 km ‘gap’ is a narrow mountain pass between MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and the Purple Mountain. If exploring by foot or pony trap, arrange to be dropped off at Kate Kearney’s Cottage at the north side of the pass and make your way to Ross Castle. If you choose to cycle begin by cycling through Killarney National Park before catching a boat at Ross Castle to the south end of the pass at Lord Brandon’s Cottage.
Your jarvey and/or boatmen will entrance you with tales of Innisfallen Island, the Meeting of the Waters, and the Old Copper Mines as you explore this enchanting area. You can arrange the tour yourself or use one of these local tour companies: Killarney Day Tour and Gap of Dunloe Tours
1 Great Place to Stay: The Dunloe
Not far from Kate Kearney’s Cottage, The Dunloe is a fantastical family paradise with extra-large family suites, gentle horses, a massive adventure playground, and summer movie nights. Let the concierge assist with your local day tours, or take advantage of the activities on the estate.
Tip: Be sure to visit the Family Breaks page of the website for special room rates and packages.
1 Great Place to Eat: Kate Kearney’s Cottage
Legend holds that Kate Kearney was a rare beauty and a fine distiller of poitín, an illicit Irish moonshine. Weary travelers through the Gap would stop for Kate’s hospitality before venturing on to Killarney. Today Kate Kearney’s Cottage is still known for welcoming travelers, though the offerings are of a legal nature.
Enjoy an evening of craic in the pub, with live music 7 nights a week, or choose finer dining in the restaurant. Make reservations in advance for Traditional Irish Night which includes a traditional Irish menu and entertainment with music, storytelling, and dance.
Who knows? You may even end up on stage before the night is done.
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 cooking and “geeking out” 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: