No longer seen as a destination exclusively for honeymooners and the tour bus crowd, Ireland is quickly becoming known as a family travel destination and with good reason. For families eager for their first taste of Europe in particular, Ireland’s magic, culture, and minimal language barrier make it an ideal point of entry (that lyrical brogue may give you pause at first, but soon you will understand it easily).
But planning your first trip to Ireland can be a little overwhelming. Who knew there was so very much to see and do? After working with hundreds of families to create perfect Ireland itineraries and authoring Planning the Ireland Vacation of Your Dreams, I’ve found it helpful for families to know these ten tips before planning travel to Ireland with kids.
1. There is no bad time to visit Ireland!
It’s true! Ireland has a temperate climate that rarely climbs above 75°F or below 35°F. That’s not to say it can’t get hot or cold, but mostly the temperatures stay in that 40 degree range.
Of course some seasons are busier than others and a couple months may offer a bit more sun than rain…
- Shoulder season – after Easter to early June and September to mid-October – sees fewer visitors so prices on everything from airfare to car rental to lodging are less.
- Summer, when most people take their ‘big’ vacation and kids are out of school, is the busiest. Thus, higher prices due to higher demand.
- Late August thru early September is nearly ideal. There is a saying in Ireland that the weather gets nice just as the kids go back to school.
- November can be a wonderful time to visit. Yes, the weather is a bit cooler and the days shorter, but crowds are thin and attractions are still open.
- December thru February are the least busy in regards to tourism. Most attractions will remain open through the end of the year, but smaller and private attractions may close for the slowest months of January and February before March kicks off a rush of tourism around St. Patrick’s Day.
2. Your flight will most likely arrive in Ireland as the sun rises.
It can be difficult to relax as your plane flies across the Atlantic– you’re going to Ireland, after all! But do try to get a little bit of rest, even if it’s just to close your eyes, shut out the noise, and meditate.
You will be tempted to arrange early check-in at your lodging, but don’t do it! Beat jet lag by freshening up at the airport- wash your face, brush your hair and teeth- and getting active right away. Both Dublin and Shannon airports are near to great places to get outside and explore. Drink lots of water and power through the day, then you’ll be ready to turn in early for a solid night of sleep and wake on “Ireland time” tomorrow.
3. Driving is the best way to see the country.
Yes, I know it’s a bit intimidating to think about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. But it is really quite easy to manage if you have a good navigator and have a rough idea of your route beforehand.
Know that most cars in Ireland are a manual transmission (stick shift), so if you can’t drive one be sure to reserve an automatic transmission (costs are usually higher). Also, auto insurance in Ireland is mandatory and a bit tricky as most credit cards do not offer coverage, and some that do offer coverage are not accepted in Ireland. I recommend learning all you can about car insurance in Ireland so you aren’t surprised by fees at the airport.
If you just can’t imagine driving in Ireland, consider hiring a driver guide from a company like Ireland Chauffeur Travel. Or stay in larger cities like Dublin, Galway, and Killarney and hire a daily drive guide or take organized day tours from there.
4. Unless you have unlimited time, you can’t see it all.
The easiest way to ruin an Ireland vacation is with too much driving and not enough doing. You will not miss places you didn’t see, but you may always regret leaving a location too soon, before you really had a chance to explore it.
Ireland is not a country made for zipping from site to site. Point A to Point B may only be 100 miles, but those miles include narrow, winding roads through mountains, small villages, and picturesque farmland edged by stone walls which hug the road. Explore, enjoy, and embrace slow travel to get the best of what Ireland has to offer.
5. Pack for any weather.
The Irish like to say that the can have four seasons in one day. While you shouldn’t see snow, it’s likely you’ll experience sun, clouds, wind, and rain, all in varying degrees. The best rule of thumb is to dress in layers.
This is entirely dependent on the type of vacation you plan, but this basic list works for 95% of visitors.
- Jeans or travel pants, a light shirt, a heavier shirt or sweater, and a jacket are a good daily outfit. Plan to re-wear pieces; mix & match.
- Most Ireland vacations involve a fair amount of walking. Bring sturdy shoes or boots that have a bit of water resistance.
- Pack extra pairs of warm socks. Alternately, wool socks make wonderful souvenirs.
- Invest in a good water resistant jacket. It doesn’t have to be a trench coat, just able to repel water for a reasonable amount of time.
- A roomy, comfortable bag to carry all day. It needs to carry your necessities (camera, wallet, umbrella, layers you remove).
- If you have a castle stay planned be sure to check the dress code for the on-site restaurants.
For city breaks add a pair of comfy and attractive walking shoes that go with anything.
6. There is more to see than castles and coastline.
For such a small country Ireland is bursting with activities and attractions!
Choose a few ‘must visit’ sites and plan your itinerary around those. Plan activities and destinations based on what your family enjoys- not what others say you must see. Yes, the Cliffs of Moher are incredible, but if your family enjoys science over scenery you may find that Birr Castle is a better option.
Not sure how to decide what to see? Begin by determining your family’s goals for the trip and interests. Then use the interactive map on Ireland Family Vacations to discover attractions around Ireland.
After deciding on your ‘must visit’ sites, find other fun activities in the area to pad your itinerary, always keeping in mind that you may not experience everything.
7. Lodging options are as varied as the landscape.
How does your family prefer to travel? Do you insist on luxury all the way, or are you more comfortable in a holiday rental? You’ll find lodging to fit all needs and budgets across Ireland.
Consider a “mix & match” approach to your lodging: choose a welcoming B&B one night, followed by a self-catering cottage or family-friendly hostel for a few days to save money, then splurge on a 5* resort or castle stay for a night or two. Use this quick Ireland lodging guide to help you choose the best lodging for your family.
8. You can stick to a budget in Ireland.
Ireland can be an expensive place to visit- airfare, lodging, care rental… it all adds up. But there are quite a few ways to save money while in Ireland.
Food is always a big expense for families, so take advantage of breakfast at your B&B or hotel. The ‘Full Irish’ breakfast will power you through until tea time or an early dinner. Many pubs offer an early bird menu, and most post their menu and deals outside the building, making it easy to check. And do visit the grocery stores! Shopping for luncheon foods and snacks is fun in Ireland- so many new things to try!
The best deal in Ireland is the OPW Heritage Card. All sites managed by the Office of Public Works (OPW) – which includes the Rock of Cashel, Glendalough, and Dublin Castle- are included in purchase of this card.
If you will be in Dublin a few days, the Dublin Pass is an excellent savings and includes the hop-on hop-off bus, Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Gaol, and free airport transport into Dublin. You’ll also find incredible free sites in Dublin like the National Museum of Archaeology, Phoenix Park, and the National Gallery.
Most attractions offer a discounted family ticket for entry; do inquire about this if it isn’t offered.
If you use deal sites like Groupon or Living Social, check the offers in Ireland. Often you’ll find deals on attractions & dining.
9. You’ll eat like a king.
Irish food had a bit of a bad reputation for many years, but that has changed. You can expect fresh, hyper-local ingredients nearly everywhere- from the small village B&B to the most lauded restaurants in Dublin.
Each area of Ireland has its own flavor. Independent butchers will have their own recipe for black and white pudding, for example. Buttered eggs are a specialty in Cork. And each restaurant serves local goats’ cheese differently. Go outside your comfort zone and try something new. Encourage your kids to do the same. You may be surprised by what you really enjoy.
Two places to search out:
Murphy’s Ice Cream, handmade in Dingle with shops also found in Killarney, Dublin, and the Cliffs of Moher, creates the most delightful concoctions. Their slogan is “Ice Cream that knows where it’s coming from”- and for good reason. Local milk and cream, hand harvested honeycomb, they even harvest their own sea salt! My personal favorite is the Caramelized Brown Bread, with Caramel Honeycomb a close second. But I leave it for you to choose your own favorite (no one will judge you for daily visits!)
For quick, fresh, and delicious food look for an Avoca Café or Food Market. You’ll find wonderful sit-down meals, chilled items for the perfect picnic, or entrees to take and heat at your lodging. And all meet the Avoca standards of great natural ingredients, used adventurously, at a terrific value.
10. Yes, you can (and should) take the kids to a pub.
Ireland and pubs go together like fish and chips. You really can’t fully experience one without the other. Of course, Irish pubs and fish and chips go together quite nicely, too.
Travelers tend to see the Irish pub as an adult experience, but it is a place your entire family is welcome and can enjoy. The Public House (or pub) is a community gathering place. A place to relax, enjoy the craic (fun and entertainment), and (hopefully) catch some live music.
Practice good pub etiquette: choose a table near to the bar, but far enough away that your family won’t be in the line of food and drink delivery. Know that few pubs have table service, you’ll be ordering from the bar. And always ask if there is a time kids need to leave. Most village pubs will let you decide–as long as children are well behaved they can stay as long as you like.