My husband has the worst schedule when it comes to taking vacations. I LOVE to travel so I often find myself solo as I explore new places with my kids – thank goodness for facetime! My friends joked that the only way we would ever really get a family vacation that included my husband is if we went on a cruise or traveled abroad. Hmmm… it sounded a little crazy but I was tempted.
Ireland With Kids … Let’s Do This!
Well, folks, we opted for the travel abroad option and it was spectacular! My husband and I hadn’t been to Ireland since 1997. EEK!! Almost 20 years ago! I was living in London and he was in between college and med school. We met up in London and then took a planes, trains, and automobiles European vacation on a super tight student budget. Without cell phones. Today’s college travelers have it so easy! We loved it 20 years ago, we were excited to do it again.
Ireland With Kids … And Grandparents!
If you’ve got five kids aged 1 to 10 and you’ve never really taken a family vacation before, why not start out by inviting both sets of grandparents and flying 11 people across the Atlantic Ocean and have them hang out together for 14 days?? If you saw me in the days leading up to this epic event, I couldn’t even formulate a sentence. I knew that once we got there, it would be amazing. If nothing else, I was spending two weeks with my kids that they otherwise would be spending in school. And, really, what an opportunity for my kids to get two weeks with both sets of doting grandparents. When there are five of you, individualized attention can be hard to come by.
And, like anytime I travel, I am always, always, always worried about food. Two weeks is a long time to be eating away from home.
Ireland With Kids … Get Help!
Thankfully, my aunt – my mom’s sister – lives in Dublin, so my family makes trips on the reg to the Emerald Isle. Who needs a travel guide when every aunt and cousin has hand drawn directions on google map images for you? Spoiled. I was so spoiled. We also cheated a bit and also used a travel planning company to arrange hotels and transportation for us. Please, please, please, if you are considering a big family adventure, do this! We were connected with Valerie Cooke at Emerald Elite Tours in Ireland through Zicasso Travel and we didn’t have to worry about a thing.
We knew that getting 11 people around Ireland for two weeks would be no small task. Brian and I did rock paper scissors repeatedly to decide who was going to drive on the wrong side of the road and then we realized there wasn’t even a rental car that would hold us, never mind our luggage. After working with Valerie, we ended up with one 14 passenger Sprinter Van and the most amazing tour guide you could ever, ever hope to have. By the time we finished our trip, we were already planning our next trip back – with Uncle Eamon, of course.
There are a lot of benefits to having someone else drive you around … let me give you the top 3: 1.) Calm. You are not trying to figure out what side of the road you should be on or where the next turn is. 2.) Knowledge. While you are not driving, you can really enjoy the countryside and the scenery and listen to someone who actually knows about where you are going. Tour book? Nope. You’ve got a tour book in-the-flesh. 3.) Space. No matter how light you pack, you’ll still have luggage to LUG around. It was really nice to roll our suitcases to the back of our van and not worry about jamming in bags and kids.
Since this is a blog, not a book chapter, let me give you a quick rundown of our adventure, our trip highlights, and our must-eats. Ireland is an amazing place to take your kids. Ireland has so much culture and language and music and food and views. THE VIEWS!!! There is always more than enough to do. Way too much. When you land in Ireland, you will have to immediately start making a list for what you need to do next time you visit because, otherwise, you will be overwhelmed with sadness that you have to leave so soon without seeing and doing and eating everything you wanted.
Ireland With Kids – The Trip
We knew we wanted to start and end our adventure in Dublin. We had an easy, direct flight from Charlotte to Dublin and I wanted the chance to spend time with my aunt while we were there. As soon as my family knew we were going over, I had a long list of suggestions to pick from and we decided to have three main stops as we traveled from Dublin, south to Kinsale, west to Dingle, and up the coast to Galway. Staying in each place a couple of nights gave us the opportunity to relax just enough in our hotel and get to know the area we were staying.
When you are visiting a country with over 30,000 castles and castle ruins, you must spend at least one night in a castle and we actually spent two nights in castles. One night in a castle just outside of Dublin – Clontarf Castle – and Waterford Castle in Waterford – an absolutely stunning castle that is part of a resort I would return to with my kids and spend a few days! Our Irish travel company made all of our room arrangements so there was never a problem. All of our hotels included a full breakfast in the morning and, believe it or not, we never ate together. In the mornings, we pretended we didn’t even know each other until we had all had our coffee. Just kidding!! But not kidding about the not eating together.
Every time we were in a new city, the children would shuffle around to a new sleeping arrangement. 5 kids, 4 grandparents … this is the way to take an international trip. Having the kids getting ready spread out amongst three rooms was a dream come true. All of us getting tables for breakfast for 3 or 4? This might never happen in my life again. Well rested and well fed children made for good little travelers as we toured around on our sprinter and explored the sites.
Eamon made every effort to never keep us on the road for very long. Short, quick trips from place to place. Lots of castles and parks. Outdoor picnics were the rule. The scenery was stunning, our little sprinter was so comfortable (and it had wi-fi!), and each day just flew by. We had the good fortune to hit Ireland right as it hit a streak of hot, sunny days in early June. Record setting temps and no rain! We packed so wrong but I was willing to wear the same outfit three (or more!) times in exchange for our beautiful weather.
Ireland With Kids – The Sights
Every time we visited a new spot, we all exclaimed that it was our new favorite. We began our trip to Ireland with a day in Dublin and then off to Kilkenny and Waterford. The sun set so late – the kids were always excited to be out so much past their bedtime! The jet lag was not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. We arrived in Dublin early in the morning and were lucky enough to be able to get into our rooms by 10am. We all agreed to take a 2 hour nap and meet up at 12:30 to explore the city. It was just what we needed!
After starting out with two nights in castles, I was worried we wouldn’t be able to top that! But as we headed south to Ardmore, Blarney Castle, and Kinsale, I had nothing to be worried about. Ardmore was such a low-key town – perfect place to grab lunch and enjoy some time on the beach. Blarney Castle had the most amazing gardens. We only planned to stay a couple of hours but we could have spent an entire day there – and there’s ice cream. Always a good thing. By the time we got to Kinsale and took one look at the gorgeous harbor, I was speechless. In Kinsale, we stayed at The Trident Hotel with stunning views of the harbor and a quick walk to a fun, fenced-in park just a few blocks away. Fun fact – Kinsale is the sister city to Newport, Rhode Island! This city did remind me of the harbors back home in Massachusetts – Kinsale and Newport are a perfect match.
After Kinsale, we headed to Ross Castle in Killarney and then on to Dingle. More castles, ruins, surfers on Inch beach, and beehive huts. Seals, a dolphin, and a baby lamb. Incredibly, the views kept getting better and better. I will confess that Dingle did become my favorite spot in Ireland. All future trips must include time in Dingle. The views, the food, the people. All of it. The best. We stayed at the Dingle Skellig – much to the chagrin of my children – and my husband – the cast and crew of Star Wars checked out of our hotel right before we checked in! We were so close! Another fun part of traveling around this part of the coast was seeing all the spots where the filming for Star Wars The Force Awakens was happening. Now you know.
In Dingle, one of our favorite evenings was spent at a Siopa Cieol for live music. Noelle even got up to dance – that girl is fearless and the audience, packed together in our little music shop on our folding chairs, just loved it!
Most of you have probably heard of the Ring of Kerry – stunning views along the coast of Ireland. Brian and I drove that ourselves 20 years ago. It was beautiful! However, might I suggest that the Slea Head drive around the Dingle Peninsula might top the Ring of Kerry? We loved it. It doesn’t hurt that we were run off the road by a bunch of sheep. The cuteness! I loved the Blasket Islands Heritage Center, my kids loved stopping at the Beehive Huts to check out some newly born lambs – it’s like the Irish version of agri-tourism – a few Euros per person and they will show you around. Dingle Harbor has so much to explore – lots of food, a farmers market, fun shops, Dingle Crystal (wow!), and lots of other artisans.
We also opted to avoid the Cliffs of Moher from above and instead drive down to Doolin and catch a ferry. The ferry we were on was a little crowded and I was a tiny bit panicky with five small kids out on the water but the views were INCREDIBLE! Absolutely stunning to be looking UP at the Cliffs. Stunning.
Driving through the Burren was amazing – Eamon even took us on a successful hunt to find wild Connemara ponies and meet up with a sheepdog trainer and his sheepdog puppies. So cute. We stayed two nights at the Salthill in Galway. Galway felt more like an “adult” city – Brian and I left the kids behind with the grandparents while we went to explore although one night we did do a fun family night at Trad on the Prom – traditional Irish dance and music. Very fun.
We wrapped up our trip to Ireland with two nights at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. I wish we had stayed three nights. I needed one. more. night. The kids (and I) never tired of St. Stephen’s Green – a quick walk over from our hotel. If you ever can’t find me, check the Shelbourne.
Ireland With Kids – The Food
Breakfast and (my first) coffee was always at our hotel and that was such a great way to start every day. While we were out and about exploring, some days we just popped into a little Tesco mart and grabbed yogurt, cheese, bread, water, fruit, and chocolate and made ourselves a picnic lunch sitting by the ruins of some castle or at a park. For dinner, some nights we split up and the adults just grabbed dinner with their one (or two) assigned kids.
Every opportunity he could, my son would order Seafood Chowder. I can’t blame him. Our seafood options were abundant and the chowders generally had 3 to 5 different types of fish in them! Delicious. If you are on a hunt for fish and chips, you’ve come to the right place. AND, believe it or not, there are gluten-free fish and chips at restaurants here and there. Gluten-free is no problem in Ireland. It was so refreshing!
And, you know what it is always gluten-free? Hard cider? I was absolutely in love with the crisp Bulmers Cider. The bartender would serve it with a tall glass of ice. I can still taste it.
I had too many amazing meals to recount them all but one of my favorites was from the Blue Haven Hotel in Kinsale … The chorizo and shrimp was out of this world!
My favorite food experience would be the evening we were listening to music in Dingle at the Siopa Cieol. There was an intermission during the performance for the musicians to have a break and for the audience to enjoy a perfect Irish Coffee. I promise to post my perfect Irish Coffee recipe very soon. The weather is turning cooler – I think it’s almost time to work on my Irish Coffee skills! I will leave you with this one Irish Coffee tip – you must drink the coffee THROUGH the whipped cream. If you don’t have a creamy mustache, you’re doing it wrong.
If you asked my kids what their favorite food was in Ireland, they will probably say, ice cream! The weather was so hot, we indulged in ice cream quite a bit – specifically, Murphy’s Ice Cream from Dingle. Lucky us, there was also a Murphy’s Ice Cream in Dublin so we got to enjoy it in both cities. Words cannot adequately describe Murphy’s Ice Cream – Dingle Sea Salt, Caramelized Brown Bread, Irish Coffee (with whiskey!) – yes, please. So many unique flavors, locally sourced milk.
Ireland With Kids … Just Do It
If you are considering a European vacation, Ireland is a very accessible trip for kids of all ages. The friendly people, the beautiful countryside, and delicious food. You can’t go wrong.