As an destination and adventure wedding photo and video team Nate and I travel regularly without our children. Don’t get me wrong, that IS fun, but there is something extra magical about experiencing international destinations with tiny humans in tow.
Day 1: Arrival and Rock of Cashel
We flew from Frankfurt to Dublin (an easy two hour flight) where we rented a car and started our road trip immediately. Don’t be surprised when the rental company asks for a $2000 hold on your credit card! If you choose to opt out of their insurance this is apparently pretty standard for Irish rental companies. And I can honestly kind of see why. Nate is an excellent driver, experienced in a wide variety of vehicles and driving situations and we still had a couple hairy moments. Had I been driving I’m sure we would not have emerged unscathed. Being a passenger on the left side is a weird enough experience on its own!
For our trip to Ireland with kids, we rented the smallest car we could get with four doors. Some of the streets, roads, and parking are not very accommodating. I highly recommend opting for the smallest vehicle you can comfortably fit.
Our first scenic stop was the Rock of Cashel. Also known as St. Patrick’s Rock and Cashel of Kings. A “rock” may not sound like anything too special, but I’d been told otherwise. And we were NOT disappointed.
We like to watch Youtube videos with the kids about the sights we’re seeing in advance. It gives them some context and gets them more invested in historical buildings that otherwise might not resonate with them much. With several hours between destinations on this trip it was also a great way to kill a little drive time. We learned some very cool facts about the Rock of Cashel! For example that the roof of the cathedral had been removed to transform it into a ruin because the archbishop at the time didn’t like the climb up the hill.
We parked at the paid lot at the base of the rock and walked up to the ticket booth ourselves and didn’t find it to arduous. 😉
The ticket office has regular guided tours that are included with your ticket. We didn’t have a full tour because the timing of our arrival was off, but the tour guide was exceptionally kind. She took the time while she didn’t have a tour to lead to point out a few things to my children, including the face carved everywhere. Apparently these are faces of people who were important to the church at the time for various reasons. My kids LOVED finding all the faces.
The only thing my boys loved more than finding the faces was playing tag on the wide green lawn. Apparently some things never change, regardless of what country you’re in.
Blarney Woolen Mills Hotel
Our first night’s stay was also our only one in a hotel. We stayed at the Blarney Woolen Mills Hotel and it was WONDERFUL. Particularly the included breakfast! A whole menu to choose from, including the Full Irish Breakfast. It’s an easy win for a meal in Ireland with kids. I forget the name of the poached egg and mushroom dish I ordered, but ZERO regrets friends.
I will say that lodging was by far the most expensive aspect of our trip. As a family of four we were required to book two rooms or a family suite at most of our locations. An Airbnb is often the cheapest route when traveling Europe with a group of four or more.
Day 2: Blarney Castle and Cork
Another awesome feature of the Blarney Woolen Mills Hotel is its immediate proximity to Blarney Castle. You can literally walk to the ticket office from the hotel in five minutes. Which is exactly what we did on our first morning in Ireland.
I didn’t include a lot of photos from our visit to Blarney Castle, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. You can see a bit more of it in the video above. In addition to the castle itself the grounds are romantic and expansive and we could have easily spent an entire day exploring it. We particularly enjoyed the poison garden, the beehives, and the waterfall!
We arrived when they opened the office at 9 and had the entire place virtually to ourselves. The wait to kiss the Blarney Stone can extend to over an hour, but we walked straight through the castle to the stone. The path through the castle winds up through the tight, steep spiral stairs and back down with stops in the various rooms of the castle ruin. The stairs were a bit nervewracking for our five year old (okay mostly for me watching him), but also a unique experience. In non-covid times there is probably the option to skip the trek up and down the stairs, but currently the path is one directional and specific.
Cork and The English Market
I wanted to have lunch in Cork at the English Market, so we left Blarney around noon.
Navigating Cork was a bit of a challenge as its a larger city and busier than the tourist destinations we’d visited so far. We parked in a parking garage a couple blocks from the market and walked. As an avid foodie I was pumped to explore what I’d seen referred to as “an Irish foodie Mecca.” And I suppose it is probably impressive if you’ve never been to an indoor market before, and it is absolutely unique to the area. But it was smaller than I was expecting with fewer unique food options. To be fair, we visited the open market in Athens earlier this summer and it is probably unfair to expect anything to top that.
We ate at the restaurant in the market and found the menu to be somewhat limited and lacking in unique and exciting dishes. This may be in part due to the obstacles Covid has created.
In short, don’t completely write it off if you’ve never experienced an indoor market, but I wish that we personally had skipped Cork and either stayed in Blarney a few extra hours or visited a different costal town on our way to Dingle.
Day 3: Dingle and Slea Head Drive
Of the towns we visited, Dingle was by far my favorite. I think it would be very easy to stay in Dingle for an extended weekend and fill it with unique experiences. On this day we left our beds at Murphys Bed and Breakfast as the sun was coming up to explore the Slea Head Drive. We didn’t get a chance to experience breakfast as we left too early, but the experience with the lodging was great. The beds were comfortable and the staff member who helped us check in was wonderfully informative and helpful. Had the Murphys Pub downstairs been open it would have been the perfect place to grab a bite or a drink. As it was we ate dinner at The Fishbox on Day 2 (excellent) and bought pastries and fruit at the market for the next morning.
And what a morning! The sunrise was well worth missing breakfast for.
The plan was to drive the entire Slea Head Drive around the small peninsula and end for lunch back in Dingle, but that’s no quite how it happened. We really only made it as far as our first stop (the hike to the view of the islands you can see in the photo below) and spent our entire morning there.
We have a couple of European garden snails as pets at home, so we were very excited to find their Irish cousin!
I take styled/themed birthday photos for my kids every year. We decided to do the five year old’s on this trip, so he was a little extra dressed up this day.
You can find the beginning of the hike by looking for the box where you deposit the recommended donation of one euro per hiker. Then you climb a fence. Watch out for sheep droppings!
This hike was one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip to Ireland with kids. I would have liked to have seen the rest of the drive and the beehive huts, but I wouldn’t have traded this hike for it at all.
Here’s a rare photo of my doing my thing! Taken by my 10 year old!
And a few of the aforementioned birthday photos for context:
The Waterfall Beach
After our hike we were drawn down to the beach below the parking area. This was not on our agenda and I don’t know its name, but it was the perfect wrap up to our morning. The kids loved playing in the waterfall and river flowing down the sand to the ocean. And a little beach time is always a good idea.
Next we headed back into Dingle for lunch. Fish and chips from a stand, battered and fried as we watched, and the requisite visit to Murphy’s Ice Cream.
Murphy’s Ice Cream in Dingle is locally sourced and produced (as are many things throughout the country). They have some unique flavors including Sea Salt and Irish coffee (complete with alcohol). A must do while traveling Ireland with kids.
Our bed and breakfast is the green building in the photo! It couldn’t be more charming.
The Accidental Ferry and Cliffs of Moher
Now we come to the part of the story with a cautionary tale.
Having spent almost my entire life in a landlocked state I was not fully aware of how ferries and my GPS work together. So, learn from me. Don’t assume that if your driving directions indicate a water crossing there will be a bridge.
It was a surprise when my GPS, instead of saying “turn left” or “go straight,” instead directed me to “take the ferry” an hour away from our destination of Doolin.
It worked out fine, we got VERY lucky with the ferry schedule, and it was actually a fun experience. But… just be prepared.
Here is evidence of the ever handsome Nate on said ferry.
We arrived at the Cliffs of Moher without further incident.
However, upon our arrival the fog was dense and impenetrable. Staff members at the paid parking were advising people that visibility of the cliffs was exactly zero with no promise of clearing up.
Knowing what our experience with fog had been on the hike earlier in the day and that this was really our only chance to see the cliffs we decided to risk it. We paid for our tickets and parking and hiked across the road and up the hill. And our gamble paid off in a big way. One thing to keep in mind about travel in Ireland with kids: the weather is never a guarantee. We came prepared with rain boots and waterproof rain coats for everyone.
The Cliffs of Moher were definitely cool. BUT. They were not as awesome to us as our hike on Slea Head had been that morning. It was the most tourist heavy spot we visited. Worth a stop for sure if you’re in Ireland with kids, but I wouldn’t plan an entire day around it.
Day 4: Ashford Castle
After the cliffs we spent the night at a wonderful bed and breakfast in Doolin. Susan Daley of Daley’s Bed and Breakfast was an incredible hostess. Her home was lovely, parking was easy, and there was a view of the cliffs from our room! She even provided fresh baked scones, granola parfaits, and fresh fruit as a to go breakfast since we would once again be leaving quite early. Everything was DELICIOUS and I can only imagine what hot breakfast is like at her house.
But we had to get up early to head to our most anticipated activity. And sunrise on The Wild Atlantic Way once again did not disappoint.
We arrived at Ashford Castle a little early for our hawk walk, but that just gave us time to stretch our legs and explore the stunning grounds a bit.
This activity was a family favorite. While it was the most expensive experience we had in Ireland, it was well worth it in my opinion. Everyone in my family would highly, HIGHLY recommend the hawk walk at Ireland’s school of falconry. If you’re on the fence just scroll up and watch that part of the video again. Amazing.
They were the first to offer this experience in Ireland and it is unmatched anywhere in Ireland. We learned SO MUCH and left filled with wonder and admiration. A must do for Ireland with kids.
After our hawks were safely tucked back in their enclosures and we imposed on our incredible instructor for more falconry advice and lunch recommendations we explored the grounds a bit more.
Afterwards we headed into town to Puddleduck’s Cafe in Cong. They were busy and there was a wait for a table and our food, (but hey it was Sunday). They were apologetic about the delay and everything was DELICIOUS. I would absolutely visit again. I know food can be a challenge in Ireland with kids, but Puddleduck’s won’t let you down.
Day 5: Dublin
We spent the night a slightly unsatisfying Airbnb on Bachelor Walk after parking at an expensive parking garage. But the location was incredible and we thoroughly enjoyed walking the city at night. The over the top donuts from The Rolling Donut the next morning also did not disappoint. Dublin has a LOT to do and see and it would be easy to spend a week here exploring.
We didn’t have time to see much before heading to the airport that afternoon. Riding the double decker bus was a definite highlight for our five year old. Ireland with kids should probably include at least one double decker bus, right?!
We did a quick walk through of the Irish National Gallery (free admission). We were able to see some incredible art from Picasso, Rembrandt, Monet, and Van Gogh among many other astounding works. Once again, I could have spent an entire day there. The kids were slightly less interested, so it worked out well that we needed to hurry off to our appointment at Trinity College.
I made sure to watch the animated “Secret of the Kells” with the boys in preparation for our trip. Even so they underwhelmed by the slow walk through the exhibit and the Book of The Kells itself. The exhibit impressed both Nate and I. I also especially enjoyed the Long Room. This bibliophile always loves a good library.
Overall it was a whirlwind trip and far from the most relaxing vacation we’ve been on. I think we need AT LEAST two more trips back to really enjoy all Ireland has to offer.
Whatever length of trip you have for Ireland with kids, bring your rain coats and prepare for an incredible adventure.