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It’s incredibly easy to think of Ireland as a place for “seasoned” tourists to take bus tours or for young singles on self-directed “pub tours”.
But the Ireland I know is welcoming for the entire family, filled with a centuries old magic just waiting to be discovered.
For nearly a decade I have been traveling with my children. My eldest daughter’s first flight was to Ireland. As we have crossed the country in the years since her first trip, we’ve discovered many amazing places – and have many more on our “future visits” list.
The Cliffs of Moher seem a very obvious choice. The most popular tourist destination in Ireland, people have been coming here for hundreds of years to take in the incredible views.
Before walking up to the cliffs – a bit of a hike – be sure to stop in the Visitor’s Centre. The Atlantic Edge exhibit is well worth the time.
Kids, and even adults, will enjoy learning about the history of the Cliffs and how bird eggs were collected from the cliff walls.
The tourist town in Southwest Ireland – and for good reason. Killarney is often the starting point for many tourists who plan day trips around the Ring of Kerry.
Nestled next to the city centre is the edge of Killarney National Park, which includes Ross Castle, Muckross Abbey and Traditional Farms, and miles of walking and cycling trails.
Killarney is a terrific base for day trips through the Gap of Dunloe and the Beara Peninsula. Add in shopping, dining and lively pubs and it’s very easy to spend your entire vacation in this single area.
Quite possibly one of Ireland’s most magical – and least visited – areas. Lough Gur lies just south of Limerick City. In this small area you’ll find Ireland’s largest stone circle, the entrance to faerie land, castle ruins and incredible archeological sites. Easily, an entire days’ worth of exploration and discovery.
The Ballyhoura Region, of which Lough Gur is a part of, covers much of County Limerick and the northern portion of County Cork. A popular area for hikers and mountain bikers, you’ll also find Ireland’s only Donkey Sanctuary, which is fun and free to visit.
Rambling Houses across the area will teach you Irish Dancing or maybe even how to play the Irish whistle or bodhrán.
Photos of breathtaking Kylemore Abbey in Connemara inspire many adults to visit Ireland. But few realize that the grounds of the Abbey are incredible place for children. The paths throughout the grounds feature fun play areas for kids.
While the adults will marvel at the Walled Victorian Gardens, the kids will see a fabulous place to run and explore. The gardeners are always happy to answer questions and the tea shop provides a relaxing spot for a cuppa and a bit of chocolate.
If you are very adventurous, enquire about mountain hikes behind the Abbey. Not for the faint of heart, but the views are unbelievable!
Often overlooked in it’s neighbor’s (the Ring of Kerry) popularity, the Dingle Peninsula offers quite a lot for families. One of the largest draws is the town of Dingle’s resident dolphin, Fungi. A terrific Oceanic Aquarium lies just by Dingle Bay.
Driving the peninsula leads to a stone age fort, bee hive huts and the Gallarus Oratory. Views are just as dramatic as you’ll find on the Ring of Kerry.
The Dingle Peninsula is a Gaeltecht, or Irish speaking area, so you’re likely to pick up a few Irish words, as well.
Will you believe the scientists, who say the Giant’s Causeway is the result of an underwater volcano, or will you trust the Irish legend that says it was built by Finn McCool as a path way to Scotland?
After visiting the miles of octagonal stones along the Antrim coastline, it’s likely you’ll choose the Irish legend.
For those looking for adventure, follow the Antrim Coast Road, a narrow, often single carriage-way drive that hugs the Antrim coast providing some of the most breathtaking views in Northern Ireland.
Include a stop at the dramatic ruins of Dunluce Castle or, for those who enjoy a thrill, cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
The Lough Boora Parklands were once a prime peat mining area. Now those acres of land are public space, filled with art that can be appreciated by all ages.
Wander the pathways on foot, or rent a bicycle. And bring bits of bread to feed the ducks and geese that call the park home.
Though maybe not as white-knuckling as the Antrim Coast Road, the Sky Road near Clifden offers incredible views – and a few heart-racing moments as well. At times the road seems like it must fall off the edge of the cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean, and then the road widens, providing a place to stop and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
The village of Clifden is called the Capital of Connemara. Filled with shops and pubs, it’s the perfect place to dance the night away in a pub to traditional Irish music (yes, kids are allowed in the pubs!). And the beaches of Mannin Bay are a terrific place to hunt shells and sea glass.
One of Ireland’s best preserved tower houses, Bunratty Castle is the center of a folk park filled with traditional Irish cottages as well as a small village filled with traditional shops and a pub.
Wandering the grounds leads to a beautiful walled garden, a piggery, plenty of animals and even a play area featuring a wooden castle.
Bunratty castle can be explored top to bottom and hosts a Medieval Banquet nightly. For families with young children, I recommend Traditional Irish Night, which is filled with music, dancing and craic (pronounced “crack”; Irish for fun and entertainment).
Many visits to Ireland begin and end in Dublin. But Dublin is not all about the pubs.
One place in the city that will surely please kids of any age is Phoenix Park. Over 1700 acres, Phoenix Park was originally a Royal deer park. You’ll still find deer and other wildlife throughout the park as you explore on foot or bicycle.
Also within the park is the Dublin Zoo, playgrounds, a flower garden, and tea shops. Phoenix park is truly a relaxing oasis in the center of bustling Dublin.
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