This coming October my family and I will hopefully be heading out on our first family vacation to Ireland. I’m no expert on the country so I asked my friend Jody over at Family Rambling, who also runs the site Ireland with Kids, to give me a sample itinerary for anyone looking to hit a few highlights during a week-long stay.
Ireland is an incredibly deceptive country.
It’s small… roughly the size of the state of Indiana… which leads people to believe that they can zip from one place to another quickly and “see it all” in a week to 10 day long trip.
Despite its small size, Ireland is filled with an incredible wealth of magical castles, breathtaking views, ancient history and charming pubs. Add to that the narrow rural roads, the friendly locals and the many (many) discoveries to make at each and every place you visit and that “see it all” itinerary becomes overwhelming and rushed; far too much to do in a single visit.
When I coach families planning their first visit to Ireland I find that a few thoughts remain constant… Everyone wants to view the stunning Cliffs of Moher, drive the Ring of Kerry and see a castle (or 2 or 3). But, beyond that, the ideas are vague… traditional music is often mentioned, as is the thought of learning Irish dance, but how to see and do these things? Often first time visitors aren’t sure where to begin.
First Visit to Ireland Itinerary
For a first-time visit I most often recommend Ireland’s “sunny Southwest”, the counties of Kerry, Limerick and Clare. In these three counties your family can experience some of Ireland’s most magical locations, breathtaking sights, incredible history and beautiful culture.
For this itinerary (based on a one week vacation) I recommend arriving at Shannon Airport, if at all possible; it will save you a few hours of driving time.
Day 1 & 2
Get your rental car and begin your journey to Killarney. The most popular tourist town in the Southwest, you’ll find plenty of shopping and dining centered in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.
I recommend splitting your day in 2 halves, with a more grown-up activity and a more kid-friendly activity, with room to fill in explorations. With so many things to do in this area, you may find it difficult to choose your activities.
- Take a jaunting cart ride from Killarney to Ross Castle, through Killarney National Park.
- Drive to Muckross House and Gardens. Tour the house and the Traditional Farms or just wander the beautiful grounds. Be sure to wander to Muckross Abbey where many of Ireland’s High Kings are buried.
- Enjoy the beautiful views at Tork Waterfall and the Ladies’ View.
- Rent a bicycle or walk through the Gap of Dunloe.
- Skip the Ring of Kerry and instead take a day trip to the Dingle Peninsula. The scenery is just as beautiful and you’ll find incredible history to explore like the Gallarus Oratory, a stone age fort and beehive huts. Dingle also has an incredible aquarium and it’s most famous resident is a dolphin named Fungi.
- Just outside Killarney is Kennedy’s Pet Farm, a fun hands-on petting zoo with deer, rabbits, peacocks, puppies, sheep and more.
Day 3 & 4
Leave Killarney (I know- there is still so much to do!) and head to Ballyhoura Country. This region of Ireland covers much of County Limerick and the northern portion of County Cork. I highly recommend staying at The Old Bank B&B in Bruff, though you’ll find other options in the area as well.
As you drive toward Bruff plan to stop at The Donkey Sanctuary near Mallow. Hundreds of abused and neglected donkeys from across Ireland have found a beautiful home here. Take time to walk the farm trails or cuddle the donkeys at the entrance. And pop into the gift shop before you go… You can adopt a donkey!
The Ballyhoura Region is a hub of outdoor activities.
- Plan on at least half a day exploring the magic of Lough Gur. Stone and Bronze Age artifacts have been found throughout the area. You can also explore the largest stone circle in Ireland, the entrance to faerie land, the Giant’s Grave and stand where ruling clans once hung their enemies.
- The town of Kilmallock is filled with history- as well as being the hub of walking and cycling in the area. You’ll find the Loop Walks to be family friendly and the Ballyhoura Mouintains incredibly scenic.
- Scattered throughout the region are ‘Rambling Houses’; evening entertainments of live music, storytelling and dancing. A few quick phone calls can set you up for an evening of craic (pronounced “crack”; the Irish for fun and entertainment) you won’t soon forget.
- Enjoy the astounding beauty of the Glen of Aherlow from horseback. Plan a trail ride with Hillcrest Riding Centre.
- And don’t overlook the towns and villages. Bruff, Emly and Kilmallock all have extensive histories, as do many of the other towns in the area.
Days 5 & 6
It’s time to leave Bruff and head north to Doolin. On your way you’ll stop at one of the best restored castles for families- Bunratty. In fact, you probably saw it as you left the Shannon Airport.
Bunratty Castle is terrific for families. You can explore the castle all the way to the top battlements. The surrounding Folk Park is filled with traditional Irish cottages, a cute village with stores and a nice pub for lunch and plenty of animals in the farm. Kids adore the Irish Wolfhounds. And you must visit the piggery… just for the name alone. If the kids are young enough to enjoy a play area, they will love the one at Bunratty. Be sure to let them run off their energy before you get back in the car to drive up the coast to the Cliffs of Moher.
No matter how many photos you’ve seen, you will be unprepared for the dramatic beauty of the Cliffs of Moher. Take time in the visitor’s centre and learn the history of the cliffs before climbing the steep paths for the view. It is breathtaking.
From the Cliffs of Moher it is just a short drive to Doolin, a lovely village known for traditional music. By now you have probably learned that pubs are kid friendly, so make sure the kids have a bit of a rest so you can stay for a session (an informal gathering of musicians).
From Doolin there are plenty of activities for you to do.
- Explore the Burren. The Poulnabrone Dolmen and Aillwee Caves are just incredible to see.
- Take a cruise on the Doolin Ferry to see the Cliffs of Moher from an entirely different angle.
- Plan a day trip to the Aran Islands.
- Take the very scenic drive to Loop Head. Wander a nearby sandy beach looking for shells, visit the Loop Head Lighthouse (the last landmark between County Clare and America) or visit the natural “Bridges of Ross”.
It’s your final day in Ireland. If you are flying out of Dublin, it’s time to head that way. If you’re final day will be spent in the Shannon Region, take a look through the list of things you wanted to do but didn’t have time for. Or maybe the things you wanted to do, but the weather didn’t agree.
Relax, enjoy your last day in Ireland and begin planning your return.
Jody Halsted is a family travel authority with a mad passion for Ireland. A frequent visitor to the country, she loves nothing more than exploring the country with her husband and two daughters. Jody recently published a series of Ireland vacation planning tips at her site Ireland With Kids. Jody also plans Ireland itineraries and provides Ireland travel coaching. Get inspired by the Ireland Family Vacations Pinterest boards or follow Jody on Twitter @IrelandFamTrvl.
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