Irish Road Trip

As you start planning for a summer 2022 vacation, you might be ready to finally get back to traveling abroad. One of the easiest places to visit with children is the Emerald Isle. Ireland is a small island and with careful planning, you can see most of it in a one-week trip!


History

Ireland has a rich and storied history, from its early Celtic roots to the Troubles. After Christianity was introduced in the 6th century, Ireland became known for its monasteries, including at Kells where an illustrated Bible, now called the Book of Kells, was saved from destruction. St. Patrick, an early Christian saint, is also a revered figure in Irish history. After withstanding Viking raids, the Irish then dealt with dozens of English conquests, resulting in more than 850 years of English rule over parts of the island. 

With the religious wars of the Tudor time period, Ireland struggled to retain its Catholic roots in the face of English Protestantism, a recurrent issue in Irish history. Throughout the 17th – 19th centuries, there were many battles fought over English Protestant rule. This effort culminated in the Irish War of Independence and subsequent founding of the Irish Republic in the early 20th century. Several states in the northeast of the island, however, remained part of the United Kingdom and the fight for this land came to be known as “the Troubles,” which ended with an historic peace agreement in 1998. 

Irish history is full of folklore, legends, and literature, from leprechauns to the Celtic kings. For a small island, it has produced an amazing array of writers, poets, and musicians, all telling the haunting history of this beautiful place. 


Visit

Visiting Ireland is one of the easiest ways to introduce your children to traveling abroad. The people are warm and welcoming, everyone speaks English, and the island is very easy to navigate. We visited with our children in the summer of 2019 and spent one week touring the country. 

I’ve highlighted a suggested itinerary below. Our children were a bit older (14 and 10) so we were able to travel longer distances without breaks and could endure jam-packed days. If you have young children, check out my alternative suggestions. 

Also please know that this is meant to present an option to see the southern half of the country in a week. Of course, there is so much more you can do in the places I list, along with other parts of the country we didn’t see. This should just be a starting point for you to craft your own Irish vacation! Feel free to email me for additional details or questions!


Image taken from Google Maps

Day 1: Dublin – Overcoming Jet-Lag

Fly into Dublin and take a cab to your hotel. With most transatlantic flights landing in the morning hours, chances are your room won’t be ready so leave your bags and step out into brisk Irish air! Pro tip: Don’t schedule your flight for a Sunday arrival. Most stores and museums are closed until at least noon, which makes wandering around while jet-lagged a bit more difficult!

Stay: We loved The Westbury near Dublin’s famed shopping district along Grafton Street. Perfect for families, this is one of the few Irish hotels where a family of four can stay in one room. Our room even had teddy bears and coloring books ready for our kids! Book a two-night stay.

Eat: Even if your room isn’t ready, have a full Irish breakfast at The Westbury to fuel up before touring. Grab lunch while out and then head back to the hotel’s Balfes restaurant for dinner.

Do: Get out and about! Dublin is a compact city so you can walk to most historic sites and museums, which is the best way to combat jet-lag. Some of my favorite sites include:

*Walk across the historic O’Connell bridge and down the quay towards the EPIC museum and famine ship. Younger children will love running down the sidewalk beside the river and history enthusiasts will be interested in the haunting famine statues you’ll encounter (there are even great benches for your jet-lagged kids to rest upon!).

*Take the Rick Steves’ O’Connell street stroll. Don’t miss visiting the GPO Witness History Museum, one of my favorites in the entire country! If you have younger kids, you don’t have to visit the museum to see the actual room where the 1916 Easter rebellion took place. Step in the still-working post office to view.

*Shop along Grafton Street, walking all the way down to St. Stephen’s Green, which is an expansive park. Get the wiggles out of your kids by letting them play while you relax in one of the most historic parks in Dublin.

*Visit the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology to see the creepy bog people! After visiting the museum, walk around Merrion Square and its fantastic “Giants Garden” playground – don’t miss the colorful Oscar Wilde statue!

Day 2: Dublin – Vikings, Castles, and Cathedrals

After spending your first day wandering around Dublin on your own, hire a private tour guide to give you a behind-the-scenes tour of the western half of the city. We booked our 4-hour tour through Ciao Bambino, and it was perfect for our kids! Our guide took us through Trinity College/Book of Kells to Dublin Castle, explaining history, folklore, and Irish culture. 

Eat: Our tour ended near Ireland’s oldest pub (open since 1198!!!). The Brazen Head made a great lunch stop! Dinner around Grafton Street is a good plan, we loved our meal at Gotham Cafe.

Do: After lunch, visit the fun musical park beside St. Audoen’s Church and let your kids get their wiggles out before visiting the excellent kid-friendly Dublinia Museum about Ireland’s Viking and Medieval history. The museum ends in the lobby of the Christ Church Cathedral so peek at its beautiful nave. If you still have energy, walk to the nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral to marvel at its spectacular nave and graves of famous Irish citizens.

Day 3: From Jails to Castles

Say goodbye to Dublin as you set off on your Irish countryside adventure! Get your rental car (look for one on the western outskirts of the city center), and make one more stop in Dublin at Kilmainham Gaol. This is a must-see with children ages 10 and up. They will be fascinated by visiting a former prison!

Head south to the medieval town of Kilkenny (1 hour, 15 minute drive) for lunch. 

Eat: Have lunch at the atmospheric Kyteler’s Inn, once owned by an accused witch who was burned at the stake!

Do: Walk up the Medieval Mile to Kilkenny Castle. Even if you don’t tour the interior, the exterior is breathtaking!

Drive 1 hour south to the Rock of Cashel, a historic site of ancient kings and Christianity. Grab a snack at the adjacent Brú Ború Heritage Centre.

Stay: End your day at the luxurious Castlemartyr Resort in Cork – book a two-night stay (1 hour drive from the Rock of Cashel). The rooms are spacious and the grounds are gorgeous. Make reservations ahead of time at the hotel’s restaurants.

Day 4: Exploring Cork

With older kids, this is a perfect day to explore Cork and the surrounding countryside. With younger kids, stay closer to the resort and take advantage of the fun activities there (like carriage rides and archery!). The grounds and ruins are a beautiful place for a picnic!

Eat: Eat a sumptuous Irish breakfast at the hotel before heading out. Cobh is a perfect location for lunch on the water (we ate at the Titanic Bar and Grill) and grab dinner at a great seafood restaurant in Kinsale, which is known for its fresh gourmet seafood dishes.

Do: The small town of Cobh is not to be missed, mainly for its jaw-dropping views and Titanic museum.

Kinsale is a must-visit town too. With its wind-swept Charles Fort and quaint coastal homes, it makes a great place to wander.

The town of Cork is a little larger than the other towns and is a great place for laundry (we used The Laundry Locker in Midleton) or shopping. We also visited University College Cork. This is also the location of Blarney Castle along with its famous stone.

Day 5: Driving the Wild Atlantic Way

Leave Castlemartyr and head towards the wild Atlantic coast of Ireland. Drive to the beautiful Muckross House in Killarney National Park (1 hour, 45 minute drive). With younger children, don’t miss the farm animals! 

Eat: Have lunch in the gardens at Muckross, a lovely way to spend the day!

Do: From Muckross House, there are two equally great options for families.

For families with older children and teenagers, head to Dingle, a small town on a remote peninsula in western Ireland (1 hour, 15 minute drive). It has great culture, music, and history! See my review for hotel and restaurant suggestions!

With younger kids, head towards County Clare and stay at Adare Manor (1.5 hour drive). Take part in the fun activities at the hotel, like falconry! Be sure to make dining reservations ahead of time!

Day 6: Windswept Cliffs

From Dingle, spend the morning driving the Dingle drive (check out my review for more details).

From Adare, visit a traditional Irish castle open for tours and even dining –  Bunratty Castle.

After those morning activities, drive to the awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher, easily one of the most beautiful views in Ireland! This is truly a must-visit on your trip, no matter what else you see. (Note: Cliffs of Moher is a 3 hour drive from Dingle and a 1.5 hour drive from Adare Manor. This is your longest driving day.)

Eat: If you didn’t eat after the Dingle drive or at Bunratty, the Cliffs of Moher visitor center has two restaurants or the little town of Lahinch has great restaurants along the water.

Do: After spending time at the Cliffs, drive through The Burren and make your way to the beautiful seaside town of Galway (1.5 hour drive from the Cliffs). Wander its medieval streets and take in its placid bay. 

Stay: Glenlo Abbey Hotel and Estate, located just north of Galway, is a luxurious option, perfect for families. We had two spacious rooms and loved the ambiance at this country resort!

Day 7: Soak in Ireland

On your last day, spend it soaking in Ireland. 

If you’re flying back out of Dublin:

Stay: The K Club is a luxurious way to end your stay in Ireland. Plus it’s just a 30 minute drive to the airport. 

Do: Stop at Clonmacnoise on your way to the hotel (1 hour drive from Galway). It’s one of the most atmospheric places in Ireland!

If you’re flying out of Shannon:

Stay: An additional night at Glenlo Abbey

Do: Take a boat ride to the Aran Islands for the craggy picturesque view. Or head just north of the hotel to visit the bogs of Connemara National Park.

Day 8: Fly home!

If you have extra days, visit other must-see sites, like Brú na Bóinne or Northern Ireland. There’s so much more to see!


While this is just scratching the surface of Irish history, culture, and sightseeing, this week-long itinerary will introduce you and your family to both sides of Ireland, from the largest of cities to the smallest of country towns. Customize this itinerary for your next trip to the Emerald Isle!


Helpful hints:

  • Weather: Ireland is often drizzly but temperate in the summer. We lucked out with 6 of 7 days mostly sunny, with only one day of rain. Take rain jackets and layers! During the colder months, be ready for some dreary and windy days.
  • Traffic: Outside of Dublin, traffic is pretty much nonexistent. The new highways (designated with “M”) are well-maintained and take you to most of these touristy spots. Be forewarned that other roads, especially those with “L” are quite small and windy! Do NOT rent a car in Dublin, and pay extra for tire coverage!
  • Crowds: Most sites are not crowded or need advance tickets. Exceptions include Kilmainham Gaol and Trinity College/Book of Kells.
  • Transportation: I recommend renting a car for sight-seeing outside of Dublin. There are trains and buses but a car will get you to the more remote locations of the island. 
  • Lodging: Travel agents, like ours through Ciao Bambino, Katie Brown, get amazing deals at all of these hotels. Using a travel agent can get you great rates plus lots of extra amenities like free meals and upgrades. And they can give you even more great tips to make your Irish vacation memorable!
  • Check out my other tips in my Ireland guide

Books to Read:

Check out my list of books about Ireland at my Bookshop.org shop, a site that supports independent bookstores and creators.

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