Planning the Perfect Family Vacation in Ireland

by  Emily Zemler | May 18, 2023

Ireland is an ideal country to visit with multiple generations, whether you have young kids, surly teenagers, or want to bring the entire extended family on an overseas vacation. Ireland offers kids an easy-going vibe and lots to do, from city zoos to coastal walks to castles. Meanwhile, the older crowd can enjoy museums, historic sites, traditional pubs, and incredible views.

Fortunately, Ireland is the sort of place that caters to everyone — that is, if you plan accordingly: With this in mind, we've rounded up everything you need to know about planning the perfect family vacation in Ireland. 

Where to Go in Ireland

From vibrant cities to national parks to scenic coastlines, Ireland has it all. Determining where you want to go will depend on a few factors: How much time do you have? What do you want to see and do? And, what is the age range of your family group?

If you only have a few days, our pro tip is to opt for a bigger city that’s easy to access, including Dublin, Cork, or Galway. These destinations are especially great for younger children since there is more to do for all ages. For a longer trip, consider driving part of the Wild Atlantic Way, exploring Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry, or taking in the sights of County Clare. Smaller towns and adventurous hikes may feel less accessible for children in strollers or older generations with mobility concerns. 

Read more: The Best Things to See and Do in Dublin

Since there are so many options for travelers to Ireland, an itinerary can be tailor-made to your family’s travel style. Those who like to pack in plenty of attractions and activities are best suited to Cork or Dublin, while those who prefer something more leisurely should head for the western coast. Also, don't feel you have to see it all in one trip. Instead, pick a primary destination and work from there. For example, basing yourself in Cork is perfect for excursions to Blarney Castle, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Ring of Kerry. If you’d prefer to see numerous places around Ireland without the stress of travel, many cruise lines offer Ireland and British Isle cruises

How to Get Around Ireland

Once in Ireland, there are several choices for transportation. The most popular option is to rent a car and drive, which allows for freedom and flexibility. It also means driving on the opposite side of the road, often on narrow, twisty roads, which is something to consider. Be sure to book your rental car well in advance of a trip, specify an automatic if you need it, and add the GPS option to the rental. If your child is still in a car seat, you will need to bring one with you. Keep in mind that cars in Ireland are much smaller than those in the U.S., which can impact the amount of luggage you can fit in the vehicle (as well as how comfortable it is for a bigger group). 

Read more: How to Plan the Ultimate Ireland Road Trip

Travelers planning to base themselves in a city can skip the rental car, even if they plan to take day trips, which can be done by bus. Dublin has trains, trams, and buses, which are reasonably easy to use, while Cork has an extensive bus network. There are also taxis and Ubers for shorter distances. To venture from destination to destination, Irish Rail operates numerous train routes, most of which stop through Dublin. Cities like Cork, Galway, Limerick, Sligo, and Belfast have large train stations, and there are more than 150 train stations in Ireland in general.

Where to Stay in Ireland

Like anywhere, some accommodations in Ireland are more family-friendly than others. The good news is that if you need a kitchen or more space, vacation rentals are easy to find and book in Ireland, especially in popular destinations or along the Wild Atlantic Way. Look for unique or unusual rentals, like lighthouses or historic manors. You can often score budget-friendly deals and enjoy something unexpected. Castles are available to rent. Besides, a bigger property, such as a castle, can be a good idea if you’re traveling with multiple generations or an extended family. 

Read more: The Best Castle Hotels in Ireland 

If you have older, more adventurous kids, Ireland’s coastline and national parks are ideal spots for summer camping or glamping. 

Things to Consider

While Ireland welcomes travelers with open arms year-round, certain seasons are better than others. Winter can be extremely dark, with a late sunrise and early sunset, and the weather is often rainy and unpredictable. While Dublin’s museums and pubs might be enough to keep you warm and dry, driving the Wild Atlantic Way will not be particularly pleasant. Spring and fall can be a good middle ground to avoid the summer crowds, although you’ll still want to pack some warm sweaters and rain gear. Schools are typically out in July and August in Ireland, with a two-week break for Easter, so consider planning around those busy holidays. Most of all, don’t let the rain deter you from enjoying the sights. 

Although it may seem odd at first, take your kids to the pub with you. An Irish pub is an experience all to itself, and it’s often a lively scene with a band or a singer. You’ll notice many families out together in the pub, especially on a sunny afternoon or early evening. Pubs often have a kids menu available if they serve food. If in doubt, ask your hotel or a friendly local about which nearby pubs are most welcoming to kids. 

Plan, but have an open mind. As all parents know, traveling with kids, teenagers, or even cranky adults can be challenging. Ireland is a pretty laid-back country, so it’s easy to stop and take a break when needed or pivot your itinerary. However, since there’s so much to see and do, it can also often become overwhelming, making it especially important to be flexible and open-minded about what you’re going to do next. And, if all else fails, just head to the local pub. 

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