Family Travel in Ireland
Ireland has long been a popular family destination. Its compact size means there will be no overly long car journeys with the little ones fidgeting in the back, and the variety of landscapes and activities ensures there is something to amuse everyone within easy reach. This destination is safe and fun, with adventures—in the form of a castle, legend, or expanse of scenery—awaiting at every turn.
Accessible attractions abound here. Everything from adventure sports to historical tours can be made child-friendly: visit Donegal's beginner surfing beaches in the northwest, head to the Irish National Heritage Park where kids can try megalithic rock art and pan for gold, or meet animals on a local sheep farm.
It's good to note that many tours and activities in Ireland offer family discount passes—always be sure to ask. Learn about some of the country's best family activities below, and for more inspiration, check out this 10-day family itinerary featuring falconry lessons and a Kinsale ghost tour.
Kid-Friendly Beaches & River Tubing
There is no better starting point for a family adventure than the beach. Ireland has a coastline renowned for its safe, gently-sloping sandy beaches, many of which are patrolled during the high season by a lifeguard.
In County Cork, you can visit the most southwesterly point in Ireland at the dune-backed and sandy Barleycove Beach on the Mizen Head Peninsula. And the most fun beach in County Kerry has to be Ballybunion Beach, where a cliff topped by a ruined castle divides the sands in two. There are good rockpools to paddle in, and a spectacular natural rock arch in the middle of the bay.
Magherawarden Beach at Port Salon in County Donegal is a lifeguarded mile-long curve of sand with a (fairly) sheltered location. At Dog's Bay in Connemara, the sheltered, horseshoe-shaped beach is actually made of crushed shells, giving it a glittering white hue.
You can introduce the little ones to surfing, too, at Co. Donegal's Rossnowlagh Beach. This sandy spot offers mellow waves, beginner surfing lessons, and lifeguards on duty. And you don't have to go to the beach to get wet—one of the best family-friendly water sports in Ireland is tubing on the River Inny in Ballymahon. Kids from age 8 upwards can give this a go.
Visit the Local Animals: Sheep, Goats, Dolphins, and More
Get to know Ireland's best-loved mammal at the Killary Sheep Farm, a scenic spot along the spectacular Killary Fjord in County Galway. You can learn about (and participate in) many aspects of sheep farming, from shearing to sheepdog demonstrations. Another worthwhile farm stop is on pretty Cape Clear, an island off Ireland's southwest coast—at Cléire Goats, you can meet the namesake animals and try ice cream made with their milk.
Are marine creatures more your family's style? Atlantaquaria in Galway is the country's largest aquarium, showcasing 150 marine species found on and around Ireland's coastline. And Ireland's most famous animal is Fungie, a bottlenose dolphin found off the coast of Dingle that you can take a boat trip to see, or even swim with—you can read more under Things to Do in our Ultimate Guide to the Dingle Way.
Of course, there's also the zoo. Dublin Zoo is one of the country's most popular paid attractions and Ireland's biggest and best zoo. Expect everything from elephants and lions to snow leopards amidst its 70-acre site.
Find Irish Legends, from Leprechauns to Pirates
The most famous Irish myth is that of the leprechaun, and you're more likely to find them in Carlingford than anywhere else. Thanks to area local PJ O'Hare, who supposedly discovered a leprechaun's suit here thirty years ago, the community has gone leprechaun crazy. Now, 200-odd sites linked to the mischevious little men have been designated around the area. PJ O'Hare's, a family-friendly pub, is one of the best places to experience the phenomenon—it's completely decorated with leprechaun-related "artifacts" found nearby.
Ireland has a rich history of swashbuckling, too. Some coastal castles were actually once home to families who made their fortune through piracy. In Northern Ireland, County Antrim's Dunluce Castle was such a clifftop fortress, while County Mayo's Clare Island was the domain of pirate queen Grace O'Malley. Today's wannabe buccaneers can tour her castle, and even participate in a treasure hunt.
Ghost stories abound in a country with a history as far-reaching and turbulent as Ireland's. In Dublin there are several spooky tours you can sign up for, including the Haunted History Walking Tour. Over in County Kerry, the Original Killarney Ghost Tour is done by bus, and takes you to Killarney area sites associated with Dracula and other ghoulishly exciting sites.
Star Wars is not exactly legend, of course, but if you want to take your loved ones into the midst of one of the most incredible fantasies of all time, take a tour of Skellig Michael, an island dubbed "Star Wars Ireland" for its starring role in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
Make History Fun: Irish National Heritage Park & Blarney Castle
One of the most enjoyable places to engage with the country's ancient past is the Irish National Heritage Park, in County Wexford. In this lovely expanse of woodland and wetland, families can experience nine millennia of Irish history through engaging activities. Help construct a house from wattle, create ancient rock art, pan for gold, or test your archery skills. And—if you're prepared to dress for the occasion—you can even stay overnight in an Irish ring fort modeled on those that stood on these shores 1,500 years ago.
But to make your kids truly at home on their holiday to Ireland, give them the legendary 'gift of the gab'—a flattering way with words the Irish are famous for. For this, take the family to the Blarney Castle fortress, clamber to the top, and lean back over a vertiginous drop to kiss the famous Blarney Stone and attain the gift of eloquence. An undoubtedly touristy activity, for sure, but one that your family will be gabbing about (we had to) for years to come.
For more, see our list of the Best Local & Cultural Experiences in Ireland.