WHY IRELAND SHOULD BE YOUR NEXT FAMILY VACATION
After an afternoon of falconry in an Irish forest near a castle, my 10-year-old daughter turned to our falconer and asked,“How can I get a job here?” he smiled. She did not. “I’m serious,” she continued,“How old do I need to be to intern?” “Seventeen,” he replied. “See you then!” My daughter meant it then and it’s still her intent, four years later.
We’ve taken our three kids (10, 12, and 14) to 62 countries and all seven continents, but Ireland is the place we keep returning to—and not just because of the falconry. What do we love about Ireland?
Ring forts, stone forts, hill forts, star forts: You’ll learn all of the terminology when you drive through Ireland with kids. Whether you’re seeking out forts or simply stumbling upon them, they’re all interesting, and for kids, they’re fun to explore. Most forts that we’ve been to include signage, so you won’t be missing out by walking around independently. And be sure to look out for fairy circles (fairy rings). Just don’t enter or tamper with the circles, as you’ll be inviting bad luck.
Ireland has an abundance of castles, and a lot of them have been transformed into hotels. Going to sleep in an 800-year-old castle is truly magical! And while you can use a castle as a base for exploring an area, most have enough activities to keep your family busy for days, including horseback riding, archery, hiking, canoeing, cycling, the aforementioned falconry, and even spa visits and afternoon tea. And there are castle stays available for a range of travel budgets.
Big Cities and Small Towns
Dublin’s wonderful. Over the years we’ve gone on multiple tours, visited all of the can’t-miss sites like Temple Bar, Trinity College, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, attended concerts, and even had Irish storyteller Helena Byrne entertain us with literal fairy tales over dinner one night. But we prefer Ireland’s smaller towns.
Kinsale’s one of our favorite places in the world, with a perfect, easily-walkable town center, great cafes and pubs, an excellent farmers market and even a nightly ghost tour. And Cork is an easy day trip from Kinsale, with its English Market and Fota Wildlife Park.
But if you ask twenty people for their favorite small towns in Ireland, you’ll get twenty different answers, from Carlingford and Donegal up north to Adare, Clifden, and Kenmare to the west to Cobh and Kilkenny in the south—with many more in-between. You can’t go wrong no matter which direction you go, though. And it’s easy to explore. A drive from Donegal, on the same latitude as Belfast, Northern Ireland, all the way south to Kinsale only takes five hours..
We love hiking everywhere we travel, but hiking in Ireland is particularly fun and, for short legs, easy since it’s largely flat. And if you plan your visit for the autumn, there will be more blackberries along the hiking trails than you can possibly eat. We pop as many as possible into our mouths as we hike, and we never seem to make a dent!
And of course, for serious hikers, there’s stunning Skellig Michael, seven miles west of County Kerry, made even more famous by the newest Star Wars movies. Be sure to book far in advance, as daily visitors are limited, and make sure you have backup plans—boat operators are frequently forced to cancel departures due to storms and high winds.
And finally, Ireland is easy to visit from the US. The flight time from Newark to Dublin is only 6.5 hours—the same as if you were going to LA from NJ—and the five-hour time difference doesn’t require too much of an adjustment for a one-week school break. English is spoken by 99% of the population and dining is easy, even for picky kids.
Driving on the left is the only slightly challenging thing you’ll face, but you’ll adjust to it quickly. And the really fun thing about driving in Ireland is that if you miss a turn, you can keep going and you’ll soon come to a roundabout that will either point you in the right direction or give you a chance to head off in a random direction and discover something new (well, probably very old, but new for you)!