Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone. Celebrate by wearing green, drinking a pint or so of Guinness and enjoying this guest post from Kate Moran.
Kate is an American girl living in Ireland with her two small children. She founded MummyMaps.com, the stylish guide for Irish parents, and shares these insider tips for living in Dublin or traveling to Ireland with little ones.
Ireland is famous for gorgeous landscapes, charming villages and relaxing family time. Here is the perfect week in Ireland with kids (including best restaurants with changing tables and highchairs and advice for beating the weather):
Monday: City walk
The country’s capital and cultural heart, Dublin has lots for families to enjoy. Wander through Trinity College’s cobblestone paths, up the main shopping street, Grafton Street and to St. Stephen’s Green, where the kids can spend some time at the playground. Entry into most museums is free, so they are great to pop into to get out of the rain. In fact, the National Gallery of Ireland has a fantastic gift shop to buy gifts for home as well as a reliable cafe.
Tuesday: Guinness tour
The Guinness Storehouse is a requisite stop for many adults – and we can report that it’s pretty family-friendly. The displays (like the massive waterfall in the front hall) can engage most children for a while and the Gravity Bar is bright and lively. There are baby changing facilities and well, there is something strangely gratifying about taking your baby’s picture next to a pint of Guinness.
Finally, for older children, visit Kilmainham Goal for a tour of the famous jail where the leaders of the 1916 uprising were jailed and executed. Just across the road from Kilmainham is the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). It hosts an eclectic variety of exhibitions to suit every taste.
After strolling the lengthy corridors, head to the café Itsa-at-Imma. Wholesome hot meals, salads, (including coeliac options) and a full kid’s bagel menu is available. Just off the main café is a family room with little tables, highchairs, play mats, a microwave and lots of wooden toys and colouring and chalk boards to keep the monkeys amused while you enjoy that long awaited coffee. And to top it off…the ladies loos would put the Ritz to shame – you could fit at least four buggies in the baby change area! (Ah, it’s the little things…) If the weather is bearable, let the wild ones run freely in the wide open spaces or shout it all out in the formal gardens where an art installation in the form of a volcanic metallic fountain is a little treat for tiny ones with big imaginations.
The amazing green countryside isn’t far from Dublin city. Take a drive through the Wicklow Mountains and Powerscourt House & Gardens – it’s one of our all-time favourite daytrips from Dublin. Drive south of the city to the Wicklow Mountains to find Powerscourt Estate. On a sunny day, the drive is spectacular. The tour/video show of Powerscourt isn’t all that interesting (the original building burned down and the existing interior is a recreation) but the planned gardens and Japanese garden are lovely to walk through – and the kids can run wild.
The café and shop are feasts for the eyes and stomach – the café, run by the venerable Avoca Café, serves Irish food with a twist and is delicious. There is always a children’s meal that comes with an enormous cookie (“biscuit”) the size of their head. The shoppe is an eclectic mix of Irish goods, kitchen treats and funky clothing and books for adults and kids. If you can, take turns browsing the shop, as it’s usually a bit hectic to bring the kids into, as there are a lot of breakables and it’s hard to navigate a stroller.
Note: There are several Avoca cafés throughout the country; the food is fantastic and they are always great for kids. The cafés are casual and usually noisy and crowded, but there are always highchairs, places to park a buggy and helpful staff to help carry your trays if you have a baby on your hip!
The hills of Howth are magnificent and well worth a short trip just outside of Dublin to check out. You can drive or take the DART from the city. It’s the Cliff Walk you want, however, the cliff walk literally hugs the cliff’s edge and is only appropriate for adults with babies in a pouch or backpack – the paths are narrow and the drops very steep. There are other less perilous routes to the top , so some of your gang can take the more navigable route and meet at the top. The views are stunning and you can’t beat the fresh air!
And, the rumors are true, a great pint awaits at the end of your hike at The Summit Inn. (During the Cliff Walk, you are really exposed to the elements, so if it’s particularly windy and rainy, skip it. The views won’t really be all that great and cliffs and windy days don’t mix. However, a little drizzle “a soft day” need not be a deterrent.)
Howth has some great eating establishments, so working up your appetite is a brilliant move. Our suggestions? The House is our new favourite home away from home. Imagine warm crumbly scones, great coffee and a bacon sandwich served with greens dressed in vinaigrette and a perfect selection of seafood for dinner. They welcome families with open arms – happy to stash buggies at the door, pull a highchair out for your little one and provide coloring supplies. The adventurous children’s menu offers smaller portions from the regular menu.
Friday: Dublin Zoo
Dublin Zoo is set within the largest park in Europe, Phoenix Park (there’s enough here as well to entertain the family) Here are some top tips from seasoned zoo members:
- Get there early. Whatever the season, most of the big draw animals are out strutting their stuff between 10:00 am and noon. Get out & up early so you won’t have to keep explaining to your little ones that the tiger/chimp/wolf “is having its nap.”
- Dress warmly. The zoo seems to have its own arctic microclimate and there are several cool playgrounds, so waiting around can be tough on the grown ups. On really bad days, retreat for a break to the (centrally heated) indoor exhibits like the Reptile House or the Discovery Centre.
- Do your research. The zoo’s website lists a schedule of Keeper Talks for various species during the day, kicking off around 11:00 am. These generally combine feeding time and a mini-lecture, pitched at children of all ages. The website also offers a map of the zoo to download in advance, and lots of animal information to impress the children, as well upcoming event details.
- Bring your own picnic. There are benches and tables around to make this easy and the zoo’s own restaurant, though improved lately, is nothing to write home about. If you don’t want to prepare your own food, the tiny Phoenix Park Tea Rooms kiosk, located opposite the zoo’s entrance, does very good paninis, home-baked cakes, organic coffee and some tasty children’s options to eat there or bring along.
[more tips from Kate on the Dublin Zoo]
Saturday: Phoenix Park
Head back to Phoenix Park and recapture the pleasures of your youth with help from Phoenix Park Bike Hire, at the park entrance. This brilliant endeavor caters to tourists, locals and families, alike. Completely kitted out with everything the gang could need — kiddie helmets, bike locks, baby seats and baby carriers -– there is no better way to enjoy the park on a gorgeous day. The staff is lovely and patient and willing to look after your personal affects that you’d like to leave behind during your excursion (i.e. buggies, nappy bag). Explore the grounds of the park and check out the super cute toddler-height maze for the kids to adventure through by the Visitor’s Centre.
The centre has a great café and cobbled courtyard and the food in the café is organic, very healthy (and tasty) with plenty of options for the little ones. Highchairs are available and basic change facilities are on site too.
Sunday: Playground by the sea
Ireland has some seriously impressive playgrounds – really! Take a lovely drive up to the seaside town of Skerries to indulge the kids with a visit to Ardgillan Castle. The adults will marvel at the gorgeous grounds and view of the sea while the nautical themed playground provides a bounty of entertainment guaranteed to thoroughly tucker the kiddies out. The view alone makes this our favorite playground in all of Dublin (to date!).
If you are hankering for a snack before arrival, nip into Olive on the main drag in Skerries for take-out sandwiches, lattes, and sweets. If you’re planning on a meal after, visit the excellent Stoop Your Head in Skerries harbour for its first lunch seating (they open at noon). If you’re in a big group, try to score the tables in the right corner and dig into some of the freshest, most delectable seafood around. Despite it being a popular (and small) place, they are happy to have children and offer a children’s menu and highchairs.
If you have more time, here are some favourite spots beyond Dublin:
The Cliffs of Moher: These majestic cliffs rise out of the sea and are truly awe-inspiring for both parents and kids, alike. The visitor’s centre provides some background to this natural wonder. If you are approaching the cliffs from the north, make your drive to the cliffs doubly stunning by getting there via the Burren.
Ring of Kerry: The Ring of Kerry is a tourist favorite, so some try to avoid it – but, it’s a favorite for good reason. Dotted with beautiful Irish villages, dramatic overlooks and stunning beaches tucked below the cliffs – it’s beautiful! Again, opt for driving yourself and be sure to spend lots of time out of the car – make stops wherever inspires you!
West Cork: Magnificent natural landscapes makes West Cork a delight to visit. In particular, Schull is one of the loveliest villages. While there visit the Mizen Head Signal Station for a thrilling walk and view and stop at gorgeous Barley Cove Beach for a stroll.
Galway city: Galway’s streets are lively, full of university students and feels like a very small city compared to Dublin. Stroll the streets, listen to the music and be sure to get some great seafood.
Connemara: Driving through Connemara offers breathtaking scenery (I know we keep saying this, but it’s true!) Nestled behind the mountains is Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Gardens. The children will be delighted to see this amazing castle on the shores of Lough Pollacappul. There are lots of wooded paths to explore and the walled gardens will inspire the gardener in you.
If you plan on bringing a stroller, smaller is better. The doors to most shops and restaurants tend to be narrower than in America – forget about surviving with those double-wide strollers – most mums of two little ones in Dublin seem to have the buggies that stack one kid on top of the other like the Phil & Ted’s (note: we’ve lived in Dublin for 4 years without a car – the P&T double-stroller is our family car – love it!) Oh, and ALWAYS have your rain cover in the bottom of the stroller, even if it looks bright and sunny. Trust me.
A word about the famous rainy weather. Yes, it does really rain a lot. It needn’t slow you down too much, but if you plan spending the day outside, always bring a light windbreaker with a hood – the kind that can be scrunched down into the bottom of your bag or stroller are perfect.
We thank Kate for sharing her great tips with our readers. Want more ideas for shopping, eating, and enjoying diversions in Dublin? Visit MummyMaps. If I didn’t just get back from a family European getaway, I think she’d have me packing my bags for Ireland!