Budget travel, Europe, Ireland

The Ultimate 12 Day Irish Road Trip (with kids)

It has been a dream of mine to visit Ireland for as long as I can remember. As a child, I always thought it sounded purely magical. The fairy stories and ancient legends, the green rolling hills, the whimsical music emanating from a local pub, people clapping and dancing. Well, it turns out, it’s all true. Ireland is every bit as enchanting as you’d imagine.

We spent 12 amazing days road tripping there last spring. We spent time in many villages that aren’t on the typical tourist track, and a few that are. But we loved everywhere we visited and wouldn’t change a thing.

Tip: In Ireland, renting a car is really the only way to go unless you only plan to visit the bigger cities, which I wouldn’t recommend. The villages in Ireland are the heart of the country. I will tell you that a car rental here is quite expensive because most credit card companies don’t cover Ireland for insurance. Make sure to call your credit card company to find out! Because of this, you will need to pay an extra $30 a day or more for insurance. It’s worth it though, as long as you’re prepared for the cost ahead of time.

Days 1-5: Kinsale, Cork, and Clonakilty

Day 1-2: Kinsale

We arrived in Dublin after a relatively short and easy flight from NYC on the budget airline Aer Lingus. You can read more about my thoughts on budget airlines here. Hint: I’m mostly a fan.

We got our rental car, and in a state of extreme jet-lag, my poor husband, learned to drive on the wrong left side of the road on tiny, windy, tree-lined roads. It was terrifying, and thrilling! We were exhausted and excited as we headed south to Kinsale!

We used Kinsale as a base to explore Cork, Blarney Castle, and Clonakilty.

Kinsale is a perfect town to visit with kids. We parked the car at our guest house and walked everywhere for the entire time that we were in the village.

Kinsale looks like an Irish Fairy Tale that twirled out of a storybook and planted itself on a plot of land along the sea. Just look at the little town center here. It’s absolutely perfect.

IMG_2648Our days in Kinsale were spent walking into town to eat fresh seafood, swimming at the nearby beaches, and wandering through the little colorful shops. IMG_2850One of the most memorable things we did was visit The Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance, a 9/11 Memorial created by an Irish nurse who lived in New York during the tragedy. It’s haunting and beautiful, somber and heart wrenching, but absolutely worth a stop.

The beaches in Ireland were the biggest shock to me. They’re stunning, and much to my surprise, people were actually surfing there!

Day 3: Clonakilty

Our favorite beach was Inchydoney Beach, near Clonakilty. As far as favorites, it is tied with the Isle of Skye in Scotland for the most breathtaking natural scenery I’ve ever seen. It’s almost dizzying in its beauty. Inky black rock, with delicate purple flowers forcing their way through the cracks, green moss, so green you wonder how you’ve never experienced that color before. Go there, it will take your breath away and feel like a dream after you’ve left. IMG_2917irelandrainbowIn the town of Clonakilty, make sure to stop for some ice cream at this little shop. You can’t miss it.

Another highlight is the home of Michael Collins, the Irish hero who led the country to Independence from the English.

On the way back to Kinsale, we stopped off the road to take a picture of a phone booth and saw some church ruins down the street. We were exhausted, but decided to walk over anyway.

It was gorgeous. It was built in the 13th century. Moss had grown over the stones and greenery had pushed its way through the stone over the years, but it’s still standing almost a thousand years later.

I couldn’t help but picture someone standing in this very spot asking for guidance or giving thanks all those years ago. I wondered what they wore, what their lives were like, what they’d lost, who they’d loved. It was such a spiritual experience. Those transcendent moments are my favorite part of travel.

Day 4: Blarney Castle and Cork

They say if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you’ll get the gift of gab. There was a college student that worked at our guest house in Kinsale that always played and joked with William. “Ah you’re going to kiss the Blarney Stone are ye? I’m not sure ye need the gift of gab there little man. I think you’ve already got it”. Truth. He never stops talking.

The grounds of Blarney Castle are huge and have several different gardens to walk through. The kids loved running free and exploring all of them. Unlike the Louvre (insert eye roll), the gardens of Blarney Castle are included in the price of the ticket.

After exploring the castle and gardens, we stopped in Cork for dinner. It’s a bustling city with lots of pubs and restaurants to choose from.

Days 5-8: Dingle and Killarney

We stayed in a central location between Killarney and Dingle that was off the tourist track called Tralee. We had a lovely Airbnb that was so comfortable and homey. It’s the perfect central spot to spend a few days.

Day 5: Killarney and Killarney National Park

We had such a relaxing day here. We started out in Killarney walking the streets, listening to the many street performers, and stopping in for lunch. Then we headed to Killarney National Park. Ross Castle, a beautiful medieval relic is found right at the entrance. We explored the castle grounds and then took off along the path into the park.

There were people biking the trails and you can pay for a carriage ride, but we wanted to take our time and just wander.

Down one of the little side paths we happened upon Killarney Lake. Nobody else was around. It was one of the most serene, and calm places I’ve ever been.

There’s so much to do here. Grab a map at the entrance and plan out your afternoon based on the things you want to see. You can rent a canoe, or take a boat tour, hike, bike or just wander. You could easily spend a whole day here. I definitely recommend it.

Days 6-7: Dingle

Dingle is the almost at the western tip of Ireland. There’s a saying from the early 1900’s “Once you get to Dingle, the next parish over is Boston”. Dingle is quite touristy, but for good reason. It’s kid- friendly, colorful, has delicious food and (ice cream!), and there is so much to do!

If you go to Dingle, you have to meet Fungie. He’s the famous dolphin that lives in the ocean there. There are several different tour companies that do boat rides out to see him. We used this one. Book before you go! Tours can sell out in July and early August.

Also, visit the Dingle Aquarium to see the penguins.

Make a stop at Murphy’s. Murphy’s Ice Cream is good. It’s really, really good. (It’s also stupid expensive). But still fun and worth it.

The salted caramel was my favorite. The kids loved the blueberry. (Skip the chocolate. It was our least favorite.)

Explore the village and shops, of course. And you can’t leave Dingle without dinner and live music at the Pub. One of my favorite memories of all time is my kids clapping along to the music, laughing and smiling.

Days 8-12: Kinvara, Cliffs of Moher, Kylemore Abbey, Back to Dublin

Day 8: Kinvarra

We stayed at Arches Bed and Breakfast. It felt like visiting your favorite aunt. Ann makes a delicious breakfast every morning, and had great advice about things to do in the area with our kids. Kinvara is a small village. The perfect home base to explore the area. It didn’t feel touristy at all. It’s a wonderful place to get a feel for real Irish life.

Visit the famous Dunguaire Castle and let the kids play at Traught Beach along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Just outside of Kinvarra is the Burren Wildlife Sanctuary. Our kids LOVED this. There’s an indoor play area with costumes, a soft play area, slides and a little cafe. They even encourage the kids to wear the costumes when they go out on the fairy tours to see the animals! We spent several hours here and had a wonderful time.

Day 9: The Cliffs of Moher

The cliffs are a must when visiting Ireland. It’s really an experience you’ll never forget. My advice is to be really flexible with when you go. Give yourself a window of a couple of days if you can. It can be so foggy that you can’t see a thing. I’ve known several people who went and were broken-hearted not to get the views they wanted. The morning we planned to go was really rainy and foggy and I knew we wouldn’t see anything. We waited it out and later that evening for a few hours, the clouds parted and the sun was bright and beautiful, so we left the beach and dashed over to see it. It was perfect.

Tip: Drive past the normal parking lots here at the entrance area. They’re expensive and not that close. Drive a little bit further and turn up a hill onto a dirt road to the right. There is a farmer there who lets people park on his land for about €10. It’s closer to the cliffs and an easier walk too. We were kind of late and he didn’t want to deal with it, so he didn’t charge us and asked us to close the gate when we left. Sounded like a deal to us.

Day 10: Kylemore Abbey

This is about a 2 hour drive form Kinvara. We left late-morning. Make sure to stop and eat lunch and explore a bit in Galway. Then, just enjoy traveling though the stunning Connemara Countryside to Kylemore Abbey.

Exploring Kylemore Abbey is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Lakeside walks, a gothic revival church (the original owner built it for his beloved wife who died), and the largest walled garden in Ireland. The gardens are stunning. It reminded me a bit of Alice in Wonderland. Perfect hedges shaped into designs. Rows of exotic flowers in perfect symmetry.

Make sure to grab some award winning chocolate at the tea room. It is made by the Benedictine Nuns who live there and run the property.

Day 11-12: Back to Dublin

In Dublin, we ditched the car and walked. It’s a very convenient and walkable city.

One of our favorite things we did was take The Viking Splash Tour of the city. It was so much more fun than your typical Hop-on-Hop-off bus. The ride transforms from a typical bus into a boat and you enjoy part of the tour on the river. Riding through the city with biking hats and a hilarious tour guide was so much fun. Highly recommend it!

Explore the Temple Bar area. Its touristy, but fun. And you’ve gotta grab the typical shot there.

We only spent two nights in Dublin as we wanted to see more of the villages and countryside, but it felt like just the right amount of time to finish off our trip.

I always recommend Ireland for a first international trip with kids when people are apprehensive. The kind and helpful people (it also helps that there is no language barrier if you speak English), the winding roads through the impossibly green countryside, the charming colorful villages, and kid-friendly activities make Ireland the perfect family vacation.

We can’t wait to go back. I know there’s so much more to see! What did we miss? Where should go next time?

❤️ Melissa

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  1. Sara

    February 3, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    Beautiful photos and what an amazing itinerary!! It just looks like a fairy tale for your family! Good point on the car insurance – we figured that out right before we got to Ireland, and we were really glad for the additional coverage since… driving on the other side of the road (and the car) was such an adventure. There are a lot of surcharges, but getting the automatic was worth it, LOL

    1. admin

      February 3, 2019 at 6:05 pm

      Thanks so much, Sarah! Oh my gosh there are a million surcharges and I forgot that they charged so much for an automatic. That was another reason it was so much. Oh well, it’s worth it for sure, right? ❤️

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