In general Ireland is a safe and family friendly destination, but these tips will help to ensure that your family trip to Ireland goes as smoothly as possible.
Most attractions making a real effort to engage visiting children and hotels and other accommodations, while they may not have designated family rooms, are generally happy to rearrange rooms to facilitate families.
You can see a full list of them here. That’s not to say that anywhere without the symbol should be avoided, all children are different, but these are a particularly good bet.
Tips for Keeping it Fun for all the Family!
There are two primary things to aim for when touring as a family – first making each day fun for both adults and children and secondly keeping things as simple and manageable as possible from a logistical point of view.
These tips are basically common sense and apply not just in Ireland but whenever you are touring with kids, they really help to keep everyone good-humoured and on side!
- Stick to attractions your children will enjoy as much as you do, even if that means leaving out some places you’d really like to visit. (Because let’s face it if they don’t enjoy something, you won’t either)
- Don’t overdo the travelling, aim to stay at least two nights in each stopover
- Keep long car journeys interesting by breaking them up with lots of stops along the way
- Schedule essential longer drives at a time when smaller children are most likely to fall asleep en route
- Build in time and places to let kids just run around and let off steam – visits to parks, gardens or woodland areas work really well for this
- Always have a rainy day backup plan. Most areas have some indoor attraction or an indoor activity centre for kids. They may not be your first choice for the day but if it’s pouring rain they start looking more attractive very quickly!
Get a Heritage Card
A family Heritage Card costs €55 and gives free entry for the whole family at 75 locations, including many of the places we suggest visiting. There is no need to buy it in advance, you can pick one up at the first place you visit that is on the list.
Apart from saving money, there are other advantages for families:
- In popular locations you won’t have to line up to pay in, just head straight for the entrance.
- You can drop in somewhere for a short time without feeling you need to get your money’s worth by sticking with it even if it’s not working out for the younger ones.
- You can go back repeatedly to the same place without having to pay again – useful if you can only do short chunks of time somewhere.
Ireland with Babies and Very Young Children
The very first thing to say here is that if you are using Formula milk, bring plenty with you. This is especially the case if you are traveling from the USA as European powdered milks for both babies and older infants are completely differently formulated. The last thing you need is a baby with an upset tummy from a change in diet.
Don’t rely on them. Totseat is an absolutely brilliant alternative that will ensure you are never without a suitable chair, it’s relatively inexpensive and you’ll get loads of use from it long after your trip is over. I wish they had been invented when my son was a baby.
Deciding whether or not to bring a travel cot or crib is a tricky one. They are bulky items to carry and hotels and other accommodations will provide them. Standards, with regard to both safety and state of repair, have increased significantly in recent times and, while they may not be the prettiest ones you’ve ever seen, you are very unlikely to encounter dangerous ones.
However you may feel your baby will settle better if he or she is in a familiar bed. This is a light and easily portable one that can double up as a playpen and isn’t a complete pain to set up.
Another options is to just leave all bulky equipment – cribs, push chairs etc – at home and rent while you are in Ireland. It can be reasonably cost effective and is definitely convenient. The Stork Exchange is an excellent company who will arrange for everything you need to be waiting for you at the airport on arrival.
Finally, the best place to buy nappies, or diapers, in Ireland is Lidl, who have stores thoughout Ireland – their own brand ones cost a fraction of the price of major brands and every parent of a young child I know raves about how good they are.
Child Seats and Booster Seats in Cars
Almost everyone is aware that small chidren must travel in a suitable child seat in a car – it’s the law and it’s common sense. But since 2006 there are also laws in Ireland covering in-car restraint for older children.
Children who are are too big for a child seat but are under 150 centimetres in height and/or weigh less than 36 kg (about 79 lbs) must use a booster cushion or seat along with the standard car seat belt. Generally this will apply to children up to 11 or 12 years old. Some older children may hate this and complain about it (Irish children of my acquaintance certainly do) but it’s the law, end of story.
Rental Cars and Child Seats
There is not universal happiness about the standard of child seats supplied with rental cars. I don’t believe problems are very common, but they occur.
When you book your car, ask specifically about the standard met by the seats provided – this sounds technical, but they should be able to tell you that the seats meet United Nations ECE Regulation R44.03 or R44.04.
Don’t rely on just this though. Make sure you know how to fit the seat – if necessary have someone from the rental company demonstrate for you – and that it is in good condition. If you are not completely happy insist on a replacement before accepting the car, this is not something to let slide.
You can also consider renting car seats (and other equipment) from Stork Exchange, who will deliver their equipment free of charge to Dublin airport and to all hotels and car rental pick up places in Dublin for a small charge.
Most hotels provide a babysitting service for an additional charge and B&Bs will usually have a local person they can call on.
You should check when booking if sitters have been ‘Garda Vetted’, this means they have undergone background checks by the police, a requirement for anyone working in childcare in Ireland. If the answer is not an unequivocal ‘Yes’, it does not mean the person is not reliable and good but still, I’d pass.
There are a number of websites where you can book a babysitter online but I am not inclined to recommend any of them to visitors.
‘Family Friendly’ Hotels
Most hotels boast about their child friendly or family friendly facilities but in reality this can translate to anything from ‘we tolerate children, reluctantly‘ to ‘we make a real effort to make sure families have a good time‘. The grade of the hotel is definitely not always the deciding factor here, it has a lot more to do with the commitment and attitude of the hotel management.
Tripadvisor is good for checking out whether the website rhetoric matches reality for families. Websites with lists of family friendly hotels are not usually a good guide – mostly they list hotels who pay a them a fee for the privilege and the ability to place an ad is not a useful guide to quality of service.
Many hotels have day-time or even evening creches or kids clubs. They vary hugely in standard, from rudimentary rooms with a few toys, to absolutely brilliantly run ones that become the highlight of a child’s visit to Ireland. Go along and have a good look around and a chat with the people working there before deciding it will work for your children.
Children in Pubs
A law introduced a few years ago forbidding those under the age of 18 from being on pub premises after 8pm caused a certain amount of upset, and has been slightly amended to change to time to 9pm.
This may not seem like an issue, but pubs in Ireland are as much meeting places as places to drink, often double up as restaurants and are also the best places to go in the evening to hear traditional music.
If the pub dining area is separate from the area serving alcohol, there is no problem. If it is not you need to be sure you’ll be finished your meal by 9pm. Most pub owners are fairly strict about this as the law is rigorously applied and fines are significant.
Unfortunately since most music sessions don’t tend to start until after 9pm this law means that any child or young person aged under 18, even if accompanied by their parents, will effectively be unable to attend them.
Sun & Rain Protection
Sun hats, high factor sun cream and so on will be needed. Be careful about assuming that because it is grey and overcast when you set out for a day’s touring that you will not need them. The weather can change quite abruptly and a chilly wind can easily disguise just how strong the sun is.
The same applies to wet weather clothing, everyone should have a rain proof jacket no matter what the season – and always bring them with you, even if the sun is shining.
It is useful to dress kids in layers that can be stripped off or put back on easily with changes in temperature or when rain starts.
And of course not all ‘rain’ comes from the sky – bring a change of clothing!
There are now really excellent facilities in parks, community centres and other locations throughout the country – far too many to list here, though we do mention them in articles around the site where relevant.
They are not always the easiest to find though, often tucked away in a park somewhere and rarely signposted. Your best bet is to look out for a local parent with kids about the same age as yours and ask, you’ll find they are very happy to advise.
These are not only great places to let your children burn off some excess energy, they give them a chance to meet and play with Irish children too.