Ireland is an incredibly deceptive country.
It’s small… roughly the size of the state of Indiana, which leads people to believe that they can zip from one place to another quickly and “see it all” in a week to 10 day long trip on their Ireland vacation.
Despite its small size, Ireland is filled with an incredible wealth of magical castles, breathtaking views, ancient history and charming pubs.
Add to that the narrow rural roads, the friendly locals and the many (many) discoveries to make at each and every place you visit and that “see it all” vacation to Ireland itinerary becomes overwhelming and rushed; far too much to do in a single visit.
When I coach families planning their first visit to Ireland or I plan one of my Ireland tours I find that a few thoughts remain constant…
Everyone wants to view the stunning Cliffs of Moher, drive the Ring of Kerry and see a castle (or 2 or 3) on their Ireland trip.
But, beyond that, the ideas are vague… traditional music is often mentioned, as is the thought of learning Irish dance, but how to see and do these things? Often first time visitors aren’t sure where to begin.
Table of Contents
First Visit to Ireland Itinerary
For a first-time visit to the Emerald Isle, I most often recommend Ireland’s “sunny Southwest”, the counties of Kerry, Limerick and Clare.
In these three counties your family can experience some of Ireland’s most magical locations, breathtaking sights, incredible history and beautiful culture.
For this itinerary (based on a one week vacation) I recommend arriving at Shannon Airport, if at all possible; it will save you a few hours of driving time.
Airfare is generally the same as getting to Dublin, although it can be a bit more depending on your departure city.
Day 1 & 2: Killarney, Ireland
Get your rental car in Shannon and begin your self-drive journey to Killarney as you explore Ireland. The most popular tourist town in the Southwest, you’ll find plenty of shopping and dining centered in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.
I recommend splitting your day in 2 halves, with a more grown-up activity and a more kid-friendly activity, with room to fill in with spontaneous explorations.
With so many things to do in this area, you may find it difficult to choose your activities.
Learn more about renting a car in Ireland
Things to do in Killarney
- Take a jaunting cart ride from Killarney to Ross Castle, through Killarney National Park.
- Drive to Muckross House and Gardens. Tour the house and the Traditional Farms or just wander the beautiful grounds. Be sure to wander to Muckross Abbey where many of Ireland’s High Kings are buried.
- Enjoy the beautiful views at Tork Waterfall and the Ladies’ View.
- Rent a bicycle or walk through the Gap of Dunloe.
- Just outside Killarney is Kennedy’s Pet Farm, a fun hands-on petting zoo with deer, rabbits, peacocks, puppies, sheep and more.
Skip the land tour of the Ring of Kerry and instead take a day trip to the Dingle Peninsula.
The scenery is just as beautiful and you’ll find incredible history to explore like the Gallarus Oratory, a stone age fort and beehive huts on your day tour.
Dingle also has an incredible aquarium and its most famous resident is a dolphin named Fungi.
NOTE: as of late 2020, Fungi the dolphin had not been seen in the bay for quite some time. Local residents assume this beloved dolphin is now resting in peace.
Day 3 & 4: County Limerick and County Cork
Leave Killarney (I know- there is still so much to do!) and head to Ballyhoura Country. This region of Ireland covers much of County Limerick and the northern portion of County Cork.
Limerick Hotels and B&Bs
I highly recommend staying at The Old Bank B&B in Bruff, though you’ll find other options in the area as well.
More places to stay in Limerick, Irelandhttps://stay22.com/embed/6081a21cca2ace00176ed647
Things to do in Limerick and Cork
The Donkey Sanctuary
As you drive toward Bruff, plan to stop at The Donkey Sanctuary near Mallow.
Hundreds of abused and neglected donkeys from across Ireland have found a beautiful home here. Take time to walk the farm trails or cuddle the donkeys at the entrance.
Pop into the gift shop before you go… You can adopt a donkey!
Plan on at least half a day exploring the magic of Lough Gur. Stone and Bronze Age artifacts have been found throughout the area.
You can also explore the largest stone circle in Ireland, the entrance to faerie land, the Giant’s Grave and stand where ruling clans once hung their enemies.
The town of Kilmallock is filled with history- as well as being the hub of walking and cycling in the area.
You’ll find the Loop Walks to be family friendly and the Ballyhoura Mouintains incredibly scenic.
Scattered throughout the region are ‘Rambling Houses’; evening entertainments of live music, storytelling and dancing.
A few quick phone calls can set you up for an evening of craic (pronounced “crack”; the Irish for fun and entertainment) you won’t soon forget.
Glen of Aherlow
Enjoy the astounding beauty of the Glen of Aherlow from horseback. Plan a trail ride with Hillcrest Riding Centre.
Explore more towns and Villages
And don’t overlook the towns and villages. Bruff, Adare, Emly and Kilmallock all have extensive histories, as do many of the other towns in the area.
Days 5 & 6: Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher
It’s time to leave Bruff and head north to Doolin to hit up the one item on your dream vacation to Ireland– the Cliffs of Moher.
On your way you’ll stop at one of the best restored castles for families- Bunratty. In fact, you probably saw it as you left the Shannon Airport.
Doolin Hotels and Vacation Rentals
Bunratty Castle is terrific for families, and preferred over Blarney Castle (although you won’t get to kiss the Blarney Stone at this castle).
You can explore the castle all the way to the top battlements. The surrounding Folk Park is filled with traditional Irish cottages, a cute village with stores and a nice pub for lunch and plenty of animals in the farm.
Kids adore the Irish Wolfhounds. And you must visit the piggery… just for the name alone. If the kids are young enough to enjoy a play area, they will love the one at Bunratty.
Be sure to let them run off their energy before you get back in the car to drive up the Atlantic coast to the Cliffs of Moher.
Cliffs of Moher
No matter how many photos you’ve seen, you will be unprepared for the dramatic beauty of the Cliffs of Moher in Western Ireland.
Take time in the visitor’s centre and learn the history of the cliffs before climbing the steep paths for the view. It is breathtaking.
Just don’t get anywhere close to the edge. Too many tourists enjoying a bit of sightseeing have fallen off the cliffs when the ground gave out closer to the edge.
Things to do in Doolin, Ireland
From the Cliffs of Moher it is just a short drive to Doolin, a lovely village known for traditional music.
By now you have probably learned that pubs are kid friendly, so make sure the kids have a bit of a rest so you can stay for a session (an informal gathering of musicians).
- Explore the Burren. The Poulnabrone Dolmen and Aillwee Caves are just incredible to see.
- Take a cruise on the Doolin Ferry to see the Cliffs of Moher from an entirely different angle.
- Plan a day trip to the Aran Islands.
- Enjoy a traditional Irish music session at one of the traditional pubs in town.
- Take the very scenic drive to Loop Head. Wander a nearby sandy beach looking for shells, visit the Loop Head Lighthouse (the last landmark between County Clare and America) or visit the natural “Bridges of Ross”.
Day 7: Shannon , Ireland
It’s your final day of your Ireland getaway. If you are flying out of Dublin, it’s time to head that way. Pop into Trinity College and Dublin Castle if you have time.
If you’re final day is in the Shannon Region, take a look through the list of things you wanted to do but didn’t have time for. Or maybe the things you wanted to do, but the weather didn’t agree.
When all else fails, head to Galway. This college town is one of our favorite day trips.
Relax, enjoy your last day in Ireland and begin planning your return trip to see as many Irish castles as possible!
Jody Halsted is a family travel authority with a mad passion for Ireland. A frequent visitor to the country, she loves nothing more than exploring the country with her husband and two daughters.
Jody has a FREE Ireland itinerary at her site Ireland With Kids. GRAB IT NOW. Jody also plans Ireland itineraries and provides Ireland travel coaching. Get inspired by the Ireland Family Vacations Pinterest boards or follow Jody on Twitter @IrelandFamTrvl.
Ireland (Dublin) Destination Guide
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10 thoughts on “How to Plan an Epic Family Vacation to Ireland Itinerary”
I so would love to visit Ireland. I visited England when I was younger, and had so much fun..it was so green!
Love the idea of visiting as many places as possible..but I think that I would take weeks to explore the area.
Lisa- this is the year to visit Ireland! So much is going on because of The Gathering that doesn’t normally happen. In the decade I’ve been visiting Ireland I’ve yet to “see it all” and still find new places every time we return!
I’m ready to pack my bags! This is a great itinerary. The first picture you included is amazing. Absolutely love it and would definitely enjoy a cart ride even without my children. I have heard to skip the Ring of Kerry for Dingle before so it must be a good tip.
Debbie- Thank you for such kind words. Riding in a jaunting cart is definitely a must do in Killarney- even if it is touristy! Just talking with the jarvey is amazing- so much history to hear and riding through Killarney National Park is gorgeous!
I’ve done both the Ring of Kerry and Dingle and much preferred Dingle- which is why I recommend it!
That Irish breakfast looks yummy!
You can never go wrong with a Full Irish breakfast! Of course, you easily gain 10 pounds from all the brown bread and meats…. But so worth it!
I love that little house in the first photo! Can I live there! Ireland is a place we haven’t been, time to put it on the list!
Laurel- the cottage is in the middle of Killarney National Park. I wish I could live there!
Great article – and I’ll be using the information on an upcoming trip to Ireland. But the page appears as grey writing on a black background. It is very hard to read!
Bronwyn what browser are you using? My site has a white background with black text, so the fact that you are seeing the opposite is very concerning. Thanks!
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