The Best Itinerary To Spend 9 Days in Western Ireland With Kids
Ireland is one of those places that are truly magical. Apart from leprechauns and fairies, and all that, Ireland is a place that captures the soul. Anyone who has visited the Emerald Isle will tell you that it has a charm unmatched by any place in the world.
And I honestly don’t know what it is about it. I’ve tried to explain why I love this place so much and always come up short.
It seems cliché to talk about the rolling green hills and fields full of fluffy sheep, the Guinness or the vivacious music. While all of that is grand (and true), what really draws me in is the feeling. The feeling of comfort, the feeling of contentment with where you are in the world, both physically and figuratively.
Ireland is also one of those places where you feel the need to get out on the road. I’ll admit it, I really don’t like road trips. I try to be on the road as little as possible when we travel.
But there’s just something about Ireland that makes you feel like you have to drive the country roads.
And as far as bringing kids? Ireland was actually the perfect vacation spot to bring the (then solo) Bambino.
Transportation ($): Rent a car and get on the road!
Lodging ($$): Mainly Airbnb’s but hotels within Dublin when our stay was only one night.
Food ($$): Mainly groceries from the local mart and average one meal per day in a restaurant.
Western Ireland Tour: Dublin – County Clare – County Galway – Dublin
Day 1 – Fly in to Dublin
There are a few international airports in Ireland, but as you can imagine, Dublin is the biggest, (sometimes) cheapest, and (sometimes) has the most flight options.
And with only a little over a week to explore, we decided to forego time in the city and focus on our road trip through the countryside.
- Take care when booking a hotel. Sometimes the “great deal” you find on expedia.com for a boutique hotel turns out to be way less than you expected. Always my bottom line: do your research.
- If you’re jonesin’ for a great basket of fish and chips as soon as you land like I was, take my advice and visit Leo Burdock. It’s a no-frills take-away counter but lives up to its reputation. If you’re looking for a place to sit, try the church down the road and set up a picnic on the lawn. It doesn’t get more Irish than that, I suppose.
Day 2 – Drive West
I will say again, I’m not one for road trips, but I will road trip through Ireland any day of the week, and even when it’s raining. Which is pretty much every day of the week in Ireland.
Even on the large M7 highway, you find yourself becoming lost in the scenery around you.
On the drive from Dublin to the west coast, a great mid-place to grab lunch and a pint is in the town of Limerick. Often overlooked in the grand scheme of Ireland, Limerick sits on the banks of the Shannon River and is considered one of the major urban areas the country. If you have the time to explore, I’d recommend checking out sites such as St. Mary’s Cathedral and the 13th Century King John’s Castle.
- When you’re ready for a new tank of gas, stop at the Barack Obama Plaza rest stop. I kid you not. Who knew that 44 had Irish roots? (Has anyone made the Barack O’Bama joke yet?)
- To drive straight through (Dublin – Lahinch), it will take about 3 – 3.5 hours.
WHERE TO STAY: LAHINCH
Lahinch is a bit of a hidden gem on the coast of County Clare. With a “downtown” area of only a few blocks, it’s primarily a little surf town with a dramatic shoreline. The mood of the town is cozy and free, unpretentious and wild. Not to mention, they have an epic playground located right on the beach.
While you’re here, make sure to visit The Woollen Market, located just north in the town of Liscannor. I admittedly spent way too much money here on cozy things, but OMfuzzyG they are so worth it.
Day 3 – Cliffs of Moher
DO. NOT. LEAVE. IRELAND. WITHOUT. SEEING. THE. CLIFFS.
The Cliffs of Moher are easily Ireland’s most iconic and most visited attraction and for a very good reason.
With a near vertical drop and almost 400 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, they are truly stunning to witness. With all their glory, you can feel your heart writing woeful ballads about life, love, and ships lost in the stormy Irish seas.
From atop the cliffs, (and on a clear day) you are able to see the Aran Islands and even clear to the shores of Galway. It’s a marvelous feeling to stand on the edge of the ocean and feel like you’re on top of the world.
When you’re done with the cliffs, head over to explore the town of Doolin – another harbor town brimming with Irish charm and fresh seafood.
- Try to go on the clearest day of your trip. I know that’s really unfair to say because it’s the thing that is most out of your control. But if there’s one thing you don’t want to experience in the rain, it’s this. I clearly didn’t listen to this advice.
- Admission is free. You can easily spend half a day here if you would like, but at a minimum, plan on two hours.
- Make sure to check their website for the latest information about opening and closing times.
- DOWNLOAD the FREE audio guide app BEFORE getting there!
- Much of the walking paths around the Visitor’s Center is even, flat ground. However, there are some trails which may be more precarious to traverse, especially if you have a stroller or have mobility limitations.
Day 4 – Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
If you are traveling with Bambinos, you should definitely put this on your itinerary.
Constructed in the 15th century on the banks of the Ralty River, Bunratty Castle is now an attraction of sorts that allows you to step back in time. In addition to the castle itself, there is a small reconstructed village to allow you to imagine what life was like in this part of Ireland before the modern era. Additionally, there are gardens, animals grazing in the fields, a quaint church, a small town center, and best of all for the bambinos, another epic playground.
And if you’re in for a little kitschy fun, Bunratty also puts on dinner events, which I highly recommend. There are quite a few to choose from now, but we attended the Medieval Banquet, held in the great hall of the castle and included dinner, wine, dessert, and performance. Was it the most authentic Irish experience? Not really. It was awfully touristy. But nevertheless, it was fun.
- Go early. Advertised hours are 9:00-5:30, but the castle closes at 4 to ready for the evening banquet. You can easily spend an entire day here.
- Buy tickets in advance. You have to know the date you want to visit, but it will save you money rather than buying at the ticket desk. You can do that here.
Day 5 – Aran Islands
While I personally couldn’t see spending an entire vacation on these remote islands, there are plenty of people who in fact do. Perhaps the most popular thing to do is take a day trip to these enchanting islands instead.
Take a ferry to the largest island, Inis Mór, and get some exercise by biking around the island. There are a few bicycle rental companies conveniently located at the pier once you disembark the ferry. We used Aran Bike Hire. We were even able to rent a pull-buggy for Bambino to ride in.
- From Doolin, the ferry ride is about one hour. And the seas in Galway Bay are rough. If you have a tendency to get sea-sick, I recommend bringing some Dramamine along.
- Stick to the bike paths depicted on the map!
- Beware of over-friendly horses looking for snacks.
Day 6 – Drive North to Connemara
Time to drive north to the rugged countryside of Connemara. Whenever we travel with Bambino on the road, we usually budget an entire day move from one place to another. This usually saves everyone’s sanity and relieves lots of stress!
On the way, be sure to visit Dunguaire Castle near the little town of Kinvara. While Dunguaire may not be the most elaborate castle to view, it’s impressive nonetheless. And is a good place to stop and stretch the legs.
- Grab lunch in the town of Kinvara! We passed through on a Sunday and were able to catch brunch at a cute little Italian-style bistro.
- You can buy tickets for Dunguaire Castle online as well to save a buck or two!
Day 7 – Explore Connemara
Connemara is such a large piece of land that there’s always something exciting to explore. We took a day on our trip to relax a bit from our itinerary and just go where our hearts took us.
After driving around for a while, we ended up in a little town named Roundstone. After a warm bowl of chowder at the pub and a run around at the town playground, we found ourselves on a beach.
I hear ya. I didn’t expect this to be a beach vacation either. But I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to stick my toes in the cold, Irish sand and stare out into the Atlantic Ocean from the other side.
And neither did M. As any two-year-old should, he immediately discarded his shoes and socks and began to roll around in the sand without a care in the world. Man, I love that kid.
- Don’t be afraid to take a boggy road! But be aware that you may also encounter herds of cattle, sheep, or a too-wide-for-Irish-roads tractor that may block your way for some time. Just be patient, smile, and remember that you’re in Ireland.
Day 8 – Drive the Sky Road, explore Clifden and Connemara National Park
While on an Irish road trip, and especially while in Connemara, one is almost required to drive the 12-mile stretch known as Sky Road. Ok, not required, but you didn’t come all the way to Ireland NOT to get the best views in the entire country.
The Sky Road is a drive that provides travelers with the most spectacular scenery Western Ireland has to offer. Panoramic sweeping rugged coastline meets green hills, white sheep, and wildflowers, making you believe you’re in a fairy tale.
While you’re in the area, explore the town of Clifden for some lunch, shopping, and friendly music. Or swing through Connemara National Park for open-air walks. It was quite damp the day we visited (you see a trend here, right?), but we still took the opportunity to stroll through the Irish mist and spend some time on the playground.
- If you’re looking for even more things to do in the area, visit Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden. We ran out of time on this trip to go there, but I hope to get back there one day!
Day 9 – Drive from Connemara – Galway – Dublin
And here it is. The last day to find the path back to Dublin. It would be a dire shame to spend all this time in County Galway and not actually spend any time in Galway!
So while you’re on the drive back, stop in this absolutely perfect Irish town. There’s a reason why there are so many songs written about it – it’s absolutely charming. Walk the streets of old town and grab lunch in a pub.
After a week in the countryside, Galway seems like a bustling metropolis filled with people and parking meters. But somehow, you’ll still want to stay for just one more pint.
- Be careful where you park! Street parking was very limited around the Old Town area and we were able to find a random parking lot to stash our car for a couple hours.
- The return trip (Galway – Dublin) should take you around 3 hours.
Coming Home is Hard to Do
I am so glad we took this trip when we did and traveled the way we did. Driving Ireland is the best way to get an appreciation for the stunning beauty of the country, and in my opinion, there is no better way to do it.
I eagerly look forward to our next Irish adventure, but until then, Sláinte!
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