We went to Ireland in August 2019 — we’d never been and had been wanting to go forever. You cannot see everything in 10 days (we didn’t get to Northern Ireland, but will one day) but we managed to see a whole lot and honestly, we planned this very last-minute and had two kids in tow. Below, a kind of itinerary. Please note: Absolutely nothing here is sponsored or comped or promised-to-tag in any way.
Day 1: Dublin
Arrived midday and stayed at the Shelbourne. “Wow, you are very fancy!” the taxi driver informed us, but no, we’re just very good at amassing credit card points over the winter.
“Breakfast” for us at Hatch & Sons nearby. Hearty and excellent.
Crashed for a few hours (no, the 5 hours of nonexistent sleep on a redeye doesn’t count as a night’s sleep) then wandered around. There’s a great playground at St. Stephen’s Green Park.
Found Murphy’s, a beloved small ice cream chain. Do not miss the sea salt (they make their own sea salt in Dingle!), the brown bread, or, well, anything. The boozy ice creams are no joke. They’re fantastically friendly and want you to have a sample of each flavor before you make a choice.
More wandering and dinner at L. Mulligan. Grocer, with updated pub fare and all sorts of charms (menus are tucked in old books, many are children’s classics). The scotch eggs are famous but I’ll never forget the crispy gubbeen — that is, a wedge of delicious cheese, battered and fried, and served with some crunchy, salady things.
Day 2: Dublin
Breakfast at Two Pups, a coffee shop with a solid menu. We had scones and variations on eggs on good toast. Vowed to get one of my cookbooks on display there one day, heheh.
Went on a Viking Splash Tour, which is the kind of thing you do when you have kids. It was actually really interesting, learned a lot about the Viking history of the city, and they’ll show you where U2 records and more fun stuff. You definitely need to buy tickets in advance; we did so the day before online.
Went to Queen of Tarts for treats — the apple crumble tart is famous for good reason. Didn’t get to the raspberry scone, but I hear it shouldn’t be missed. We walked them over to Trinity and ate them on the steps by the library.
More wandering and then dinner at Brother Hubbard. Far more famous for their brunch, I have no regrets about going for dinner because everything we ate was perfect.
A few Dublin spots we’d have gotten to with more time, energy, fewer children, or the foresight to make a reservation: Uno Mas, Etto, Pepper Pot, The Winding Stair, The Cake Cafe, Seafood Cafe
Day 3: Dublin to Galway
Breakfast at The Fumbally, a really lovely neighborhood-y space and then we went to pick up a rental car to drive to Galway. Had we ever driven on the “wrong” side of the road before? Nah, but no time like the present.
Arrived in Galway in one piece and relatively few scratches on the car, ha. (Get all the insurance, but you already knew that.) We stayed at the Glenlo Abbey, an old castle that’s been transformed into a hotel. There are many of these castle transformations in Ireland. This was a little castle-in-the-front, motel-in-the-back looking from the outside but inside, the rooms were really nice and updated exactly as you hoped they would be (no old plumbing or pills, praise be).
We were too tired from the mental rigor required to learn how to drive all over again and had dinner at the pub downstairs which was seriously amazing. Perfect chowder, good brown bread, and I thought the chips were among the better we had. Lucky us.
Day 4: Galway
One of the big things to do in the Galway area is to either see the Cliffs of Moher or take a ferry to one (or all!) of the Aran Islands. There are a lot of options, some faster, some all day, but we ended up on a combo one from Doolin2Aran Ferries that allowed us three hours on Inis Oirr (we took a horse and buggy tour for 45 minutes, got lunch, and walked around a little; renting bikes is also popular and other islands have different activities) and then took us to see the Cliffs of Moher on the way back. It worked perfectly for us.
Because the ferries leave from Doolin, and Doolin is an hour from the castle where we stayed, we might have considered staying in Doolin or closer next time. But again, we had a great stay — it’s beautiful and needless to say, castles are pretty popular if you have a 4-year old as into pink things and dressing up as mine is.
Although we had many dinner recommendations for Galway, we were beat from the long day and ended up getting fish and chips from McDonaugh’s, which I’d been informed is one of the best spots for it. Plus, more Murphy’s ice cream. It’s mandatory. Don’t even try to fight it.
A few Galway places we’d have gotten to with more time, energy, fewer children, or the foresight to make a reservation: Ard Bia, Kai Restaurant, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers
Day 5: Galway to Tralee
For only the second time on our trip, we were up before the hotel’s breakfast was over* and I love a hotel breakfast (cut fruit! tiny pastries! coffee service!).
Wandered around Galway for a few hours and ended up getting lunch at Moran’s Oyster Cottage, a little out of town, and it was one of my favorites of the trip. Cozy food, the best brown bread we had on the whole trip, and a friendly place. I’m glad someone told me about it.
We then drove to our next town, Tralee, and castle, The Ballyseede. The castle itself is more physically “castle-y” and the parlor rooms are in stunning shape, but it wasn’t our favorite stay. We ended up at the guest house down the road our first night — definitely avoid this if you can. The second night, they found us a nicer room and we were more comfortable.
We had dinner at Kate Browne’s Pub and Restaurant, a place I wouldn’t have known about if it were not for a tip in my DMs (thank you!). It was, like our lunch, perfect — cozy, friendly, good food.
Day 6: Tralee
We had breakfast at the Bookshelf Cafe, which was so low-key and kid friendly, we went back the next day too. (Yes this means we kept sleeping through the hotel’s breakfast.)
The big thing to do in this part of the country is to see the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park, Dingle, and more. We did a lot of research and ended up doing just the Dingle peninsula. There are unparalleled views, amazing beaches, and far fewer tourists. We saw almost no tour buses and hit no traffic. We took the Conor Pass, an absolutely terrifying mountain road (one lane but two directions along cliffs, etc.) with unparalleled views. We have no regrets. We also went to the Slea Head Viewing point (stunning views) and two pottery places, Penny’s and Louis Mulcahy.
We ended the day on Inch Beach, a beach you can actually drive on. It began to rain and we had dinner at the cozy restaurant right there, Sammy’s. Have we talked about how friendly everyone is? This place was no exception.
Day 7: Tralee to Cork
We spent a few hours at Killarney National Park, at the base of the Ring of Kerry. There’s so much to see. Don’t miss the Torc Waterfall, Muckross Abbey/House and Gardens, Molls Gap, and the Gap of Dunloe, although we did because it was raining too hard to take the jaunting cart you’ll want.
We then headed to Cork, stopping first at J.M. Reidy for lunch.
We stayed for two nights at The River Lee, a modern, businessy hotel with nice rooms that was a perfect change after four nights in castles.
Day 8: 20 minutes in Cobh and Ballymaloe
Another awesome hotel breakfast and then we attempted to see the town of Cobh, but passed a playground along the way and stopped because: kids. Ireland, we like your playgrounds.
We only had time to grab sandwiches in Cobh before heading further east to Ballymaloe Cookery School, a cooking school founded on a farm in 1983 by Darina Allen, who is still there, along with one daughter-in-law (Rachel) and son (Toby). I’d heard about it for years, because it’s so beloved by people who love food and cooking, and knew any visit to Ireland had to include it. There are many ways to visit and this is absolutely not the least economical but I got it in my head that it would be the most fun to take a private cooking class with the family and learn to make brown bread, butter, and other fun things. Basically, I hoped my kids would be churning butter by the time we got home.
We started with a warm welcome (and a lemon tart), tour of the farm, learned a little more about the history, and then we got to work, making everything from brown bread to white soda bread, butter, aioli, chicken, pea soup, a tomato relish, and almond tartlets with fresh berries, and then we feasted on it all before heading home. It was a really fun day, definitely not our usual day on vacation, but something I’d love to seek out on a smaller scale in the future when we travel.
Days 9 and 10: Cork to Dublin, Dublin to New York
The sheer exhaustion of the eight days before this was beginning to get us and we did very little before getting back in the car for the long (but easy) drive to Dublin. Once in Dublin, we ditched the car, returned to the kids now favorite playground, and had high tea with the kids at the Shelbourne, something they’re famous for and a nice treat at the end of a trip. We wandered around a bit before calling it a night.
On our last day, we only had a couple hours to wander around and buy souvenirs and it went quickly but we got an amazing scone and some sandwiches for the plane at Avoca (also fun for shopping), some sweaters at one of the Aran sweater markets (almost all ship to the states for free after a minimum so you don’t need to find room in your bag), soccer shirts, Dingle gin, and other gifts, and also briefly popped into Cleo, a great sweater and blanket store I wish I could spend all of my money in.
A few things in Ireland I noted with delight:
Boomtown Rats playing on the radio like it was no thing.
Unabashed appreciation of cheese and onion potato chips (crisps), the best flavor, and an exceptional passion for crisps in general. We tried Hunky Dorys and I was informed we should have had Taytos. We had Taytos and we were told we should have gotten King Crisps and then Keogh’s and well, at least our car snacks were fun.
Bright colorful doors on homes and buildings all over Dublin (even if I learned it was apparently so dumb husbands didn’t stumble into the wrong home and bed after drinking).
Okay so I know Ireland is known for being green (so green it almost looks fake in photos) thanks to all the rain but I didn’t know about the flowers. In every city and town, pubs and other storefronts have hanging baskets with flowers of every color cascading from them like it’s no big deal, while I at home can barely keep four scrawny petunias alive in each box on our terrace because it’s so hot in the summer or maybe because I lack an Irish green thumb.
I can’t help that ketchup is very much a thing, available for whatever you wish to put it on, and I am here for it.
Yes, the beer is excellent but I really enjoyed being able to reunite with red ale, which I mostly remember from college via Killian’s Red Ale, which was jettisoned the second college was over, I guess it was embarrassing or something. Whatever: red ale is delicious and Ireland knows this.
Our instructor at Ballymaloe told us my daughter’s accent was “so cute” and we melted because we think all of the little kids in Ireland have the cutest accents and hadn’t considered anyone would find out American pronunciations charming. But then she called Dublin, “Dumpling” and we knew what he meant.
Fortunately, a couple of years in, reality set in too: we’re parents, we have kids, we’re not getting any younger. We don’t wait to wait 20 years to see the world again, so going on kid-adjusted vacations is still better than staying home.
My husband said “but 8 hours on a plane with a baby!” and “she’s going to burst into flames on a beach!” (referring to me passing on my unfortunate pallor to our youngest) and then I starting getting all insufferably philosophical about how this is our life and we have two kids and we either learn how to take big vacations with them or we’re never going to see all the places we want to see in our lifetime … and then I said “you can totally blame me if this is terrible.” And somehow that did the trick. Let me know when you want me to write that marital advice book, okay?
It seems a shame not to be able to put this knowledge to use; so maybe I can pass it on to other parents whose sons and daughters are nearing the late single digits, and who want to get back out there and see the world, along with the fresh eyes of children. It can be done. Debt or not – these trips were worth every penny.
* A note about jet lag: Our last few big vacations have been to places that are 5 to 6 hours ahead of our time. At home, our kids are out by 8 and always up too early. Rather than trying to fight the jet leg, we tend to roll with it, using the fact that they’re awake in the evening to stay out later (especially useful where dinner is late, such as in southern Spain last year) but also, yes, we miss a lot of the morning. My hope is that by keeping them jet lagged, they’re less likely to wake us up at 4am when we get home, but we do tend to be at least halfway adjusted by the end of the week, sleepy at 10/11 and up at 8/9.