Our daughters are 7 and 9 and we took them to Ireland last summer for two weeks. We did not know what to expect and it was a real test, but it was fantastic! We all had an amazing trip and we were amazed at the things our daughters were interested in... we all learned so much and got to see amazing places and things. Although we often hear that kids are too young to 'waste' money on taking them to Europe, we could not disagree with that more. It opens their eyes to the world which you do not get at all from textbooks that bore you all through high school about places you cannot relate to. They talk about it with the same excitement that they talk about Disney World (which says a lot!)
I'll start with the great places:
Smaller castles not in guidebooks were often our favorites. We wanted to see a lot of places so the admission at some of the biggest castles were very expensive for the time we spent there ... we did see them anyways! And getting a tour of a smaller castle was much better than seeing a bigger one on our own. The kids did not grasp everything the guide was saying but we would explain it to them afterwards.
-Viking Splash Tours was the tour we wanted to take but you had to book in advance so we missed out. They were forecasting so much rain that I did not want to do the tour in pouring rain, so I tried for the day of and it was always sold out.
-We did see Riverdance which was amazing
-Dublinia and the Viking world - just ok
-Guinness Storehouse - very impressive, the kids even liked it although we did not spend too much time reading all about the beer... the building is impressive... in the shape of a glass of Guinness, with the top floor being the foam.
-Grafton street for shopping, grabbing a bagel, seeing street performers. Lots of restaurants on the streets that run off Grafton so lots of selection
-Impossible to park in Dublin and especially overnight... best to get a hotel with parking or else you only have a couple options at about 50$ per day and not even close to your hotel.
-The kids loved going on the street tram as well, so we did take a short ride
-Rock of Cashel - a must-see for kids and adults... tours are starting often and are pretty short so worthwhile
-SS Dunbrody - one of the highlights of the whole trip to be inside a replica of a famine-ship. They even had people in costumes doing a mini-play in the ship. We really got a good appreciation of the famine and how devastating it was. The kids loved this.
-Blarney Castle - yes we kissed the Blarney Stone but it was not a highlight and not worth waiting in line for... we only waited 5 minutes but were told it is usually half hour to an hour wait... would skip it. The grounds are very nice though. And since we got there 30 minutes before it opened, we stopped at the grocery store in the city center 100 feet from the entrance. We then ate our picnic breakfast on a bench and had a lovely conversation with a few people that lived there... and my kids barely understood a word they said (love the accent!)
-Fota Wildlife Park... ok... but only if you have not seen many zoos before... I think I have seen enough giraffes... gosh we even saw some at Disney's Animal Kingdom! Yes, the kids liked it, but not worth a day in Europe as far as parents are concerned.. we have zoos at home. And this was an expensive few hours!
-Driving through the Wicklow mountains was not that impressive and the kids were bored.
-Kilkenny Castle... visiting hours are short and the castle is hard to find. Beautiful castle though, although I wish they had guided tours
-Needed to drink a Kilkenny in Kilkenny... wow, found a great pub for dinner. Langton's. A must-see. We ate dinner, left to walk around, and came back to listen to live Irish music and have another pint. The kids loved it as well... very impressive place, but make sure you walk around the whole pub... it is huge! And so impressive... lots of fancy rooms in the back.
I am not a beer drinker but decided I needed to drink beer in Ireland. In one of the first small towns we stopped at, my husband ordered a Guinness and asked what lighter beer they had for me... Budweiser and Coors Light is what they suggested... that is what the locals drink we were told... but they sold be a Harp's finally!
–Kildare. National Stud and Japanese Gardens. We all enjoyed it but was not what we expected. Tour was necessary to understand the business of many baby horses... and I was happy it was child-friendly as well. My kids did not understand everything and it was ok... a teenager would chuckle the whole time. Had a nice time.
-We were going to see Fungie the Dingle Dolphin, but we are happy we did not book ahead as it was a foggy and windy day ... there was no way we were going on a boat.
-Muckross House, Gardens and Traditional Farms . We all enjoyed this and even did a horse and buggy ride. The kids were impressed with the room for Queen Victoria, and realizing that their rooms are more comfortable than how royalty would live then.
Stayed at budget hotels which were decent, but the worst one was in Limerick... a chain like Quality Inn, with a park for kids and a pool, activities, etc... I thought it would be a nice treat for one night... but it was the worst night of our trip... and now I understand why hotels in Europe are not very kid-friendly! People with kids seem to have no idea of respect needed in a hotel! Kids running down the halls every five minutes, kids playing in the play structures and yelling until 11pm, just complete mayhem.
We understand why many other hotels do not want us with kids! Even at over $200 per night for a basic room, our most expensive night, we realized that even if we have kids, we do not want to be around people with kids at night... we travel all day and need to sleep at night! Other thing we found out which is not kid-friendly is that most hotels with pools have dedicated hours that are adult-only swimming. And it was usually from 7pm to 9am... the only time we were in hotels and our kids were not allowed to swim, so a waste of money to book a hotel with a pool with our travel schedule. Although, I realized why after seeing how kids go completely nuts in hotels over there:) Jury's Inn were a good deal.
Kids are wonderful, but being with them for 24 hours straight for two weeks is a lot, so my husband and I each gave the other one a half-day break in Dublin... the peaceful half day was wonderful for each of us, and managing by yourself with two kids for half a day is not bad...
Ok, this is a highlight... I was just reliving my trip... I think Europe will be on our agenda every year! 2011 will be Italy!