In Part 1 of this series on family travel in Ireland, I went over the logistics of booking and planning a trip to Ireland with a family of nine.
We spent the first few days of our 11-night adventure on the southwestern side of Ireland in Killarney, which is what I’ll be covering in this post.
As we found out, Killarney is an area filled with attractions and also home to a very family-friendly resort.
Family Activities in Killarney
Killarney is located in the County Kerry, which is approximately three and a half hours from Dublin by car, or an hour by plane. My family drove here, while my parents took a Ryanair flight into Kerry Airport (KIR).
Even though it’s a relatively short drive, it can be broken up by making some stops along the way.
The town of Cashel is known for the iconic Rock of Cashel, a group of medieval monuments perched atop a large limestone outcrop. You’ll also find a tower, chapel, cathedral, abbey, and high cross here.
Historically, it was where the kings of southwestern Ireland were once seated in the first century BCE, and where St. Patrick is said to have converted an Irish king to Christianity.
Thirty minutes south of Cashel is The Farm Grenagh, a great place for kids to have an experience working on a farm. During a visit, kids can stretch their legs, ride on tractors and trailers, get a hit of adrenaline on ziplines, pet and feed farm animals, and learn about life on the farm.
There’s also a historical exhibit to show how life was back in the 1950s. And this is just one of many farm experiences available in the area!
From here, we headed straight to our hotel in Killarney, as the afternoon just flew by.
If you have time, you could also visit Blarney Castle, which is located only 15 minutes from The Farm Grenagh. It’s another attraction in the area, known for its gardens and the famous Blarney Stone, which if kissed while upside-down, is said to bring good luck.
Killarney isn’t a huge town, but it’s the gateway to the Ring of Kerry scenic drive and the 200km Kerry Way walking trail, one of Ireland’s longest walking trails. Killarney National Park is also located here, so there’s no shortage of outdoor activities at your disposal.
Inside Killarney National Park is Muckross House, a series of gardens and traditional farms that also features a Victorian mansion.
The farm is similar to a small pioneer village, and wasn’t the most exciting attraction; however, kids get to see what living on a farm was like 100 years ago, which is quite interesting. Furthermore, there are a few onsite demonstrations, such as bread baking over a fire and a blacksmith shaping tools.
Located just outside the park is the Gap of Dunloe, which is a narrow mountain pass that runs through one of the most scenic parts of County Kerry. It’s a single lane road, and although locals will sometimes drive it, I wouldn’t recommend it for a tourist.
Horse and buggies, also known as jaunting carts, frequent the same road throughout the day.
To get to the Gap of Dunloe, park your car at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, which is located at the beginning of the road. From here, either walk or take a jaunting cart up the road and through the pass.
We decided to take a jaunting cart up to the midway point, and appreciated the driver’s commentary on the trip. After that, we turned around and headed back to Kate Kearney’s Cottage.
The whole journey took about an hour. There’s a little shop next to Kate Kearney’s Cottage that has ice cream and candy to reward the kids for their effort if you do the walk, as well as a restaurant that serves full meals if you’re hungry.
Should you decide to go all the way to the end of the Gap of Dunloe, you can catch a boat ride out to Ross Castle and back into Killarney, rather than going back the same way. If opting for the boat ride, be sure to book ahead, as departure times are limited.
Going to the end of the Gap of Dunloe and visiting Ross Castle will take roughly six hours, so plan for a much longer day.
Within an hour from the Gap of Dunloe, you can also watch sheep dog herding demonstrations at sheep farms, or you can visit Skellig Michael, where parts of Star Wars were filmed.
Our visit to Skellig Michael was my son’s favourite part of our trip to Ireland.
If you’re interested in visiting Skellig Michael, it’s necessary to book early, as there are only about 12 boats that offer tours. Bookings for tours generally open around the end of January or the beginning of February, costing between €100–120 ($130–156 CAD) per person.
We went with Skellig Coast Adventures, as they have one of the newest boats, called the Skellig Walker, which has a large indoor and outdoor seating area and a clean toilet onboard. The staff were also great with my son, and even allowed him to drive the boat for a bit!
If you’re travelling with young children, note that the minimum age for the tour is between 10–12 years old, depending on the tour operator. The climb up the mountain can be quite steep, and there aren’t railings in certain areas.
Thankfully, we had grandparents with us on this trip, who were able to look after our younger ones while we went on this adventure with our son.
Departure times for the tours start are generally between 9–10am from Portmagee, a small coastal village. Tours are very weather-dependent, so cancellations can happen.
Generally, you’ll be notified about the status of the tour the night before it’s set to depart. There are a few hotels and B&Bs in Portmagee; however, the one hour drive from Killarney was an easy and scenic one, which we didn’t mind at all.
For at least one evening, make time to attend Celtic Steps, an entertaining show featuring traditional Celtic music and dance. Everyone in our family thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
Four Nights at The Dunloe Hotel & Gardens
We spent four nights in Killarney at The Dunloe Hotel & Gardens, a 5-star resort. It was a very family-friendly hotel, and there were many great services to help ensure kids and parents have a pleasant stay.
The hotel is situated a 13-minute drive from the town of Killarney, and is located just outside of the Gap of Dunloe.
The Dunloe Hotel & Gardens – Booking
I booked a Family Room for €350 ($457 CAD) per night, which included a daily breakfast for the entire family.
Because the hotel isn’t a part of any international hotel chain, I made the booking through Hotels.com, which has its own great rewards program.
While I could have used my American Express Platinum Card or Gold Rewards Card to earn two Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, I instead put the charge on my HSBC World Elite Mastercard to earn six points per dollar.
The points we earned can be used for 3% cash back on future travel. We also benefitted from the card’s no foreign transaction fees.
The Dunloe Hotel & Gardens – Family Room
The Family Room is arranged as two adjoining rooms, and can accommodate a maximum of five guests. The room’s décor is a bit dated, but the rooms were otherwise clean and comfortable.
The main room had a king bed, a desk with a Nespresso machine, a small table, and two arm chairs. The windows open up onto a small balcony with a couple of chairs.
The second room can fit two or three twin beds, depending on your family size. Each room had a television, so parents and kids can watch their own shows.
Each room had its own bathroom, which was convenient for families.
The Dunloe Hotel & Gardens – Breakfast & Dining
The Grill Restaurant is the hotel’s only full-service restaurant, but you won’t be disappointed. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Not only was the food here fantastic, but the setting was open and vibrant, and had an incredible view of the Gap of Dunloe in the distance.
The complimentary breakfast included a continental buffet, which had gluten-free options, as well as cooked-to-order menu items.
Every night, there’s also a Kids’ Buffet from 4:30–5:30pm, for only €13 ($17 CAD) per child. Interestingly, there’s no age limit for what they consider a child, so feel free to bring your hungry teenager!
Each night, there are three different main dishes, two options for desserts, and unlimited drinks. On the nights our kids went, the options included spaghetti bolognese, grilled salmon, pizza, and burgers, as well as fish fingers and chips.
The buffet is timed so that kids can enjoy their dinner and then be dropped off at the Kids’ Club when they’re done. This way, parents can enjoy a quiet meal to themselves, if they so choose.
There’s also a separate kids’ menu, should you choose to have them dine with you.
The hotel also has The Bar, which provides an elegant yet comfortable space to enjoy a drink, tapas, or a light lunch.
The Dunloe Hotel & Gardens – Activities & Other Facilities
There are numerous complimentary activities offered onsite, which really enhanced our stay. We also felt that the activities helped squeeze more value out of the nightly rate, as we didn’t have to pay extra for everything.
At check-in, staff offered a small activity book and a map of their Fairy Trail to our kids. There are 20 fairies hidden around the property, and it’s a fun activity that can be done at your own pace.
It’s very easy to explore the gardens and find the ruins of the small 13th century Dunloe Castle, which you can enter and see sweeping views of the surrounding area from the top.
There’s both an onsite indoor playroom with toys and an outdoor playground with swings, slides, climbing structures, and even a small zipline.
Families can enjoy fishing in the River Laune that runs just behind the hotel. Fishing rods can be picked up at reception.
The rods come with artificial lures, but if you really want to catch some fish, my recommendation would be to go to the nearby store O’Neills of Killarney and buy a small tub of worms for only €6 ($8 CAD).
The resort’s resident Haflinger ponies can be taken on a short 10-minute trail rides behind the stables. Remember to ask the restaurant’s kitchen for some apples to feed the them after the ride.
There’s no limit to the number of times you can ride the ponies, and my kids made sure to visit them daily.
The lovely 25-meter indoor swimming pool was a family favourite, too. It’s open daily from 8am–8pm, and there’s also a sauna, steam room, and fitness centre.
D Club is the hotel’s supervised kids club that’s open daily during the high season and on select dates during low season. The operating hours are between 10am–12pm and 6pm–9pm.
Activities here include arts and crafts, games, movie nights, and a video game area complete with a PlayStation 4, Nintendo Wii, and Xbox. The D Club policies can be found here.
In addition to the above activities, indoor tennis is available year-round, and equipment can be borrowed from reception. The hotel also has a selection of board games if you’re thinking of a family night in.
One minor inconvenience for families is the lack of laundry facilities or on-site laundry service. Rather, all laundry has to be sent out to The Dunloe’s sister hotel, and needs to be ready before 9am for same-day service.
Killarney is a wonderful destination for a family vacation in Ireland. There are a number of attractions in and around County Kerry, making it a great base to do day trips from.
I can’t recommend a better place to stay in the area than The Dunloe Hotel & Gardens. There’s plenty here to keep the kids happy and busy, and best yet, it’s all included in the cost of the room.
We’d love to come back and visit here again one day. The area and the hotel left a lasting impression on everyone in my family.