Where to Visit on a Family Vacation in Ireland

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Visit Ireland's Five Best Cities

The Emerald Isle is one of the best places to teach your kids to appreciate nature. It's lush and green, and goats roam free on narrow winding roads. Don't leave without trying a pint of hard cider along with crispy battered cod.

Be a City Slicker in Dublin

Check out the cultural epicenter of a country that inspired many of the literary greats like Yates and Joyce. Show your kids the 19th-century jail cells at The Kilmainham Gaol (Inchicore Road, Kilmainham, Dublin 8) where thousands of ordinary men, women and children were housed, some for petty crimes like stealing food. Then lighten the mood by checking out the sculptures and playground at the free park, St. Stephen's Green (St Stephen’s Green Square, Dublin), or wander through the Dublin Zoo (Phoenix Park, Dublin). Learn about the potato famine and Irish emigration at the interactive EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum (Custom House Quay, The Chq Building, Dublin). Then hire a sitter and take a Rural Pub Tour to share a pint with the locals (2 Westbourne Lodge, Knocklyon, Dublin).

Take in the Ocean in Galway

This city brings on the coastal charm. It's bright and colorful, with cobblestone streets. Start at the free Galway City Museum (Spanish Parade, Galway) to understand the history of the city; your kids will wonder at the life-size Galway hooker fishing boat hung from the ceiling. Wander beneath the Romanesque arches of the Galway Cathedral (Galway Cathedral, Galway) and let your kids grab a handful of sweets from the old-fashioned jars at Aunty Nellie's Sweet Shop (10 High St., Galway City). Take a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher (Lislorkan North, Liscannor, Co. Clare), but hold the kids tight: it's a 702-foot drop to the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean below (the 12-mile walking trail is not recommended for those under 12). Then return to Quay Street (Galway City Centre, Galway) for a pint of hard cider and traditional Irish music.

Transport in Time in Killarney

Take your kids back to the Middle Ages in Killarney. Drive clockwise around the 100-mile Ring of Kerry, the outer edge of the Iveragh Peninsula. Start at Ross Castle (Ross Castle, Killarney, Co. Kerry), a 15th-century tower house located in the 26,000-acre Killarney National Park (Killarney National Park, Muckross, Killarney, Co. Kerry), Ireland's first national park. Kayak or take a boat trip around The Lakes of Killarney. Then, tour Muckross House (The National Park, Dromyrourk, Killarney, Co. Kerry), a 19th-century Tudor-style home built for the land-owning class, and the ruins of a 15th-century Franciscan friary, Muckross Abbey. Stop for gourmet food in Kenmare Town (Co. Kerry).

Live Like a King (or Queen) in Kilkenny

Your kids will be awestruck by Kilkenny Castle (The Parade, Kilkenny), built in the 13th Century. Pick up hand-crafted souvenirs across the street at the Kilkenny Design Centre (Castle Yard, Kilkenny). Climb up seven floors to St. Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower's viewing platform for a magnificent view of the countryside (weather permitting). After your kids are tired out, learn about Irish beer and history at the old Smithwick's Brewery (Saint Francis Abbey Brewery 44 Parliament St., Kilkenny).

Kick Back in Westport

If you're more the country club type, check out Westport. It has golf facilities and yachting, and Pirate Adventure Park (Westport House, Westport, Co. Mayo) where your kids can climb into a huge plastic ball and roll down a hill to try zorbing. Explore the coastline by jumping off the pier at Old Head beach, cantering horseback through shallow waves, or snorkeling in Keem Bay (Keem, Achill Island). If biking is more your style, take the 42-kilometer Great Western Greenway (33 Harbour View, Ardmore, Westport, Co. Mayo) for free, which runs along a former historic railway line through the countryside.