Chris Jackson/Getty Images News/GettyImages
Exploring the Emerald Isle, Rain or Shine
Ireland has plenty to offer the vacationing family: live music, fun museums and some “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” movie backdrops, to name a few—plus the mythical Irish craic that permeates the culture. But given the emerald isle's notoriously wet weather, it can be tough to pick a good time of year to visit.
If you take into account the crowds, seasons and travel prices, you're probably best off planning your Irish adventure for either spring or fall. Summers bring long days (6 a.m. sunrises and 10 p.m. sunsets) coupled with Ireland's best weather (i.e., minimal rain), but they also come with packed crowds and higher airfare and lodging prices. Winters mean fewer daylight hours, loads of rain and constant low temperatures, but tourist attractions have more elbow room, and traveling is less costly. If you opt for fall or spring, you're likely to find a happy medium.
No matter when you land in Ireland, traveling within the country is painless. The whole island, including the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is about the same size as the state of Indiana—it only takes a few hours to drive across it from coast to coast. Rent a car if you don't mind adjusting to driving on the left side of the road. Or, consider traveling via train or tour bus. The train transports you and the family from A to B without being affected by the weather or traffic, while a tour bus provides you with a guide for your travels and stops at some of Ireland's most interesting places.
Sites for the Fall Visitor
Between the months of August and October in Ireland, high temperatures range from 57 to 64 degrees F. You can expect relatively mild weather through September, and rains and winds will start to pick up after then.
The rainy autumn months shouldn't keep you from fully experiencing Dublin—museums, shops, pubs, eateries and other tourist attractions will likely keep their doors open regardless of the weather, though their hours might shorten. Head to Trinity College Dublin (College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland) to see the famed Book of Kells, tour the Guinness Storehouse (St. James's Gate, Ushers, Dublin 8, Ireland) to learn about the history of Ireland's most famous beer, or pop into the pubs lining Temple Bar to escape the rain and enjoy some live Irish folk music.
September also means the all-Ireland senior Gaelic football championship final, which takes place at Croke Park (Jones Rd., Dublin) on the third or fourth Sunday of each September. The tournament brings pubs alive throughout the country, especially if you happen to be in a county whose team is competing in the final match. For authentic, boisterous Irish cheer, take the family to dinner at a pub during the Gaelic football final—or attend the match in person if you don't mind a little rain.
Dublin is a small, walkable city, with a chronically late, but easy-to-use bus system. The city also uses Coca-Cola Zero dublinbikes sharing program, where a flat rate (of 5 euros for three days or 20 euros a year) buys you access to rental bikes, which you can ride around the city and park at any of Dublin's strategically located bike stations. If the weather permits, this is one of the easiest and most scenic ways to experience Dublin, and it'll keep you and your family on the move.
Sites for the Spring Visitor
If you're in Ireland between February and April, you can expect up to 15 hours of daylight with high temperatures ranging from 46 to 54 degrees F. You're still likely to see some rain while you're there, but the daily chance of rain in April averages about 27 percent—nearly the lowest you'll see all year.
For that reason, springtime in Ireland provides the perfect season to explore the country's rural attractions set among lush green hills. Glendalough in County Wicklow makes for the perfect weekend trip, boasting forest hiking trails and medieval remains from a 6th-century monastic settlement. Or take the train about 20 minutes north of Dublin to the coastal village of Howth, which offers breezy coastal walking trails over a velvet blue sea.
You and your family can take advantage of spring to see Ireland's most famous outdoor attractions. Check out Blarney Castle and Gardens (Monacnapa, Blarney, Co. Cork, Ireland), where you and the kids can kiss the Blarney Stone for good luck. Stroll along the Cliffs of Moher on Ireland's southwest coast, where you might recognize backgrounds from “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” or “The Princess Bride.” Make your way to Northern Ireland (no passport is required to cross the border, though Northern Ireland uses the pound instead of the euro) to see the Giant's Causeway, a coastal area featuring tens of thousands of natural rock column formations caused by an ancient volcanic eruption.