I was once told that Irish castles are like street signs – there’s one on every corner. While that’s not quite true, Ireland is filled with castles and castle ruins. And while you could certainly fill an entire vacation touring castles in Ireland, when you’re traveling in Ireland with kids, you want to make sure there is something there everyone will love.
1. Bunratty Castle, Bunratty, County Clare
You can tour this castle from bottom to top; be sure to climb to the battlements for terrific views of the Shannon Estuary. Surrounding the castle is Bunratty Folk Park. Filled with traditional homes and a small village you learn about the Irish people and their history. Kids love the animals – don’t miss the Irish Wolfhounds and Connemara ponies – and a terrific playground with its own castle is a favorite. If you visit be sure to check the schedule for their Traditional Irish Night. Taking place in the Corn Barn, it’s a lively evening of music, dance, food, and craic (the Irish word for fun and entertainment).
2. Birr Castle Demense, Birr, County Offaly
While you can’t tour Birr Castle (it’s still a family home), it’s the
demense (domain) that people come to visit. The science center in the renovated stables is filled with contributions made by the family of the Earls of Rosse in the fields of astronomy, botany, engineering, and photography. Across the grounds you’ll discover gardens, an early suspension bridge and the Great Telescope, the largest in the world until the mid-20th century. Recently Birr Castle built Ireland’s largest treehouse which, in addition to the already large play area, will occupy the kids for hours.
3. Glenveagh Castle, Glenveagh National Park, County Donegal
The castle lies 4km from the visitors centre; a good stretch of the legs, though you may want to catch the shuttle on the way back. Surrounded by incredible gardens, pathways to explore, and stunning views, there seems to be magic around every corner of Glenveagh Castle. Plan for a day to tour the castle and grounds. The castle has a lovely little cafe, or bring along a picnic. Situated in the center of Glenveagh National Park there is plenty of exploring to be done.
4. Enniskillen Castle, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh
The original keep at Enniskillen Castle has been surrounded by a 17th century garrison fort and 19th century military barracks, making this Irish castle the perfect destination for military history buffs. The Curved Range, originally built as stables with rooms above for cavalrymen, now holds historical diorama and items from wars past. A fun scavenger hunt for the kids -with a prize at the end- makes history fun and interesting.
5. Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny, County Kilkenny
Completely restored, Kilkenny Castle is what your mind conjures when you imagine a castle in Ireland. Since the castle is self-tour, you can go at your own pace. Each room has staff to answer questions. But what makes Kilkenny Castle so great for families is the grounds. Plenty of walking paths, a play area, and natural spaces with trees perfect for climbing are inviting for an afternoon picnic or a morning outing. Just across the street at the Kilkenny Design Centre is a lovely cafe with fresh pastries and sandwiches.
6. Cahir Castle, Cahir, County Tipperary
Just south of the magnificent Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle is often overlooked as travelers make their way through County Tipperary. A portion of the moat for this island castle still exists and sparks the imagination. A beautifully preserved Medieval castle, knights young and old will love looking through the arrow slits, walking along the tops of the castle walls, standing bravely beneath the sharp points of the portcullis, and exploring the island on which the castle sits.
7. Ardgillan Castle, Skerries, County Dublin
Adults will love the beauty to be found at Ardgillan Castle. The sweeping parkland, the sparkling ocean, the magnificent gardens. And while the kids will appreciate those – especially the gardens are they are the perfect place to hunt for faeries and hide from mom and dad – what they will love most is the absolutely amazing playground. One of the best I’ve ever seen- especially with the ocean backdrop- it has play structures for young children and older children including a castle playset, a nice sized zipline and dual rope climbing towers.
8. Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, County Galway
Originally known as Kylemore Castle, Kylemore Abbey was purchased in 1920 by an order of Benedictine Nuns fleeing persecution in Germany. Once used as a boarding school (can you imagine living here???), the nuns now occupy the entire house. Four rooms of the castle have been restored and are interesting to view. But the best part of Kylemore lies outside, along the pathways and in the gardens. Fun surprises await children who choose to explore the grounds. A short stroll takes you to the stunning walled garden where gardeners are happy to answer questions. And next to that is the wonderful tea shop with delicious pastries.
9. The Bishops Palace, Waterford, County Waterford
History is alive – and a ghost walks the halls- at The Bishop’s Palace in Waterford. Waterford Treasures, a trio of Waterford museums which also includes Reginald’s Tower and the Medieval Museum, conducts character led tours through the Viking Triangle. Over 1000 years of Waterford history is shared in an entertaining way. At the tops floor of The Bishop’s Palace is a room filled with toys from the last century. It;s great fun for kids today to see what their parents and grandparents may have played with!
10. Florence Court, Florence Court Forest Park, County Fermanagh
Owned by the National Trust, there is always something happening at Florence Court. While the 18th century house is definitely worth touring – it’s the myriad of activities that will entrance your family. Costumed tours are available on the weekends, taking you through the sawmill, ice house and idyllic thatched summer house. A fun play area is right next to the pasture of cows and acres of land is open for exploring.
All photos by Jody Halsted; Ireland With Kids.com