If your Ireland Vacation takes you to the west, it’s likely you’ll be stopping at the most visited natural attraction in the country – the Cliffs of Moher. If the weather is fine, you might even opt for a Cliffs of Moher cruise. (I highly recommend it!) But then what? Don’t go rushing off to other parts of Ireland too quickly – there are plenty of fun family attractions in County Clare.
Top Family Attractions in County Clare
Craggaunowen: The Living Past Experience
Another restored castle awaits at Craggaunowen, but it is the older history that draws the visitor who takes the time to find this gem. A self-guided walk through the lands surrounding Craggaunowen Castle leads you back to Ireland’s Iron Age. Explore a Celtic Crannog and the Souterrain under the ring fort, stroll beside a road that dates to the Iron Age, and try your hand at spinning wool. You’ll also see Bronze Age animals – “cute and adorable” Soay lambs and curious baby wild boar (along with the not-so-cute adults).
Follow the Atlantic coast north from the Cliffs of Moher and you’ll soon find yourself in the Burren. The English translation of the Irish word boíreann, meaning ‘a rocky place,’ the Burren is an incredible ecosystem of limestone pavement, grasslands, woodlands, lakes, Petrifying springs, and cliffs. The most popular attraction in the Burren is Poulnabrone Dolmen, a large Neolithic portal tomb. The official Burren National Park information point is in Corofin, but you’ll find other visitor centers in the area.
Not far from Poulnabrone Dolmen you’ll find the very well preserved Caherconnell Fort. The visitor centre has a short audio visual presentation filled with insight into the history and archaeology of the Burren. In addition to the lovely coffee shop and craft shop, which feature local produce and artisan crafts, don’t miss the skillful sheepdog demonstration.
Few tourists venture below the Burren’s rocky landscape, but those who want a completely different view of the area will enjoy the subterranean tour of Aillwee Cave. The half hour tour leads you through natural caverns, across bridged chasms, and past a thunderous waterfall. The caves were once used as the hibernation caverns for the now extinct brown bear.
Burren Birds of Prey Centre
Also located at Aillwee Cave, but with a separate entry fee, the Birds of Prey Centre is home to eagles, falcons, hawks and owls. Flying displays allow visitors to see these magnificent birds up close. For a more personal experience, register for a Hawk Walk where you will be instructed in Falconry and meet the Harris Hawk you will handle during an unforgettable 45 minute walk through the Burren woodlands.
Another underground adventure awaits at Doolin Cave, home to the Great Stalactite. At 23 feet long, it is the longest free-hanging stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere. After you visit the cave, be sure to walk the Farmland Nature Trail to see rare breeds of cattle and sheep, as well as pygmy goats and some very fancy chickens.
Loop Head Peninsula & Lighthouse
Follow Clare’s shoreline as far south and west as you can get, and you’ll find yourself at Loop Head. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and the mouth of the mighty River Shannon at the other, some of the most colorful villages, stunning landscapes, and exciting adventures in Ireland await. At the very end of the peninsula is the Loop Head Lighthouse which can be toured daily from May to August.
The mouth of the River Shannon is home to about 160 Bottlenose Dolphins. A cruise with DolphinWatch is a terrific opportunity to see them interact with each other – and maybe show off for the boats. Depending on the season you may also see whales, grey seals, and nesting seabirds along the stunning Atlantic cliffs.
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
If you arrived in Shannon and drove even a few miles south, you probably saw Bunratty Castle. A perfect place for kids and adults, you can explore the restored castle from top to bottom. Afterwards, take a walk through the village and learn how the Irish lived across the country. Wander the folk park with its walled garden, farmsteads, and terrific playground. Plan ahead and enjoy evening entertainment at the Medieval Banquet or Traditional Irish Night.
Ferry across the Shannon
If your self-drive tour has you leaving County Clare for County Kerry (or vice versa), there is no better way to go than by ferry. The car ferry between Kilrush, Co. Clare and Tarbert, Co. Kerry is a relaxing ride. Drive on, park, and weather permitting, get out of the car and enjoy the ride!
Of course the best way to visit many of these sites is to plan your own driving tour of Ireland.
Craggaounowen and Bunratty Castle by Jody Halsted (author)
Poulnabrone Dolmen by Milo Moje, cc
Caherconnell Fort by crysania4 cc
Aillwee Cave by Rob Scott, cc
Burren Birds of Prey Centre by Patrick Reilly, cc
Doolin Cave by Dan Kaseta, cc
Loop Head Lighthouse by John Finn, cc
DolphinWatch by Trishch, cc