Ireland’s capital city, Dublin, may be ancient, but it’s young at heart.
Compact, with a buzzing city center sandwiched between sea and mountains, there’s plenty for everyone to do here, including some amazing experiences that are perfect for those traveling with younger family members.
Top tips for traveling with children in Dublin
Dublin is easily navigated with the Luas tram and DART train services, Dublin Bus and Dublin Bikes (for hire), but to fully appreciate its charms, the center is best explored by foot, where you can stroll pedestrianized Grafton Street past buskers and shops, wander into Trinity College to marvel the Book of Kells, and ramble through historic Georgian squares and alongside the River Liffey.
There are entrance fees for most of the sights outlined here, so with a bit of advance planning, consider whether it is cost-effective for you to purchase a Go City Pass, whether All Inclusive or Go Explorer. They don't cover the cost of transportation, but a hop-on hop-off bus tour is one of the sightseeing services covered by the pass.
1. Explore Dublin's fun museums and kid-friendly galleries
The city is sprinkled with a glut of child-friendly galleries and museums for rainy days, most of which you’ll find in the city center. Little thinkers and doers get busy down at the Ark cultural center in Temple Bar with age-specific programs from 2–12 that are designed around visual arts, music and crafts. A regular stream of workshops and mini-courses, often with leading Irish and international artists, are a sure-fire hit, especially in school holidays.
There are no bells and whistles at The Natural History Museum, otherwise known as the Dead Zoo. One of Dublin’s quirkier treasures, it’s a throw-back to a Victorian era that kids will equally love, especially when they catch glimpse of the 40,000-year-old leg of a woolly mammoth, a giant whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling and row-upon-row of stuffed animals.
How could kids not be enthralled by a city and country with a storied history of leprechauns and Vikings? "Folklore made fun" is the basis of the fairy-tale trek at the Leprechaun Museum, where children over the age of 6 experience what it’s like to live as a leprechaun in mythical Ireland. Dublinia’s child-friendly, fun approach to the Viking age, complete with sound effects, smells and reconstructions that will delight even the most easily-bored youngster. Kids can try on medieval costumes, be locked in the stocks, and browse the selection of objects recovered from Wood Quay, the world’s largest Viking archaeological site.
Encourage your budding Picassos while you get a culture hit at the National Gallery of Ireland. A good spot to wait out a rainstorm or escape the crowds, the "Through a Lens" range of self-guided tours selects artworks that can be enjoyed with babies and toddlers as well as family favorites. There are also art workshops and a child-friendly cafe.
2. Visit the animals at Dublin Zoo
Beyond the museums, Dublin Zoo in Phoenix Park is a guaranteed big hitter with over 600 species of wild animals, tropical birds and reptiles. The well-planned layout is scattered with cafes, playgrounds and open-plan habitats such as African Savannah, home to giraffes, rhinos and ostriches, Gorilla Rainforest (a huge enclosure housing lowland gorillas) and Sea Lion Cove, where you can watch sea lions swim underwater through huge underground glass panels.
3. Take a day trip to the coast
Dubliners tend to take full advantage of their city’s proximity to the sea. To the north is the pretty fishing village of Howth, choc-full of fine seafood restaurants, a seaside playground and the scenic Howth cliff walk. While ideal for families, the walk is probably best suited for slightly older children due to its varied terrain. When you’ve finished, head back to the village for some well-earned fish and chips from Beshoffs while watching the resident seals splash about in the harbor. To really get to know hidden trails, take a walking tour with local guides.
To the south are the great granite walls of Dun Laoghaire harbor, where you could easily while away an afternoon walking the pier, followed by a 99 from Teddy’s ice cream, a wander through People’s Park, where the kids can blow off some steam at the playground and parents can take a coffee break at Fallon & Byrne cafe, before strolling through Sandycove to famous swimming spot the Forty Foot and taking the deep plunge if you dare.
In the middle is Dollymount and Sandymount strands, often a patchwork of kitesurfers who come to catch some of those notorious gusts that regularly skip over the coast.
4. Try some water sports in the city center
If you want some high-octane water adventure in a more controlled setting, head to Surf Dock at Grand Canal Dock, where you can rent paddleboards and kayaks and try wakeboarding. If a lazy paddle is more your thing, you can see the city from another angle as you drift down the River Liffey under the Ha’Penny and O’Connell Street bridges with City Kayaking.
5. Wander the grounds of the Airfield Estate
The Airfield Estate is a bucolic surprise bang smack in the middle of Dundrum’s busy shopping area, an exquisite 38-acre retreat that swings between walking trails and gentle woodland to an adventure playground and working farm where kids can watch the cows being milked and help collect the hens' eggs. The Overend family home and vintage car garage is open for visitors to explore. In summer, there are daily drop-in workshops for kids on topics like ecology, mindfulness, gardening and knitting and a food market at the weekends. Bring a picnic and flake out on the grass, or enjoy a farm-to-fork take-out from the superb Overends Kitchen.
6. Discover the joys of Phoenix Park
The capital’s major lung and Europe’s largest enclosed park, this vast green oasis west of the city center will happily fill a whole day of exploring. It's home to Dublin Zoo, ponds, meadows, rolling hills, walled gardens, cafes and the resident deer, which are the real draw. Let the kids run wild or, weather permitting, pack a picnic and hop on a bike, which can be hired from the Parkgate Street entrance, and go spot some deer. They're very calm around people but don't get too close and never feed them.
7. Go ghost hunting at Malahide Castle
Malahide is a proper castle complete with a gory storied history and beautiful gardens, which also contain the Fry Model Railway Museum, butterfly house, the wonderful Avoca cafe and a superb playground. Founded in the 12th century by Richard Talbot, young ghost hunters might be interested in the castle’s resident ghosts said to haunt the halls, intent on ridding it of any Talbot heirs. After touring the house, hit the nearby beach for a stroll, followed by lunch in the pretty village.
8. The Gaelic Games are a fun family day out
Experience "the clash of the ash" at national stadium Croke Park, home to the world’s fastest field sport, hurling, which has been going strong for 3000 years. Think quidditch but without the broomsticks – a match here is always thrilling and makes for a great family day out.