Mini City Guides: Ireland, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland

August 19, 2015
dunluce castle-2

glenariff forest park-2

We headed across the ocean when little man was just under a year old.  Knowing we’d have an infant in tow, I scrounged up a few tips from the web, but mostly we just went with what we had already learned on our stateside getaways.  First, don’t try to make it like a trip before kids.  It just won’t be.  You’ll end up in a nice restaurant, past someone’s bedtime, trying to contain an almost animal.  Not that we tried that . . . more than once.  Second, keep your expectations for each day low.  We made a list of things we wanted to do before we left but didn’t assign days to any of them.  We’d just get up in the morning, judge little man’s temperament (who am I kidding we’d judged our own too) and sketch out what the day could look like.  We’d change up the plan along the way if we saw yet another beautiful field we needed to hike through. Next, the outdoors is your best ally.  If in doubt, we just looked for the prettiest place to get out of the car and let little man crawl around in the grass to his hearts content.  Then we’d put him in the backpack and hike till he fell asleep.   And last but not least, those little baby food pouches are amazing.  Never leave home without them.  In fact don’t leave your car without them.  Don’t go anywhere without them.  Unless you have fruit snacks. Then you might be okay.

Also before I forget: Ireland and Northern Ireland are two different countries.  The first uses the British pound.  The second runs on the Euro.  Lest you find yourself in a spot where you are trying to buy yourself the all important latte and are scrounging around for the wrong currency.  You’re welcome ☺.  Both countries sell those baby food pouches just in case you were worried.

When we went on this trip, little man was still in the stage where he was content to just be with us – more specifically on us in the Ergo – so we didn’t plan any real educational experiences.  The learning went more like this: “hey look little man there’s a sheep! Oh hey wait, that sheep has poop everywhere around it. STOP crawling!!”  That being said here are some places we loved that could easily be more educational for kids whose vocabulary is more than mama, dada, and ball (I mean he knew the essentials right?)

carrick a rede rope bridge-2The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland

I know, I know.  It’s beer museum.  But, it’s also a really interactive, really well made museum on the history of the family and their philanthropic efforts, the city of Dublin, and how they make beer.  Kids are definitely allowed.  I mean we had little man in the Ergo the whole time and other than having a hard time finding a bathroom with a changing station (turns out those aren’t that common in Europe) it was really pretty perfect.  It’s a self-guided tour so you can go at your own pace or cut the tour short if the kids (or adults) are tired of learning about beer.  Plus, at the end you get to have a Guinness (or a root beer for the kids) in the top floor observatory that has floor to ceiling windows with a 360 degree view of the city.

Dunluce Castle, Just outside Portrush, Northern Ireland

This is an outdoor castle ruins site perfect for letting kids run around and explore the nooks and crannies of a half standing castle.  It’s another self guided tour where you can check out those little hand held devices and learn about different rooms throughout the ruins.  They also have a special archeological exhibit just for kids where you can dig around in a sand pit for artifacts.  Or if you’re little man you can just throw the sand.  Learning tactile skills right?!  Also, you can buy amazing miniature swords in the gift shop.   I thought these would help immensely with keeping little man entertained on the transatlantic flight home.  Airport security thought otherwise.

Giant’s Causeway, In Between Bushmills and Dunseverick, Northern Ireland

For half of the trip we stayed just a half mile down the road from Giant’s Causeway in an adorable Irish cottage which we used as our home base to explore the northern coastline. The Causeway is a spectacular natural formation caused by the ebb and flow of the seawater over the particular minerals found on the shoreline in the area.  Unlike in some US parks, there aren’t rules about where you can and can’t go.  You can explore the rock formations and play in the tide pools as you please while discussing the local flora and fauna if you’re into that sort of thing.  Little man loved crawling over the rocks and splashing in the puddles.  Plus I mean kids in rain boots? Enough said.  The museum attached to the park has a fee but the geologic formations are free to explore if you don’t mind walking up and down a flight of relatively steep stairs.  You can also opt to pay for a bus ride down if you’re tired of carrying kids on your back!


Since little man was still at that stage where trying to dine in a restaurant was hit or miss (when does that end??), we cooked most of our meals at the cottage or apartment where we stayed.  We also did plenty of picnics while out hiking along the coastline trails.  We’d pick up some fruit and cheese and a loaf of bread from the local grocery store (watch the hours on the grocery stores overseas – nothing is 24-7, not even drugstores!) and maybe some carrots and hummus, shove it in our day packs with water bottles and head out for a hike.  We’d find a grassy spot relatively free of sheep poop and let Noah crawl around while we listened to the waves and marveled about how few people were on these spectacular hikes.

hiking picnic break-2We did still try some of the local cuisine even if it meant having to take turns holding little man on our laps!  First off try a traditional Irish breakfast.  Even the odd looking sausages.  See if you can get the kids to try it before they ask what’s in it ☺.  Plus a perk of the big breakfast is you’ll have plenty of time to hike before everyone is hungry again.  We had one Irish breakfast included with the cost of the cottage we stayed at and an adorable Irish woman served the three of us breakfast at a time of our choosing complete with china plates and extra jam and bread for the handsome wee lad as everyone over there liked to call him.
Fish and chips are always a safe staple (if you can called fried food a staple, a staple on vacation right?!)  We had some good fare at a local spot in Galway, Ireland called McDonagh’s.  Little man mostly ate the chips.

sheep gate-2Let’s talk about the coffee over in Ireland.  It’s bad.  Don’t drink it.  Bring your own beans and your own grinder and an aeropress.  Okay I may be a coffee snob, but really for a place that is rainy often, I didn’t have a single good cup of coffee while I was there other than the ones we made ourselves.  We found one hole in the wall in Derry (the walled city separating Northern Ireland and Ireland) called “Blooms Café on the Walls” that had a promising hipster feel but was still just OK.  I think there might have been a Starbucks in Dublin and in Galway if that’s up your alley.


So many things!! Seriously, it felt like everywhere we went was just as breathtakingly beautiful as the last.  And all without having to share the view with crowds.  I’ll try and narrow it down to some of our top picks!!

Northern Ireland Coastline Between Giant’s Causeway and Carrick a Rede

We hiked this spectacularly beautiful trail over the course of two days going at a leisurely pace with the wee lad on our backs, stopping for frequent snack breaks.  It overlooks the ocean and goes across these unbelievably green fields complete with little wooden step stools to let you pass through holes in the fences built to keep the sheep from escaping.  Part of it crosses a patch of pristine white sand beach and then you finish up on this stretch of pasture leading up to the hanging rope bridge at Carrick a Rede.  This little island in and of itself is worth the drive even if you aren’t feeling up for the hike.  You can walk across the bridge and sit in the sun on the island as long as you want.  Little man loved the soft grass, and he loved all the tourists gawking at his blond hair and blue rain jacket as he tried to learn to walk.

Glenariff Forest, in between Ballymena and Ballycastle, Northern Ireland

We almost left this off our list since it was a bit of a drive from anywhere we stayed but it was totally worth it.  It’s full of trails that run by streams and past waterfalls and feels almost like a rain forest. We literally felt like we’d walked into the Lord of the Rings.  Get off the road!! Anyone? Anyone? Okay just me.

aran islands ferry-2Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher, Outside of Doolin, Ireland

Okay if you get at all seasick you can cross this off your list.  If you don’t get seasick, I would still recommend standing outside the whole time you are on the ferry even if it is freezing cold.  Just trust me on this one.  With that under your belt, the Aran Islands are really beautiful.  We rented bikes and road around the island looking at shipwrecks and lighthouses and graveyards with stones from 100’s of years ago.  We stopped at a hole in the wall shop for a pot of coffee and delicious scones while the little man made friends with some other kids on the patio. Then we got back on the ferry and saw the Cliffs of Moher up close.  The pictures do not do them justice.

aran islands shipwreck-2play

Everywhere!  As long as your kids like the outdoors even a little there will be no shortage of places to play.  Every green field we drove or walked by seemed like an invitation to frolic  – or crawl excitedly – if you happen to be less than a year old like little man at the time.   We did find a few actual playgrounds along the way too!

Connemara National Park, Connemara, Ireland

This is an eerily beautiful part of the country full of boggy hills shrouded in mist that lead down to the coast.  The actual park has a playground for little kids at the foot of the hiking trails.  Beware: the main trail up the mountain is not for the faint of heart!! But, if you can strap your kids on your backs and don’t mind the burn, the view is spectacular.  The lower trails are full of fun boardwalks and rocks to hopscotch across for those less inclined to risk their lives crawling up a mountainside.

Lough Key Forest Park, Outside of Carrick On Shannon, Ireland

We stumbled across this park halfway through our one long day of driving when little man needed to get out of the car.  Okay who am I kidding, I needed out of the car.  We walked through wooded trails along a lake with a castle in the middle of it and then headed along another trail that went through a marshland where you had to balance on a narrow boardwalk and creep under overgrown branches.  The park also has an amazing playground for kids for a small fee that we opted out of only because the wee lad was still content to play with rocks and sticks. You can also tour the underground tunnels of an old manor that burned to the ground on the site or take a tour of the upper canopy on suspension bridges through the forest. This was one of those picturesque spots where we couldn’t quite believe we were the only people hiking along the trails!

why we didn't pay for lough key playground-2We also would just stop along the road whenever we saw a playground.  Or more accurately I should say, we’d stop, grab a cup of coffee, and then head to the playground.  We found one at a rest stop on the major highway going north out of Dublin and another on one of roads heading south out of Derry.  We’d sit and think about how we wished we had a latte from our favorite barista in Tulsa while the wee lad played happily on the equipment for kids twice his size.

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  • Reply Rach August 25, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    This is marvelous! Thanks for such detailed descriptions and fun ideas. You make it seem totally feasible to take a baby/toddler/kid just about anywhere.

  • Reply Jordan Graves August 25, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Love this so much! Obviously I love anything and everything Jenny Hellman related. And this entire site is amazing Mary Beth! Great work!

  • Reply Janice Armstrong August 26, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    Hey, I loved this – you visited my home town! Portrush is where I grew up and Dunluce castle part of the ancient heartbeat of the land. Headlands that make the blood stir. Just wish we got a bit more sunshine to enjoy it better… and now that I know our coffee is awful I’ll have to cross the pond to get a decent cup ;)
    Love this new site Mary Beth…missed you online since you left Annapolis & Co! x

    • Reply August 28, 2015 at 2:40 am

      Haha! Starbucks is pretty great all around the world, so you can always stick with that. ;) You are blessed to live in such a beautiful country. Xoxoxo, Mary Beth

  • Reply Jennifer Westerfield August 26, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    Love this!!! These pictures are breath taking and such great info!

  • Reply Rebekah August 27, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Great post! I’m looking forward to trying to travel with a baby, so I hope it works out. The only thing is that I think you got the countries’ currency backwards: “Ireland and Northern Ireland are two different countries. The first uses the British pound. The second runs on the Euro.” Ireland uses the Euro and Northern Ireland uses the British Pound.

    • Reply August 28, 2015 at 2:38 am

      Ahhhhh…thanks for the correction! Good luck with your travels. We took our then 4-month old Hugh with us to Belgium and the Netherlands and had a blast!

  • Reply Mini City Guide: Spain (Malaga, Nerja, Granada) – Schooner Kids September 18, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    […] after the amazing time we had as a family of three on our trip to the emerald isle, we decided to venture across the pond again but this time to the sunnier coast of southern Spain. […]

  • Reply ray ban wayfarer September 21, 2015 at 7:49 am

    Saved as a favorite, I really like your blog!

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