This summer we combined a trip to the amazing city of London with two weeks in one of my favourite countries, Ireland. We thought that Ireland’s beautiful sights, laid back friendliness and easy connections would be a perfect family destination after the intensity of the British capitol and Dublin was a great introduction for us.
We flew on a small commuter plane from London City Airport to Dublin international airport and it couldn’t have been easier. It cost about 10 pounds more per ticket than it would have cost to fly from Heathrow or Gatwick, but the quick transit connection and the ease of flying from a small airport made it very worthwhile. It was also quite easy to get from the medium sized airport in Dublin to the city with a 30 minute direct bus connection. The only challenge was that the bus ticket booth could give change, but didn’t sell child tickets. The bus driver had child tickets but didn’t give change. We solved this dilemma by buying two adult tickets from the booth then using the change given to buy two child tickets from the driver. Not an insurmountable obstacle, of course, but I have trouble understanding why it had to be that difficult.
Anyway, we were soon in town and checked into the very central Jury’s Inn Christchurch, directly across the street from the Christchurch Cathedral. It was a great location, within walking distance of almost all the sights in town and we got a reasonable rate for a four person room by booking about 8 months in advance. After the overwhelming sprawl of London, Dublin seemed like a perfect walking town and we easily explored the entire city without ever taking a bus or taxi. We spent the first day enjoying a playground on the grounds of St Patrick’s cathedral, then walking down Grafton Street and listening to the various musicians and street performers. We crossed the river on one of several foot bridges and returned on the north side of the river, stopping at a friendly pub for a drink on the way home.
The next day we headed out early to beat the crowds to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. While the city was less hectic than London, it was still high season and there were lots of tour groups around town, so we wanted to get a jump on them. We were able to get in without a wait and enjoy the excellent exhibit on the making of the ancient book and the monastic literary traditions, followed by the chance to see the open pages of the book itself. The exhibit finished up with a visit to the Long Room of the Trinity College Library, a sight which is included in every “most beautiful libraries in the world” list and a bucket list item for both my husband and myself. It didn’t disappoint with lots of photo opportunities for my husband and a librarian there filing some of the books away who stopped to talk to the kids about the library and showed them some of the old volumes.
After lunch we backtracked a bit and went to the Dublinia exhibit, which was right across the street from our hotel. It was geared towards young people and aimed to bring the sights and sounds of Dublin’s history to life. My kids had a great time there, exploring the hands on exhibits. They tried on medieval clothes, peaked into cooking pots in the old houses, smelled spices and herbs in the sacks on the docklands. Their favourite, of course, was the peek into the Viking age outhouse! It was a great exhibit for kids and the adults learned quite a bit as well. It was well worth the time and money.
On our last day in Dublin we started with a visit to the Chester Beatty Library, which is tucked in behind the walls of Dublin Castle. It’s a free exhibit displaying a private collection of rare books and manuscripts and has some of the oldest examples of important religious texts in the world. The kids, of course, took a quick look around the exhibit and promptly declared that they were bored and ready to go. There was a table with colouring pages for children and a small rooftop garden and between these two areas we were able to entertain the kids long enough to get a quick look at everything ourselves.
After the library visit we went back to Grafton Street and then checked out the cluster of National Museums south of Trinity College. We made a quick visit to the National Gallery to look at the paintings and then continued to the National Museum of Archeology. This museum holds many of the great treasures of Ireland including the famous “bog bodies” and many other treasures. While it is a traditional museum with most of the exhibits in cases behind glass there were some hands on exhibits for kids and everything was well explained and laid out.
We ended the day with a few hours in the park at St Stephens Green. There were ponds full of ducks and swans, lots of space to run around and a fantastic playground full of friendly Irish kids to play with. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we were able to join a happy group of locals and tourists watching our kids playing together and having fun.
Overall, we found Dublin to be a fantastic family destination. It was full of great sights for kids and the compact city centre was perfect for exploring. Two and a half days was enough to get a good feel for the city and we were able to see all the sights on our list, but we could have easily filled more time as well. And it was also our first sampling of the friendliness of the Irish people. Everyone we met was helpful and welcoming and we had the chance to chat with many locals. It was a great introduction to Ireland and we’d love to go again some day.