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Toddlin’ Through County Kerry
If you’re contemplating traveling with your toddler for the first time, Ireland is one of the most baby-friendly destinations to choose from. We took our toddler to Western Ireland to County Kerry, and I could not recommend it enough. Between the spectacular nature and the friendly and family-friendly Irish people, Ireland is the ideal getaway for families with small children.
Before we had our son Luke, my husband and I were avid travelers. We drove our own dog sled above the Arctic Circle, white water rafted in Central America, sampled exotic delicacies in Asia, and hiked Iceland’s second largest glacier. When our son Luke was born, we decided that world travel was not off the table for us just because we had a baby in tow. In fact, travel with Luke would bring a whole new dimension to our experiences abroad and provide us the opportunity to share our love of travel with our child. Sure, we’d have certain limitations, but we were excited to embark on this new kind of adventure with our son.
We’ve found there are really two types of people–those who think that overseas travel with a baby/toddler is crazy and would never consider it, and those who believe in it so much that they’re willing to overcome all obstacles to make it work. When we decided to bring Luke on his first international trip at 16 months old, we heard our fair share of opinions. “Why bring a young child on such a long trip when he won’t even remember it?” That was probably the winning question.
Here’s the thing–it’s not about remembering for us. I can’t even remember some trips I took at 10. So if you have the means to do it now, why wait? Life’s too short.
What it’s about for my husband and me is exposing our son to the wonders of this world early in life and shaping him into the person we hope him to be. We would like him to be someone who is excited and open to experiencing different cultures, appreciates the beauty and diversity of this world, can adapt to changing circumstances, and embraces different ways of life and how people live, including the sacrifices they make. Yes, he’s young, but learning valuable lessons and building character never starts too early, right?
For our first trip abroad with Luke, we decided on County Kerry in western Ireland. We’d done some research prior and thought it was a great starting point. It turned out to be the perfect choice for us. The Irish were some of the most hospitable and child-loving people we’d ever met. We would take Luke into pubs, and people wouldn’t blink a (critical) eye. In fact, they’d start clapping with him as the music played. The memory of my 16-month-old dancing to the beat of the lively Irish pub music is one of my most treasured memories.
Another reason to visit Western Ireland with a toddler–the abundance of Mother Nature. We took Luke hiking in Killarney National Park where he saw animals at every turn. We embarked on a jaunty cart ride to the Gap of Dunloe during a wind and rain storm, and he didn’t blink an eye. He just kept staring in awe of the gigantic mountains and greenery around him. Normally, I’d be frustrated getting soaked when a random, heavy storm breaks through the sky, but my toddler taught me to embrace it. It turned out to be one of the coolest experiences I’d ever had.
One of the things that surprised me most was all the resources available for parents of young children throughout County Kerry. Whether it be play spaces at Shannon Airport, clean public bathrooms, or child-friendly outdoor spaces, Kerry checked so many boxes for this mama!
If you’re considering a trip to County Kerry after reading this post, please find my family’s itinerary below, including toddler-friendly hotels, transit, restaurants, and activities. I’ve also included my list of “must-haves” to keep your little one comfortable (and mama sane!) during your trip abroad.
The Dunloe Hotel and Gardens–Dunloe Lower, County Kerry. It’s a beautiful hotel in the countryside and extremely accommodating to little ones. There were many families with young children visiting, but it never felt crowded and was very peaceful. The property features horses and stables, along with a fun and interactive fairy trail around the wooded property (a colorful trail map provided in the hotel lobby together with pictures and descriptions of the Irish fairies). Hotel’s grass playground was beautiful. The Dunloe’s healthy-choice menu with plenty of kid-friendly options was a big hit with our family. We have a big fruit eater, and it was easy to get Luke fresh fruit at the hotel to take on our adventures. We also found that this was a great location for exploring both the backcountry and the city of Killarney. We walked around the massive hotel property one day in the rain and found hidden abandoned churches and clearings with beautiful views. The hotel also had shelves and shelves of books that went all the way up to the ceiling. It was gorgeous, and our little bookworm loved sorting through the lower shelves. We found quite a few childhood classics, too.
Aghadoe Heights Hotel–Lakes of Killarney, Nunstown, County Kerry. This is another toddler-friendly gem. Luke received a welcome gift bag upon arrival complete with crayons and a pretend passport. My husband and I enjoyed leisurely dinners with our toddler here…GASP! The waiters were so entertaining and a hit with Luke. And truth be told: there were some nights we broke out the Kindle so that my husband and I could enjoy longer dinners and drinks together. Nightly piano music with Irish songs at AH was a big hit for Luke who loved going up to the friendly piano player as she sang and played. Gorgeous views of River Laune and tons of outdoor green spaces for Luke to run around, play, and explore including ruins of former churches.
Both hotels we stayed at were very accommodating to our son. To make things easier, we had most of our meals at the hotels. The food was delicious, and there were plenty of healthy options to choose from. The staff knew Luke loved berries and would bring him a bowl of fresh ones each night for dessert, without us even asking. Our second hotel joked that they had run out of fresh berries because of Luke! Both hotels also provided him with whole milk (called full-fat milk in Ireland #protip) at no extra cost.
The city of Killarney does have plenty of family-friendly, delicious food options, too. Be sure to check out Quinlan’s Seafood Bar for a traditional Irish fish and chips experience (kids-sizes available!) and head over to Murphy’s for some of the most delicious homemade ice-cream you’ll ever taste! Even in the countryside of Kerry, there are so many cozy little restaurants you can stop by and grab a quick bite and pint by the fire. All the places we encountered provide high chairs for the kiddos.
For a toddler-friendly, traditional Irish pub experience, be sure to visit Kate Kearney’s Cottage, which is actually right down the road from the Dunloe Hotel and Gardens. Such a fun time and open to all ages. During the daylight, enjoy great views of the Gap of Dunloe!
We used a car service to drive us to and from the desired spots. When we travel, we like having locals tell us the inside scope about our destination. An easy way to do this is via taxi/car service. We brought along Luke’s car seat, and it all worked out perfectly. The service we used was local and family-run. Many visiting families prefer renting a car, which is easy to do in Ireland as well.
There are so many wonderful, family-friendly things to do in County Kerry. We only had one week, but feel we got the most out of our time with what we chose to do.
Side-note: I’m a stickler for nap times at home, but when we travel, I learn to roll with it. Luke has to take a nap each day. If not, he turns into the Incredible Hulk. As long as he naps, I’m OK if the time doesn’t match what he normally naps at home. After all, his little body adjusts to the time change at its own pace. When he wants to shut those eyes, it’s his call as to when. Once it happened during an outing–my husband and I got to enjoy a Guinness and some conversation while he napped in my hub’s arms. It all works out!
The Gap of Dunloe Jaunty Cart–An experience to treasure
Our hotel, the Dunloe, arranged for a jaunty to pick us up right in the lobby and take us to the Gap. It was a bumpy albeit beautiful ride. Luke loved it, especially the horse, our jaunty’s accent :), and the majestic scenery.
Killarney National Park, Muckross House and Gardens–a fairly easy hike up to Muckross House in beautiful Killarney National Park
Along the route, you’ll see tons of animals, which of course was a hit with our little animal lover. Definitely make time to explore the gardens afterward. The flowers are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. There’s plenty of green space where Luke ran around. There’s also a cafeteria serving a variety of Irish sweets and great coffee right next to the Gardens.
This activity strongly depends on your toddler’s personality. Luke is a chill kid (most of the time). We knew he’d enjoy seeing the birds and being outside in the deep woods, so thankfully we were able to do falconry with him no problem. John, our falconer, did tell us that if Luke was being loud, we wouldn’t be able to do the activity since loud noises scare the birds away. If you want to do this activity with your toddler, make sure you explain that to him before reaching the site. If he’s fearful of birds or has trouble keeping quiet, this is definitely not for you. I’d say this was our favorite activity in Killarney. Our guide was great, the trip to the site in the middle of nowhere was one to remember, and our falconer even tried to get a bird to land on Luke. It was such a cool experience. We even got to pet some adorable baby owls at the end of our excursion.
My son loved the cannons. It’s honestly worth it for tha alonet. Exploring the outside of the Castle was really cool, but I’d skip the longer tour inside (although kids are free!). The River Laune is right there, and you can easily catch a boat right outside of Ross Castle for a tour around the river.
The city of Killarney–colorful, friendly, and fun!
It’s one of those cities you want to get lost in. There are Irish dancers filling the streets and cheerful music on every street corner. Luke loved it, especially the Irish step dancers.
We were supposed to take a trip to this fishing town on our last day, but the weather was against us. It was unfortunate because we heard such wonderful things about the town.
Side-note: the weather in Ireland is very fickle. One minute it’s sunny and the next it’s pouring and cold. Pack accordingly, including lots and lots of layers for your little one! Rain gear is a must. Invest in some good rain boots and a raincoat for your child.
My “must-have” items to take along with you
Little Sleepyhead toddler pillow
Luke loves having his own pillow when we travel, and this soft, comfy pillow is the perfect size for stuffing into carry-ons and whipping out during the flight for some shut-eye. Amazon.
If your toddler is addicted to his lovey like mine is, you’ll want to have some extras on-hand just in case one goes missing/when they inevitably get dirty!
These are great and my go-to for longer trips. They’re the perfect size to stick into your backpack/diaper bag and the small size allows you to pack several.
I always like telling parents to bring extra medications. As it’s sometimes hard to find certain over-the-counter drugs we have here when abroad, it’s better to have them on hand just in case. As for any prescription meds, make sure to bring extras of those, too! If your child sometimes needs a nebulizer as mine does, check out some of the portable travel-friendly ones on Amazon. Speaking of meds, here’s another #protip–take a Q-tip or a clean finger and put a dab of an antibiotic ointment (like Polysporin) on the outside of your toddler’s nostrils during a flight. It may be a myth but supposedly works to avoid them getting sick post-flight. Since I’ve done it with Luke–it’s worked (knock on wood!).
Invest in a LIGHT one if you don’t already have in your inventory. I am talking 12 pounds or lighter. While we don’t typically put our son in the stroller during excursions, it’s most useful for navigating airports and getting on and off planes fairly quickly. My lifesaver travel stroller is the UPPAbaby G-LITE. I went with this one because of its lightweight and huge canopy. When we have Luke in a stroller outdoors, the canopy is great for sun and rain protection. It also reclines. There are tons of choices out there, so start looking!
I love mine, the HapTim Multi-Function Large Baby Diaper Bag Backpack. It fits EVERYTHING–Bento boxes for snacks, extra clothes (hat, gloves, socks), baby travel-sized toiletries, sunscreen sticks, diaper wipes, hand and face wipes, Lysol wipes (to wipe down the plane seats’ surrounding area #protip), a few small toys, books, Kindle and charger, plenty of diapers, changing pad, extra loveys, a small blanket, two cup inserts on either side for milk and water, etc. Plus, it has many compartments and is actually comfy to wear. Did I sell this one enough? …Pack this bag full, but try to pack light overall! It’ll save you a lot of stress.
We absolutely loved County Kerry and hope to return there someday. It was a wonderful experience for all of us, especially Luke. We disagree with those who say travel with kids is a trip, not a vacation. You can make it a vacation by doing your research beforehand and arriving prepared and excited to embrace your journey. We know that years from now, we will still be telling our son how much joy our adventure to the Emerald Isle brought us.