Step into the past
Dublinia, Christ Church and St Patrick's Cathedral
Just a short walk from Temple Bar, dive into medieval Dublin. At Dublinia rove through interactive exhibits where the whole family can take a seat on a Viking warship and tour a smoky hut like those the Scandinavian warriors once called home. A discounted combined ticket pairs Dublinia with Christ Church Cathedral next door, where kids over 12 (and adults) can climb up to the belfry to ring the bells. Meanwhile, down in the crypt all ages are invited to dress up as medieval knights or try on Tudor ruffs for size. Afterwards, stroll to St Patrick’s Cathedral where since 1432 the pupils of the Choir School have sung at services. Unwind in the lovely park next door with a picnic while the kids explore the playground.
The Jeanie Johnston and EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
Head for the two tall masts in the Docklands and you’ll find the Jeanie Johnston. This replica famine ship tells the stories of those fleeing the Great Hunger (with a happy ending, as uniquely no lives were ever lost on board). Next door at the CHQ Building, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum will also send you back into Ireland’s history. Get involved with interactive displays about the country’s emigrants and learn how they became scientists, novelists or even outlaws in the wider world. Make a full day of it with combo tickets providing entry to both experiences.
It’s been all go at Dublin Castle over the centuries. First a Viking settlement, then a Norman fortress, it became a Georgian palace and seat of government. Eventually handed over to the newly independent Irish state in 1922, the grounds can be visited for free at this major landmark in Irish history. Start in the main Dubh Linn garden, with its sea serpent pattern cut into the lawn. From there, you can explore the pockets tucked away in each corner and their sculptures. If you want to get right into the history of the castle, take the guided tour, which includes a visit to the State Apartments (where Irish presidents are inaugurated) and either the medieval undercroft or the 19th-century Chapel Royal, designed in an eye-catching Gothic revival style. On fair weather days you might bring your own feast for lunch, then take in an exhibition at the Coach House Gallery or The Printworks.
Find animal magic
No getaway to Dublin is complete without popping into the Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed city park in Europe. Rent a bike, spot herds of wild deer and enjoy refreshments in the quaint little tea house. While you’re here, why not go wild at Dublin Zoo? Spot giraffes and rhinos on the African Savanna or visit the Gorilla Rainforest. Penguin feeding time is always a highlight, along with a stop at Sea Lion Cove’s underwater viewing area.
Get back to nature at the urban farm on Airfield Estate. Kids can help collect eggs, feed the calves, milk the Jersey cows and get acquainted with the resident pair of donkeys. Seasonal walking trails take you on a journey through the property’s native woodland and the ever changing gardens are worth a look any time of year. At weekends, drop into the casual café at Overends Kitchen to taste the best of the estate’s own crops. Food is also available daily for takeaway from the farm shop, whether you decide to have a snack on site or take something home.
Newbridge House and Farm
Only a 30-minute drive from the city centre, Newbridge House in Fingal mixes history and outdoor adventure. Here the only intact Georgian mansion in Ireland features mostly original furniture, family portraits spanning generations, and cool quirks like the Cabinet of Curiosities. On the traditional working farm, meet piglets, goats and Connemara ponies along the Farmyard Discovery Trail or visit the ‘mooternity’ ward to see the latest new arrivals. Pack a lunch and take a break before checking out the woodland playground.
Save it for a rainy day
National Wax Museum Plus
Bang in the centre of town, The National Wax Museum Plus brightens a grey afternoon. From greeting the moving dinosaurs at the entrance to wandering a fantasy forest in the Kids Zone, there’s plenty to feed young imaginations. Get immersed in virtual reality exhibitions like the Jurassic Jungle or have your hands immortalised in wax for a truly personalised souvenir. For families with older kids, the Murder Mystery takes you on a museum tour at night to find the clues and crack the case wide open.
Liffey Valley and Jump Zone
One of Ireland’s biggest shopping and leisure centres, Liffey Valley in Clondalkin has everything to shake off the rainy day blues. Go to the cinema after a visit to the food court where there are choices from burgers to salads. Or hit the shops and find something to suit everyone with over 75 retailers to browse in. Top off the day with an adrenalin rush supplied by Jump Zone, the country’s largest indoor trampoline park. Put a bounce in your afternoon with obstacle courses and trampolines galore, while under eights can monkey around on the climbing frame when you’re ready to take a breather.
A dedicated cultural centre for children, the Ark is the ideal spot to stop in for workshops and classes designed to expand young minds while having as much fun as possible. Kids from two to 12 can participate in a host of constantly changing activities, and the centre also puts on child-friendly performances and shows in their small theatre. Book ahead to secure a place.
Escape to the coast
Dublin Bay Cruises
The city looks great from all angles, but we think the view from the sea is truly special. As you take to the water with Dublin Bay Cruises you’ll have a chance to spot landmarks like the James Joyce Museum in its Martello Tower or see Howth Head rising from the sea. The kids can count sightings of gulls, herons and geese as you pass Ireland’s Eye and watch out for the friendly seals by Dalkey Island.
Malahide Castle and Gardens
Head north of the city to coastal Malahide village to find Malahide Castle and Gardens. You can tour the medieval castle, roam 260 acres of parkland and visit the Talbot Botanical Gardens to see plants from around the world. The West Lawn is the big draw for little ones, with its Fairy Trail and enchanting Butterfly House. At the playground (one of the best in Ireland according to the Irish Times) you’ll want to try out the mega bouncy seesaws or brave a go on the zip line.
St Anne’s Park and Rose Gardens
St Anne's Park and Rose Gardens is Dublin’s second-largest park and one of Clontarf’s most popular spots. With a duck pond, playground and ornamental follies like the Herculean Temple, a trip to the park can easily fill an afternoon. Follow the trails, stop and smell the roses in the gardens and see how many trees you can name in the Millennium Arboretum. Pause for a picnic or check out the remote-controlled model car track. You can search the stalls for a treat at the Saturday food market, while Olive's Room at the Red Stables is the place for takeaway coffee.
Make a splash together
Aquazone at the National Aquatic Centre
The indoor water park at Aquazone is a blast for all the family. Try some indoor surfing at the FlowRider or just float along the lazy river. The Masterblaster, Green Giant and Black Hole (three of Ireland’s most thrilling water slides) will keep the energy up. Top off your adventure on a lifelike Pirate Ship that features slides into the surrounding water. Jacuzzis are on hand too for parents looking to recharge the batteries.
A walk across the famous Ha’penny Bridge provides a handy way to cross the Liffey and an irresistible photo opportunity. But why be ordinary and just walk over it, when you can experience the 200-year-old span in a new way? An extra safe City Kayaking trip gives you the only chance to paddle underneath and see a different side of the capital’s iconic bridges. This leisurely glide down the River Liffey on ‘sit on top’ kayaks is a special family adventure you’ll be talking about for ages.
Don your (plastic) helmet, practice your Viking roar and get on board a distinctive, yellow amphibious DUKW vehicle for one of Dublin's most memorable sightseeing tours. Viking Splash Dublin tours are first and foremost a bit of fun (the guide encourages you to yell as loudly as you can) but there's plenty of historical tidbits too. You'll go by most of the main sights before taking to the water at the Grand Canal Basin, right by U2's old recording studios.
Free things to do
National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery might be the country's most important art gallery, but it doesn't forget that art is for everyone, not just grown-ups who like to nod sagely in front of their favourite paintings. There are family-friendly tours of the permanent collection on Sundays that are specially designed for young audiences, as well as a monthly tour that is exclusively for new parents and their babies. There's a dedicated space in the atrium for kids to tap into their inner artist, while on Sundays there are free, drop-in workshops were kids are taught the basics of how to draw and paint.
National History Museum
One of the most popular museums in Dublin for families is the Natural History Museum, where prehistoric skeletons and Victorian cabinets stuffed with specimens have been enthralling visitors of all ages since Scottish explorer Dr David Livingstone declared it open in 1857. The collections in the 'Dead Zoo' are divided between the Irish Room (where you'll find the skeletons of three 10,000-year-old elk), the World Animals Collection (highlights include chimps, apes and human skeletons as well as a 20m-long fin whale found in Sligo) and the Blaschka Collection, made up of glass models of marine creatures. At the Discovery Zone visitors can handle taxidermy specimens and rifle through open drawers.
Entrance to the Chester Beatty museum and its wonderful collection of ancient books and beautiful artefacts is free, but the real draw for families is the varied selection of classes and activities. Kids and adults can learn about a bunch of fascinating subjects from how to draw the perfect horse to the music of the Middle East, while activities range from silk weaving to Qi Gong in the rooftop garden.
St Stephen’s Green
In the heart of one of Dublin’s busiest neighbourhoods and right beside Grafton Street, leafy St Stephen’s Green is made for a family walk or picnic. Once a private park available only to those who rented keys, it was gifted to the city in 1880 and has been free to enjoy ever since. Kids can feed the ducks in the pond or run around in the playground, while the inviting paths and nicely landscaped gardens provide a leafy escape for everyone. As you wander, 15 commemorative statues and memorials dotted about the park add the odd teachable moment along the way.
Dublin is jam packed with family friendly activities to explore. To keep up to date with the latest happenings, check out festivals and events in Dublin now.