It may be better known as a raucous stag party destination, but Dublin also has its more genteel side that helps make it a great place to visit as a family.
Walk the streets of the Irish capital and you’ll find yourself immersed in over 1,000 years of history, as echoes of the Vikings mix with chic boutiques, cobbled streets reverberate with the sounds of buskers, and 18th-century parks play host to festivals and food markets. All this – and more – adds up to an action-packed family adventure waiting to happen. So wait no more and be inspired by our list of 14 fabulous things to see and do in Dublin with kids.
Explore a family-friendly museum
Opened in 1957, two years before Charles Darwin published his famous work, The Origin of Species, Dublin’s Natural History Museum was created to showcase the vast and wondrous diversity of life. The cabinet-style zoological museum houses a huge assortment of exhibits, with plenty to catch the attention of younger visitors including an extensive taxidermy collection and an interactive zone where you can get up close to real and replica specimens such as a Spotted Hyena jawbone fossil and a Peregrine Falcon. The museum also offers a year-round programme of free workshops and tours for all ages.
Merrion Street / Tues-Sat 10am-5pm Sun-Mon 1pm-5pm
Another Dublin museum that’s hugely popular with families, Dublinia transports you back to Medieval and Viking times. Housed in a part of the city’s Christ Church Cathedral known as the Synod Hall, the museum houses a wide range of interactive displays that bring Dublin’s rich history to life. Visitors can explore the everyday lives of Viking Dubliners, soak up the sights and sounds of Medieval Dublin, and learn about the archaeology methods that went into many of the city’s ancient landmarks.
St Michaels Hill Christ Church / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Check out a collection of familiar waxworks
It may not be as well known as its London counterpart, Madame Tussauds, but Dublin, too, boasts its own waxwork museum. Located in the heart of the city, the National Wax Museum is housed over three floors packed with wax effigies of notable Irish figures from the past and present, as well as Hollywood stars, scientists and singers to provide a more international flavour. Among the most popular areas with kids is a fantasy world teeming with colour, cartoon wax figures and pillars painted like cake and sweets.
The Lafayette Building, 22-25 Westmoreland Street, Temple Bar / Mon-Sun 10am-7pm
Introduce the kids to Ireland’s literary heritage
One of Ireland’s most vibrant festivals, Dublin Book Festival celebrates Ireland’s writers, illustrators and publishers, in a festive, friendly and accessible environment. Happening each November in venues across Dublin, the diverse programme covers everything from literary fiction and history, to poetry, non-fiction, and a free childrens’ programme. The Winter Garden festival hub, at Dublin Castle in the heart of the city, is a space to lounge on beanbags, browse the bookshop and enjoy the café, with two full days of free events for all the family to enjoy. This includes storytelling, readings, draw-alongs, workshops and music, with drop-in activities including a book swap stand, creative stations, exhibitions, and more.
Venues across Dublin / November each year
Take a look around a 13th-century castle
Ask any fly on the Dublin Castle walls over the past few centuries and there’ll quickly tell you that there’s rarely been a quiet moment. Originally a Viking settlement, it later became a Norman fortress, then a Georgian palace and seat of government, before eventually being placed into the hands of the newly independent Irish state in the early 20th century. Of course, a history lesson on the 800-year evolution of Dublin isn’t quite the stuff of most kid’s dreams, but nonetheless there’s plenty to pique the interest of little ones, including the Dubhlinn Gardens where patterns representing sea serpents are cut into the lawn, the gothic Chapel Royal, and the Garda Museum which tells the history of Irish policing.
Dame Street / Mon-Sun 9.45am – 5.15pm
Inspire your kids at a prestigious seat of learning
If you’ve got children approaching university age, what better way to inspire them to aim for the stars than a look around one of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions? Over the years, Trinity College has educated many of Ireland’s most successful figures including Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett. Today, the college is open to the public who can embark on a heritage walk through the 47-acre campus’s leafy, cobbled squares, as well as its hallows halls and, perhaps its most famous attraction, the Book of Kells, a stunning grand library that’s home to an ornately decorated 9th-century copy of the four Gospels of the life of Jesus.
Head into the mountains
Offering over 40km of elevated trails, country paths and rural roads, the majestic Dublin Mountains are, in many ways, the city’s natural playground. Several of its trails are kid-friendly and allow walkers to take in spectacular views of both the city and the sea. Among the most popular with families is Shankill, a 6km hike that takes up to two hours and invites you to traverse leafy forests that are abundant with wildlife including badgers, rabbits and birds, not to mention ancient trees and numerous historic landmarks including the ancient megalithic Dolmen.
Spend a day at the zoo
A trip to the zoo is always a sure-fire winner with kids, and at Dublin Zoo, situated within the vast expanse of Phoenix Park, visitors are treated to one of the best in Britain – and, dating back to 1831, one of the oldest to be found anywhere in the world. Home to such exotic animals as giraffes, rhinos, gorillas, elephants, penguins and sea lions, the zoo makes for a fabulous day out with the family, with plenty of hands-on experiences to take part in such as feeding and petting sessions. There’s also a strong focus on conservation projects, breeding programmes, and spreading awareness around endangered animals.
Phoenix Park / Mon-Sun 9.30am-6pm
Look around a former fortress outside the city
A short drive north of central Dublin lies the pretty seaside village of Malahide, where you’ll find Malahide Castle & Gardens. Set amid some 250 acres of picturesque parkland, down the centuries the castle has served as both a defensive fortress and, more recently, a private home and features a distinctive mix of architectural styles that draws visitors from far and wide. Guided tours of the upper floors are run daily, and, as a reward for their patience, you can then let the kids loose outdoors on the West Lawn, with its award-winning playground, Fairy Trail and enchanting Butterfly House.
The Talbot Botanic Gardens, Back Road, Broomfield / Mon-Sun 9.30am-5.30pm
Hit the doughnut trail
Tell your kids you’re taking them on a city walking tour and their reaction may not be one of unbridled enthusiasm. Slip in the small matter of it being a doughnut-tasting tour and you may get an altogether different response. Starting near St. Stephen’s Green at The Rolling Donut, one of Dublin’s original doughnut shops, this two-hour guided tour will take in a total of four foodie outlets that specialise in the famous fried doughy treat, with the chance to sample the home produce at each one. Along the way, your guide will regale you with information about Dublin’s rich history and food culture, ensuring you depart not just with a full stomach but a head full of local stories and facts.
Escape the city in a vast public park
Spread over 1,752 acres, making it twice the size of New York’s iconic Central Park and the largest enclosed city park in Europe, Phoenix Park is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city centre and a great place for the kids to run wild. Popular activities here include renting a bike to explore its vast expanses on two wheels, spotting herds of wild deer, and enjoying refreshments in the quaint little tea house. Every Sunday morning, the park also hosts free children’s workshops on nature awareness, history and heritage, and arts and crafts.
Book onto a hop-on hop-off bus tour
For little legs, traipsing around a city can be less of a fun time and more of an ordeal. Step forward the knight in shining armour otherwise known as the hop-on hop-off bus tour. Available as 24 or 48-hour tickets, these tours allow you to explore the city at your leisure, but, crucially, travelling between attractions and places of interest aboard double-decker buses so you don’t have to worry about anyone flaking out with fatigue along the way. Entertaining live onboard commentary helps add to the experience and each ticket also includes complimentary entrance to the Little Museum of Dublin at St. Stephen’s Green
Walk the pier to a historic lighthouse
The elegant south Dublin port town of Dún Laoghaire is well worth a visit – and if you’ve got kids in town then the big attraction is the famous pier that leads down to a 19th-century lighthouse. Here, little’uns love to peer through the public viewing telescopes which offer superb vistas of the Dublin marina and Dun Laoghaire Harbour, the largest man-made harbour in Western Europe, no less. When you’ve worked up an appetite, sit down to a picnic in the People’s Park, featuring several fine examples of Victorian architecture and a playground.
Embark on a river sightseeing cruise
Float down the River Liffey in the heart of Dublin on this scenic 45-minute city cruise that’s designed to be interesting and fun for all ages. As you pass by famous city landmarks including the Ha’penny Bridge, the old Georgian Quaysides and the Custom House, your onboard guide will offer fascinating live commentary on Irish history, telling the story of the Vikings through to recent political events, as well as Dublin’s evolution from 18th-century shipping port to cosmopolitan urban centre.
Enjoy a beach day near the city
Dublin may not be renowned for its tropical weather, but if you’re lucky enough to be around during one of its infrequent sunny days then the city is – unlikely as it seems – actually close to a number of excellent beaches. One of the best is Sandycove Beach, which is very popular with young families thanks to its shallow waters for paddling and small, sandy shoreline. For more grown-up pursuits, intrepid types routinely come here to dive into the icy waters off of the Forty Foot Pool promontory, a rocky point of high land made famous by James Joyce’s legendary novel Ulysses.