When someone says “winter vacation,” I highly doubt the idea of going to Ireland is high on the priority list. However, our family of four spent nine glorious days traveling southern Ireland over winter break, and we could not disagree more. In fact, I’m finding it difficult to narrow down the positives to fewer than five, as I could come up with hundreds!
Ireland is the perfect winter escape, and here’s why:
Ireland is a predominately Catholic country, so around Christmastime, you will be hard-pressed to find any place else on earth that can rival Ireland’s quaint villages perfectly decked out with twinkle lights and mistletoe. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, the entire country just feels magical at this time of the year. In many villages in the south, you can take horse-drawn carriage rides through town or to nearby historical landmarks. If that doesn’t make you melt, the warm hearty soup served in almost every restaurant will thaw you out and warm you to your toes.
The tourism market in Ireland is open year-round, though the busy season is undeniably in the summer when kids are out of school. Ireland is just as charming in the winter, and you’ll have a lot less competition when it comes to visiting its landmarks.
Instead of waiting three hours or more to climb Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone (ensuring a lifetime of eloquence!), we instead went up at our leisure. Hot cocoa in hand, we took our time strolling the grounds and really appreciated the castle. As the grounds were nearly deserted, the workers were happy to talk to us at length and went out of their way to show our children all around the castle. The personal attention made our day that much more memorable. For our entire trip, all attractions were open except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Which brings me to…
The Ring of Kerry is possibly the most spectacular sight I have seen in my short thirty-odd years. We hopped in the car Christmas morning and spent the next six hours driving the Ring without a single car in sight! There were no tour buses blocking the stunning views, no tourists fighting over parking spots, no fighting between my husband and me as we navigated the extremely narrow Irish roads because it was just us! Since all the restaurants were closed on Christmas Day, we packed up food and drinks and had a lovely picnic lunch at Rossbeigh Beach.
Winter days in Ireland are short, with sunrise around 8 a.m. and sunset around 4:30 p.m, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this beautiful country. We enjoyed several extended day trips to places like the Cliffs Of Moher by planning our drives to make the most of limited daylight hours. We would get up just early enough in the morning that we arrived at destinations at the same time the sun did, and then we spent as many daylight hours outside as we could. Once it started getting dark, we were usually ready to drive back to the B&B anyway for a nice cup of tea next to a roaring fire.
Our B&B also was within walking distance to the city of Killarney, so at night we could go into town for dessert — I highly recommend the sea salt ice cream from Murphy’s.
Overall, I never felt like we missed out due to the shortened day. I actually think it was beneficial because as the sun went down, we relaxed at the B&B and really enjoyed the family time.
My family loves to spend time outdoors. Though our children are still quite young, just 4 and 5 years old, we had them “hiking” outside on the trails of Killarney National Park, the Ring of Kerry, and the Blarney Castle grounds. There is no way we could have done that in the summertime, when all the sites are crowded and the weather is hot.
The weather in December was typically in the high 50s, which was perfect for being outside. The children never complained about the weather, and we never felt uncomfortable because we dressed in light layers.
Without the crowds, I also felt that they could run around and be kids, without worrying about not having my eyeballs on them at all times. We lucked out and it never rained during our trip, but we had indoor activities planned in case the weather didn’t hold.
Good planning will make any trip a success, so don’t let the low or shoulder season scare you away. In many cases it is cheaper to travel during the off season when flights and hotels are typically lower. So save some money and make magical memories in Ireland without the crowd during the winter.
Sarah Slater is a military spouse and professional working mother of two crazy kids. Along with her husband, she has made it her priority to see the world, making it their goal to test their marriage on traveling with said two kids! Though they might not be the perfect functional family, they are perfect together as they hop over Europe and the rest of the world to experience food, life, and, of course, love!
Traveling is Sarah’s passion, and she loves sharing her stories of triumphs and failures in the hopes that other families traveling with kids will find something useful.