Ireland has more than it's fair share of fabulous hotels and castles but is it possible to find luxury accommodations suitable for families? We stayed at four upscale properties during our spring break trip to Ireland this past March with our 12 year-old daughter that I would describe as family-friendly - the Powerscourt Hotel, Dromoland Castle, the Killarney Park Hotel and the Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin. Each was luxurious without feeling too stuffy or formal and seemed to genuinely welcome families with children.
We spent the first two nights of our vacation in Ireland at the luxurious five star Powerscourt Hotel in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, a mere 40 minute drive from the Dublin International Airport south of Dublin. This elegant Palladian-style hotel with breathtaking views of Great Sugar Loaf Mountain has a beautiful setting on the grounds of the Powerscourt Estate, one of Ireland's grandest estate properties. The hotel opened in 2007 as a Ritz-Carlton but was re-branded as the Powerscourt Hotel in 2013 and now operates as an independent hotel which was recently named Ireland's Leading Hotel 2016 in the World Travel Awards. As elegant as the hotel is, we still found it quite suitable for a family stay.
We often stay in serviced apartments when travelling in Europe with kids because it's so difficult to find hotel rooms that don't feel too crowded for a family. That wasn't an issue at the Powerscourt Hotel which has wonderfully spacious guest rooms. We received a complimentary upgrade to a huge room on the ground level facing Great Sugar Loaf Mountain furnished with two double beds, a comfortable sitting area with sofa and chairs, and a minibar with fridge and coffee maker. A large walk-in closet separates the bedroom from the luxurious marble bathroom with a double vanity, ESPA bath products, tub, a water closet and separate walk-in rainforest shower. My 12 year-old was particularly appreciative of the high-tech touches like interactive television, complimentary high speed wireless internet access and the electronic pad on the night table that controlled the room's lights, temperature and more.
There are three dining options available at the hotel - Sika Restaurant which offers contemporary Irish cooking in a fine dining setting, Sugar Loaf Lounge which serves light meals and cocktails and McGills Irish Pub for traditional fare. Feeling the effects of jet lag our first evening, we decided that we didn't need any more than a light meal at the Sugar Loaf Lounge. Our meals were delicious but, without question, the best part of the dining experience in the Lounge is the incredible view of Sugar Loaf Mountain through the floor to ceiling windows that extend across the width of the room. We intended to dine at Sika the second evening but ended up dining in the Lounge again after learning that Sika was closed for the evening. We did enjoy the breakfast buffet served at Sika both mornings as daily breakfast was included in our room rate. It's a lovely setting with al fresco dining also available year-round. Anyone who would like to partake of a traditional afternoon tea will appreciate that it is served daily from 2:30-5:00pm in the Sugar Loaf Lounge.
There are numerous family-friendly activities available at the hotel and on the Powerscourt Estate including horse riding, hiking, fishing and falconry exhibitions. There are also swings and a playground in the Terrace Garden and bicycles are available to borrow. The Powerscourt Hotel also makes a great home base for sightseeing nearby and around County Wicklow. Over the two days that we stayed we visited the Powerscourt Waterfall and the Powerscourt Gardens on the estate, went for a stroll in Enniskerry the former estate village and also spent a day out in Wicklow Mountains National Park where we visited the Monastic City of Glendalough and walked one of the trails to Upper Lake. My husband's family emigrated from nearby County Wexford so we also were able to introduce our daughter to her Irish heritage by visiting the small village church in Inch where my husband's great-great-great grandparents were married in 1843 - four years before leaving for Canada.
On my first trip to Ireland twenty years ago I was spoiled with not one but two castle stays (Ashford Castle and Waterford Castle) which left me of the opinion that every trip to Ireland should include a stay in a castle! We knew that our daughter would be delighted with a luxurious stay in a castle so we chose to spend a night at five star Dromoland Castle in County Clare. Dromoland Castle is one of the best known castles in Ireland as it was the ancestral home of the O'Briens of Dromoland whose lineage goes back 1,000 years to Brian Boru, the only high king of Ireland. We fell in love with Dromoland the moment we pulled up to the castle entrance and everything was perfect over the course of our 24 hour stay. This family-friendly castle strikes the perfect balance between tradition and modern luxury and I only wished that I had planned for more than one night here.
From the moment that you arrive at Dromoland it is obvious that this is a special place to stay. Staff are friendly and helpful and go out of their way to make sure that guests are comfortable and have everything they need. We arrived in the morning after the drive from County Wicklow and were planning to just check in and head to the Cliffs of Moher. It's not so easy to just drop your bags at a castle and take off again though, especially if it's your first time at a hotel fit for royalty. Instead we enjoyed a cup of tea in one of the lounges, had a look around Dromoland's elegant public rooms and a stroll around the castle grounds before heading out for a few hours. Dromoland is everything that one would expect from a castle hotel and more - modern and luxurious yet traditional at the same time with antique furnishings, a grand staircase, and ancestral portraits hanging on the walls.
When we returned from our outing to the Cliffs of Moher, our room in the main castle building was ready and we had a bit of time to relax before getting dressed for dinner. Our room at Dromoland was, of course, fit for a princess and my 12 year-old was thoroughly delighted with all of the lovely little details from the soft pinks in the decor to the sparkling chandelier to the portraits hanging on the walls. She reacted in precisely the way I had hoped for when booking our castle stay. Whether your child is 2 or 12, the Dromoland Castle teddy bear waiting on the bed for young guests is a lovely touch as are the child-sized robe and slippers hanging in the armoire. Our spacious accommodations had two double beds, a separate sitting area with a sofa and two wingback chairs, an office desk and chair and a dining table and chairs in the alcove of a large window overlooking a formal garden and fountain. The luxurious bathroom in our room was quite spacious as well with a separate tub, a walk-in shower, a double sink vanity , a towel warmer, and lovely bath amenities. We would have loved to have more time at the castle to just relax and enjoy our beautiful surroundings.
Rather than having a casual meal on our one night at Dromoland Castle, we opted to dress up and dine at the award-winning Earl of Thomond Restaurant. The elegant room positively sparkled with Waterford crystal chandeliers overhead and candles on the tables but didn't feel at all stuffy despite the elaborate decor. There were were several families with children of various ages dining in the restaurant the evening of our stay and the wait staff was friendly and made the children feel welcome. The Earl of Thomond has an innovative menu that makes use of fresh local ingredients and there is even a children's menu available with wonderful options such as smoked salmon salad as an appetizer which was Emma's favourite part of her meal. Breakfast (included in our room rate) was also served in the Earl of Thomond the following morning.
There are numerous activities available at Dromoland Castle, however, we weren't able to experience most of them as we were only there for the one night. We were able to enjoy a walk around the castle grounds on the day we arrived and again the following morning before departing for Killarney. There are also walking and hiking trails on the estate that are ideal for families, formal gardens and a lovely walled garden (reminding me of The Secret Garden) that can be explored as well. Be sure to ask castle staff for some bread to feed the ducks and swans down by the lake - one packet of bread can keep children entertained for quite some time.
Additional activities that families can enjoy together include tennis, swimming, golf, cycling, clay pigeon shooting, falconry, and a pony and trap tour around the castle grounds. Be sure to book the pony and trap ride as soon as you arrive at the castle as it doesn't operate every day. We didn't bother inquiring until we had returned from our trip to the Cliffs of Moher only to discover that it wasn't available the following morning prior to our departure. The castle also has a spa, an indoor swimming pool (kids are permitted to use during posted hours), a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and fully equipped gymnasium. Dromoland Castle also makes a great home base for exploring this region of Ireland. The Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, and Bunratty Castle are all relatively close as are the cities of Limerick and Galway.
Killarney Park Hotel
We had planned our entire trip itinerary around arriving in Killarney on March 16th in order to be there to celebrate St. Patrick's Day the following day so after leaving Dromoland Castle, we headed out to the village of Killarney with a quick stop to stroll around the village of Adare. We arrived later that afternoon at The Killarney Park Hotel, a family-owned five star hotel that is a member of Leading Hotels of the World. We received a warm Irish welcome and had our car valet parked before checking in and quickly dropping our bags in our lovely room. It was getting quite late and we wanted to spend some time in Killarney National Park before the end of the day so we obtained a map and detailed directions from helpful staff before heading out to see how much we could see before the day's end.
After returning from our brief visit to Killarney National Park we were able to have a better look around the lovely common areas of the hotel and relax for a bit in our room before dinner. If there had been any free time in our schedule then I could have easily spent hours curled up in one of the comfortable seating areas around the fireplace enjoying a good book and a glass of wine! We were upgraded to a junior suite (the O'Connell Suite) on the top floor (3rd) of the hotel which had a view of the town. A delicious treat of macarons and lemonade was waiting for us in our room which was just what we needed after the drive from Dromoland Castle.
We loved the character of our room with its sloped roof, paneled walls and antique furnishings. The spacious room decorated in neutral tones of brown and green had two comfortable double beds, wardrobes and dressers with plenty of storage space and a cozy sitting area with a fireplace. The modern white marble bathroom had a walk-in shower, a separate tub, single pedestal sink and lovely Elemis bath products. Having a pedestal sink instead of a vanity meant that there was limited shelf space in the bathroom but we managed to find space to store our make-up bags and shaving kit. There was also a Nespresso coffee maker in the room which is ideal for everyone who needs that first cup of coffee to get moving in the morning. Fortunately, we had remembered our adapters but the hotel also has some available from the Concierge if you happen to forget.
Our first night at Killarney Park, we dined in the Garden Bar which is a cozy space off the lobby serving casual fare. The Garden Bar also has a terrace for al fresco dining during the summer months. On our second evening we dressed up to dine in the elegant Park Restaurant where sparkling chandeliers, candlelight and live piano music set the tone for a fine dining experience. The restaurant offers an à la carte selection of delectable dishes from the land and sea described as classical Irish with a contemporary twist as well as the A Taste of Kerry tasting menu and a four course table d'hôte menu. Breakfast is also served in the Park Restaurant and guests can choose from either a cold buffet or hot breakfast cooked to order. Children's menus are available at the hotel.
The Killarney Park Hotel has a spa and fitness centre with pool but, unfortunately, we didn't have the opportunity to try out any of these on site activities. The hotel has a prime location in the heart of the village of Killarney and is just a short walk to the shopping on Main Street and pubs featuring live music. We had carefully timed our visit to Killarney so that we would be in town to enjoy an authentic St. Patrick's Day Parade with locals and thoroughly enjoyed watching it with the crowds on Main Street. The parade route also went right past the hotel and staff were outside handing out hot chocolate to the St. Patrick's day revellers. The hotel also makes a great home base for exploring the area's many attractions including the stunning lakes and mountains of Killarney National Park, the fabulous ocean and mountain views of the Ring of Kerry scenic drive, Muckross House, and Ross Castle.
Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin
After our two nights in Killarney, we headed back to Dublin for a three night stay at the stylish and modern Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin, a member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts. This is an upscale hotel which will appeal to business travellers as well as couples on a city getaway but is still a fine choice for families, particularly those with older children. There is no better location in Dublin as the hotel is located at the end of the pedestrian shopping district on Grafton Street and across from St. Stephen's Green. We were within walking distance to nearly everything that we wanted to see and do in Dublin including Trinity College for the Book of Kells and Old Library, Merrion Square, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin Castle, Temple Bar, the Ha'penny Bridge and the National Leprechaun Museum. With three days of pleasant weather we were able to walk everywhere except to a performance of Let it Be at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre which was a bit too far to walk at night. We didn't use the City Sightseeing Dublin hop-on hop-off bus on this visit but there is a convenient stop at St. Stephen's Green for anyone who wants to see the city's major attractions that way. Parents of younger children will love the easy access to St. Stephen's Green which has ample space for burning off steam and a fun playground called The Giant's Garden.
The hotel's dining options include Thornton's Restaurant, a fine dining restaurant considered to be one of the best in Dublin as well as Citron which could also be described as fine dining but in a relaxed environment. We dined at Citron after our late arrival in Dublin and, although the menu was limited, the food was quite delicious. Breakfast is also served at Citron each morning. The Inn on the Green is a bustling contemporary Irish pub on the lobby level of the hotel which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, tapas, afternoon tea and cocktails.
Our room wasn't as large as what we had at the previous three hotels but was spacious by European city standards. The last time my husband and I were in Dublin we stayed in a room so small that we could barely turn around in it so this one seemed huge by comparison! I loved the contemporary design of our room and the colour scheme of lime green and aubergine or eggplant - two of my favourite colours! We had a Deluxe Guestroom that could accommodate a family of two adults and two children so the space was more than adequate for our family of three. Our room included a Queen size four poster bed and a double sofa bed which was perfectly comfortable for our 12 year-old to sleep on. The room also had an upholstered window seat which was ideal for lounging, an additional upholstered chair, a desk, television, and a minibar with coffee. Our room had plenty of storage space and included a number of nice touches like bathrobes and an umbrella which we didn't need as we were blessed with dry weather for the length of our stay. The contemporary style bathroom was luxurious with a single sink vanity, a combination tub/shower and lovely Murdock bath products. As nice as it was to look at, I didn't love the tub/shower design as it was high off the ground (I'm not quite 5'2" and it was about mid-thigh on me) making it awkward for my daughter and I to get in and out of and would likely be quite difficult for younger kids.
The Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin is a beautiful property with a fabulous location but what impressed me the most was the friendly staff and the impeccable service. I was in contact with the Concierge prior to our arrival and had assistance in making reservations for a dinner show that we wanted to attend while we were in Dublin and, once we were at the hotel, the knowledgeable staff helped with directions and dinner recommendations on several occasions. The great service continued even after we had checked out of the hotel as my daughter realized on the way to the airport in the early morning that her FitBit must have fallen off while she was sleeping. I emailed the hotel and by the time we reached the airport I had a reply saying that it had been found - much to my daughter's relief. It was shipped to our home and she had it back a few days later.
What You Need To Know
- Powerscourt Hotel, a five star luxury resort and spa located on the Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, County Wicklow. Guests of the hotel have three dining options: Sika Restaurant, the Sugar Loaf Lounge which serves light meals and cocktails, and McGills Irish Pub. The resort has 194 spacious rooms and suites in seven different accommodation styles. Many of the rooms have views of the Wicklow Mountains. High speed internet access is complimentary. The resort offers access to a range of activities both on the estate and nearby including hiking, cycling, golfing, fishing and horseback riding. The pool in the spa is open from 7am - 9pm daily, however, children may only use the pool 9am-12pm and 3pm-6pm.
- Dromoland Castle, a member of the Preferred Hotel Group, is located 8 miles from Shannon Airport in County Clare just outside Newmarket on Fergus. There are several dining options at the hotel and a full Irish Breakfast is included with the room rate. WIFI in rooms and public areas is complimentary. Use of the spa facilities is restricted to guests 16 and over, however, the leisure facilities located in the Golf & Country Club including the indoor swimming pool are open to all guests including children. The castle offers a Kids Club during mid-term school breaks as well as at some times during Christmas, Easter and summer holidays and babysitting can also be arranged with 24 hours notice. It is recommended that dining and activity reservations be made ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
- The Killarney Park Hotel is a five star hotel (member of Leading Hotels of the World) located in the heart of the village of Killarney. The hotel has 69 rooms and suites with views of either the gardens or the town. Casual meals are served in the Garden Bar and al fresco on the terrace during the summer months. Fine dining is available in The Park Restaurant (reservations are recommended). Afternoon tea is served in the Drawing Room and the Library. Breakfast is also served in The Park Restaurant (ours was included in our room rate). The hotel has a spa, fitness room and a 20m swimming pool. Complimentary high speed WIFI and car parking is available to all guests. Check the website for special offers.
- Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin, a five star hotel located on St. Stephen's Green at the top of Grafton Street, is a member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, tapas, afternoon tea and cocktails are all available at Inn on the Green, a contemporary Irish pub. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the casually elegant Citron and fine dining is available for lunch and dinner at Thornton's which is considered to be one of the best restaurants in Dublin. The hotel has a compact gym and a beauty salon offering a variety of spa treatments. Complimentary WIFI.
I received a media rate at each of these hotels. My opinions are, as always, my own.