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Family Travel Question:

Q | What are some "must do's" in Ireland and Scotland?

My son and I are travelling to Ireland and Scotland from Sept. 6-15 (mostly Ireland). What should we do while we are there? -Eric, CAN

A | Family travel to Ireland and Scotland

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How exciting! Our family Loves Ireland and Scotland. Of course, what you choose to do depends on your interests, the age of your son, and where you’ll be. Here are some ideas for traveling in Ireland and Scotland.

Ireland

Ah, Ireland. It’s so green – and yes, it rains every day. Be sure to take several pair of walking shoes, and a few changes of clothes that you can layer. Above all, follow your interests, whether it is surfing, castles, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, mountain climbing, eating well, or chasing history (or your own family tree). The best online resource for travel in Ireland is Irish Fireside. It’s full of great stories, recommendations, podcasts, and inspiration for travel in Ireland.

Here are two of my personal favorite resources for Ireland:
http://irelandyes.com/: Michele Erdvig has a fantastic online community, as well as an excellent guidebook.

http://www.irelandexpert.com/: Pat Preston’s amazing site (and book) is full of helpful travel tips about Ireland.

Gap of Dunloe, Co Kerry, IrelandMost travelers start (or never leave!) Dublin. There are tons of things to do in Dublin, but one of the best is people watching. You can be a Penny-Pincher or a Poshie in Dublin; it’s your choice. Dublin has everything you’d ever need: history, books, churches, green space, shopping, and of course, drinking! Head to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Dublin Zoo, the Guiness Storehouse (and visitor Centre), the Wheel of Dublin, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art For those with a literary bent, The James Joyce Centre, Shaw birthplace, and Oscar Wilde House are fantastic. Temple Bar is similar to the Left Bank in Paris: an artistic gathering place. In Temple Bar, you can find the Irish Film Centre, the Temple Bar Music Center, and a children’s cultural center called The Ark, among many cultural things to see and do!

Just south of Dublin is County Wicklow, a beautiful place full of scenery you might recognize from many movies and tv shows!
And west of Dublin is County Kildare, the center of Irish horse breeding. Many visitors to Ireland make a point of visiting County Waterford, home of the Waterford Crystal Factory (yes, they have tours!).

County Kerry is the gem of Ireland, and is one of the most beautiful. County Kerry has mountains, the sea, beautiful inland lakes, great fishing, and incredible scenery. There is also the Ring of Kerry, one of the world’s most scenic drives. Give yourself a few days to do this, if you’re not settled in anywhere for a length of time. If you’re worried about your budget, do your research: there are many free (or almost free) things to do on the Ring of Kerry.

Starting in Killarney, be sure to tour Muckross House and Killarney National Park. Take a tour (by pony trap, if you’d like!) of the Gap of Dunloe, which is one of the most beautiful areas in all of County Kerry. The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass between Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and the Purple Mountain. It’s not to be missed.

Another beautiful drive in Ireland is on the Dingle Peninsula. It’s scenic (movies, again!), and less than forty miles long. In Dingle city, you can see Fungi the dolphin (very friendly), take the Slea Head Drive, and eat quite well (don’t forget the ice cream!). Dingle is especially kid-friendly.

Northern Ireland also has plenty to offer, and you may be wondering if Belfast and Northern Ireland are safe for travelers. The answer is mostly yes. Belfast is a cultural center for shopping, the arts, music, and film. People who have been, love it. You will also learn a lot about the conflict that has been going on for ages. Don’t forget to see the Giant’s Causeway!

Ireland has so much to offer that even several months won’t be enough!

Scotland

Loch Ness, ScotlandScotland is my very favorite country in Europe: the scenery is majestic, the food is incredible, the history calls to you, the music makes you dance, and there is so to see and do.

The best resources include Visit Scotland http://www.visitscotland.com/guide/ and The National Trust http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-index.htm, which has oodles of places, castles, and gardens to visit. Check their schedule for really cool events, especially for kids.

If you start out in Edinburgh, be sure to get the Locals’ Guide to Edinburgh. It’s a fantastic book. There are a plethora of great places to eat: check SpottedByLocals.com for recommendations. Definitely make time to see Edinburgh Castle.

The other large city in Scotland is Glasgow, full of arts, music, and culture. Be sure to stop by the Mackintosh House of Scottish architect/designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Glasgow also has a new museum, stunning in design: the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel. You can also shop, eat well, and partake in all kinds of cultural and artistic events in Glasgow.

Heading north, you enter the historic heart of Scotland. From the famed Loch Lomond (Loch means Lake) to the Islands of Argyll, Bute, Oban, Islay (and its famed whisky), Mull, and Lorn, you could spend much time here. The small Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck, and Canna are worth a trip.

On Loch Ness, you can take a cruise to see Urquhart Castle, while looking for unexplained wave patterns (Nessie?). Inverness is an artistic and nature mecca: you can find great music, the arts, excellent food, and plenty to do outdoors. Head just north east of Inverness and watch dolphins; be sure to check the schedule (and learn more) at the
WDCS Dolphin And Seal Centre.

A few miles from Clava Cairns is the Culloden Visitor Centre, at the Battlefield of Culloden, where Scottish history was forever changed. While we were there, our nine-year-old daughter could not be pulled away from learning and absorbing the history of the place; we closed the place down, and it was the highlight of our time in Scotland.

Culloden, ScotlandIf you love the outdoors, Scotland has so many activities, from climbing (be sure to follow the advice of locals) to whitewater rafting, swimming, scuba diving, golf, and more. There are zoos, aquariums, art museums, and plenty of activities on every day. Check out the local papers or online communities for where you are staying for events and activities.

I’d be happy to suggest some places to visit, eat, and stay, once you’ve firmed up your itinerary. As I always feel when I am in Ireland and Scotland, it’s never enough time – but you’ll be sure to be back!

All photos copyright Jessie Voigts

Got your own family travel tips to share? Please leave a comment.