5 Best castle and manor stays for families visiting Ireland
When you travel to Ireland, you’ll see many things in spades: stunning coastal scenery, wooly sheep grazing in fields of green, and perfect pours of foam-topped Guinness. You’ll also see your share of centuries-old castles. If your kids are like mine, they’ll probably have a one or two castle limit as far as touring goes. But staying in a castle? That’s a whole different story. Most kids won’t turn down the opportunity to be treated like pampered royalty, even if it’s just for a day or two.
Many of Ireland’s manor and castle owners have opened up their properties to paying guests as a way of keeping a roof over their own heads. Other castles are run as five-star resorts with aristocratic amenities such as archery, falconry, and skeet shooting. They’re also good at adding a bit of Irish whimsy with fairy houses hidden along forested trails. It all adds up to a magical stay.
Here’s a list of six of our favorite manor and castle stays for families visiting Ireland.
Photo courtesy: Dromoland Castle Hotel
1/Parknasilla Resort & Spa
Derryquin, County Kerry
From the moment that you arrive at this 500-acre estate atop a high plateau overlooking Kenmare Bay along Ireland’s Ring of Kerry, you can feel a “céad míle fáilte,” which literally translates to a “hundred thousand welcomes.” If your family is looking for a more relaxed Irish vacation, you easily could stay at Parknasilla and use it as a base for exploring southwestern Ireland. Or at the very least, plan to incorporate a stay here into longer trip around Ireland.
Many resorts in Ireland offer rooms in the main manor house or castle in addition to accommodations elsewhere on the property. The Courtyard Lodges and Woodland Villas at Parknasilla are ideal for a family stay, especially if your brood is on the larger side. Just a short walk to the manor house, these units offer a full kitchen and living room anchored by a stone fireplace plus an inviting outdoor patio space.
What really sets this property apart is its stunning, seaside location. Take advantage of the many walking trails - including the enchanting Fairy Trail and PJ’s Treasure Trail - plus the coastal routes that lead out to several islands. The resort also is an ideal spot to launch kayaks. Other activities include archery, boat tours, falconry, fishing, golf, tennis, and swimming in the pool. Of course, leave time to explore the famed Ring of Kerry and a possible day trip to Skellig Michael where Luke Skywalker was hiding out in Stars Wars: The Force Awakens.
To read a full review of Parknasilla Resort and Spa and ideas for side trips, click here.
Photo courtesy: Parknasilla Resort & Spa
2/Dromoland Castle Hotel
Newmarket on Fergus, County Clare
If I could design the perfect, quintessential Irish castle experience, it would be a stay at Dromoland Castle Hotel in County Clare. When I say that families receive the royal treatment here, I sincerely mean it. The inviting, deluxe family rooms are equipped to meet the needs of any prince or princess with junior-sized robes and slippers, jars of candies, coloring books, and Dromoland stuffed bears. And how about a night cap of monogrammed cookies and jugs of cold milk before settling in to read from your own personal library of Irish fairy tales? You get the picture.
The grounds surrounding the castle are simply spectacular and can be explored while participating in the castle’s many activities: biking, hiking, archery, falconry, horseback riding, trap and pony rides, fishing, golf, and more. Bikes and row boats on the lake are complimentary. If you can pull yourself away, take a day trip to nearby Cliffs of Moher.
KidTripster Tip: While Burren National Park is close, we were unimpressed. We’d recommend skipping it.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cuisine at Dromoland. Executive Chef David McCann delivers a fresh, hyper locally-sourced menu that is not only innovative but exquisitely beautiful. You could fill your entire Instagram feed with photos of the desserts alone. And don’t even get me started on the one-of-kind, signature cocktails (and their out-of-this-world prices) at the castle’s bar.
Photo courtesy: Dromoland Castle Hotel
3/Waterford Castle Hotel & Golf Resort
Ballinakill, County Waterford
Reaching this 500-year-old castle in County Waterford is half the fun! Only accessible by ferry, Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Resort sits on a private island in Ireland’s oldest city. Families can choose between luxurious rooms and suites in the castle or contemporary, self-catering garden lodges, tucked away near the 18-hole golf course.
Activities abound at Waterford Castle. Little ones will enjoy venturing into the tranquil, moss-covered forest in search of “Hedgehog Hotel” and Eliza the fairy. Families also can partake in clay pigeon shooting, archery, tennis or lawn games. But our favorite activity was the Falconry Experience with John Duggan of Hawkeye Falconry. For two hours, the kids and adults alike were captivated, mesmerized, and wowed as we watched and handled these majestic birds and learned about the ancient sport of kings.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re visiting in July or August, there’s also a kids’ club for children (ages 5 to 12). Activities include drama, dance, arts and crafts, outdoor games, and more.
For a full review of Waterford Castle Hotel and ideas for side trips, click here.
Photo courtesy: Waterford Castle Hotel & Golf Resort
Cong, County Mayo
Perhaps the best known of Ireland’s castle hotels, Ashford Castle in County Mayo was the former home of the Guinness family - now that’s Irish royalty! Families can opt for the Deluxe Queen family rooms in the castle or - if you really feel like splurging - you can rent the hideaway cottage which was the former boathouse during the Guinness era.
The expansive 35 acres host a range of activities: falconry, fishing, horseback riding, clay pigeon shooting, biking, golf, kayaking, lake cruising, stand-up paddleboarding, and ziplining. There’s even an adult tree climb!
KidTripster Tip: Make sure to book your activities well in advance of your stay.
KidTripster Tip: While it’s not the typical time of the year to visit Ireland, Harry Potter fans may want to spend Halloween at Ashford Castle. The castle transforms into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with Forbidden Forest treasure hunts, house elves cooking classes, and evening screenings of the Harry Potter films. While the kids are “in class,” mom and dad can sneak off to the spa for a magical treatment followed by an adult-only dinner.
Photo courtesy: Ashford Castle
Knopoge, County Clare
Knappogue Castle in County Clare offers an entirely different castle experience where you’re the Irish lord and lady of the house. In fact, you’re the only guests! The “apartment” includes one double bedroom with en-suite bathroom, two twin bedrooms with a shared bathroom, a garden drawing room with a grand piano, and a large dining room. The stay includes a full Irish breakfast prepared by the castle’s housekeeper, otherwise known as your “fairy godmother.”
KidTripster Tip: The castle does host tour groups for evening banquets in a separate part of the castle.
Photo courtesy: Shannon Heritage
6/Mount Juliet Estate
Mount Juliet Estate in County Kilkenny embodies modern elegance. Here your family can choose to stay in the historic Georgian Manor House or in the more laidback luxury of the Hunter’s Yard Hotel near the golf course. Regardless of your accommodations, the personalized service will be second to none.
Start your day with a leisurely bike ride around the country estate. The Juniors Club (ages 5 to 12) offers supervised activities: archery, golf lessons, swimming, horseback riding, outdoor games, and evening karaoke and movies. The Jinks Club caters to older kids and teens with similar activities but at a more challenging level. Parents can join in the fun or sneak off to the spa for a couples’ treatment, and then the whole family can reunite for afternoon tea in the Manor House, the perfect setting to enjoy an Irish tradition.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah still dreams about the decadent chocolates that found their way onto her pillow nightly while staying the glorious turret room at Dromoland.
This writer received a discounted or complimentary stay at some of these properties for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.