30 great family holiday destinations in Ireland and abroad

The Waterford Greenway, a spectacular 46km off-road cycling and walking trail along an old railway line. Photograph: Fáilte Ireland

FORGET PACKAGE HOLIDAYS AND GO ON A TRIP YOU'LL ALL REMEMBER THIS YEAR. HERE IS OUR LIST OF 30 GREAT FAMILY HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS FOR 2020, BOTH IN IRELAND AND ABROAD

Jump to: Rail travelCycling holiday, Camping, Campervan road-trips, Seaside fun, Back to nature, City breaks, Bring the grandparents, History holidays, Holiday cottages, Babymoons, WatersportsFamily resorts, Extended family reunions

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

Ireland: Barge trip along a canal
We have all experienced that dreaded sense of time slipping through our fingers on holiday, but when the journey is the destination, as it is on a barge holiday, not a minute feels wasted. Canalways Ireland have four barges of various sizes to choose from; each kitted out with cosy interiors and fully equipped kitchens, including portable BBQs. Boarding the barge at Rathangan, Co Kildare, you are free to go where the wind takes you. A popular itinerary involves heading for Tullamore, through Robertstown, Edenderry and the Bog of Allen, before making the return trip. Depending on the size of barge and time of year, rental costs are anywhere between €985 and €1,950 per week. canalways.ieDG

Been here already? Try... gorge walking and raft building in the Killary Adventure Centre, Galway.

Trek in a small group in the Nepal Himalaya 

Abroad: Trekking in Nepal
It’s no hyperbole to suggest Nepal is a something-for-everyone destination, with deep-rooted history and culture, and spectacular wildlife and trekking opportunities. Even if there are strong opinions within a family, it’s a safe bet. Try Responsible Travel’s family trip to Nepal, in which small groups trek in Annapurna, raft on the river Seti, settle in a mountain retreat, spot wildlife in Chitwan National Park and explore the buzzing capital of Kathmandu. With all that adventure, you’ll either want to lie in a dark room or book the next holiday straight afterwards. The 11-day tour starts from £1,195 (€1,420). responsibletravel.comSG

Been here already? Try... a family tour with G-Adventures, which has a new range of trips to Tanzania, Thailand, the Galapagos and more, in association with National Geographic.

RAIL TRAVEL

Enjoy the scenic railway along the north coast

Ireland: Game of Thrones adventure in Northern Ireland
Your children simply do not understand your love of trains, and you lie awake at night trying to figure out why they love Game of Thrones so much. It’s time to reconcile your differences on a two-day Game of Thrones and Giant’s Causeway first class rail tour. The trip includes all train journeys (leaving from Dublin), tours of Game of Thrones filming locations and the Giant’s Causeway, a stay in a four-star Belfast hotel, and a trip to the Titanic Visitor Centre. €319pps from Rail Tours Ireland First ClassDG

Been here already? Try... picking up a Dublin family rail ticket for €20 and explore Dublin Bay, from Greystones to Howth.

Travel to Leipzig as part of a tour across Germany. Photograph: PK Fotografie
Travel to Leipzig as part of a train journey across Germany. Photograph: PK Fotografie

Abroad: Family friendly train journey through Germany
It’s hard not to be a little bit in love with Deutsche Bahn: it’s efficient, reliable, and family-friendly to the max. Children under 15 travel free when booked with an adult, and InterCity Express (ICE) trains have specially-created toddler and family carriages. You’ll find little touches like extra space for babies to crawl, and major touches such as childcare for over-threes. It’s a neat way to travel between cities; a Hamburg to Berlin to Leipzig journey shows three of Germany’s coolest cities, and illustrates its divided past. Try to get consensus for the Stasi Museum in Leipzig, best explored with an English language audio guide. We bet seeing spy disguises and intercepted letters in real life will make the kids regret any initial eye-rolls. bahn.deSG

Been here already? Try... an Interrail pass for four days’ travel all over Europe within one month costing €246 per adult, with kids under 11 travelling free.

CYCLING HOLIDAY

Ireland: Tour the Sligo lakelands
If you have teenagers who aren’t entirely allergic to the great outdoors, a five-day cycling tour of Yeats country and the surrounding lakelands in Sligo makes for a terrific holiday. Ireland by Bike will organise everything for you, including bed and breakfast accommodation, daily luggage transfers, emergency support, as well as GPS units, maps and guides. Let the bonding commence. It’s €780pp for the lot, including accommodation and bike rental. irelandbybike.com – DG

Been here already? Try... the Waterford Greenway, a spectacular 46km off-road cycling and walking trail along an old railway line. waterfordgreenwaybikehire.com

Cycle on the Waterford Greenway. Photograph: Fáilte Ireland

Abroad: Downhill along the Danube
The Danube Cycle Path in Austria is a top choice for families and beginner cyclists – about 40,000 people take this popular route annually. The well-maintained path begins around the Bavarian town of Schärding, and follows the Danube downstream, so there are no difficult parts to power through. Eurobikes’ gentle itinerary ensures short stages, child-friendly hotels, and a boat trip back to your starting point. They’ll also arrange your luggage to be picked up and dropped off daily, allowing your family to concentrate on soaking in the Austrian scenery. The seven-day holiday starts from €499 per adult. eurobike.atSG

Been here already? Try... flexitreks.com, which has 44 family-friendly cycling itineraries around Europe, suitable from ages six and up.

CAMPING

Portsalon Luxury Camping in Co Donegal is the perfect place to go glamping. Photograph: Donegalglamping.com
Portsalon Luxury Camping in Co Donegal is the perfect place to go glamping. Photograph: Donegalglamping.com

Ireland: Glamping in Donegal
Located on the stunning north Donegal coast, Portsalon Luxury Camping has five gorgeous yurts perfect for a family holiday. It is an incredibly unspoiled corner of the country, with no shortage of things to see and do. A short downhill stroll brings you to Portsalon village and Ballymastocker Bay, a blue flag 5km beach widely considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Or hop in the car and spend the day looking out for golden eagles in Glenveagh National Park, before heading up to Fanad Lighthouse to watch the sunset. A large yurt sleeping two adults and up to four children costs around €180 for two nights. donegalglamping.comDG

Been here already? Try... a family sleepover in a replica 1,500-year-old ring fort in Irish National Heritage Park, Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford. irishheritage.ie

Try a sleepover in a replica 1,500-year-old ring fort in Co Wexford
Try a sleepover in a replica 1,500-year-old ring fort in Co Wexford

Abroad: The best campsite in Europe?
Union Lido in Cavallino might just be one of the best equipped campsites in Europe which explains why it is very popular option with Irish people – and English, Germans and Dutch. A short hop across the water from Venice, the whole area surrounding the site has been built for tourists. It is well serviced by public transport which means you can arrive at Marco Polo airport and take a bus direct to the campsite. When you get there you will see rows and rows of well fitted out mobile homes sitting under a broad canopy of trees on a very child-friendly blue-flag beach. There are also two huge pool complexes, three large playgrounds including a bouncy castle, a saltwater health spa, a dozen restaurants, several snack bars and ice-cream parlours, two supermarkets, a pharmacy and several clothes and shoe shops. Because who doesn’t want to buy shoes when they are on a camping holiday? – CP

Been here already? Try... one of Conor Pope’s other favourite campsites listed on irishtimes.com.

CAMPERVAN ROAD-TRIPS

Make the Slieve League cliffs in Co Donegal your first stop on the Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland: Drive the Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way is more than just a road. It’s an idea, man. The beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way is it is all things to all people. Whether it’s a stag weekend, a honeymoon, or a solo voyage of self-discovery, this 2,500km driving route has something to offer everyone. It also happens to be the perfect framework around which to plan a family holiday. West Coast Campervans, based in Belleek, Co Fermanagh, have everything from state-of-the-art modern RVs to classic VW Campers. From Belleek it’s a short drive to Ballyshannon and the Wild Atlantic Way, where your only decision will be whether to head north to the spectacular Slieve League cliffs and beyond, or south along the surf coast. A four-berth campervan costs €938 per week in high season. westcoastcampervans.ieDG

Been here already? Try... a trip around the Causeway Coast, picking up a van from Causeway Campers (causewaycampers.com) in Portrush.

Take a whirl on the supersized roads of Texas

Abroad: Tour of Texas
Few places are more suited to a family flydrive that the great states of America. Their road network is made for long-distance journeys, and it’s built with super-sized vehicles in mind. If Route 66 is too passe, take a whirl around Texas. Pick up the keys to your motorhome at Houston, and head to the hotspots of Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, remembering it’s not the destination but the journey that counts. If the children are well behaved, treat them to a balmy Texan beach on the last day – it’s one of the lesser-known attractions of the southern state. traveltexas.comSG

Been here already? Try... renting a vintage 1970s VW campervan to tour the wild west coast of the Algarve in Portugal. It costs around €120 per day in high season from Siesta Campers. siestacampers.com

SEASIDE FUN

Ireland: Away from it all on Coney Island
Coney Island in Sligo Bay is small, picturesque, and perfect for a family holiday. Accessed from the mainland by following 14 stone pillars by car or foot at low tide, the island is rich with myth and fairy magic, to the delight of all who set foot in her mystical realm. Inishmulclohy Lodge, a comfortable and spacious renovated barn with panoramic views of the bay, is an ideal place to stay. discoverireland.ie – DG

Been here already? Try... whale watching around Sherkin Island, west Cork. whalewatchwestcork.com

Costa de la Luz – the most authentic of the Spanish costas

Abroad: Guaranteed sun on the Costa de la Luz
The Costa de la Luz – or Coast of light – in Andalucia is one of Spain’s best kept secrets and a place where few tourists from northern Europe ever venture which makes it, perhaps, the most authentic – and cheapest – of the Spanish costas. The stretch from Cadiz to Trafalgar – the headland off which Admiral Nelson met his maker – and on to the beach resort of Conil de La Frontera boasts kilometres of sandy beaches and low-rise, eco-friendly resorts. Sunshine is all but guaranteed and breezes keep it cool even in high summer. Beach-side restaurants are mostly brilliant and always brilliantly cheap. The surfing and body boarding are great and if you get bored Africa is a day-trip across the sea, while the old town of Vejer de la Frontera up in the mountains is worth a look too. It is easily accessible from both Faro and Seville airports. – CP

Been here already? Try... Palafrugell, close to the French border. It is the Costa Brava but without as many tourists as you might expect, with lovely beaches and Salvador Dalí’s homeplace of Figueres nearby.

BACK TO NATURE

Walking the Wicklow Way as a family makes for a satisfying holiday

Ireland: Walking the Wicklow Way
Bear with us on this one. If you struggle to peel your kids from their screens at the best of times, this could be a tricky sell, but if everyone is on board, walking the Wicklow Way as a family makes for an unexpectedly satisfying and memorable holiday. A 127km hiking trail beginning in Rathfarnham in Dublin and winding up in Clonegall in Co Carlow, it snakes its way through the length of Wicklow, taking in some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country. Dense forests, rolling moors, glacial valleys and spectacular mountain ranges; there is enough here to keep even the most digitally-deprived minds in awe. See wicklowway.com for the route and accommodation options. – DG

Been here already? Try... a visit to the Sea Synergy and Activity Centre (seasynergy.org) in Waterville, Co Kerry.

Cute baby three-toed sloth in the mangrove, Central America
You might catch a glimpse of a cute baby sloth in Costa Rica

Abroad: Wildlife spotting in Costa Rica
For a country that’s smaller than the Republic of Ireland, Costa Rica is crammed with a humbling amount of nature. A tour taking in some of its 12 microclimates might well uncover glimpses of the red-eyed tree frog, the brown-throated three-toed sloth or colourful toucans – plus the rest of its 250 exotic mammals and 900 bird species. Travel the Unknown’s wildlife tour traverses from rainforests to volcanoes, and those travelling between July and October can witness green sea turtle hatchlings making their way to the waters at Tortuguero National Park. The 16-day tour costs £3,560 (€4,275). traveltheunknown.com – SG

Been here already? Try... one of the many great campsites in Europe listed on Coolcamping.com, including Panorama Camping Sonnenberg in the Austrian Alps, perfectly located for family-friendly hiking and cycling.

CITY BREAKS

Titanic Belfast is one of the city's biggest attractions

Ireland: Science and history tour of Belfast
For a family city break in Ireland it’s hard to beat Belfast. A stay in the stylish Titanic hotel at the heart of the Titanic Quarter will leave you in walking distance of a handful of superb attractions, including the two big ones: Titanic Belfast (titanicbelfast.com) and the W5 Science and Discovery Centre (w5online.co.uk). Further afield (11km, to be exact), the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum (nmni.com) is well worth a visit, while older children could really appreciate a Black Taxi Mural Tour of the city (belfasttours.com). Standard rooms in the Titanic Hotel Belfast cost between £87 and £168 per night. titanichotelbelfast.com – DG

Been here already? Try... a stay in the fancy but family-friendly River Lee Hotel (doylecollection.com) in Cork city.

Plenty to gawp at in Barcelona's Boqueria market

Abroad: Cheap food and fun in Barcelona
Barcelona – just over two hours from Dublin – is a magnet for tourists from all over the world. The weather is mostly lovely, the food is good – and more varied than you will find in, um, Spain? It is easily walkable and full of cool things to gawp at. There are the obvious things such as La Sagrada Familia, the Gaudí houses and Park Guell, the Nou Camp, Montjuïc and Las Ramblas, but it is equally wonderful to just wander the Gothic Quarter to marvel at the terrifying food in Boqueria market, or sip cocktails and browse the boutiques in the super hip El Born area. Done wrong Barcelona can be sweaty and awful and incredibly expensive. Done right it can be cheap and fun for all the family. – CP

Been here already? Try... Madrid. Same country worlds apart. The food, daily rhythm and even the weather are very different but Madrid is almost as easy to reach and a gem to explore.

BRING THE GRANDPARENTS

Ireland: Retro family fun on Achill Island
It’s time to introduce a whole new generation to the joys of a seaside holiday on Achill Island. A day on the beach is all about simplicity; you really don’t need to pack too much. A cooler box crammed with Super Splits and cans of Lilt, sunscreen, a boombox with spare batteries, your Phil Collins mixtape, and . . . that’s it. Rinse and repeat for seven days – it worked when we were kids. Bring your parents and they can show you how it’s done. Achill Cottages (achillcottages.com) offer self-catering accommodation from between €600 and €700 per week in high season. – DG

Been here already? Try... horseback riding on Streedagh Beach (islandviewridingstables.com) in Co Sligo.

The seaside town of Cascais is short distance from Lisbon

Abroad: Seaside charm near Lisbon
Often described as a charming fishing village 30 minutes outside Lisbon, Cascais (cascais-portugal.com) is a lot bigger than you might expect. Traditionally the summer retreat of the Portuguese nobility, the old town retains all of that old wealthy splendour, but it’s the excellent beaches and abundance of child-friendly restaurants that make it such a great destination for a multi-generational family holiday. Aer Lingus flies daily to Lisbon during the summer for around €120 return. – DG

Been here already? Try... Viana do Castelo (porto-north-portugal.com) in northern Portugal, a lovely medieval town with plenty of sandy beaches.

HISTORY HOLIDAYS

Ireland: Discover the Boyne Valley
Comprising eight luxury cottages of various sizes, with comforting names such as The Stables and The Coach House, Decoy Country Cottages is the perfect place from which to explore the Boyne Valley. There is a wealth of rich heritage attractions a stone’s throw from the accommodation, including two of the most important and popular prehistoric sites in the world: the Hill of Tara and Newgrange (newgrange.com). While Neolithic passage tombs are what all kids dream of learning about on holidays, it’s important to keep the adults happy, too. A sneaky trip to Tayto Park (taytopark.ie), a 20-minute drive away, should do the trick.

Seven nights in the Loft Cottage, which sleeps six, costs between €875 and €1,480. decoycountrycottages.ie – DG

Been here already? Try... a trip back in time to the picturesque, medieval town of Carlingford, Co Louth. visitcarlingford.com

INTREPIDTRAVEL-EGYPT_PRINT
Bring history to life visiting the sites of ancient Egypt. Photograph: Intrepid Travel

Abroad: Uncover the secrets of ancient Egypt
Solo parenting? Hop on Intrepid Egypt’s solo family group tour to uncover the secrets of ancient Egypt with a similar set of travellers and the knowledge of a local guide. The trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Pyramids, Sphinx and Valley of the Kings to help bring history to life. And there’s a whole lot more to help make memories. You’ll take a breakfast cruise along the Nile, and experience a little of village life with a dinner at a local family’s house. All in all, it’s a bonding experience, a break, and an on-site history lesson neatly wrapped up in one. The eight-day tour starts from €1,445 via Sunway. sunway.ieSG

Been here already? Try... Puy du Fou in western France, a family-friendly historical theme park home to the biggest night-time show in the world, Cinéscénie. puydufou.com

HOLIDAY COTTAGES

Ireland: Old-world charm in Co Mayo
A little slice of pastoral paradise, Annie’s Cottage near Belcarra in Co Mayo is a charming old-world thatched cottage with plenty of space. With a beautiful garden and patio area, as well as two kitchens no less, it’s perfect for a good old fashioned southern cook-out. Castlebar, Croagh Patrick, and the Greenway Cycle Route are all a short drive away, so there’s plenty in the area to explore. It’s €546 for seven days. hogansirishcottages.comDG

Been here already? Try... Thatcher’s Rest Cottage (cottages-ireland.com), a picture-perfect thatched cottage beside a 10km sandy beach in Bettystown, Co Meath.

Scenic Dartmouth is a must-visit when staying in Devon

Abroad: Slice of history in Devon
The English countryside might not fare much better than Ireland weather-wise, but my, they know how to do quaint. In Devon – with its rolling hills, relaxed pace and world-class cream teas – you can stay in a slice of history at Higher Lodge, a lovingly maintained thatched cottage built in the 17th century. It’s a 10-minute walk to the beach, and located on the edge of a 186-hectare (460-acre) country park so children can explore its arboretum, lakes, wildlife and manor house to their hearts’ content. This holiday has a flight-free option: catch the Rosslare to Fishguard ferry, and it’s a four-hour drive from there. Rentals start from £405 (€480) per night. ruralretreats.co.ukSG

Been here already? Try... awaywiththekids.co.uk has a great selection of family-friendly holiday rentals across England, Scotland and Wales.

BABYMOONS

Ireland: A little luxury in Co Cork
Staying in the self-catering accommodation at Castlemartyr Resort (castlemartyrresort.ie) in Cork ticks all the boxes for a couple with a baby looking to get away from it all. The walled garden lodges, set in the grounds of the castle’s former orchards and greenhouses, are bright, modern and spacious. Guests also have full access to the resort’s 89-hectare (220-acre) grounds, health club, restaurants and golf course, so you get the best of both worlds. About €525 for a three-night stay in a two-bedroom lodge. – DG

Been here already? Try... Druids Glen Resort (druidsglenresort.com) in Wicklow, a haven of calm 30 minutes from Dublin.

Siena in Tuscany offers plenty for visiting families

Abroad: Baby-friendly bliss in Tuscany
Italy is the place to go if you have a baby. More specifically, Tuscany. You would be quite frankly mad to go anywhere else. To say Tuscany is baby-friendly is an understatement. Head to Siena, wander the medieval streets, and marvel at what a pleasure it can be to eat out in lovely restaurants with a baby. A decent Airbnb in the historic centre will set you back around €700-€800 for a week. Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to Pisa return in June for about €200. – DG

Been here already? Try... Lucca (discovertuscany.com), another ridiculously handsome medieval Tuscan city.

WATERSPORTS

Ireland: Summer camps on Lough Derg
If watersports are your thing, head to Lough Derg, just outside Killaloe in east Clare, where the University of Limerick runs a fantastic adventure centre with experienced and qualified instructors. They’ve got everything covered, with stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, windsurfing, sailing and canoeing all taught using modern and safe equipment. And if you want to get a break from the children, there are summer camps held throughout the year. ulac.ie – DG

Been here already? Try... a family “surf and stay” holiday with Bundoran Surf Co. bundoransurfco.com

Go snorkelling at the Dreams Resort in the Dominican Republic.
Go snorkelling at the Dreams Resort in the Dominican Republic

Abroad: Water park in the Dominican Republic
New to the Dominican Republic this spring is the five-star family-friendly Dreams Resort, which certainly makes the most of its aqua-heaven location on Playa Macao. Dive into one of the three swimming pools, play around in its water park, or go further afield with complimentary snorkelling, kayaking and sailing. It’s a gargantuan resort with six restaurants so even fussy eaters will be well catered for, and better still, it’s an easy 40 minutes from Punta Cana airport. Rooms start from €240 per night. dreamsresorts.comSG

Been here already? Try... a week of surfing classes at the surf training school in Biarritz, suitable for children aged five years or above and adults (€180 for five days). surftraining.com

FAMILY RESORTS

Pretend you're abroad at the subtropical swimming paradise in Center Parcs, Co Longford

Ireland: Never a dull moment at Center Parcs
Open less than a year, Center Parcs (centerparcs.ie) in Longford has already established itself as the crème de la crème of family resorts in Ireland. Set in 162 hectares (400 acres) of forest, the whole place has been cleverly thought out, with an astounding choice of ways to pass the hours. With a subtropical swimming paradise, 10 restaurants, a luxury spa and more than 100 indoor and outdoor activities, there is never a dull moment. But it all comes with an eye-wateringly hefty price tag. At least the accommodation is self-catering, so stock up on food before you get there. A midweek four-night stay in a two-bedroom lodge in June costs between €879 and €1,349. Activities extra. – DG

Been here already? Try... Delphi Adventure Resort (delphiadventureresort.com), nestled in the stunning Connemara landscape.

Abroad: Upmarket family fun in Sardinia
Forte Village is a sprawling high-end resort on the south coast of Sardinia where the rich and famous can be found lazing about of a summer’s day. There are five five-star hotels and three four-star ones, as well as villas with private pools (although you might need to win the Lotto to afford them). There are more than 20 restaurants – including (get this) a circus-inspired children’s restaurant serving healthy food overseen by a Michelin-starred chef. There are loads of pools and a glorious beach. There is a spa, football camps hosted by professional soccer teams, tennis courts, a go-kart track and a bowling alley. And that is just for starters. The Children’s Wonderland kids club has play parks, shady areas, shallow pools and a lagoon. There is a happy train around the resort and a child-sized village with a fire station, beauty shop, library, cinema and town hall. It doesn’t come cheap mind; a week for two adults and two children in May in one of the cheaper hotels costs more than €4,000, excluding flights. – CP

Been here already? Try... Olympic Lagoon Resort Paphos. This currently sits on top of the TripAdvisor family friendly resorts. The pools are lovely as are the beaches and there are restaurants aplenty. kanikahotels.com

EXTENDED FAMILY REUNIONS

Have the run of your own private island in Co Mayo. Photograph: Collanmore Island Lodge

Ireland: Private island off Mayo
If you are planning a big family reunion or an extended-family holiday, head to Collanmore Island Lodge (collanmoreislandlodge.com) in Clew Bay, Co Mayo. You’ll have the run of your own private island with a decked-out lodge that sleeps up to 22 people. The house itself has a bar, massive hot tub, BBQ area and landscaped gardens. And if by the second day awkward family silences and old grievances bubble to the surface, not to worry; there are plenty of activities on offer to distract everyone, from sea kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding to sumo wrestling and murder mystery games. Contact for pricing. – DG

Been here already? Try... Farran House near Blarney, an elegant manor on a 5,000-acre (2,023-hectare) estate. castlerentals.net

Abroad: Villa in Italy
Life in a Tuscan villa is the dream of many people and those villas don’t come much dreamier than Casa Bernardino in Campiglia Marittima, a sleepy town about 90 minutes drive from Pisa airport. The five-bedroom villa with a small rooftop pool has a lovely lived-in charm to it and stunning views of the rolling hills of Tuscany. There are olive groves and wild herbs and cheap wine and sweet scented wild flowers growing in the pleasingly unkempt gardens. Seven nights in not quite high season can cost as much as €4,000 on booking.com, but if a few families were footing the bill it might take the sting out of the cost. booking.com – CP

Been here already? Try... Sapphire in Cortona in Tuscany. This villa sleeps nine in five bedrooms, there is a great looking pool and all the rolling Tuscan hills you can handle. villa-sapphire.cortonahotelspage.com