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Trip Report -- 2 weeks in Ireland/N. Ireland with 2 kids and no car

Trip Report -- 2 weeks in Ireland/N. Ireland with 2 kids and no car

Aug 19th, 2019, 12:36 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 82
Trip Report -- 2 weeks in Ireland/N. Ireland with 2 kids and no car

Here is the report of our two weeks. 2 adults + a 3-year old and a 6-year old.
No car, so all trains/buses/planes.

Itinerary recap:
Day 0: Leave the US
Day 1: Arrive Belfast
Day 2: Belfast
Day 3: Belfast
Day 4: Belfast --> Dublin
Day 5: Dublin
Day 6: Dublin
Day 7: Dublin --> Galway
Day 8: Galway
Day 9: Galway --> Doolin
Day 10: Doolin
Day 11: Doolin --> Cork
Day 12: Cork
Day 13: Cork --> Home.

Part I: The Hotels
Part II: The Transportation
Part III: The Eating
Part IV: The Attractions
pittsburgh is offline  
Aug 19th, 2019, 01:34 PM
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Hotel Strategy:
- Room needs to fit a family of four. So, minimum of 2 double beds or other similar arrangements.
- Hotel should be centrally located. Near transportation hubs and/or major attractions.
- Room should be "reasonably" priced -- "Reasonable" is of course in the eye of the beholder.
- Hotel should have received generally positive TripAdvisor reviews without any major negative themes -- Again, very much in the eye of the beholder.

You will note that 3 of the hotels we stayed at are all the same chain. It is a chain we never had any experience with so it was not due to a preference for the chain; it is merely coincidence that it ended up our choice in multiple locations.

Belfast: Maldron Hotel Belfast
- Location: Very short walk from the main Belfast bus (Europa) station & Victoria Street. Short walk to St. George's Market and City Hall. Definitely a positive.
- Room: Was cozy with 2 double beds. Shower lacked a shower curtain that we had to get the hotel to rectify. Overall feeling was average. Room was not ready when we arrived (~2pm). Told to come back around 3pm. Room was not ready @ 3 so they asked us to sit and wait. Kids were antsy at that point and they saw that so they gave us some free cookies and drinks from the bar which was a nice touch.

Dublin: Maldron Hotel Pearse Street- Location: Short walk from the Pearse Street train station. Short walk from the Grand Canal. Overall location was not bad.
- Room: Again a double with 2 beds. Room was slightly more spacious than Belfast. Overall feeling was average.

Galway: Ardawn House (B&B)
- Location: Short walk from the center of town & bus/train station. Except we made a wrong turn and got caught in a torrential downpour. Lesson -- Make sure you have water resistant/proof luggage. We got a quick test to see which of our luggage was less than ideal in heavy rain.
- Room: Upstairs, Double bed + 2 singles. Nice room. Room overlooks (really really direct view) the local greyhound racing track/rugby practice field. Didn't bother us at all and was amusing to watch. But may not be for everyone.
- Breakfast: Fixed menu of options + buffet of fruit/cereals/bread. I went with the smoked salmon plate each day.

Doolin: Half Door B&B -- Probably our overall favorite on the trip-
-Location: 1-minute walk from the bus stop at the Rainbow Hostel. Short walk to several restaurant options. ~30 minute walk to the Doolin Pier. Loved the location.
- Room: Double bed + 2 singles w/hardwood floors. Nice room.
- Breakfast: Fixed menu of options + buffet of fruit/bread/scones. Need to select a seating time + menu selection the night before.

Cork: Maldron Hotel South Mall (hotel is only several months old)
- Location: Short walk from main bus station. Located right by main restaurant/shopping area. nice location
- Room: 2 doubles. Largest of the Maldron rooms we encountered.

Last edited by pittsburgh; Aug 19th, 2019 at 01:36 PM. Reason: Formatting
pittsburgh is offline  
Aug 20th, 2019, 12:53 AM
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Part II: Transportation

Belfast-->Dublin: Originally planned to go by train, but there currently is construction on the line so would have ended up as a bus/train combo. So, instead, we decided to just do the whole trip on a single bus. Bought tickets online -- this is highly recommended given the popularity of the bus and the priority seating given to online purchases. Overall was nice and easy.

Dublin-->Galway: Train from Dublin (Houghton) to Galway. Also a nice easy train ride. Slightly harder was getting from Pearse to Connolly to Houghton. But still not much issue once we realized at Connolly to exit the station and head down to the Glider tracks outside.

Galway-->Doolin: Great bus ride along the coast. B&B operator suggested to sit on the right hand side of the bus which should have been obvious but we hadn't thought about it. Great suggestion as you get gorgeous views of the coast on this drive.

Doolin-->Cork: Longest, most painful leg. Required two buses, switching in Ennis (which is not exactly a large transportation center). Doolin-->Ennis bus was late so we missed our planned connection. But thankfully there is a bus to Cork every hour so not too long of a wait. But still a long day of travel.

Overall transportation worked well. If we had to do it again, we may have looked at how to skip Galway. But Dublin-->Doolin would also have been a long day, so not sure what would have been a better alternative.
pittsburgh is offline  
Aug 20th, 2019, 02:54 AM
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Galway has a city link but to Cork that is direct but Doolin has less options. Bus to and from Dublin to Belfast is my option unless you are close to Hueston station. Did you do any day trips from Belfast?

Last edited by Macross; Aug 20th, 2019 at 02:57 AM.
Macross is offline  
Aug 20th, 2019, 07:06 PM
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Yes, we did a day trip from Belfast....for an upcoming post...
pittsburgh is offline  
Aug 20th, 2019, 11:19 PM
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Part III: The Eating -- We like good food. We also have two young kids (3 and 6) so choices need to be kid friendly (although ours are adventurous eaters so the menu is typically not the limitation -- the atmosphere of the restaurant however can be). And we needed to make sure there were gluten-free options most days although we were pleasantly surprised how pervasive that was in Ireland.

Day 1 (Sunday): Belfast:
- Upon arrival at the hotel, as previously mentioned, our room was not ready. So, we wandered down to St. George's Market (~10 minute walk from the hotel) to check out the market and grab some food. Was a good choice since vendors started packing up while we were there so had we been able to check in to our room, clean up, etc, we probably would have missed the market
- However, dinner was another story. Because after finally getting our room, everyone did rest. By the time we wrangled everyone to head out to find some food we found that all places either stopped serving food around 9 or were booked unless you had reservations. We ended up with my least favorite choice -- the hotel restaurant. Not memorable.

Day 2 (Monday): Belfast:
- Lunch @ Hickson's Point at the Titanic Museum. Was not bad at all.
- Dinner @ Cyprus Avenue in Belfast (a good brisk walk from CS Lewis Square). Good food. Recommended. Kids

Day 3 (Tuesday): Belfast
- Lunch @ Bushmill's. Nothing special.
- Dinner -- It is the Night Market @ St. George's Market so we headed back there for dinner and more browsing/shopping. Wide selection of food from all genres (pasta, paella, Mexican, etc). Definitely a good choice to soak in local atmosphere.

Day 4 (Wednesday): Belfast-->Dublin
- Dinner: Charlotte Quay: Short walk from the hotel. Maybe our favorite meal of the entire trip. Great food.

Day 5 (Thursday): Dublin
- Breakfast: KC Peaches
- Lunch: Food @ Malahide Castle
- Dinner: Fish Shack Cafe (Malahide): Good seafood choices

Day 6 (Friday): Dublin
- Breakfast: Honey Truffle -- Nice choices of food for starting the day.
- Lunch: Hatch & Sons: Basement of the Little Dublin Museum. Was quite good.
- Dinner: herbstreet -- Was shocked we were able to get in as it was packed. But it was clearly a pre-theater crowd as it also emptied en masse. Maybe our second favorite meal of the trip.

Day 7 (Saturday): Dublin-->Galway
- Breakfast: Gertrude -- Good choices for brunch.
- Dinner: McDonaghs -- Crowded. But the wait time to get a seat was nowhere near as long as they said it would be.

Day 8 (Sunday) Galway::
- Lunch: Bayview Restaurant @ the Aran Islands
- Dinner: Zappi's for Pizza -- Great service. Best service we encountered on the whole trip.

Day 9 (Monday) Galway-->Doolin:
- Lunch/Snack: Riverside Bistro
- Dinner: Glas (Hotel Doolin): Closest to a "fine dining" experience on the trip. Crab amuse bouche. Complimentary elderflower aperitif. But still kid-friendly. Maybe this was our second favorite meal of the trip?

Day 10 (Tuesday) Doolin:
- Lunch: Doolin Deli: Not our favorite choice on the trip. Would choose differently if given a second chance.
- Dinner: Riverside Bistro: Did we love it so much the first time that we said we must come back? Not exactly. We wanted to go to the pub (McDermott's) by our B&B but they were packed and we didn't have the patience to wait so this was the closest backup plan.

Day 11 (Wednesday) Doolin-->Cork:
- Dinner: Market Lane: Place was packed but got a seat quickly. Did the 3-course early special. That was a mistake because the portions were just too much to consume. Would have been better just doing an entree. But the food was good.

Day 12 (Thursday) Cork:
- Afternoon Tea: Hayfield Manor: Easily the biggest food disappointment on the trip. Wanted to end with something special. Service was nowhere near what you would expect for the location and price. Food was ok but nothing overly memorable. Definitely would not recommend, especially given the price. On the plus side they do offer a gluten free option.
- Dinner: Milano: Wanted something quick and easy before having to pack and sleep early for the trip home. What is easier than pizza and pasta?
pittsburgh is offline  
Aug 21st, 2019, 01:09 PM
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Pittsburgh~Congratulations on a trip well done. Thank you for the report.
auntgrapes is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2019, 07:53 AM
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Part IV.1: The Attractions (aka What Did We Actually Do) -- Belfast Portion

Belfast Pretext -- When we told people we were going to Belfast to start our vacation, their reaction was predictable -- is it safe? is it in shambles? etc. The answer of course is that if you know none of the past history and just drop into the city you would hardly ever any idea of what had happened.

- Day 1: Belfast
Should have mentioned in the transportation section, that we took the bus from George Best Airport into town. The downside of this is the frequency is not all that high on Sunday. We missed one by about a minute which then meant waiting quite a while (~45 minutes i believe) for the next one.

As mentioned, upon arrival w/ our room not yet ready, we walked down to St. George's Market. Nice walk from our hotel. The market itself is not overwhelming like some European markets. And it was not as much of a fresh food/produce market although we did pick up some meat/cheese for snacking on over the next few days (at least on Sunday...other days have somewhat different content it seems). But had a nice mix of artisans and prepared food options. Similar to what you would see at something like a street fair in the US (or Portland's Saturday Market if you familiar with that). Also featured live Irish dancing which was a nice intro to the country. Overall definitely worth visiting (and we would again....).

- Day 2: Belfast
Took the train from near our hotel over to the Titanic Quarter. The train itself is not right at the quarter and requires a bit of a walk but we like walking so no issue and you get a great view of the Samson and Goliath cranes when doing so. We walked over to the Titanic Museum to get tickets. One mistake we made was not buying tickets ahead of time -- we didn't want to do that the night before because we were unsure how the first real day would go in terms of getting everyone up and moving. But the moment we got on the train, we should have seen what is available (aside -- the free wi-fi on public transportation throughout Ireland is awesome and incredibly useful for things like this). Still wasn't a long wait until our ticketed time and we used the time in the interim to grab a quick lunch (as listed in the prior eating post). The museum itself is quite impressive. For the kids, they offer a nice scavenger hunt type exercise that keeps them engaged throughout.

After the Titanic Museum, we decided to go visit the CS Lewis Square where there are statues of the major characters from the Chronicles of Narnia books as our oldest had just recently read that book. To get there required quite a bit of a walk from the museum to a Glider stop that could then take us. This was both good and bad. The bad was that we got caught in a massive downpour (that would become a theme on this trip). The good was a nice walk, crossing the river, and seeing the famous Fish. From there, Glider is easy to use and we quickly reached the Square which was a lot of fun to walk through. Then a long walk to a nice dinner and then a Glider back to the hotel. Overall a fun and productive day.

- Day 3: Belfast
For our last full day, we wanted to take a trip out to the north coast and visit Giant's Causeway. We debated should we just take the bus up or take an organized tour. The pro of the bus option was we could tailor the amount of time we wanted to spend there but the con was that would be essentially all we would do that day vs. the tour getting us to visit a few other spots. We ended up going the tour route and, in retrospect, it was a good choice. We ended up using Irish Tour Tickets for their Causeway tour. Nice drive up from Belfast. Couple of hours at Causeway which was great and then to Bushmill's. Bushmill's is a short stop and where we also grabbed lunch so not much free time there and overall didnt get much out of that stop. After that was the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge which was maybe the main reason we decided to take the tour. On the negative side, the weather turned and by the time we got there, we were in a driving rainstorm (I told you this would be a theme). But the family (even the little) one gutted out the walk to the bridge and the quick walk over and back. Was definitely worth it. And then back to the city. Once back, we decided to head back to St. George's Market where they were having their special night market. Same kind of vibe as Sunday although more live music. Had dinner there but had to leave by 9pm since they were serving alcohol and everyone under 18 had to leave by then.

- Day 4: Leaving Belfast
Before catching our bus to Dublin, we wanted to do a quick walk through Belfast. We wanted to hit the main shopping area, walk by City Hall and the Titanic Monument and also hit Belfast Cathedral. Was a great morning outside for a walk and we were able to cover all of those with no issue.

Belfast Retrospective: We probably could have used another day in town. Was overall impressive.

Next post -- Our circus comes to Dublin.
pittsburgh is offline  
Aug 25th, 2019, 11:41 PM
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Part IV.2: The Attractions (aka What Did We Actually Do) -- Dublin Portion

Upon arrival in Dublin, we walked from the bus station to our hotel on Pearse Street. And only went out for dinner that first night (see post on dining) for a great dinner at Charlotte.

For the first full day in Dublin, we decided to head out to Malahide Castle. Not to recreate the delay we had at the Titanic Museum, this time we did buy tickets ahead of time. That was the good news. The bad news is that we got there after our time. But, the people there were quite gracious, told us what time was next available and had us go there. No drama on needing to buy new tickets or anything (this would also be a theme...).

For the trip to Malahide itself, we took the train from Pearse Station. Easy train ride. We had then planned to walk from the train station to the castle. But when reaching the Malahide station, we encountered Toots -- The Malahide Road Train -- that goes from the station to the castle and also into town. We took that and saved a significant amount of time by doing so.

At Malahide itself, the gardens and castle tour are what you would probably expect. The part the kids loved were: 1) The Butterfly House -- Great opportunity for pictures w/the butterflies all around you. Was something they hadn't done before so was unique and interesting. Definitely worthwhile. 2) The Fairy Trail -- A nice trail on the grounds of the castle designed as basically a scavenger hunt along the trail. Was a gorgeous day outside and a great way to get the kids walking and engaged even though the whole fairy theme was a little odd to me. Overall, the visit to Malahide was definitely a winner. We took Toots from the castle back to town to grab dinner but didn't get a chance to explore the town. Then walked to the train station and back to our hotel in Dublin.

Day 2 in Dublin was dedicated to the city itself. We thought about the various museums, including the national ones but ended up deciding on the Little Museum of Dublin given that it was a good central location (right by St. Stephen's Green), would not require a ton of time, and seemed to get pretty rave reviews even for children. In retrospect, it was a good choice. The museum gives a "tour" through Irish history that is both brief and cheeky -- the tour guide was excellent. The displays are similar in spirit, while the dedicated U2 room was also quite interesting. And the tour is short enough that the kids don't get restless.

For the afternoon, we headed over to Dublin Castle. Quite different than Malahide so an interesting compare/contrast between them.

Our final morning in Dublin before heading to Galway, we did a quick stroll through Trinity College (figured that the Book of Kells would be lost on the kids) and a walk through the shopping district.

pittsburgh is offline  
Aug 30th, 2019, 04:47 AM
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Part IV.3 -- Galway

We took the train from Dublin to Galway. Easy train ride....except for the rain. As soon as we left the train station to walk to our B&B, we experienced a heavy downpour (it's a theme). And we made a wrong turn so what should have been a 5 minute walk turned into something like 20-30 minutes in the rain. We quickly learned which of our suitcases doesn't work well in the rain as the rain soaked all the way through.

By the time we dried out, we just walked down into town for dinner.
Our only full day in Galway was centered on the Aran Islands. We decided to go to the largest of the islands (Inis Mor). Stopped by the ferry ticket station right when they opened in the morning as they said lines can get long -- there was one other person there, so not an issue. But when I gave the ticket number to pick up the tickets, they pointed out that the tickets I bought were for the day before which led to a mild panic....but not an issue they said and they gave us the tickets for today with zero drama. More great irish service. Walked down and found the bus with no problem for the drive to the ferry.

We obviously were concerned about all the reports of choppy water that you read about but encountered no such issues on our ferry ride as it was a glorious day and the ferry ride over was not eventful. Once reaching the island we had to decide on what mode of transportation we wanted as we had not pre-booked anything. Taking a horse/cart seemed most exciting to the majority of the family so that was the choice. Found a free one that said he would take us up to the cliffs (no price mentioned...and my wife who chose didn't bother to ask...wasnt an issue in the end thankfully). The ride on "Charlie" was calm and serene giving nice views of the island. At Dun Aengus itself, it is an easy walk from the entrance to the cliffs. Is interesting to compare/contrast to the Cliffs of Moher which obviously get more attention but these are just as attractive. After that, took the horse back to town. Final cost was 80 euros which seemed reasonable for the amount of time + 4 of us.

Spent the rest of the afternoon getting lunch, enjoying the few shops, and letting the kids get a few minutes on the town's playground. Then it was back on the ferry and back to Galway for dinner.

For our final day, we didn't make much progress getting out of the hotel early in the morning for a quick stroll through the city so it was straight to the bus station for our next stop....Doolin.

Final verdict:
- Galway seemed to be the most dominant "young" town we saw. The streets really came alive at night.
- We probably could have spent another day there exploring the town itself.
- Going to the Aran Islands was definitely a good decision. Would be interesting to try one of the smaller islands in the future.
pittsburgh is offline  
Sep 4th, 2019, 01:22 AM
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Part IV.4 -- Doolin

Took the bus from Galway to Doolin. Bus stop at the Rainbow Hostel is almost right across the street from our B&B so easy commute and no rain drama this time.

Day 0 in Doolin -- Since we arrived in the early afternoon, we decided to take a walk down towards the Doolin Pier. Is a great walk through town, seeing all the stores, past a number of fields with grazing cows and the occasional donkey, culminating at the pier itself. Was a good way to get acquainted with town.

Day 1: Decided in the morning to do a ferry trip that takes you along the Cliffs of Moher. We went with the Doolin Ferry Co. Had a great weather day and the water was calm. Definitely recommend for good views of the cliffs. We then visited the cliffs themselves -- taking the bus from town to the visitor center and spent several hours wandering around there. Again got very lucky with great weather. The next day as our bus left Doolin and stopped at the Cliffs, it was socked in with fog and you could see the disappointment of people making a day trip.

Day 2: Didnt venture out as the youngest got sick and we needed to catch the bus to Cork later in the morning.

Overall we loved Doolin and highly recommend it. Having multiple days was great to be able to navigate the weather when visiting the cliffs. When the kids are older, coming back and doing some of the cliff walk itself would be fun.
pittsburgh is offline  
Sep 5th, 2019, 08:55 AM
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Pittsburgh, I APPLAUD you big time! How do I count the ways?
  • Macross and I, plus just a few others, seem to be the only persons who believe one can explore Ireland without a rental car. We both have NEVER rented a car and we have visited trip after trip.
  • You got the drift about Irish buses. They are really good. And you, my dear, did it with young kids.
  • I also love it that you did Doolin! Everyone writes about Dingle, but so few write about Doolin, an amazing little place.
  • It really is strange how relatively few people do the ferry to Aran Islands. Yes, the ferry is crowded, etc etc etc. But compared to the Ring of Kerry stuff...
  • You have the true feel for Galway, and what a gift that is. It's the place I wanted to take my father. I knew he would have loved it, and I'm so very sorry that he never got to hear the sweet violins and the lovely voices on the street.
  • Good for you for going to Belfast. We LOVED it. It's a darling city. You and we should be happy we got to experience it before the Brexit-exit-nonsense truly takes place. Treasure that!
  • Your worst experience seemed to be in Cork. All I can say is that we too were totally underwhelmed by it. Macross has me wishing, however, to visit Ballycotton, a place near there.
I so want your family to do a cycle trip in Ireland. That's how we all truly got the feel for it and those trips emboldened my daughters to seek so very many adventures. And good for you that you are doing all of this with your children. My husband and I have a lot of time now to travel without them; the idea that we could ever travel THEN without them was out of the question. They both know that and they truly treasure it. My girls have always challenged themselves, and I truly believe that sorting out transport without a car (we made them do part of it) was part of their willingness to amp up their game.

You made my day.

AlessandraZoe is offline  
Sep 5th, 2019, 12:01 PM
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I love Inishmor and that ferry ride is not bad since the boat is big. We like the bus since it is roomy and has wifi. Our driver from Galway to Cork was so fun. Limerick had a marathon and the roads were closed. He had us all googling maps to get him to the station. The police let us do a u-turn and jump the curb. We are not huge Cork fans except to go to a couple of pubs and the English market. We do love Ballycotton. The coast is beautiful. Yes to another public transportation fan.
Macross is offline  
Sep 12th, 2019, 02:17 AM
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Part IV.4 -- Cork (aka The Final Stop) -- The last entry in this trip report

We arrived in Cork late aternoon after the long bus trip, so night 1 was just a quick dinner out.

On our only day in Cork, we tackled:
- The English Market -- Wish we had a few more days after visiting since then we would have stocked up on some of the tempting meats/cheeses/other delicacies. But given that it was our last day, we just had breakfast at the market and wandered around. Definitely worth visiting.
- Shandon Clock Tower -- From the market we walked over to the clock tower. This ended up being one of our overall favorite stops on the entire trip. On past trips, we have made a habit on finding towers to climb but had not done that so far on this trip. So, Cork was our last opportunity and it did not disappoint. The uniqueness of this clock tower is you get to ring the bells. Yes, you get to ring the bells. You get headphones at the beginning to protect your ears as you climb if others are ringing the bells. As typical, the stairs get narrow as you climb. And there is even a small ladder portion. The kids loved it. We loved it. Overall great.
- Then we headed to afternoon tea. See above for our disappointing experience.
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