The seaside town of Dungarvan is the perfect base for your family’s Irish adventure. Home to windswept rolling hills dotted with sheep, imposing craggy cliffsides, and a picturesque patchwork of fields in varying shades of green, your clients just can’t help but fall in love with this island. The scenery, though varied throughout Ireland, rarely disappoints, and neither do her people.
Situated in County Waterford, or what the Irish call “the sunny Southeast,” Dungarvan is truly a hidden gem. While Ireland is famous for its greenery and scenery, its music and literature, its people and pubs, and of course, its rain, your clients may be wonder, “why go to this obscure little town that I’ve never heard of.” And to that I say what I always say to people about traveling—get out of the big cities and away from the tourist traps, and you’ll experience what a country is really like. Dungarvan is picturesque, completely underrated, and super family-friendly. And this sleepy seaside town is the perfect home base for side trips to some of Ireland’s most famous sites.
What to Do
There’s only one thing better than driving around Ireland and seeing its natural beauty, and that’s cycling around Ireland. The roads are so narrow in Ireland, there really are only a couple of places that you can do this safely, and one of them is on the Deise (or Waterford) Greenway. It’s an off-road, paved path that stretches 28 miles from Dungarvan to Waterford City. The route follows the old Waterford to Dungarvan railway line. There’s only one other car-free path of this kind in Ireland, and that’s the 26-mile Great Western Greenway in County Mayo.
I have been to Ireland many times, but this was—without a doubt—the single most enjoyable thing that we’ve done here as a family. We rented bikes from Waterford Greenway Bike Hire in Abbeyside, just across the bridge from the center of Dungarvan. The Greenway starts by the bike rental shop. The bikes are new and top quality; the shop also has baby seats, kid trailers, and tag-along bikes for rent. The friendly staff will make sure your clients’ bikes are fitted properly and provide them with helmets and fluorescent green safety vests. They’ll also give your clients a map with their phone number on it, because they provide free roadside assistance if you get a flat and a free shuttle bus service should you get half way to Kilmacthomas or all the way to Waterford and find you’re too tired to get back to Dungarvan. It’s a fabulous ride, and the views are spectacular. I can’t count how many times that we’ve driven around Ireland, and I’ve missed a great photo-op simply because there was nowhere to safely pull over. Going by bike allows your clients to take their time, pull over as often as they like, and get those Instagram-worthy shots. It’s worth the trip to Dungarvan for this attraction alone. Cost is full-day bike rental (child seat included) $22; child trailer $11.
The best way to see the town of Dungarvan and neighboring village of Abbeyside is on foot. Grab breakfast, check out the town square, and then wander over to Dungarvan Castle, which dates back to the 12th century. Advise your clients to make their way along the water’s edge, or the “quay” (pronounced “key”) as the locals refer to it, and they’ll pass by several restaurants and pubs along the way. Then follow the path across the causeway (bridge) over to Abbeyside. Stay on the path along the harbor, and eventually they’ll come to St. Augustine’s Church and the ruins of the 13th century abbey for which the village is named. Beside the church, they’ll find a lovely beach and gorgeous boardwalk with water on one side and a green pasture with horses on the other. We love to walk here and feed carrots and apples to the horses. The owners don’t mind.
Go for a walk or a picnic in the Colligan Wood, a lovely wooded area along the Colligan River or take a spin up to Mahon Falls in the Comeragh Mountains. After a short hike to the falls, be sure to check out what is quite possibly Ireland’s most famous magic road. If clients stop their car in the right spot, it will proceed to roll uphill; the kids love it.
The Emerald Isle has a long, established horseback riding history, and it’s no doubt one of the best ways to see Ireland’s beautiful beaches and countryside. Monatrea Equestrian Centre in Youghal and Lake Tour Stables in Tramore offer lessons, short rides on quiet country lanes (1 to 2 hours), and longer treks on beaches or through mountains (4 hours). Cost varies.
Located about three miles outside of Dungarvan is Clonea Strand, a wide sandy beach overlooking the sea. With fantastic views from Ballyvoile Head to Helvick Head, it’s a beautiful walk or bike ride via the Greenway. On the way back, do like the locals do in the summer and grab a bag of chips (those are fries to us) from Gordon’s chip shop near the entrance to the beach.
Sailing, Fishing & Other Water Adventures
Dungarvan and West Waterford have a long history of being home to sailors, fishermen, and seafaring families. So it’s no wonder some of the best sailing and deep-sea fishing can still be found here. Dungarvan Sailing Adventures offers people of all ages and abilities the chance to enjoy the beautiful Dungarvan Bay from the deck of one of its traditionally built sail boats. Black Water Cruises out of Youghal (pronounced like “y’all”) will take you on a 90-minute historic tour from the Celtic Sea up the River Blackwater to Lismore. Several local fishermen offer half- and full-day deep-sea fishing excursions on boats out of Dungarvan, Youghal, and Helvick. Dungarvan Bay Charter Boats offers a wide variety of trips from bass fishing in Dungarvan Bay to wreck fishing on one of the many WWI shipwrecks near Helvick Head. They also do whale and dolphin watching trips.
For those brave or crazy enough (thinking teens, here!) to put a toe into the icy waters of Ardmore Bay or the Celtic Sea, Ardmore Adventures offers kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding excursions for ages 8 and up. Cost for a 2-hour family sea kayaking trip (2 adults, 2 youth) is $110. The company also offers rock climbing, abseiling, archery, surfing, and snorkeling for adventure-seeking families.
Dunmore Adventures in Dunmore East has similar offerings including kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding but also offers sailing, windsurfing, and caving adventures for families.
Play the Golf Triangle, three golf courses all within a 15-minute’s drive of one another and all about 5 minutes from the center of town. Need I say more? Play them all—the Dungarvan Golf Club, West Waterford Golf & Country Club, and Gold Coast Golf Club—for just $76.
Dungarvan is perfectly positioned for several short day trips. Here are a few of my favorites.
Just 20 minutes outside of Dungarvan is the picturesque seaside village of Ardmore, which is believed to be the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland. St. Declan is thought to have introduced Christianity to Ireland here in the fifth century, well before St. Patrick arrived. These days, it’s one of Ireland’s quaintest fishing villages complete with thatch cottages and sandy beaches. It also boasts a five-star hotel, the Cliff House, and its Michelin-star restaurant. Just beyond the grounds of the hotel is the start of the 3-mile cliff walk with stunning sea and countryside views. The walk passes by a shipwreck as well as many monuments and relics like the 95-ft.-tall, 12th century Ardmore Round Tower and ruins of a 13th century cathedral. It’s a stunning way to see this part of the country.
Just a couple of miles past the village of Ardmore overlooking Whiting Bay, you’ll find Ardmore Open Farm and Mini Zoo. Kids can get up-close and personal with a wide variety of animals; there’s also ziplining, go karting, and a large indoor play space. Cost: Youth (over 2) $11; Adults $10.
With stunning views of the Comeragh Mountains on your left and the sea on your right, the 40-minute drive on N25 from Dungarvan to Waterford City is well worth the trip. Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city dating back to Viking times and is, of course, the home of Waterford Crystal. While it’s now owned by an American company and makes most of its products in Eastern Europe, the company’s high-profile commemorative pieces, trophies, and even the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball are still made at the House of Waterford. Take the 50-minute tour of the factory. Kids will love watching these master craftsmen mold, blow, and cut crystal the way it’s been done for nearly two centuries. End the tour with a walk around the opulent retail store which houses the largest collection of Waterford crystal in the world. Cost: Youth (5-18) $4; Adults $14; Family (2 adults, 2 children) $33.
Just seven miles from Waterford City, this lovely seaside town is the Coney Island of Ireland and great for kids. The wide sandy beach of Tramore (Trá Mhór in Irish, meaning big beach) and its boardwalk have the same sort of nostalgic, kitschy charm with amusement park rides, old-school bumper cars, and brightly lit arcades filled with typical boardwalk games. If you’re not too full on cotton candy, check out one of the many lovely restaurants in town like The Vee Bistro.
Located along the Blackwater River about a 30-minute drive from Dungarvan, you’ll find the tidy town of Lismore, one of the most historic in County Waterford. The main attraction here is Lismore Castle and its gardens. Once home to Sir Walter Raleigh (after whom the state capital of North Carolina is named), it’s now the Irish residence of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. While the castle is not open to the public, the gardens are the most popular attraction in County Waterford. A visit to them and this charming town make for a great little day trip.
Dungarvan is also a 1-hour drive from Cork City, 1-1/2-hour from Blarney (home of the famous Blarney Stone) or Kinsale, and two hours from Killarney and the Ring of Kerry—all worthy side trips.
Where to Stay
I’m completely enamored with The Park Hotel. The staff couldn’t be more friendly, accommodating or family-oriented. With clean, spacious family rooms and lovely water views, it’s just a short walk from the center of town. The onsite facilities will keep families happy with a pool, kids’ pool, whirlpool, sauna, steam room, and fitness center.
The hotel also has a kid’s club that runs from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. during the summer months. Geared towards children ages 3 and up, the club organizes fun activities like arts and crafts, game night, karaoke, cupcake decorating, pizza parties, and more. Drop the kids off for a couple of hours and have a grown-up meal alone in one of the hotel’s two restaurants or have a few pints in the pub. Rooms start at $150 per night.
The Park Hotel also has 15 self-catering homes on the grounds of the hotel. The fully furnished, fully equipped townhouses have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, laundry facilities, and complimentary WiFi. Each sleeps five comfortably. And while guests don’t get housekeeping everyday, they still get access to the pool and fitness center. Starting at $180 per night, these homes are a great value and allow larger families to stay together without having to book adjoining rooms.
Home to an award-winning restaurant and cooking school, the location of the Tannery Townhouse can’t be beat. Just as the name suggests, this boutique hotel is situated in an old leather factory near the marina in Dungarvan. It has 14 rooms, offering visitors the perfect base to explore the town on foot. Each morning, a light continental breakfast is available in-room or guests can have a full Irish breakfast at the Tannery Restaurant. Rooms starts at $56 per person, if sharing a double room.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re staying here with teens, be sure to check out the Tannery Cookery School. From 3-hour demos to full-day master classes, the Tannery’s owners, chef Paul and Maire Flynn along with a roster of guest instructors offer a range of courses to suit all tastes and abilities. Cost is $56 to $200 per person.
Where to Eat
There’s an old saying in Ireland that one should “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” And while the Irish are known for their massive breakfasts, traditionally, many Irish families have “dinner,” the largest meal at midday, and “tea,” a lighter meal in the evening. So lunch is dinner, and dinner is tea. Got it?
No trip to Ireland is fully experienced without the sublime wonder of the traditional Irish breakfast. And there’s no better place to get one than at The Shamrock. A “Full Irish” or a “fry” consists of a fried egg, sausage, rashers, black pudding, white pudding, sauteed mushrooms, baked beans, a grilled tomato, toast, and tea. Let me translate some of that —rashers (or bacon) are not at all like your typical, streaky American bacon; they’re more like a cross between Canadian bacon and ham. Pudding is a type of sausage around these parts, and lucky for your clients, the white pudding in Dungarvan is of the Clonakilty variety which, in my opinion, is the very best in Ireland. This no-frills, family-owned restaurant has great service, tasty Irish comfort food, and reasonable prices. It also serves lunch and dinner, and your clients can get a Full Irish all day long.
Interlude is one of my daughter’s favorite places for a date with her granny. This cute, contemporary spot on the quay has a very simple approach: serve locally produced food with minimum fuss. It has a lovely lunch menu with homemade soups, sandwiches, and a yummy, warm pesto chicken salad or more substantial options like fresh mussels caught in the waters just outside the restaurant in nearby Helvick Head, steamed in local beer, and finished with bacon. Or try the 8-ounce, grass-fed Irish beef burger with Irish cheddar on a floury blaa or bap (a super-soft bun lightly dusted with flour unique to this area). The restaurant also has a beag (which is Irish for small) menu that includes picky-kid favorites like goujons (chicken strips), penne pasta with tomato sauce or cheese pizza.
There’s also Interlude Too, the restaurant’s expansion and bakery side, which is a great spot for morning coffee or afternoon tea and treats like homemade fruit scones or orange drizzle cake.
Located right in the town square, Meades Cafe is the perfect spot for a pick-me-up cup of coffee or tea. It claims to have the best coffee in town, and I don’t disagree. The folks here make a mean cappuccino in a part of the world that is, generally speaking, more into tea. The cafe serves up yummy baked goods, fruit smoothies, ice cream, and milkshakes. It’s warm and lively, and there’s even a kids’ corner with books and toys for little ones.
For casual atmosphere, reliable pub grub, and of course, a fine pint of Guinness, take the family to the bar in The Park Hotel. Kids are allowed in the bar area. Serving both lunch and dinner, this modern Irish pub serves everything from soups, salads, and sandwiches to traditional favorites like fish and chips and roast beef with potatoes and vegetables. If the soup of the day is cream of mushroom, get it because it’s incredible! Served with Irish brown bread on a rainy day, it’s perfection.
For a dinner that’s on the fancier side, try Crew’s Steak & Seafood Restaurant on Church Street. Situated in a building that dates back to the 16th century, this cozy, cavernous stone-walled spot serves up tasty, fresh fish and grass-fed beef options that the whole family will love. It also have vegetarian, gluten-free, and other diet options available on the menu. The service is excellent, the portions are generous, and it’s great value for your money.
Music is as much a part of the fabric of life in Ireland as potatoes, Guinness, and rain. Just like no visit to the Emerald Isle is complete without a Full Irish, no one should visit without hearing the lively sounds of traditional Irish music at least once. The Local in Dungarvan’s town square is the perfect place to find a traditional music seisun (pronounced “seh-shoon”) every weekend all year long. Kids are allowed, but they shouldn’t be here much beyond 10 p.m.
The best way to get to Dungarvan is to fly into Shannon or Dublin. Then it’s a 2- or 2.5-hour drive, respectively, to Dungarvan. If flying from an airport that has flights into Cork, that’s an even easier option, as it’s only a 1-hour drive from there.
This story originally appeared in KidTripster.com, which provides expert information & inspiration to families traveling with children anywhere in the world.