Lots of places say they are family-friendly. Go beyond token teddy bears and crayons at dinner, however, and it's a different story.
Think of those 'family' rooms that sleep just four (at a squeeze).
Think of the 'interconnecting' set-ups that double your bill, the leisure centres that limit kids' pool time to a few hours a day, or the kids' clubs shoe-horned into old meeting rooms.
Catering well to families is a niche that few hotels, self-catering stays and campsites do consistently well - in part, because they need to attend to so many different types of guests.
So what makes the difference?
From on-site water parks and to thoughtful touches like age-appropriate books or sensory boxes for guests with autism, we've reached far and wide for family-friendly stays we'd be happy to recommend to our own, well, families.
I hope it helps your next break together. - Pól Ó Conghaile
Where: Rosslare, Co Wexford
Why: Let's start at the top. Setting the standard in Irish family hotel holidays for decades, Kelly's has fun down to a fine art. Its Blue Flag-beach setting is a bonus, activities range from table tennis to crazy golf, there are swimming pools, playgrounds, a teen games room, nightly entertainment and afternoon tea (included in the price), plus two well-run kids' clubs. A crowd-pleasing resort with long-serving staff, quality food (and wine), Kelly's enjoys so much repeat business, family rooms are like gold dust during the school holidays. - JB
Bonus Points: Complimentary playroom supervision from 9am-9pm allows for grown-up time together.
Details: Half-board rates from €143 per adult off-peak. Kids are charged at reduced rates, depending on ages. kellys.ie
If you like this, try: With children's amenities, a pool and kids' high tea, Druids Glen in Co Wicklow offers relaxed countryside vibes a short drive from Dublin. druidsglenresort.com
Where: Sneem, Co Kerry
Why: Honing its offering for over 120 years, here's a four-star with feeling. Families can choose rooms set around the old house, or a mix of lodges and villas. There's a pool with stonking views over Kenmare Bay, a teenager's hideout with bean bags, foosball and table tennis, 12 gorgeous estate walks (including a fairy trail), tennis, arts & crafts and staff that ooze a sense of job satisfaction. Other activities include guided walks and owl experiences (free), or boat, kayak and angling trips with Sunfish Explorer (extra). Bear in mind that it gets busy and pricey during school holidays. - PÓC
Bonus Points: Don't miss the seashore walk with Vincent Hyland (photgraphed above)... you'll have a bucket of little crabs, blennies and gobies in no time, and may even see an otter.
Details: Family rooms (sleeping four) from €239 B&B off-peak and €359 peak. Two-bed lodges from €550/€1,395 for five nights (peak/off-peak). parknasillaresort.com
If you like this, try: The 4-star Sneem Hotel is a more affordable option (with swimming pool and self-catering apartments) nearby. sneemhotel.com
Where: Connemara, Co Galway
Why: Want an action-packed outdoors break? Look no further. This four-star resort, hidden away in Connemara's Delphi Valley, offers forest walks and coasteering, zip-lining and mountain biking, archery, aerial trekking and more. Activities begin from 4+ years, and there's tasty food and comfy bedrooms for recharging. Evening movies are shown during holiday periods and a Mini Adventure Club introduces little ones to experiences like bushcraft survival and climbing (€25 per child). - JB
Bonus Points: During school holidays the kids' club caters for 3-7 year olds, allowing adults time for the spa.
Details: An early-bird, three-night February Midterm Family package including B&B, one dinner, one land activity for all, kids' club and a hour for adults in the spa starts from €369 for a family of four. Two-night family adventure packages at its Wild Atlantic Hostel from €249. delphiadventureresort.com
If you like this, try: Co Galway's Slieve Aughty Centre is an eco-friendly family resort offering escapes reconnecting with nature. Think pony rides, forest walks, organic food, eco lodges and glamping. slieveaughtycentre.com
Where: Gorey, Co Wexford
Why: Amber Springs is a family-owned hotel that just keeps improving and innovating. Rooms include Ireland's only family dens - containing four-berth 'bunkrooms' within larger, double suites. An indoor play zone, digital games room and parents' baby room join the outdoor go-karts, pet farm, football and mini-golf at Amber Park (activities can cost extra). During high season you'll find free falconry displays, kids' clubs, dance classes and pizza-making classes as well as a pool, spa and excellent food offerings. - JB
Bonus Points: The hotel takes sustainability seriously. It has just eliminated plastic water bottles in favour of 'hydration stations' on bedroom corridors, for example.
Details: Family Den Suites cost from €134 to €350 B&B for two adults and two children. ambersprings.ie
If you like this, try: Wexford's Ferrycarrig Hotel, with its beautiful riverside location, offers a leisure club, kids' club and is close to top local attractions. ferrycarrighotel.ie
Where: Clonakilty, Co Cork
Why: It's got a creche. It's got an indoor playzone with soft play area and ball pool for toddlers, and a 'jungle gym' for kids aged 4-11. There's a teen zone with games consoles, pool and air-hockey tables. It's got a pool, an outdoor playground, sweet-free vending machines, a kids' 'all-you-can eat' buffet from €10 during holidays, and rooms can be configured to sleep up to two adults and four children (apartments and holiday homes are available too). Clonakilty was recently named Ireland's first 'Autism-friendly town', and sensory maps, social stories and sensory boxes are available. Little wonder it was named Best Family-friendly Hotel at the 2019 Family-Friendly Ireland Awards. - PÓC
Bonus points: A cinema and Clonakilty Adventure Centre are on site, offering zip wires and high ropes courses to climbing towers. Family rates from €50.
Details: A 'Winter Wow' offer has two nights' B&B and one dinner from €119 per adult (kids from €10 per night). Soft play and jungle gym passes cost €4 per hour (kids on B&B rates get one free pass). clonakiltyparkhotel.ie
If you like this, try: Sligo's Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa recently unveiled Ireland's first ' sensory hotel bedroom', aimed at providing "a non-stressful stay". radissonhotelssligo.ie
Where: Castlecomer Road, Kilkenny
Why: A 10-minute stroll from Kilkenny City, the Newpark Hotel offers well-appointed family rooms and a parents' baby room. Awarded Georgina Campbell's Family Hotel of the Year 2020, the 40-acre estate includes a treetop playground with zip line, swimming pool, fairy trail, nature walk, games room and toddler playroom. A mini-wildlife farm is a huge hit - with everything from alpacas and llamas to lambs, donkeys and a Shetland pony. A handy weekly timetable of kids' activities allows you build your stay around your children's interests, too. - JB
Bonus points: Supervised egg collecting takes place every morning... children can take theirs back for breakfast!
Details: Family rooms, sleeping four, are available from €180 B&B. newparkhotelkilkenny.com
If you like this, try: Gorey's Ashdown Park (sister to Amber Springs) offers a Power Off & Connect family break, with game pack, free family pass to a local attraction, pool, playground and kids' club. ashdownparkhotel.com
More:The Fab 50: Ireland's 50 best places to stay in 2019
Where: Athlone, Co Westmeath
Why: After extensive research (including chats with young guests themselves) the Hodson Bay team relaunched their family offerings this year. Its Kids Adventure Club had a big refresh, with themed food nights, cookery school, a bookworm corner and a mini-Olympics on offer. There's food to suit all tastes (and fusses) in the new Bay View Diner, and good choice in room categories. A big draw is the neighbouring Baysports (above), an inflatable waterpark thrilling kids (and adults) from May to September. - NB
Bonus points: The kids' club has a sensory zone for children who need a quieter area for relaxation.
Details: Family packages start from €473 for two nights B&B with one dinner and kids' camp. hodsonbayhotel.com
If you like this, try: Activities at Co Cavan's Slieve Russell Hotel include teen spa treatments. slieverussell.ie.
Where: Connemara, Co Galway
Why: Renvyle House feels like it's been a family favourite forever. There's always a cosy spot by the fire stocked with board games, an outdoor pool for summer months, movie nights and a weekly storytelling evening with a local theatre group who'll put your attempts at bedtime stories to shame. There are room and suite options for families with up to six kids, which is something of a rarity. - NB
Bonus points: There are hungry ducks in the pond, looking for a bite to eat after you've finished breakfast.
Details: Three-night breaks (B&B with two dinners for adults and three for kids) start from €790 for a family of two adults and two kids sharing; renvyle.com
If you like this: Castlebar's Breaffy Woods Hotel has family rooms sleeping up to six; breaffyhouseresort.com
Where: Adare, Co Limerick
Why: Has this hotel thought of everything? At check-in, kids get a special welcome pack with jellies, babychino vouchers and maps for the woodland fairy trail. A holiday kids' club (ages 4-12) includes walks to a little pet farm where you can help feed goats and pigs. Older kids can try archery and orienteering, there's an organic garden, a leisure centre with 20m and toddler pools, kids' menus in Timmy Mac's (ask for a Lego set if you're bored), and 15 or so rooms can sleep up to two adults and four kids. - PÓC
Bonus points: The Revas Spa (with 18 treatment rooms) and hair gallery is where adults can grab their downtime. Also, Fielding's Restaurant went fully organic this June.
Details: Midweek breaks at Easter and mid-term start from €100 per night B&B. woodlands-hotel.ie
If you like this, try: Galway's Connacht Hotel has bunk-bed rooms, suites and apartments. theconnacht.ie
Where: Rosscarbery, Co Cork
Why: When you're heading off with kids, there are a few things that are likely on your wishlist. Free kids' club, decent grub, attractions nearby and a room that'll fit you all… Celtic Ross Hotel ticks all the boxes. Its free kids' club runs throughout school holidays, and they'll even feed them if you fancy dining alone. Food provenance is a biggie here, and thankfully that applies to the kids' food, too - no processed nuggets or fish fingers to be seen. - NB
Bonus points: Guests get 10pc off at lots of nearby attractions, like crazy golf and the Model Railway Village.
Details: A two-night B&B break with one dinner costs from €210, based on a family of four. celticrosshotel.com
If you like this, try: Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa sits right on a Blue Flag beach. inchydoneyisland.com
Where: Mulranny, Co Mayo
Why: It's set right on the Great Western Greenway, but there's more than cycling to keep you entertained at this multi-generational magnet. Think of the extensive kids' club in the morning and the evening, a great swimming pool, family fun nights and nature walks. This year, it launched a new cinema room, with huge armchairs and a candy bar. But it's not all bad news for the dentist - there are great healthy options on the kids menu, too. - NB
Bonus: Every Thursday, there's a story time before bedtime with Mrs Mulranny (and a little hot chocolate, too).
Details: Family rooms from €154; mulrannyparkhotel.ie
If you like this, try: The Dingle Skellig Hotel has new deluxe family rooms that include a king, double and pull-out sofa bed (plus cot if needed). dingleskellig.com
Where: Campile, Co Wexford
Why: Gorgeous country houses are all well and good, but sometimes you get the impression that kids aren't exactly welcome. Not so at Kilmokea. There's plenty to keep the kids entertained, from gardens with a fairy village to a soft play area, wooden play frame and little ship they can climb into. There are rooms in the main house, or self-catering houses which come stocked with children's books from the owner's kids... a lovely touch. - NB
Bonus points: The indoor pool (March to November).
Details: A family room sleeping four starts from €298 B&B. Self-catering is also available. kilmokea.com
If you like this, try: Wexford's Killiane Castle has pitch and putt, nature trails and tennis on a farm. killianecastle.com
Where: Athenry, Co Galway
Why: It's always nice to find little surprises for the kids when you walk into your room. That's something this spot prides itself on - tell them when you're booking with kids, and you'll find little treats like selection boxes or Easter eggs when you arrive. There's a good leisure centre with a pool, a play centre called Kardio Kids (€7) and if you feel like taking a spin class or getting a massage, there's a crèche by the spa that might come in handy, too. - NB
Bonus points: Make your own pancakes at breakfast.
Details: Family rates from €99. raheenwoodshotel.ie
If you like this, try: Co Donegal's Redcastle Hotel is right next to the local Leisureland. redcastlehoteldonegal.com
Where: Boyle, Co Roscommon
Why: There's more than enough to keep the kids entertained at Lough Key. Between the amazing playground, treetop walk, Boda Borg challenge and zip lines, you're on to a winner here. Younger kids adore the little land rovers and tractors they can drive. If you want to stay, the camping and caravan park is open from Easter to September, and you can also moor for free if you're on a boat. - NB
Bonus Points: There are often free events during school holidays - think discos, movies and face painting.
Details: Camping from €12 for a small tent. loughkey.ie
If you like this, try: Kids can run wild at The Jungle NI up in the Sperrin Mountains; thejungleni.com
Where: Rathdrum, Co Wicklow
Why: When Center Parcs opened in Ireland, we wondered whether small businesses like this would feel the pain. We shouldn't have. Places like Hidden Valley, named Ireland's Favourite Small Stay at our 2019 Reader Travel Awards, survive and thrive due to hard work, incremental growth and a firm feel for what returning customers want. This year, the family-run site added a new aqua park (the seasonal Splash Valley, with 30 obstacles). It's already got kayaks, laser tag, fishing, soccer pitches, Christmas Santa experiences and an adventure playground - and a new lakehouse bumped up the food options, too. - PÓC
Bonus Points: The campsite gets packed, but traffic is slowed to a crawl, making it safe for kids to roam about.
Details: Camping from €40 per family. Day visitors, €20pp. Some activities cost extra. irelandholidaypark.com
If you like this, try: Westport House has family pitches, an adventure park and... dungeons. westporthouse.ie
Where: Lisburn, Co Antrim
Why: If you're looking for a place to get away with a few other families (or your own extended brood), here's a solid option. Twenty minutes from Belfast, Larchfield is a rambling country pile with a combination of ensuite rooms and pretty cottages (and a super-cool converted Swiss army truck called Myrtle which has underbed heating, a firepit and a sauna). Onsite activities include archery and wildlife walks, there are games like giant Jenga, a swing in an old beech tree, and there's a family-friendly pub just outside the estate wall, too. All that, plus... alpacas and donkeys! - NB
Bonus Points: The Estate's luxury breakfast hamper comes with all kinds of local treats like granola, yoghurt, smoked salmon, homemade bread and eggs.
Details: Family friendly cottages from £240stg sleeping four. larchfieldestate.co.uk
If you like this, try: There are cute cottages and courtyard apartments at Blessingbourne, Co Tyrone, as well as world-class mountain bike trails; blessingbourne.com
Where: Ballymahon, Co Longford
Why: Longford's 395-acre mega-resort is the new standard for self-catering family stays in Ireland. Lodges are excellent, from two-bed woodland basics to 'exclusive' pads with hot tubs and saunas (and can be dog-friendly). Accessibility is thought-through, the spa is enormous, there are over 100+ activities and the water park - sorry, 'Subtropical Swimming Paradise' - is world-class. That said, our recent review found variable food, a discombobulatingly early check-out time (10am) and a slap of bill shock when you start seeing those extras add up. - PÓC
Bonus Points: The campus is car-free outside of changeover days. Bring your own bike (hire costs €35/€25.50) and kids can roam on a brilliant and safe network of paths.
Details: Two-bed woodland lodges from €339 to €899 for four nights, depending on dates. Read our Center Parcs Longford Forest review here. centerparcs.ie
If you like this, try: Take a look at Hidden Valley, Jungle Ni and Rockhill Holiday Park in Co Donegal (rockhill.ie).
Where: Toome, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan
Why: Marrying stylish design, great facilities and lots of space, this old gamekeepers' cottage looks deceptively small. Inside, the bright and contemporary self-catering rental sleeps 10, with a well-equipped kitchen, large dining room, patio with dining furniture and views over a private lake. There's one fully-accessible ensuite bedroom and an adjoining games' room with air hockey and a pool table. Homemade scones make for a warm welcome from the owners, who live locally. - JB
Bonus Points: Nearby Castleblayney Outdoor Adventure Centre just opened this summer at Lough Muckno.
Details: From €590 per week, minimum two nights. Lakeside Cottage from €360 per week. mucknolodge.ie
If you like this, try: Lionsden, a rambling Georgian house in Co Meath, sleeps 16+, allowing for large family or other groups to enjoy a fab self-catering country-estate experience from €360 a night. airbnb.ie/rooms/3164297
Where: Drimoleague, West Cork
Why: If you're a family of animal-lovers, here's a dream come true. Set on a working farm, there are furry friends aplenty, and you can get stuck in with the Farmhands programme. You'll feed the baby animals (this year saw newborn goats, donkey, lambs and chicks), learn about cattle and gather eggs. Accommodation is in cool glamping pods. When night falls, gather around the campfire and toast marshmallows in a holiday they won't forget in a hurry. - NB
Bonus Points: It's open year-round.
Details: Pods from €65. topoftherock.ie
If you like this, try: Camp out at a real life apple farm in Co Tipperary (May to September); theapplefarm.com. Or try kayaking, farm tours and electric biking at Rock Farm Slane; rockfarmslane.com.
Where: Ballina, Co Mayo
Why: With its 100-acre woodland setting on the River Moy, Mount Falcon is a fabulous Gothic hotel with lodges. Comfy Lakeside and Woodlands options sleep six and include both hotel breakfast and cleaning; the stone-cut Courtyard lodges are fully self-catering, with optional breakfast at €20pp. The 4-star hotel's pool and spa offer lovely woodland views and guests can book afternoon tea or dinner too. A kids' club operates on school holidays with bike hire, a driving range, playground, archery, duck-feeding, clay shooting (ages 15+) and falconry available year-round. - JB
Bonus Points: The Céide Fields, Foxford Woollen Mills and National Museum of Country Life make great day trips.
Details: Two nights in various lodges range from €250 (off-peak) to €1,000 (peak). mountfalcon.com
If you like that, try this: Active families will enjoy exploring Tipperary's Glen of Aherlow, while staying at Aherlow House Hotel's cool Scandinavian Lodges. aherlowhouse.ie
Where: Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin
Why: First, let's manage expectations - there is no pool, leisure centre or kids' club. So why include this fancy five-star? Well, the Conrad has launched a new family room, and is pitching itself as a slick base for a five-star city stay. Kids get books on arrival, welcome treats include Lego-shaped fudge and a box of games like Scrabble and Jenga; there are 48" TVs, baby bathtubs and bottle warmers on request, and the Coburg restaurant does a three-course kids' menu for €12. The highlight? Breakfast is one of Dublin's best - with a kids' buffet selection ranging from cookies and chocolate milk to fresh smoothies; bread and pastries from the local Bretzel Bakery, and Irish producers like Glenilen, G Jams from Co Laois and Wicklow Farmhouse Cheeses a noticeable feature. "It doesn't just look good, it tastes good," our nine-year-old confirms. - PÓC
Bonus Points: Location. The new Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI), National Museums, Grafton St and St Stephen's Green are all a hop, skip and jump from the hotel. Read our Conrad Dublin review here.
Details: Inter-connecting rooms sleeping four start from €571 per night. conraddublin.com
If you like this, try: Looking for family rooms that sleep more than 2+2? Both Dublin's Castleknock Hotel and Muckross Park Hotel in Killarney have rooms for five.
Where: Fota Island, Co Cork
Why: Some family-friendly hotels sacrifice a sense of style, but Fota Island Resort is a rare find that feels both child-friendly and chic. There's plenty for everyone to do on the 780-acre private island, whether you want to channel that inner Katniss with combat archery or practise your swing at the kids' golf academy. Walking trails, a pool, playground, good menu choices and a well-run kids' club complete the picture. Choose from luxurious hotel accommodation or self-catering lodges on the grounds. Hidden in the forest, Fota Island Adventure also offers outdoor challenges (at a fee) for everyone aged 7+. - JB & NB
Bonus Points: A free guest shuttle takes guests to the nearby Fota Wildlife Park, and we love the ballet lessons held for kids on Saturday mornings.
Details: Family rates from €250; two nights in a Courtyard Lodge sleeping four from €380. fotaisland.ie
If you like this, try: Centrally located in Cork city, five-star Hayfield Manor offers a great children's menu and family afternoon tea. hayfieldmanor.ie
Where: Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare
Why: What child doesn't want to sleep in a real castle? Especially one that offers all the magic and fairy-tale thrills of Hogwarts-meets-Cinderella. Dromoland (read our review) may be the epitome of luxury, but they sure know how to ensure guests of all ages feel right at a home. The impressive 450-acre estate offers lots of family activities (pony-and-trap rides and archery to name two), there's a pool, and a children's afternoon tea is popular with younger guests. - JB
Bonus Points: The warm and welcoming staff will ensure your kids remember their castle getaway.
Details: A Royal Family Package including two nights' B&B, a falconry experience and daily scheduled estate experience starts from €1,090 for a family of four. dromoland.ie
If you like this, try: Ashford Castle. With its dramatic interior, fairy paths, Rapunzel Tower and activities (think falconry, or walking the wolfhounds), the iconic five-star will weave a spell over the whole family. ashfordcastle.com
Where: Balfe Street, Dublin 2
Why: Twenty paces from Grafton Street, this landmark five-star is a perfect location for a luxurious city break. Staff are great with kids and a stylish teddy awaits little ones on their beds, along with an adorable tepee (plus torches) for some in-room 'camping'. Balfes, the hotel's all-day brasserie, offers a quality kids' menu, too. - JB
Bonus Points: The breakfast buffet - the America-style pancakes with mascarpone and berries are a big hit.
Details: A Little Bears' Family package in a deluxe room includes a tepee, teddy bear, colouring book, milk and cookies and breakfast from €462. doylecollection.com
If you like this, try: The Croke Park Hotel is a four-star sister to The Westbury. It's located opposite Croke Park, with its stadium tour and GAA Museum. doylecollection.com
Where: Mount Juliet, Co Kilkenny
Why: The former stables and coachmen's accommodation at Mount Juliet have been handsomely reimagined as a stylish luxury hotel within this country estate. More laid back than the manor hotel, Hunter's Yard is a hideaway that mixes chic design with understated horse motifs. Children can enjoy swimming, archery, golf lessons, horse riding, falconry and swimming. - JB
Bonus points: A guided horse ride is a lovely way to experience the historic estate.
Details: Family rooms from €275 for two adults and two children. mountjuliet.ie/hunters-yard-hotel
If you like this, try: Lyrath Estate. With its interconnecting rooms, pool, playground, walking trail, cinema and Reilly's Fun Club, this is another five-star Kilkenny option. lyrath.com
"We know that families come in all different sizes," says Aoife O'Donoghue of Killarney's Gleneagle Hotel. The four-star offers family rooms, suites and self-catering apartments that can sleep various numbers between them. 'Flying Solo Breaks' are a special offer for parents holidaying solo with kids, saving up to €40 per night on similar family rates with two parents. Rooms for one adult and one child are available from €72 per night, including breakfast. gleneaglehotel.com
NB: All rates subject to availability/change