Life

Dublin's Clontarf Castle hotel is a perfect base for a family trip back in time

A 12th century castle, a Viking tour and the ghosts of old haunts from university days made for a family trip to Dublin filled with history – but there were new surprises aplenty too, writes Barbara Collins

Clontarf Castle hotel in north Dublin – historic, beautifully decorated and family friendly

A FAMILY break in Dublin can be a stressful thing. City centre hotel prices can be prohibitive. We had been thinking of bringing the children to the zoo but we wanted a base that was away from the hustle and bustle but still close enough to access the attractions and special enough to feel like a treat for us, too.

Clontarf Castle ticked all the boxes. It was historic, beautifully decorated, had ample free parking on site, promised to be family friendly and was a short bus ride from the city centre.

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon without much trouble. These days of sat nav and Google maps make it easy but it is also well signposted, which always helps. The castle itself is in a built-up area but Clontarf is a leafy suburb which is close to the water.

The reception area is jaw-dropping once you realise that the stone walls in the sitting area date from the 12th century complete with an original balcony from a few centuries later. Lots of people were having what looked like very stylish afternoon teas in cubed mini-shelves. This is obviously a popular spot for Sunday lunch and it is also one of Dublin’s top wedding venues.

The little ones were asked who their favourite characters were and their ages before we were shown to our room. It was stunning. Two large double beds with memory foam mattresses faced a Smart TV and a sitting area. There was a power shower and bath which I always love to see. Sometimes all you want is a soak in the tub after a day’s sightseeing. The grey and blue colour scheme of the bedroom was so gorgeous that I took pictures of the curtain fabric.

We took a walk to the strand and played on the green with the children before heading back to get ready for dinner in the double AA Rosette Fahrenheit restaurant. This is part of the two-night family package we were on. The children were delighted to see Swashbuckle and Peppa magazines waiting for them with new colouring pencils. It meant they were occupied as we waited for three very good courses which included Wicklow lamb rump and free-range roast chicken breast with charred baby gem.

Breakfasts are also included and are excellent. The buffet is a cut above and the cooked to order choices included Eggs Benedict and kippers. The family package also included trips to Dublin Zoo and the Viking Splash tour. We drove about 15 minutes to the Phoenix Park where there was free parking. Our pre-booked tickets meant there was no need to queue either.

The last time I was in the zoo was on a school trip decades ago. I loved it then, especially the gift shop. This time around, I found it quite difficult to navigate without being part of a bigger group. There is quite a bit of doubling back on yourself to find all of the animals, which was challenging with a four-year-old.

The highlights included the lions feeding, the African Plains and the monkeys but quite a few of the birds weren’t visible because of bird flu – obviously not the zoo’s fault. The reptile house was underwhelming and, to be honest, a bit of a let-down.

There is no shortage of cafes but prices are steep – €2.50 for a small bottle of water – and the food is only OK. We left the site to find somewhere else to eat in town and do some exploring. It is a nice idea to include tickets in the family package at the hotel but, hand on heart, we probably wouldn’t go back.

That afternoon, we took the children to the cinema in town which was perfect after such an active morning. It left us back at the hotel in time to relax before dinner in the bar. I was really impressed with the standard of the food and the staff’s easy manner with the children. They were ready for an early night and we enjoyed a glass of wine in our room while they snoozed.

The next day we had a date with the Viking Splash Tour, also part of the family package. It was pre-booked for us. All we had to do was turn up at St Stephen’s Green. I was delighted that this was the starting point. Obviously, we would have to do some light shopping afterwards!

The bus, which later takes to the water, is actually a former Second World vehicle which has been recommissioned into what is now one of Dublin’s most recognisable tourist attractions.

Our guide was a Dublin girl all kitted out in a long burgundy linen dress – she did actually look like a Viking. We looked less authentic with our plastic horned novelty helmets. She had all the chat about the different parts of Dublin we were brought through but she kept quiet in the residential areas. They don’t like the noise.

We were encouraged to roar like Vikings at people who were standing on the street as we passed. Mostly people smiled but some office workers had obviously seen it all far too many times before. This is a very popular tour.

The “splash” bit came when we got to the canal. We donned lifejackets and the bus became waterborne. All in all, we spent about 20 minutes passing the Point Depot and circling around the Marker Hotel. It was interesting hearing about the artwork in the area and which famous people may own apartments nearby.

Back on dry land, we headed back to St Stephen’s Green. We all enjoyed it but we should have brought heavier coats. It is windy out on the water.

We had time to do the area around Grafton Street and the St Stephen’s Green shopping centre before heading home. Dublin has a great buzz about it and while my memories of it are of partying in my student days at Trinity, it is equally enjoyable at this stage of life with little ones. Granted, we didn’t see the inside of any of my former haunts – apart from what was the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory – but we made lots of new memories, most of them at the highly recommended Clontarf Castle.

FACT FILE

Enjoy a two-night family stay at Clontarf Castle Hotel with an Artisan Castle breakfast each morning and dinner in Fahrenheit Restaurant on an evening of your choice.

Let Mum and Dad retreat in a Castle haven while the kids embark on an exciting treasure hunt followed by a family trip to Dublin Zoo (dublinzoo.ie) or Viking Splash Tour (vikingsplash.com?).

From €440 per room. Based on two adults and two children. See clontarfcastle.ie

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