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Bunratty Castle: Perfect First Day of Ireland Travel

Bunratty Castle is a perfect first stop after arrival in Ireland at Shannon Airport!
Bunratty Castle is a perfect first stop after arrival in Ireland at Shannon Airport!

An Ireland Road Trip Highlight!

After a fabulous 7-day road trip through the southwest of Ireland, and I’m so excited to share it with you. My Ireland travel articles chronologically follow our route… and the first stop after Shannon Airport was Bunratty Castle! Let’s learn how this whole Ireland trip came to be.

Inside the "Main Guard" of Bunratty Castle.
Baby and me inside the “Main Guard” of Bunratty Castle.

First: Finding a Cheap Flight to Ireland

Let’s start from the beginning. Two months ago, I had zero plans for February vacation, but knew we had to get away from the insane Boston snow somehow. One day, a friend suggested I try a free app called Skyscanner that calculates the cheapest places in the world to fly to from your home city.

All you have to do is type in the word “Everywhere” as the destination. Using this handy-dandy tool, I discovered a ridiculously cheap direct flight from Boston to Shannon, Ireland, on Aer Lingus and booked it that day. (Tip: Once you find the flight fare on Skyscanner, do the actual purchasing directly through the airline. Booking directly is more beneficial in the event you need to rebook or have other issues.)

Bunratty Castle cannons with baby on top
Devi enjoyed sitting on the cannons outside the castle.

The Boston-Ireland Connection

I had never before visited Ireland, which is crazy given the deep Irish connections that exist in the city of my heart, Boston. My students and colleagues with Irish roots gave me excellent advice on what to see when they learned I’d be going to Ireland, but as my jotted notes grew denser, I realized I needed more structured guidance for our itinerary.

Bunratty Castle drawbridge!
It’s a dramatic drawbridge!

See Our Ireland Itinerary

Enter Tourism Ireland. As the official tourist portal for the Emerald Isle, Tourism Ireland has an information-packed website, including detailed travel itineraries an indecisive gal like me can easily follow.

Their staff is speedy on Twitter and other online communications, and with their help, we settled on a road trip loop covering the following route: Shannon Airport, Bunratty Castle, Galway, ConnemaraClifden, Westport, Cong, Limerick, then back to Shannon Airport a week later.

Colorful wagons in the folk park.
Colorful wagons in Bunratty Folk Park.

Ireland Tourist Attractions, Too

Tucked into each day of the itinerary were 2-5 phenomenal tourist attractions. (Don’t worry — the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and Kylemore Abbey were among them!) The biggest stroke of genius in the itinerary Tourism Ireland suggested, however, was about what to do that first day.

Bunratty Castle: Inside and outside
Devi ran around inside the castle, and I jumped around outside.

Touring Despite Jet Lag

Why was that first day so crucial? Well, we arrived in Ireland at 6am after a six-hour Red Eye flight… with a baby. We were exhausted, and also very nervous to drive on the left side of the road, but we didn’t want to waste a precious vacation day just resting in the hotel.

Further, Jet Lag experts insist that to reset your body clock, it’s essential to stay awake that first day except for a short nap, and to go to bed only after sundown.

Bunratty castle bedroom and gold canopy bed in Ireland
Just your average castle bedroom.

Why Tour Bunratty Castle on Day 1?

Here was Tourism Ireland’s brilliant solution to what to do on that first day: Stay in Bunratty (which is 10 minutes of easy driving from Shannon Airport, and stocked with a range of accommodations), and spend the day leisurely touring Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.

This is the elusive “easy win” of tourism: a low-key, manageably small attraction to tour that yields immense returns in enjoyment, education, and photos. I highly recommend you follow this plan for your first day if you fly into Shannon.

Bunratty Castle cannons
Can’t get enough of baby and cannon photos!

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park

Let us now zoom in, away from the overview of our Ireland trip, and in on Bunratty Castle and Folk Park itself. Its website sums up its importance well: “Welcome to Bunratty Castle, the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland. Built in 1425, it was restored in 1954 to its former medieval splendor.”

Spying on other tourists through a castle peephole.
Spying on other tourists through a castle peephole.

History of Bunratty Castle

There are several things that amaze me about this blurb. First, 1425?! Ireland, you sure have some lengthy history! Second, reading the list of who occupied Bunratty Castle, it is a mind-whooshing series of conquerers and owners, from earls to a man named Thomas Amory who bought the building in 1720 for a mere $346!

Third, how convenient is it that you can tour the most complete medieval fortress in Ireland just ten minutes after landing in the airport?

Bunratty Castle, Ireland for family travel
Family cuddles inside and outside the castle.

Restoring Bunratty Castle

Finally, it is so inspiring that workers (organized by the 7th Viscount Gort) were able to restore the castle to the point that thousands of tourists can still climb all over it. They even throw medieval banquet dinners inside it regularly!

Paired with the story of the restoration of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, this is a strong reminder that restoration may be initially costly, but pays off mightily in tourist dollars and national pride.

Love this castle window.
Love this castle window.

Bunratty Castle Tours

Touring Bunratty Castle is an excellent family activity because its vertiginous staircases are like jungle gyms for kids, while classy adults can do emotional gymnastics by ogling the 15th and 16th century decorations, history, and architecture.

Bunratty castle staircase
Pretty intense castle staircase, eh?

Bunratty Castle is Hands-On Family Fun

I also loved that Bunratty didn’t feel like a stuffy, hands-off museum. Rather, it was a full-body experience to tour the castle and park, and our baby didn’t feel out of place or frowned upon as he toddled around the 600-year-old floors.

Bunratty castle tables!
Ooh! Giant candles on giant castle tables!
The light inside the castle was really neat.
The light inside the castle was really neat.
Bunratty castle: Baby in a castle throne!
Baby in a castle throne!

What is Bunratty Folk Park?

All right, that’s the castle, but what’s this “Folk Park” referenced in the title of the place? In fact, it is an experiential “museum” of 19th century village buildings, including actual places to eat and drink!

Me in front of the "Fisherman's Cottage" in the Bunratty Folk Park.
Me in front of the “Fisherman’s Cottage” in the Bunratty Folk Park. The castle is behind.

It is delightful to stroll through the Folk Park, peeking into each house and getting a real feel for what life was like two hundred years ago, and the wide range of living styles.

Piggies in the Folk Park!
Piggies in the Folk Park!

Food in Bunratty Castle and Folk Park: Scones

Ask anyone who has been to the Bunratty Folk Park and they will ask, breathless, “Did you get the scones?” Yes indeed, in the “Farmhouse,” there are real live people making real live scones for tourists to eat!

I admit that I went back repeatedly for samples, and that the baby, too, ate multiple fluffy and flavorful helpings.

Even the trees at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park are amazing.
Even the trees at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park are amazing.

This brings us to the staff of Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. It must take so much work to maintain such a big attraction, but it all looks spiffy and neat. Further, I had a particularly good experience with one of employees staffing the fancy gift shop.

A bedroom in a house in Bunratty Folk Park.
A bedroom in a Bunratty Folk Park farmhouse.

Irish Hospitality and Kindness

Because our flight was pushed up a day early due to yet another Boston blizzard, we suddenly had a free day on our itinerary. I mentioned this to one of the employees in the gift shop, and she generously drew up a route for us to drive in order to see three notable towns that we would have otherwise missed.

This hospitality and kindness was something we experienced over and over among the people of Ireland, and I found it truly moving!

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park: An exciting farm tool and hay drying in heaps in the Folk Park.
An exciting farm tool, and hay drying in heaps in the Folk Park.

How Long for a Bunratty Castle Visit?

Our whole visit to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park took less than two hours, but was the perfect mix of relaxed, fun, and fascinating for a first day in Ireland. Oh, and did I mention that there are all sorts of yummy restaurants within short walking distance from the castle?

We stuffed our faces well on that Bunratty day. Who wouldn’t want to hop off a plane directly into a castle and food combination?

Bunratty castle door.
A family taking photos in the castle door.

What Do YOU Think of Bunratty Castle?

So what about you? Does Bunratty seem like a place you would like to visit? If you’ve been there before, what was your experience like? Do share!

If these magical-looking structures have your imagination fired up, check out my article on 40 examples of drawing inspiration from around the world — including this spot!

Bunratty Castle and cannon
Daddy, can we take a cannon home?

Enjoy this article and still planning your trip? Click this affiliate link for an easy shortcut to Ireland hotel deals, and deals on Ireland rental cars, as it will give a small commission to help support this site at no cost to you. Happy travels!

We were assisted by Tourism Ireland on our trip, but all opinions and cannon babies are my own.


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Stylish Travel Clothes- No Longer an Oxymoron - Casual Travelist

Tuesday 21st of July 2015

[…] our Ireland trip, I ended up wearing my Leota dress for twelve to sixteen hours: hiking cliffs, exploring castles, sitting for long car rides, being thrown up on by the baby, going to fancy dinners, and so on.This […]

Mary @ Green Global Travel

Sunday 1st of March 2015

Thanks for sharing your secret for getting over jet lag when flying into Shannon Airport - Bunratty Castle looks much more interesting then taking a nap.

Rahman @ Iran Travle Blog

Friday 27th of February 2015

Ireland seems to be full of history and culture. I liked the fisherman's cottage very much. What's the roof made of? Reeds? Does it resist against rain? I'm sure it does no matter what it's made of, but the blue color is nice too. Oh, I liked those photos I must admit.


Sunday 1st of March 2015

Thanks! I believe the roof is thatch.

Milena Yordanova

Friday 27th of February 2015

Lovely photos and the Bunratty Castle looks so interesting! Ireland is a great place for a trip. :)


Tuesday 24th of February 2015

I love Ireland. Last year we spent 6 weeks there and I still have so much to see! Including Bunratty Castle. We never made it there. Another reason to go back!

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