Walking down the busy streets of Dublin, it is sometimes easy to forget that Dublin is a coastal town: its pub culture and recent fame for being the European ‘silicon valley’ conjures up the misleading image of a highly urbanised space, far from the misty and scenic landscapes of the west of the country. The city has, however, a lovely coast and there are many places near Dublin where it is possible to get a taste of the rugged Irish landscape without even having to hire a car. One of such places is the scenic peninsula and charming fishing village of Howth, one of the best places to visit near Dublin for a day trip.
Howth is one of the best day trips from Dublin with kids (and also without!) and one of the best places to visit around Dublin if you want a taste of the beautiful Irish coast without heading over to the West of the country
Day trip from Dublin to Howth with kids: history and info
Howth is a small peninsula just on the North of Dublin city, stretching out into the Irish sea. Its postal address is ‘County Dublin’ making it technically a separate entity but it very much a part of the city and a highly sought after one.
Here, fishing vessels and sailboats sit side by side in the gorgeous marina and smaller older houses share the space with elegant mansions, perched on the Howth promontory as if contemplating the bay.
Howth is a promontory, so part of it is at sea level, while part climbs up to what it is normally referred to as ‘Howth summit’, reachable by car and marked by a popular pub (aptly named ‘the summit’).
Originally a Norse town established by the Vikings in 819, Howth was taken first by the Irish King Brian Boru in 1014 and then by invading anglo Normans in 1177 during a violent battle which produced so much blood that one of Howth’s mains waterways became known as the bloody stream (today there is a restaurant of that name below the DART station where you can enjoy scrumptious fish and chips).
In later years, Howth was the port where the mail boats would dock bringing Ireland its letters and parcels and in the early 20th Century was the landing point of a famous shipment of arms for use by the Irish rebels against the British in 1916.
Howth was the setting of Leopold Bloom’s proposal to Molly in Ulysses and a later Joycean character was the personification of Howth Head. Finally, Howth is the home of some Irish celebrities including U2 drummer Larry Mullen.
How to get to Howth from Dublin.
Train: by far the easiest way to reach Howth is by the train that goes by the name DART, the urban train that follows the curve of Dublin bay.
From the city centre, the two handiest stations are Tara Street and Pearse street: from there, the journey takes approximately 30 minutes (because of the many stops) and outside rush hour is pleasant and efficient.
Tickets can be bought at the station: kids under 4 go free and it is possible to bring strollers on boards. Important to know: the DART is an urban, short distance train (not dissimilar from a metro, although not underground) so do not expect facilities or food on board. The DART arrives right into Howth village, so once there you have no need for additional transport.
BUS: from Talbot Street, in town, bus n 31a arrives in Howth. If you are in the north side of Dublin or have no easy access to the DART this can be a good option but I would be mindful of traffic as the road leading to the Howth peninsula gets easily jammed.
CAR: Howth can be reached by car and pay and display parking is available. Like the bus, the biggest drawback about driving to Howth is the high chance of getting stuck in traffic, with the added annoyance of the possible difficulty of finding parking: at busy times such as weekend and very sunny days finding a space can be a real challenge.
BOAT: In the summer many cruises are available connecting several areas of Dublin with Howth. This is a fun activity, you can read about our experience on a Dubin bay cruise here
[box] HOWTH FOR FAMILIES AT A GLANCE:
- Is Howth suitable as a day trip from Dublin with a baby or young children? Yes, it is perfect for children of all ages including babies due to the easy transport options and services
- Can I get to Howth if I do not drive? Yes, there is a great train service making Howth accessible even without a car
- Is it easy to get around Howth with a stroller? Yes, Howth is a family friendly village with large pavements, grassy areas and children spaces. The only part not accessible is the area of the cliff walk, easily avoided
- How long do I need to visit Howth? On a sunny day, I would recommend spending a full day in Howth, arriving at about lunchtime. In the summertime, Ireland has very long days and you can stay in Howth in full daylight until well over past dinner time, Howth is also a great area to stay if you like proximity to the sea. You can find several hotels here (the link will redirect you to Dublin county hotels on booking.com)
What to do in Howth with kids
Howth is a one of the favourite family day trips from Dublin because of how child-friendly it is. The DART leaves you right in the centre of the village and from here you are several options
Take a stroll on the pier and spot seals
Take a stroll on the pier on your left, where most of the fishing boats are and try spot the seals.
Friendly, well-fed seals often bob in and out of water in this part of the harbour hoping for leftover fish from the boats. Usually you can spot two or three of them, some minding their own business and some so used to people that they have learnt to clap if you throw them fish (it’s not a show and they haven’t been trained or anything – they have just figured out that people react to the clapping throwing fresh fish from the market!).
Tip for families with kids: be very careful when you try to spot the seals. The pier is high above sea level and there in no fence, so kids must be either strapped into their buggy / retainer of held by the hand.
The walk on the pier is not only worth for the seals but also for the colourful fishing boats and for the view from its furthest point. Just in front of Howth you will find ‘Ireland eye’ a small island with a bird sanctuary and the end of the pier is a good vantage point: climb up the pier steps for the best view.
Feast on fish and seafood in Howth restaurants
Along the pier is also where most Howth restaurants are.
They all specialise in fresh fish and seafood brought in daily and in our many years in Howth we still have to find a bad one: all we tried has always been delicious!
With kids, restaurants in Howth we tend to go back to are The Bloody stream (under the DART station), which has a lively pub style atmosphere and a sunny terrace, the Brass Monkey, just on the pier and Crabby Joe, which also has a kids menu (with fish but also pasta and meat), highchairs and colouring pens.
Go to Howth beach
Just beside the DART station there is a fantastic sandy, wide beach. The water here is always cold (locals do swim, often with a wetsuit, but if you are not used to this temperature it is better avoided!) but playing in the sand is fun and the view is beautiful. Howth has shops and a nice market so if you are in the mood for a picnic, Howth beach is a great option.
Discover Howth lighthouse
My favourite bit of Howth and its most iconic landmark is its lighthouse. Standing tall at the end of the pier (on the other side of the port from the seals) the walk to the lighthouse is pleasant and easy even with you children and strollers.
Walking towards it, you have on your right the open sea, with the dark green Howth promontory, with its dark algae and rocks battered by relentless waves, while on your left the quiet sheltered waters of the marina.
On a sunny day, you will find the local teenagers daring each other to high jumps in the water and many fishermen climbing down the rocky side of the pier hoping for the fresh catch.
Let the kids loose in Howth playground
Howth seafront is dotted with ice cream parlours and restaurants and the area between these and the water is a large grassy patch where people lie in the sun. There there is a small, enclosed playground with a decent selection of toys for kids.
Drive up tp the summit
On a day out in Howth it is easy to simply linger near the seafront (this is what we normally do), but it worth taking a stroll in the rest of the village and, if you have a car, the drive up to the summit. The drive will give out great views over Dublin bay and the sea shimmering in the sun is truly a sight to behold.
More things to do in Howth
With two small children, we always seem to spend out time in Howth in and around the marina, gorging on steamed mussels, but Howth has a lot more to offer if you are not tied to strollers or reluctant walkers. Here are just some ideas, with links to the relevant tourist information:
Please note: we have not tried these following activities and have no relations with them. I am including them only as reference – please refer to specific websites for information and suitability for families with kids.
- Howth cliff walk and Howth loops: a series of beautiful walk in and around the peninsula ranging from 1 to 4 hours in length
- www.howthhorsetrekking.com horse trekking and carriage ride