Wednesday 7 December 2016

Ireland's 30 best family days out

#BestIrishSummer

Fran Power

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

Surf's up in Donegal
Surf's up in Donegal
Walk through history with Tayto Park's Dinosaurs Alive exhibition
Getting Lost in Greenan maze, Ballinanty, Co Wicklow
Dolphin spotting in Kerry
Swing from the trees at Loughcrew Gardens, Oldcastle, Co Meath
Why not go butterfly spotting in Kildare?
Kooky Cooks, Pink Ginger, 4 Serpentine Road, Sandymount, Dublin 4
Scarlet Maccaws at Foto Wildlife Park
The Dead Zoo - Dublin's Natural History Museum
An exhibit at Titanic Belfast
A cub takes a stroll at Dublin Zoo
outdoors
Sheep farm
Ice cream at the beach
Zorbing
Kilruddery House

From surfing in Donegal to sheep shearing in Connemara, quality time together has never been so much fun. Here are 30 of our ultimate family days out!

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1. Visit a butterfly farm

Our beautiful fluttering friends are on display at this teeny zoo (with real snakes and spiders). View a 15-minute movie about the butterfly life cycle, then visit the tropical house to see it all in action - from a pupae hotel to the emergence of the winged wonders.

Where: The Straffan Butterfly Farm, Ovidstown, Straffan, Co. Kildare, (01) 627-1109; straffanbutterflyfarm.com

When: Open daily to August 31

Price: Adult, €8, child, €5, family ticket, €25 for five

Parking: Free

Food: Cafe, souvenir and ice cream shop, lovely garden picnic area too

Good for 7+

2. Tube the Inny river

Run the rapids (all seven of 'em) in an inflated ring as you bump and bob down the river Inny in Longford. Like the bumper cars but with water.

Where: Outdoor Discovery Centre, Ballymahon, Co. Longford, (090) 640-0111, 087 272 1245; outdoordiscovery.ie

Price: 2.5 hours for €30-€35, min group size 12 people (off-peak smaller numbers possible), includes equipment and drop-off and pick-up

Parking: Free

Food: Skelly's Bar and Restaurant, Ballymahon; Skellysbar.ie

Good for: Age 8+

3 Forage for lunch

Join a foraging workshop run by green gurus Mary and Robert White and learn what you can (and can't) eat in the wild. Kids will love pond-dipping, finding animal tracks or whizzing up juices from windfall apples (while you can brew up some beech leaf liqueur).

Where: The Old Rectory, Killedmond, Borris, Co. Carlow, (059) 977-3184 or 087 270 7189; blackstairsecotrails.ie

Price: Over-12s, €12, under-12s, free

When: Selected Saturdays and Sundays in summer

Food: Depending on the workshop, you'll either make your own or be served a three-course organic delight.

4. Take baby steps in Connemara

Little feet can't walk too far, so a potter along the buggy-friendly 3km-trail of Lower Diamond Hill gives parents and toddlers just the right length of mini-hike. And then there are the playground and Connemara ponies…

Where: Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, Co. Galway, (095) 41054; connemaranationalpark.ie

Price: Entry free

Parking: Yes, free

When: The park is open year-round; Visitor Centre open March to November

Food: Tea rooms by the Visitor Centre serve a fine cuppa and homemade soup and bread

5. Board a pirate boat

Make like Jack Sparrow and keelhaul some landlubbers to raise the Jolly Roger aboard the Brian Ború, a 56-foot restored ketch that voyages around Waterford Estuary and up the River Suir to Little Island.

Where: Waterford Quay, Waterford, 089 209 8563; traditionalsailexperience.com

Price: Adult, €20, child, €10 for one-hour trip

Food: Coffee, tea and snacks available, but bring your own picnic

Parking: Street parking

Good for: Toddlers up

6. Test your nerve

Zip and zorb, climb and crawl through a gruelling adventure playground at Loughcrew - pit yourself against a forest crystal maze, all spiderwebs and stepping stones, scale the crannóg or climb the killer wall. You choose.

Where: Loughcrew Gardens, Oldcastle, Co. Meath, (049) 854-1356; loughcrew.com

Price: Half day, adult, €32, child, €29 (includes six activities) or entrance to garden, €6

When: Open year-round

Parking: Free

Food: Cafe on site

Essentials: Bring a spare set of clothes and a towel, it's messy

Good for: Zipline, 6+

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Butterflies flutter by at Straffan

7. Go wild at Fota Wildlife Park

More than 200 cheetahs have been born at Fota since 1985 and their feeding time is a highlight of a visit here. But there are also penguins, gibbons and wallabies waiting to meet you.

Where: Fota Wildlife Park, Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork, (021) 481-2678; fotawildlife.ie

Price: Adult, €15.50, child, €9.50, under-3s free, family ticket for four, €45.50

When: Open daily

Parking: Car park, €3

Food: Savannah Cafe for sandwiches and snacks or Oasis Cafe for burgers, chips, etc, and a picnic area for BYO

Good for: 0+

8. Go underground

Hard to believe that the northern hemisphere's Great Stalactite, 7.3 metres long, was formed from one drop of water. See for yourself at Doolin Caves in the Burren, then head up and out to see what grows (and lives) above ground with a visit to the animals on the farmland nature trail.

Where: Craggycorradan East, Doolin, Co. Clare, (065) 707-5761; doolincave.ie

Price: Adult, €15, child, €8, family ticket, €50 (2 adults + 3 children), book online for 20pc discount; booking recommended

Parking: Free

Food: The Garden Cafe

Good for: All ages, though steps challenging for very young (or unfit)

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Zorbing: Action stations!

9. Visit the Dead Zoo

Creepy crawlies, an enormous whale skeleton, and a chance to pet a bear or inspect some moon rock. And kids just love the old-style stuffed animals at the Natural History Museum.

Where: The Natural History Museum, Merrion Street, Dublin 2, (01) 677-7444; museum.ie

Price: Free family tours available, book online

When: Open daily, except Mondays

Parking: Street parking

Good for: All ages

10. Be a discoverer

If you've ever wondered which animal is most deadly or why a pebble sinks but a cruiser floats, then the W5 is for your inner child. Science, engineering and exploration made fun.

Where: The Odyssey, 2 Queens Quay, Belfast, (048) 904-677-00; w5online.co.uk

Price: Adult, €11.97, child, €9.15, family ticket, €35.92 (2 adults + 2 kids); under-3s free

Good for: Under-8s

11. Thrills at Tayto Park

Tayto Park is an excellent action day out with twisters, skywalks, a petting zoo and - due to open this July - the Cú Chulainn rollercoaster, the largest wooden ride of its kind in Europe. Gulp.

Where: Ashbourne, Co. Meath, (01) 835-1999, taytopark.ie

When: Open daily, April-September; check website for other openings

Price: Adult/child, €14, under-3s free

Parking: Free

Food: Pizza, burger, Asian, and a tea house in a tree house

Good for: All ages, though height restrictions apply on some rides

12. Be a sheep farmer

See a sheep dog in action as he gathers the blackhead horny flock from the mountain farm, feed the lambs and maybe even do a little shearing, all in one of the most stunning spots in the country - Killary Fjord.

Where: Killary Sheep Farm, Bunowen, Leenane, Connemara, 087 298 8051; killarysheepfarm.com

Price: €10 each, family ticket, €25 (2 adult + 2 children)

Parking: Free

When: Open April 1 to October 31

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Dublin's Dead Zoo

13. Enjoy a Midsummer's dream

This old country estate is heaven for kids (and parents) with a brilliant series of events, including Fairy Tale Day (July 26), full of dress-up and games; Classical Kids (June 28) and Summer Fling (August 30). Plus animals and a farmer's market.

Where: Killruddery House & Gardens, Southern Cross, Bray, Co. Wicklow, (01) 286-3405; ­killruddery.com

When: Open daily, May to September; weekends, year-round

Price: Adult, €6.50, under-12s, €2, under-4s free

Food: Tea rooms on the estate

Parking: Free

Good for: Any age, but toddlers upwards will love it

14. Bucket and Spade it

The harbour in Sandycove has a sandy shore and shallow waters that kids love to paddle in, and afterwards there's Teddy's Ice Cream for a nostalgic 99, or posh newcomer Scrumdiddly's in Dún Laoghaire.

Where: Sandycove, Co. Dublin

Bring: Flask of tea, sandwiches, anorak and wind-breaker

Parking: Street parking can be jammers in summer but easy to get to by DART or bus

Sightsee: James Joyce Tower, the Martello Tower that figures in Ulysses, is a few minutes' stroll

Good for: Any age

15. Shiver and shake

The country's most haunted house is Loftus Hall in Co. Wexford, a gaunt, severe-looking mansion and said to be haunted by the devil himself. Tours are run by a "devil's apprentice" and full of scary stories.

Where: Loftus Hall, Hook Head, New Ross, Co. Wexford, (051) 397728; loftushall.ie

When: Open June 27 to September 6

Parking: Free

Price: Adult, €10, child (4-11), €5, under-3s, free, family ticket, €25 (2 adults + 2 children)

Good for: 8+

16. Sail into the past

From the vast bulk of the exterior and the huge slipway where the Titanic first launched, to underwater wreckage, the Titanic Belfast is a knockout history tour. Take a tour of the area with ­titanicwalk.com.

Where: Titanic Belfast, 1 Olympic Way, Queen's Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast, (048) 9076-6386; titanicbelfast.com

Price: Adult, £14.72, child, £6.89, family ticket, £37.05 (2 adults + 2 children); under-6s free

Parking: Car park

Good for: 8+

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Titanic Belfast

17. Cook up a storm

Whet your kids' appetites with a cooking session where they'll learn to wield the wooden spoon alongside you, plus goodies to take away.

Where: Kooky Cooks, Pink Ginger, 4 Serpentine Road, Sandymount, Dublin 4, 087 986 4964; pinkginger.ie

Open: Year-round

Price: Adult and kids, €50 each, includes ingredients

Good for: Ages 4-8

18. High points at Hook Head

Climb the lighthouse's 115 steps for a view of the coastline to Cork on a good day. Afterwards, walk along the headland and see if you can spot fossils in the limestone rocks on the Head.

Where: Hook Lighthouse, Hook Head, Co. Wexford, (051) 397 055; hookheritage.ie

When: Open year-round, tours every half hour in summer

Price: Adult, €6, child, €3.50, under-5s, free, family ticket, €15 (2 adults + 2 children)

Food: Cafe on site

19. Take a boat trip

Forget the Cliffs of Moher, the sheerest drop in Europe is at Sliabh League in Donegal. Take a boat trip (and you may be joined by dolphins, whales and seals) and swim at the foot of these beauties.

Where: Slieve Liag Boat Tour, Nuala Star, Teelin Harbour, Donegal, 087 628 4688; sliabhleagueboattrips.com

Price: €20-€25 depending on numbers (call for family rate)

Parking: Free on pier

Food: BYO

Good for: Swimmers and nature lovers, any age

20. Go back to nature in Tralee

The water safari might be more of a thrill for kids than the wildlife exhibition, but at Tralee Bay Wetlands there is plenty to keep them happy. Play king of the castle in the viewing tower, sit in a bird hide or rent out a pedalo and afterwards head to the nearby Aquadome (aquadome.ie) for a splash.

Where: Tralee Bay Wetlands tour, Ballyard Road, Tralee, Co. Kerry, (066) 712-6700; traleebaywetlands.org

Price: Adult, €6, child, €5, family ticket, €20 (2 adults + 3 children)

When: Open daily, but check opening times

Food: Lakelands Cafe

Good for: Buggy riders and up

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Woolly wonders!

21. Ride the waves

Head north to Portsalon in Donegal, home of many a beautiful beach, for a surf lesson that will teach you the basics of pop-ups and balance both in and out of the water.

Where: Adventure One Surf School, 4 Pier Road, Rathmullan, Co. Donegal, 087 628 5565; adventureone.net

Price: Adult, €30, child, €25, family ticket, €70 (2 adults +1 child, extra child €20)

Parking: Free

22. What is the stars?

The Planetarium in Armagh ­(armaghplanet.com) is a good starting point for budding astronomers, but nothing beats the real thing. Take a picnic and a rug and enjoy an evening's star gazing at the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, one of only three gold-tier reserves in the world.

Where: Southwest Kerry, from Kells to Valentia Island to Castlecove, contact 083 448-9069; kerrydarksky.com for guides or more information

23. Go on dolphin watch

Where the mouth of the Shannon feeds into the Atlantic is the place a group of 200 bottlenose dolphins like to hang out. You can hear them chat via an underwater microphone in Draíocht, skipper Geoff Magee's boat - and you might even spot a whale.

Where: Dolphinwatch Booking & Information Centre, the Square, Carrigaholt, Co. Clare, (065) 905-8156; ­dolphinwatch.ie

Price: Two to three-hour trip, adult, €30, child, €15 (10pc discount for cyclists)

When: Runs April to October; booking ahead essential

Food: Snack bar on board

Good for: Toddlers upwards

Stay at: Pure Camping, purecamping.ie

24. Island hop to Inis Oírr

Rent bicycles and cycle over to the rusty hulk of the Plassey wreck, take a jitney ride, swim at An Trá, the long sandy beach where two dolphins like to visit. Lunch? It's got to be Teach an Tae, where much of the food is home-grown and the cakes are unbeatable.

Where: Ferries make the return trip several times a day from Doolin pier, Co. Clare or from Ros a' Mhíl, 23 miles west of Galway to Inis Oírr, ­aranislands.ie or ­visitaranislands.com

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Dolphin watching in Kerry

25. Saddle up, hombre

Ride out on the Wild Atlantic Way along Streedagh Strand or Mullaghmore in Sligo or, if your crew are seasoned riders, test 'em with a trek across to O'Connor's island through a sea channel where they can gallop along the strand.

Where: Island View Riding Stables, Grange, Co. Sligo, (071) 916-6156/086 195 6615; islandviewridingstables.com

Price: For one hour, adult, €25, child, €18; booking advised

Open: Daily, year-round

Essentials: Walking boots or rubber boots

Good for: 4 plus, though 6 plus is best for lessons

26. Play Total Wipeout

Fly down a 12-foot waterslide, bounce on a floating trampoline, catapult your siblings into the water - all at a floating water park in Upper Lough Macnean. What larks.

Where: Corralea Activity Centre, Belcoo, Co. ­Fermanagh, (048) 66 386 123; activityireland.com

Price: Adult, £25, family ticket, £30 (1 adult + 1 child, 7-9); can be combined with canoeing, surfing, caving or windsurfing

When: Open summer, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday

Essentials: Swimsuit, towel, old trainers

Food: Bring a packed lunch

27. Get lost in Wicklow

Fine day? Head to Greenán maze in Co. Wicklow and challenge your inner compass with the half-acre hedge maze. Tricky. Then go walkabout with the peacock, pigs or donkeys.

Where: Greenan, Ballinanty, Co. Wicklow, (0404) 46000/086 884 5624; greenanmaze.com

When: Open daily, June to end August, April to October, weekends only

Price: €7, under-2s free

Food: Cafe with good coffee on site

Good for: All ages

28. Visit a secret island

There's a mysterious air about Garinish Island. Maybe it's because the Gulf Stream allows exotic plants to flourish there. Pack a picnic, climb to the top of the island and spread your rug while the kids play hide and seek. On the way back, the ferryman might just take you past Seal Island.

Where: Garinish Island, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork, 027 63040; garnishisland.com.

Starting point Blue Point Ferries run every 30 mins from the Blue Pool, next to Quill's Woollen Market, Glengariff

Price: Island entrance, adult, €4, child, €2, family ticket, €10. Ferry ticket, adult, €10, child, €5, under-6s free

Open: Daily, April to October, opening hours vary

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A summer treat...

29. Kayak the Camlin River

Make a splash with a 10km-loop along Longford's Camlin River and the mighty Shannon, and paddle a stretch of Cloondara Canal too. Ideal for kayak newbies.

Where: For more details, bluewaysireland.org. Start at Richmond Harbour, Co. Longford. Kayak rental, Arthur Rozel on 086 051-5898

Price: Adult, €10 per hour, delivery, €15, child (6-12 years with guardian), free

Essentials: Bring swimsuit, change of clothes, old trainers, waterproof bag and towel - there are showers at Richmond Harbour

30. Go animal crackers

It's a golden oldie, 28 hectares of reptiles, birds and mammals, 400 creatures in all, smack in the centre of Dublin's Phoenix Park. Take the Dublin Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour (hop-on-hop-off-bus.com) and avoid parking hassle.

Where: Dublin Zoo, Phoenix Park

Price: Adult, €16.80, child, €12, under-3s free, family tickets, €47 (2 adults + 2 children)

Open: Daily

Parking: Paid parking at The Lord's Walk, Chesterfield Avenue beside the zoo

Food: Meerkat Restaurant, plus cafes and kiosks

For more information on accommodation, places to eat, or family outings in Ireland, see discoverireland.ie

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