Get the most out of mid-term break: Ideas for the whole family
With the days drawing shorter and the mercury dropping, ever get the feeling that the freewheeling summer holidays were ages ago?
Good news, then: respite from the daily grind is right around the corner. Mid-term breaks mean that the whole family has been freed from nine-to-five, so it helps to have a fun few ideas to hand.
If your kids are glued to their iPads or phones, they might find it hard to fathom that youngsters from days of yore played conkers for kicks (though, who knows, there may be an app for that). Yet in the grounds of Kilkenny Castle, conker enthusiasts from all over the country will convene for the Irish Conker Championships (October 30). Teaming up with this year's Savour Kilkenny Food Festival (October 28-31), the competition will no doubt be fierce as experts battle it out for the King And Queen of Conkers titles.
Job done on the old-school sparring front, head over to the Savour Kilkenny Food Market, where some of Ireland's top chefs - among them Rosanna Davison, Darina Allen and Domini Kemp - will be demonstrating their own kitchen flair. And for pint-sized gourmands, there is a film-making workshop, Junior MasterChef and Guido Fanzini's Impossible Circus. See www.savourkilkenny.com for more details.
Anyone with an artistic bent will find much to love at the RoolaBoola Children's Arts Festival (October 28-31) in Castlebar, Co Mayo. The programme is a lucky bag packed with all-ages delights. Chief among the highlights is the Monkeyshine theatre production of Voyage, and a children's art workshop with leading artist Mary Noonan. Add in free family readings, a live nursery rhyme show and traditional Irish singalongs, and RoolaBoola is the place to be for pint-sized bookworms. All events will take place at the Linenhall Arts Centre: see www.thelinenhall.com for details.
Over in Offaly meanwhile, active imaginations (aged 3-12) can be fuelled and immersed in all kinds of creativity and culture at the Hullobaloo Offaly Children's Arts Festival, which takes place across Birr, Edenderry and Clara (November 2-5). Running the gamut from beat boxing and puppet making to zombie dancing and origami, there's genuinely something for everyone at this jam-packed weekender.
Budding musicians can also try their hand at playing in a real orchestra, while the rest of the programme is teeming with arts, crafts, dance, storytelling and spooky goings-on galore. See www.hullabaloofestival.ie for the low-down.
The garden of Ireland is the best place to for the whole family really embrace the great outdoors, and the Wicklow Walking Festival (October 28-31) is the time to do it. The festival is based in the Brockagh Resource Centre; an ideal spot to take in the beauty of Laragh and Glendalough.
Locals and visitors alike convene - regardless of fitness levels - for four days of rambling around the windswept wilds of Wicklow. Among the event highlights are a trek into Ballard Forest, and a walk in the gorgeous valley of Glendalough, which includes a visit to a ruined 6th century monastic settlement and a bracing picnic on the Spinc. Find out more from www.walkinghikingireland.com.
And, if you plan on staying in Wicklow, the National Sealife Centre at Bray has some amazing sea creatures from the world's oceans; seahorses, piranhas and even and tropical shark lagoon. See www.sealife.ie for information.
Meath is as fitting a backdrop for Halloween mid-term break as any: it's the original home of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which some people regard as the original Halloween celebration.
The Spirits of Meath festival (until November 6) offers a bewildering array of events all over the county: from cooking up fun freaky food at the Fairyhouse Cookery School to Pooka Spooka at Causey Farm (complete with broomstick rides, magic shows, pumpkin-carving and a hay ride to a haunted house) it's safe to say that there won't be a dull moment all week. See www.spiritsofmeath.com.
Just because school's out doesn't mean that the learning can't continue. And capital dwellers are spoiled for choice with workshops and camps of every stripe taking place across the city.
Take in a visit to an age-old favourite: Dublin Zoo in the Phoenix Park (www.dublinzoo.com). On November 3, the autumn work shop has a spooky Halloween theme (kids aged 6-12), while older kids (13-16) can enjoy an interactive programme on November 4.
Elsewhere, Clontarf, Castleknock and Dundrum are the locations of Artzone's Halloween camps, where kids (in groups aged 5-7 and 8-12) can summon the muse in special workshops packed with fun, arts, crafts and games. See www.artzone.ie for more information.
More active youngsters will find much to like at the Hoop Skool Basketball Camp in Booterstown (October 31-November 4), where guest coaches from Networks Basketball North Caroline will be putting kids and teens (8-12, or 13-18) through their paces. More information is available on hoopskool.ie.
Or, if your family have designs on the silver screen, the Screams To Screen Halloween Camp at the Gaiety School Of Acting in Temple Bar (November 1-4) offers up an intensive course in film-making, from writing to special effects make-up. See www.gaietyschool.com for the lowdown.
Are you craving sun instead? Budget Travel is running a number of mid-term family specials from €799 for a week (including flights and accommodation).
From the three-star Taibana Centre in Lanzarote (from €799 for two adults and one child) to the three-star Fuengerola Beach Resort on the Costa del Sol (from €807 for two adults and two children), now might be the time to get a great deal on a last-minute break. See www.budgettravel.ie for more information.
Elsewhere, Sun Search Holidays is running a number of mid-term break holidays: among them the Mirachoro self-catering apartments in Praia Da Rocha (Nov 2, 7 nights ex-Dublin, 2 adults and 2 children from €170pp), or the Hotels Bay All-Inclusive (Oct 30, 3 nights, ex-Shannon, 2 adults and 1 child from €150pp). Log onto www.sunsearchholidays.com for more info, but be warned, these deals aren't like to stick around for long.
*All prices subject to availability/change.
Of course, a theme park getaway might be the perfect way to get one's seasonal kicks, and Europe has no shortage of great spots. Over at Paultons Park in New Forest, Hampshire, Peppa Pig world is nestled within the larger theme park. If your little ones are fans of this televisual behemoth, this offers them the chance to get up close and personal with both Peppa and George. And for older kids, high-octane rides Magma and The Edge are well worth the queues. Flights to Southampton can be booked via flybe.ie. Tickets, which should be booked in advance, start from £25.75 (€28.80) per adult/child over one-metre tall, to £123.75 (€138.60) for a family of five. See www.paultonspark.co.uk
Craving some action a little further afield? Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen is reportedly where Walt Disney got the inspiration to create his own theme park. Now over 100 years old, Tivoli Gardens is worth visiting for the archaic roller coasters alone. Rides aside, the famous venue also serves as a charming classical music/cultural space: be sure to see what's going on at the Pantomime Theatre, and catch the Tivoli Boys' Guard ensemble. Aer Lingus fly direct to Copenhagen. Children under 8 are free, while tickets for everyone else are DKK 110 (€14.70) or 120 (€16.10) on weekends. Their website, www.tivoli.dk, has the lowdown.
If mixing sun, sea and white-knuckle rides is more your speed, PortAventura in Salou, Spain is a long time favourite with Irish families. And thanks to the new SesamoAventura area for very small children, the park now has something for everyone. The 'big kids' rides - among them the infamous Furius Baco and the white-knuckle Shambhala - are truly world-class. Ryanair fly to Barcelona El Prat: Day passes to the park are €45 for adults, €39 for children (be sure to buy in advance from the website). See www.portaventura.co.uk for details.