Saturday 20 July 2019

The best free activities to keep your kids busy all summer long

As the schools prepare to unleash the little ones for the holidays, Sinead Ryan says there's plenty of fun to be had for nothing

Fun in the sun: Twins Mia and Isabelle Kenny from Skerries during the Laya Healthcare City
Spectacular last year, which runs again this July. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Fun in the sun: Twins Mia and Isabelle Kenny from Skerries during the Laya Healthcare City Spectacular last year, which runs again this July. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

While the kids are looking forward to eight long weeks of summer, their parents may be dreading the 10 long weeks of summer. It's supposed to be about sun, fun and freedom, but all too often it's stress, expense and worry. This week I'm looking at ways to keep costs down if you're going away on holiday and also lots of completely free - and fun - family activities right here at home.

Don't keep money conversations from kids - they can and should be told that it doesn't grow on trees, but climbing trees is free! Get them to be imaginative and creative about filling days out of school - putting a picnic and the dog in the car is a great day out.

For older kids, it's a super time to get a job, internship or even volunteer at something they enjoy - a local dog walker/grooming parlour, hairdresser or getting a group of friends together to wash cars or cut lawns.

Staying put

The Laya summer festivals are in Dublin's Merrion Square from July 6-8 and Cork's Fitzgerald Park from July 14-15 with free games, street performances and kids' activities. Dublin also plays host to a science, tech and art festival from July 19-22 ( in 14 different venues.

National Museums of Ireland have lots of children's events during July and August, which are all free but may need to be booked, including How to Catch Your Dinner and the Megalithic Big Draw. See for details.

Galway's SeaFest runs from June 29-July 1 with free kayaking and tall-ships flotilla. The city also hosts the International Arts Festival from July 16-29 - expect lots of street performance art.

Belfast's Gruffalo Trail is a big hit with small people who have read the iconic book. You'll meet giant-sized characters along the way and it's completely free. Bring a picnic and blanket (

Many OPW sites are free on Wednesdays, including Adare Castle, Castletown House and Emo Court. (

See, and for more.

Going away

Family holidays can be ferociously expensive, but laying down a few ground rules can make life easier, and cheaper, for mum and dad.

  • Set a daily budget for kids. Agree what you are prepared to pay for and what they should be buying (even if they're using your money!). They can spend, say, €10 on whatever they like, but no handouts if it's all gone by lunchtime. After that it's "no" to ice-creams, tat, junk etc. They'll have it sussed by day three.
  • Self catering is brilliant but only if you save on eating out. Consider lunches out instead of dinner, the 'menu del dia' is often cheaper and evenings can be spent poolside with a pizza or pasta you've made yourself.
  • Drink local wines and minerals. A carafe of house vino will be a fraction of the Australian Merlot you normally opt for.
  • Consider a home swap holiday. Sites like mean accommodation is free, at the cost of a clean up of yours. It's tremendously popular and fans re-book every year.
  • Take enough basic provisions to cover everyday needs, so that you don't have to buy expensive branded stuff locally. Salt, pepper, tea bags, washing powder, dishwasher tablets and bin bags hardly take up any room, but you'll be wasting money buying abroad.
  • If hiring a car, save on tolls in France particularly by driving the 'scenic' route instead and packing food for 'stretch' snacks.
  • Avoid resort-run excursions with high commissions and plan your own.

Irish Independent

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