Taking a break: 14 family-friendly getaways at home and abroad
Summer's here and the living is easy, especially if the kids are happy and content on one of these family-friendly getaways, writes Arlene Harris
Holidays, as every parent knows, can be a wonderful excuse to get together as a family and enjoy some time off from the usual routine.
But they can also be fraught with stress as boredom causes even the most angelic of children to act up and rock the otherwise harmonious atmosphere.
While lavishing the kids with gifts to keep them occupied or ensuring they have wall-to-wall entertainment isn't practical or advisable, however, a few days away from the norm is always a good idea, providing the destination is suitable for both parents and children.
There is no denying that our country is both beautiful and diverse and there is nothing easier than packing up the car with all the essentials and heading to the coast, countryside or even the city to do a bit of sightseeing.
And for those who want to head a little further afield, there are plenty of great family holiday ideas just a short ferry or flight away.
So, we have put together a few ideas to help you get the most out of the summer with destinations designed to keep all the family happy.
• Dream Ireland has 5,000 properties on its database including cottages overlooking the sea in Clare, holiday homes in Cork and Kerry, rural idylls in Connaught, and slick apartments in Dublin city centre. And just opened in time for the summer season is the Boardwalk Resort in Donegal which is comprised of modern, luxurious houses set amongst the wilds of the beautiful northernmost coastline.
With playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, an on-site bistro and the 1,100m boardwalk to the stunning beach, this 27 property resort is the perfect place to escape the stresses and strains of everyday life. Other options nationwide include renting a property attached to a hotel so you have all the comforts of home along with amenities such as a swimming pool, restaurant and bar. Prices vary depending on location and date, but there is so much to choose from that there is bound to be something to suit every taste and budget.
• Sticking with home, a hidden gem in the wilds of Sligo is the perfect escape from reality. Ardagh Suites is a row of beautifully restored cottages which many years ago housed farm animals. The thick walls, beamed ceilings and authentic half-doors offer a traditional twist to these gorgeous houses which sleep two to seven people. There is so much to do in the area with beaches for swimming, rivers for kayaking, woodland to explore and the nearby Lough Key Forest Park with treetop adventures, segway tours, children's play areas, the indoor Boda Borg puzzle adventure and lots of space to walk, play, cycle, have a picnic or just laze about for an afternoon. Wildlife enthusiasts will also be enthralled by Eagles Flying, the bird and animal sanctuary where birds of prey live happily alongside creatures of the four-legged variety.
• Westport has long been known for its wide choice of restaurants and bars and of course the scenery is pretty special too. But there are also a whole host of things to do with children and Westport House and Gardens is the place to be. A tour of the stately home is a must with dozens of rooms and dungeons up for exploration. Outside there are gardens to discover and some fantastic rides for children including the Cannonball Run, the Pirates Plunge log flume and a little train which takes visitors on a jaunt around the town - while older children will love a spot of zip-lining and zorbing. A boat trip around Killary Fjord is also a must when visiting the area and young captains may receive a certificate to prove their sea-worthiness. There are plenty of places to stay in and around the town but the Harbour Mill apartments on the Quayside are in a great location and offer everything needed for a family break.
See: theharbourmill.com; westporthouse.ie and killaryfjord.com
• Sticking with packing up the car and heading for the hills (or more precisely the ferry), the UK is always popular and not too far. Forest Holidays have locations all over the country and offer all-weather facilities and activities ensuring that no matter what the forecast; the family will all be having a great holiday. So after a morning filled with climbing, archery and even zip-wiring, followed by an afternoon tramping through the woods, spotting wildlife and generally tiring out tiny legs, Mum and Dad can enjoy either a spot of fishing, a pampering massage or simply a wind down in their private outdoor hot tub.
• If budget allows and children are old enough to travel, a self-catering holiday abroad can tick all the boxes. Italy experts, Tuscany Now and More offers a huge array of properties all over the country ranging from one to two bedroom villas to palatial mansions where you can bring all your extended family. And with options in so many locations from the refreshing coastline and the sun-drenched mountains to sleepy villages and bustling cities, there will be something to suit everyone.
• And for parents who don't want to see a kitchen sink or cooking utensil for the duration of their holidays, an all-inclusive package is just the ticket. The Barceló hotel group has a selection of properties all over Europe which cater for families in search of sunshine and relaxation. Many have on-site kids clubs, a selection of pools, gardens, play areas and daily activities as well a peaceful spa where parents can have a little down time while their children are otherwise occupied. And the all-inclusive deals means that the little darlings can have as many ice-creams as they want (or their tummies can handle) without breaking the bank.
• Everyone loves a theme park and if your family is made up of differing ages, staying on site may be a great holiday idea. There are many options around Europe including De Efteling in the Netherlands, which is the oldest theme park in the world and is full of magical charm with attractions to suit all ages.
PortAventura in Spain is also a great bet with plenty of hair-raising rides, a waterpark and a large park designed for toddlers with age-appropriate attractions. Both parks are within an hour of two major airports (Amsterdam and Eindhoven for De Efteling and Barcelona or Reus for PortAventura) and have a wide selection of accommodation types from family rooms in hotels to self-catering cottages.
See: portaventuraworld.com and efteling.com
Having a great summer doesn't have to mean going on holidays as the country is jam packed with fantastic places for fun and interesting days out - so planning an outing or several can be just as exciting for children and there are so many to choose from - including:
• Castlecomer Discovery Park, Kilkenny
This diverse park is set in 80 acres of woodland and not only offers a myriad of interesting walks, cycle paths and running routes for all the family, but also has a series of action-packed adventure activities including Irelands' longest over water zip-line. This exhilarating ride is open to anyone over the age of seven and there are also two tree-top challenges (of varying difficulty), a climbing wall and a Leap of Faith. All of these activities include supervision and safety equipment.
And not leaving the younger family members out, this park also has a wonderful hand-crafted woodland play area, a petting farm, an on-site interactive mining museum, a visitor centre complete with a café serving a delicious array of healthy foods and a host of craft shops.
In fact, there is so much to see and do; there is little chance of anyone ever becoming bored.
• SlÍ na SlÁinte - nationwide
Children always need to stretch their legs and all over the country there are walks designed to get all the family out and about. Slí na Sláinte means 'path to health' and is a series of walking routes developed by the Irish Heart Foundation and marked by colourful signposts to encourage people to walk more. From riverside ambles to coastal rambles, there is something to suit every age and fitness level. And many of the walks include interesting landmarks including the Metal Man in Tramore, Waterford or the Children of Lir sculpture at Carrowteige in Mayo.
• Airfield Estate, Dundrum, Dublin 14
Set up in 1974, this 38-acre working farm is the perfect place to give city children a glimpse of rural life. A haven for wildlife and plants, children and adults alike will enjoy the tranquillity and lush surroundings of the woodlands, the ancient hedgerow and the wild pond. And of course, all the space means plenty of room to stretch little legs and work off some steam. There are also hands-on exhibits and older children might enjoy seeing the trio of vintage cars - all-in-all a great day out.
• Lough Avalla Farm Loop
This wonderful walk in Clare makes for a fantastic family day out. Walkers can do as much or as little of the loop as they desire and there are many different types of landscapes along the way that it feels like you have covered several counties in one day. Situated in the heart of the Burren region, it passes through an old Celtic farm, a stone cairn and various other curiosities including a holy well where visitors can take a drink with the cups helpfully left hanging on a nearby tree. There are goats, cows, chickens and various other animals to be seen along the way and best of all is the tea room where walkers are rewarded with a cup of tea and some homemade cake at the end.
• Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, Co Galway
Anyone with toddlers will know that despite the best will in the world, little feet can't walk too far. But parents still want to get out and about, so what could be better than a gentle amble suited for mini-hikers?
A 3km trail at Lower Diamond Hill is just the right length for smallies and even better, the trail is buggy-friendly so whenever the going gets too tough, they can hop on board allowing the grown-ups to move a little faster.
Also, there is the great incentive of a playground and some Connemara ponies to view once they have completed their mammoth feat.
• Tanagh Outdoor Education and Training Centre, Monaghan
If you have children brimming with adventure and energy, take them to this activity centre where they can try their hands at any number of pursuits from kayaking, rock climbing, raft building, and much more. And then, why not take a trip to the Cavan Water Mill, a 30-minute drive away, which dates from the 1840s and includes a restored mill and museum.
See: tanaghoutdooreducation.com and cavanwatermill.ie