The Irish family bucket list: 25 days out for every price point!
From tree houses to adventure treks, Jillian Bolger has the ultimate guide to Ireland's best family days out...
The holidays are coming, and suddenly you have time on your hands. Here's our guide to Ireland’s very best family days out...
FREE DAYS OUT
1. Waterford Greenway
Where: Dungarvan to Waterford City.
Why: Saddle up and head out en masse along Ireland’s newest Greenway. Ideal for cycling, walking, pushing a buggy or cycling, the 46km trail follows the old railway line from Dungarvan to Waterford. Crossing three viaducts (lovely for Harry Potter fans!) there’s plenty to stop for along the way. The scenery offers up mountains, forests, sea views and the beautiful Mount Congreve gardens. Bike hire tours can be arranged with pick-up at either end.
Details: visitwaterfordgreenway.com; deisegreenway.com; access to the trail is free for walkers and cyclists, though visitors can hire bikes locally. See our Top 10 Waterford Greenway tips here.
If you like that, try this: Head to Westport and take the Great Western Greenway, the original of the species, to Mulranny and Achill (greenway.ie). Bike hire extra.
2. Museum of Country Life
Where: Turlough, Castlebar, Co Mayo.
Why: Urban or rural children will equally enjoy this spacious modern museum that explores Ireland’s traditional ways of life. From farming, fishing and hunting to trades, crafts and domestic life, it opens a window to a very different Ireland. An engaging collection of interactive displays, dress-up costumes, old farm machinery, woven goods and historic settings showcases lost skills, and reveals a simpler way of life to a new generation. (There’s a cool new playground, too, an essential addition to great family days out.)
Details: museum.ie/Country-Life. Open Tues-Sat from 10am-5pm and Sunday from 2-5pm; free entry.
If you like that, try this: Travel back further in time at the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, where gold, bronze and Viking treasures can be discovered.
3. Great Sugarloaf Mountain
Where: Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow.
Why: Everybody knows the Sugarloaf for its conical shape — it’s called a mountain, but at only 500m high, it’s really a hill. In terms of climbing this one is deemed as ‘easy’ — a 2.5km hike from the car park on Red Lane, taking about an hour. Towards the summit it gets much steeper, however, with some scrambling required (and definitely no buggies). The views are magnificent on a clear day, and kids love the sense of achievement in beating the adults to the top. The reward? A jumbo-sized piece of cake in nearby Avoca in Kilmacanogue.
Details: 4km west of Kilmacanogue; see visitwicklow.ie.
If you like that, try this: Howth’s famous looped cliff walk has everything a good family walk needs — mesmerising views, a sense of achievement and the promise of fish ’n’ chips or ice-cream in charming Howth village afterwards (visithowth.ie).
4. Gurteen Beach
Where: Roundstone, Connemara, Co Galway.
Why: Lying back-to-back, the sweeping bays of Gurteen and Dog’s Bay (the perfect example of a tombolo) offer two swathes of pristine, picture-perfect family-friendly beaches on the Wild Atlantic Way. Protected by the headline, the crystal clear water is ideal for paddling, swimming and even snorkelling. With the impossibly pretty village of Roundstone down the road, you’ve access to ice creams, cold drinks, a playground and a seafood supper in the legendary O’Dowd’s pub.
Details: Gurteen Bay, Roundstone, Connemara.
If you like that, try this: With long stretches of perfect sand, turquoise waters, dunes, clean toilets and a lifeguard in summer, impressive Derrynane Beach in Co Kerry is the perfect all-day beach.
5. Phoenix Park
Why: Dublin Zoo may be a top attraction but it’s not the only reason to venture into one of Europe’s largest enclosed city parks. Start at the Visitor Centre, with its cool audio-visual display and exhibition — on Sunday mornings there are free children’s workshops (age 5-12) from 10am-12.30pm, taking in art, nature awareness and heritage. Afterwards, break out to explore the adjacent Victorian Walled Garden, keep an eye out for wild deer (easier to spot than you may think), stroll past Arás an Uachtaráin and pop into Farmleigh House. There’s a super playground and café here, though it really is the perfect spot for a picnic.
Details: phoenixpark.ie; open 9.30am-6.30pm daily.
If you like that, try this: With 370 acres of parkland, a Georgian manor, walled gardens, large playground and 18th-century working farm (entrance fee), Newbridge House, near Donabate, North Dublin, is a perfect day out (newbridgehouseandfarm.com).
Days Out Under €30
6. Lough Key Forest Park
Where: Boyle, Co Roscommon.
Why: Centred around a beautiful lake, this is one of Ireland’s most imaginatively developed amenities. The self-guided Lough Key tour explores the estate’s history, taking you through 19th-century servants’ tunnels, up the Moylurg Viewing Tower and along a 300m-long Tree Canopy Walk. Grab a coffee or ice-cream from the Lakeside Café, stroll the trails, hire a bike, strap in for a Zipit Forest Adventure (zipit.ie; fees apply) or hit the lake. Should the weather falter, there’s always the challenging Boda Borg, an adventure quest house suitable for adults and children aged 7+ (min. three participants required).
Brilliant day out at @loughkeyforestp, Co. Roscommon, from @Zipitfa to old servants’ tunnels and tree canopy walk. Love how this place still feels so fresh. Every county should have one 👍 pic.twitter.com/qAggq7GLRz— Pól Ó Conghaile (@poloconghaile) June 4, 2018
Details: Family €20 for tree canopy plus playground (loughkey.ie).
If you like that, try this: Step back in time with a guided tour of Strokestown Park House (strokestownpark.ie), the Georgian manor house and National Famine Museum in Co. Roscommon.
7. Wells House & Gardens
Where: Ballyedmond, Gorey, Co Wexford.
Why: Take the family back in time with a living house tour of the magnificent Wells House - which has witnessed Cromwell, famine and rebellions. Outdoors, there’s even more to engage with on a fantastic woodland walk with a fairy trail. An adventure playground, animal farm, picnic area and restaurant mean you can come and spend the day here... the kids can try archery or falconry (fees apply), too. Watch the website for lots of fun upcoming family events.
Details: wellshouse.ie; open May-Sept from 10am-6pm, Oct-April from 11-4pm. Family tickets cost €16; archery extra.
If you like that, try this: On the banks of the River Slaney, the Irish National Heritage Park is a wonderful outdoor museum and one of Ireland's best heritage attractions, recreating 9,000 years of history, with demonstrations and recreations of pre-historic dwellings, and a medieval ring fort (irishheritage.ie).
8. Birr Castle
Where: Birr, Co Offaly.
Why: Nature lovers, science buffs and thrill seekers will all find something to love at Birr Castle. First up: castle cost extra and are not recommended for U12s. What you will find, however, is a playground featuring Ireland’s largest tree house, miles of walking trails, plenty of wildlife and an enormous bouncing pillow that’s sure to tire out little legs. A Science Centre introduces you to the surprising history of this demesne, and don’t miss the chance to see what was, for a long time, the largest telescope in the world. Order a picnic and ice-creams from the Courtyard Café and choose a spot to enjoy this lovely estate.
Details: birrcastle.com. Opening times vary throughout the year; a family of four costs €25.
If you like that, try this: The Hook Lighthouse experience (hookheritage.ie) in Wexford, voted Ireland's hidden gem in our 2018 Reader Travel Awards, introduces kids to an 800-year-old lighthouse, and lots more besides.
9. Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails
Where: Ardpatrick, Kilmallock, Co Limerick.
Why: The ultimate adventure for bike-mad kids, Ballyhoura offers the largest set of bike trails in Ireland. Nestled between Cork and Limerick, the purpose-built trails sweep down the Ballyhoura mountains weaving through forests along the way. The moderate Greenwood loop is ideal for beginners (though at 6km it’s not for tiny legs), while more experienced bikers will find challenges right up to a 50km loop. There are maps, toilets, showers (it can/will get muddy), a bike wash and bike hire close by. Younger children can do a 5km nature trail seeking out 20 hidden creatures.
Details: visitballyhoura.com; €5 per car (bring coins for the parking barrier). Family bike hire is available at Ballyhoura Riders (trailriders.ie).
If you like that, try this: Doneraile Court and Wildlife Park in North Cork is a magnificent country estate with great walks, impressive landscaping and beautiful trees (free; heritageireland.ie).
10. Arigna Mining Experience
Where: Arigna, Co Roscommon.
Why: Head underground for a truly memorable family day out. Arigna’s Energy Centre, a brilliantly dramatic building, celebrates the 400-year-old mining heritage of this area and begins with an engaging exhibition space and short film explaining the mining process. An ex-miner will take you to the coal face as you venture underground to experience sound and light effects that bring to life the harsh realities of life as a coal miner.
Details: arignaminingexperience.ie. Open daily 10-5pm; family of four, €28.
If you like that, try this: Steam train fans will love the old Dromad train station in Cavan where the Cavan and Leitrim Railway offers nostalgic tours (Sat, Sun and Mon), including a trip on a restored steam train (cavanandleitrim.com).
11. Kia Ora Mini Farm
Where: Courteencurragh, Gorey, Co Wexford.
Why: A petting farm with a playground is always a winning formula for children. Kia Ora Mini Farm does it extra well, with go-karts, mini diggers, sandpits, crazy football (mini golf with a football), a fire engine and a maze to entertain. Close encounters with furry friends are a bonus, and there are exotic animals in residence, too. The warm welcome is another reason families love returning here.
Details: kiaoraminifarm.ie; summer opening hours are 10am-5.30pm, at €7.50 per person. Picnics are welcome, too.
If you like that, try this: The Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll, Co Cork has an open farm near Mallow where you can visit over 100 donkeys and mules in a tranquil space (thedonkeysanctuary.ie). It’s free.
12. Airfield Urban Farm
Where: Dundrum, Dublin 14.
Why: A true oasis in south Dublin, the former family home of the fascinating Overend sisters ensures their heritage lives on in their house, its farmlands and vintage cars. Kids just love it here. They can run around outside, explore, dress up in period costumes, climb trees, collect eggs, feed the donkeys, watch the cows being milked and get up close and personal with pigs and their piglets. There’s a playground too, and a very good (though not that cheap) café, restaurant and garden shop.
Details: airfield.ie; family of four, €28.
If you like that, try this: If you’re on the other side of the city, consider exploring Ardgillan Castle and Estate (ardgillancastle.ie). It has an excellent playground, fabulous walks, a fairy tree trail and a dog-friendly café.
13. Brú na Bóinne
Where: Donore, Co Meath.
Why: Introduce the kids to Ireland’s ancient heritage with a day trip to Newgrange and Knowth. Start with the Interpretive Visitor Centre, which introduces the Neolithic people, their tombs, homes, weapons and culture. Learn how the tombs were built via colourful exhibits and an audio-visual show of the fabled solar alignments of Newgrange and the Boyne Valley. Buses run from here to the World Heritage Sites, where you’ll be met by excellent guides adept at bringing the real magic to life (age 6+ is best.)
Details: heritageireland.ie; irelandsancienteast.com; family of four, €30.
If you like that, try this: For a mystery of a different kind, head to The Kildare Maze (thekildaremaze.com), Leinster’s largest tall hedge maze with a viewing tower as a reward when you make it to the centre. Family tickets cost €25.
Where: Glendalough, Co Wicklow.
Why: A huge attraction for tourists, it may be time to rediscover the magic of Glendalough. The old monastic site sits in a beautiful valley in Wicklow Mountains National Park and makes a great base for a family hike and picnic. The ‘monastic city’ is quite small, but the round tower will fuel little ones’ imaginations, twisting paths make it fun to explore, and those who brave the hike to the top lake will be rewarded with amazing views. Summer activities include bug, bird and mammal walks.
Details: Free parking, except at weekends and at the Upper Lake, which costs €4. For more information see heritageireland.ie or wicklowmountainsnationalpark.ie.
If you like that, try this: The Galtee Mountains are ideal for outdoorsy families with Tipperary’s magnificent Glen of Aherlow (aherlow.com) the starting point. Offering eight looped walks on Slievenamuck, there’s a breathtaking hike for every age group.
Days Out Under €50
15. Eagles Flying
Where: Ballymote, Co Sligo.
Why: Few things are more majestic or impressive than birds of prey, whether swooping overhead or simply preening themselves. At Eagles Flying, children can get up close and personal with these mighty birds, including eagles, owls, hawks, vultures and falcons. The volunteer-run sanctuary offers interactive shows and displays as well as a petting zoo with raccoon and python! Follow up your visit with a fabulous walk up to the mysterious caves of Keash (trails on sligowalks.ie).
Details: eaglesflying.com. Opens from 10.30am-12.30pm and 2.30pm-4.30pm daily between March and November. A family of four costs €35.90.
If you like that, try this: There are falconry experiences at Aillwee Cave, Co Clare (ailweecave.ie) and the National Bird of Prey Centre at Russborough House, Co Wicklow (nationalbirdofpreycentre.ie), among others.
16 Irish National Stud
Where: Tully, Co Kildare.
Why: The Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens combine the best of nature and animals. Race horses, stables, foals and a cool little horse museum (with the skeleton of Arkle, no less) will do it for equestrian fans, while two very different gardens — the wild setting of St Fiachra’s and the more ornate, manicured Japanese gardens — are a surprising find. Buggy-friendly paths and a decent playground tie it all together for kids.
Details: Open 9am-6pm daily, with last admission at 5pm. Family tickets (two adults and up to four children) cost €29.50; irishnationalstud.ie.
If you like that, try this: The Fethard Horse Country Experience (above) has tours of Coolmore Stud as part of its summer season, and exhibits include Joseph O’Brien’s 2017 Melbourne Cup. Local restaurants offer a 10pc discount to visitors, too (fhcexperience.ie).
17. Turoe Pet Farm
Where: Loughrea, Co Galway.
Why: Just off the M6, Turoe Pet Farm is a large, laidback space that children adore. The 14-acre farm includes resident pigs and ponies, shaggy highland cows, llamas and donkeys. A large playground is matched indoors by rain-friendly Inflatable City and Jungle Town, which provide hours of climbing and bouncing entertainment. An all-weather walkway is wheelchair and buggy-friendly, allowing you to carry on the fun even in bad weather.
Details: turoepetfarm.com; a family of four costs €40. Summer opening hours are 10am-7pm daily.
If you like that, try this: A magical world of calm and nature, Brigit’s Garden (brigitsgarden.ie, above) is a dreamy Celtic Garden with a discovery trail, natural playground and lovely café.
18. Muckross House & Farms
Where: Killarney, Co Kerry.
Why: Trying to keep kids away from screens? Introduce them to life in this 19th-century manor, pre-dating electricity, phones and technology, and to farms where work was done by horses and man power (it will truly catapult them into a parallel universe). The House recreates the upstairs/downstairs culture that existed at the time, while the gardens and walks are wonderful, too. And the views! Muckross House is right on the shores of one of Killarney’s lakes.
Details: Joint family ticket for four, €40 (muckross-house.ie).
If you like that, try this: Take a short ferry ride from Cobh to Spike Island and tour an island that has been a monastery, fortress and prison (spikeislandcork.ie).
Where: Odyssey Centre, Belfast.
Why: After a trip to W5, no one in your house will ever say science is boring again. This incredible interactive science museum offers fun for all ages, with over 250 exhibits across six themed spaces. From robots to experiments, technology to games and strength tests to electric circuits you’ll have a magical day trip — and there’s a giant, cob-web-like climbing structure in the middle of it all, too. Throw in seasonal exhibits (a dinosaur encounter runs to August 31), and there’s more than enough to engage even the shortest of attention spans.
Details: Opens Mon-Fri from 10am-5pm, Sat 10am to 6pm, Sun 12pm-6pm. w5online.co.uk; a family of four costs around €35.
If you like that, try this: From its construction in the local shipyard to the luxurious interiors, life below deck and its fatal maiden voyage, children will be mesmerised by the world class Titanic Belfast visitor experience (titaniccbelfast.com) nearby.
20. Burren Nature Sanctuary
Where: Kinvara, Co Galway.
Why: A 50-acre organic farm in the Burren is a delightful post for a relaxed day trip. Burren Nature Sanctuary offers a mile-long looped nature trail with audio guide and visual interpretation that takes in wildflower meadows, woodland and a seasonal lake. A Botany Bubble houses the national collection of Burren flora, and there’s an indoor and outdoor adventure playground, Avoca gift shop and a cute fairy village too.
Details: bns.ie; family pass for five people, €35.
If you like that, try this: More of an add-on than a day trip, no one will complain when you suggest a trip to Hazel Mountain Chocolate to see the skilled chocolatiers in action and pick up a handmade treat (hazelmountainchocolate.com).
Days Out Under €100
21. Castlecomer Discovery Park
Where: Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.
Why: A not-for-profit social enterprise aiming to develop rural tourism, Castlecomer Discovery Park is a joy to explore. Whether you come off season and simply tramp about in the woods and coal mining museum, or tackle a high ropes course or Ireland’s longest over-water zip wire (over-12s), adventures are guaranteed. Try the tree-top walk, boating, climbing walls, orienteering or archery. There’s a café and craft courtyard on site, too.
Details: Activities are priced individually or as bundles - for example, the tree-top adventure walk and climbing wall together cost €16pp; discoverypark.ie.
If you like that, try this: For active older kids, head to Ballyhass Lakes Activity centre. Children age 8+ can choose up to four activities including kayaking, abseiling and archery. It costs from €140 for family of four (ballyhasslakes.ie).
22. Westport House & Pirate Adventure Park
Where: Westport, Co Mayo.
Why: An historic house with pirate theme park makes for quite the destination, and summer days see Westport House buzzing with day-trippers and campers all enjoying the fun. Based around parkland and a lake, you’ll find fairground rides, go-karting, swan pedal boats, a playground, bouncy castle and mini train the whole family can board. Factor in a big house tour, food and refreshments on site and you’ve a full day of fun ahead.
Details: westporthouse.ie; a one-day family pass for €60 includes the house tour.
If you like that, try this: Hit the high seas with a fun kayaking expedition off Waterford’s Copper Coast. Choose an established company like Pure Adventures (pureadventures.ie), which take families out for €170.
23. A day on Inis Mór
Where: Galway Bay.
Why: The most popular of the Aran Islands, Inis Mór is also the biggest — but it’s small enough to get around in a day. The fun begins with a 40-minute ferry ride, departing from Doolin or Rossaveal into Kilronan. Upon arrival, hire bikes or hop on a waiting horse and cart ride for a tour from a local. Make for the ancient fort of Dún Aonghasa, with its interpretative centre and amazing cliffs. The island is hilly, so younger children might struggle. Oh, and don’t forget the togs — there’s a beautiful Blue Flag beach for swims at Kilmurvey.
Details: The ferry for four costs €80, bike hire extra.
If you like that, try this: Rugged Rathlin Island, 6km off county Antrim, is home to hundreds of seals and nesting seabirds (discovernorthernireland.com). Make a day of it with a visit to the ‘upside down’ lighthouse and lunch at The Manor House.
24. Tayto Park
Where: Ashbourne, Co Meath.
Why: A theme park and a zoo — what’s not to love about this action-packed day out? From the belly-tossing Cú Chulainn rollercoaster to the thrilling Rotator, from the extreme climbing wall to Viking Voyage water rides (height restrictions apply), adrenaline junkies will be in heaven. Animals range from big cats to vultures, and you’ll also find pony rides, a steam train and mini driving school… for starters. Tayto Park delivers a fun-fuelled day for kids of all ages.
Details: taytopark.ie. Entry-only tickets from €17.50pp; entry and unlimited attraction passes €30 each.
If you like that, try this: Baysports (above), outside the Hodson Bay Hotel on Lough Ree, is home to the world's tallest floating slide, according to Guinness World Records. Just 20 minutes from Cork City, Fota Wildlife Park (fotawildlife.ie) offers 100 acres filled with wild and exotic animals. A new Cork Harbour cruise is running this summer too (oceanescapes.ie).
25. Dolphin spotting in Dingle
Where: Dingle, Co Kerry.
Why: Ireland’s most famous mammal, Fungie, still delights visitors daily with his antics in Dingle Harbour. Take an hour-long boat ride accompanied by a guide sharing local history and maritime tales, while kids compete for first sightings of the celebrity bottlenose dolphin. Enjoy beautiful coastal views before returning to land and visiting Dingle Oceanworld aquarium to see Ireland’s largest collection of sharks and adorable Gentoo penguins.
Details: Boat trips from Dingle Pier cost €48 for a family of four (dingledolphin.com). Family tickets to Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium cost €41 (dingle-oceanworld.ie).
If you like that, try this: Check out Ireland’s largest collection of starfish at Sea Life Bray. A day trip to this popular aquarium can be combined with a jaunt around Dublin Bay on the Dart (visitsealife.com/bray; irishrail.ie).
5 Toddler-friendly Days out
By Susan Morrell
1. Malahide Castle & Gardens
Where: Malahide, Co Dublin
Why: Wheel around the 22-acre gardens or try baby in the sling for a guided tour of the 12th-century castle (where under 3s go free. Kids will love the playground; parents the onsite Avoca café which has treats, salads, a kids’ menu, high chairs and baby changing facilities. Hop aboard Toots the road train and make a day of it in Malahide village... visit off-peak if at all possible.
Details: Daily from 9.30am-5.30pm. Adults €12.50, families (2+2) €30; malahidecastleandgardens.ie.
2. The Gruffalo Trail
Where: Colin Glen Park, Belfast
Why: It’s an attraction that could have been dreamt up by Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson themselves. Colin Glen Forest Park is home to an official Gruffalo Trail, with sculptures set against a forest park backdrop, allowing you to find your favourite Gruffalo characters — and screentime for selfies only. The trail takes about 20 minutes, and you can reward yourselves with a treat at Mona’s Café afterwards.
Details: Dunmurry, Belfast; the trail is free; colinglen.org; discovernorthernireland.com.
3. Glenveagh National Park
Where: Glenveagh, Co Donegal
Why: Gravelled walking paths and a handy shuttle bus make this vast parkland easy for families to enjoy. The scenery is stunning, with acres of mountains, woods, lakes and waterfalls free to access, and trails catering to various abilities (buggies, too). The 19th-century castle (a family ticket costs €15) and surrounding gardens are lovely, and you can head for the restaurant afterwards for a kids’ menu. Baby changing facilities are at the castle and visitor centre... just make sure to prepare for midges during summer visits.
Details: Entrance is free. Bus tickets from the car park cost €1.50. Visitors centre open daily 9.15am-5.30pm; glenveaghnationalpark.ie.
4. Lullymore heritage park
Where: Rathangan, Co Kildare
Spend a day at this 60-acre woodland refuge, set in the ecologically rich Bog of Allen, with buzzing nature trails, buggy-friendly boardwalks and a wheelchair-accessible train. Older kids will love learning the gruesome secrets of bog bodies, while you can let toddlers loose in the age-appropriate Funky Forest play area and fairy village. There are train trips too, and the themed gardens are perfect for picnics.
Details: Family tickets (2+2) cost €30, with extra children at €7.50, including all services. Under-2s go free. lullymoreheritagepark.com.
5. Castle Espie Wetlands Centre
Where: Co Down
Why: Winged wildlife is the focus at this nature reserve, home to geese, ducks, kingfishers and even bats. Rent binoculars from the shop, buy grain to feed the birds and take a tour to meet the hand-reared ducklings. Buggy accessible trails, a spacious café, Arctic-themed soft play area and sensory garden keep things relaxed. (Older sibs can head for the zip wire and swamp walk.)
Details: Daily, 10am-5pm. Adults £9, kids £5, under-4s go free. wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/castle-espie
NB: All details/prices subject to change.