Wednesday 18 September 2019

Top 10 alternatives to Center Parcs in Ireland: From cool campsites to hotels and adventure parks

Can't do Center Parcs? Or don't want to? Nicola Brady and Pól Ó Conghaile pick 10 family-friendly alternatives in Ireland

Family fun: Hodson Bay resort
Family fun: Hodson Bay resort
Zipit Forest Adventures at Lough Key Forest Park
Hidden Valley
Amber Springs
Dining al fresco at Parknasilla
Glamping at Westport House
Treetop adventures at Jungle NI. Photo: Tourism NI

Nicola Brady & Pól Ó Conghaile

Center Parcs is by far the largest resort of its type in Ireland. But it's not the only place where families can stay and splash about on a short break adventure.

Since Longford Forest opened, lots of readers have questioned the prices. From campsites to adventure centres and five-star hotels, our top ten alternatives cover almost every budget.

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1. Hidden Valley, Co Wicklow


What's similar: This fun, family-run holiday park has just added a new aqua park (Splash Valley, with 30 obstacles, above) and on-site laser tag to its playgrounds, kayaking and bumper boat set-ups. The park is enclosed, with traffic slowed to a crawl, meaning it's safe for kids to roam, and a new lake house bumps up the food options. Similar to Center Parcs, many activities are charged as extras... and they can add up. Lodges and log cabins are also available. It was voted Ireland's Favourite Small Stay in our 2019 Reader Travel Awards.

What's different: It's smaller, cheaper, family-run and has a campsite vibe, all within walking distance of Rathdrum village. Book off-peak for shorter lines and best pitches.

Details: Camping from €16pp or €36 per family. Splash Valley aqua-park tickets start from €20/€17pp, with reductions for multiple visits.

Read more: Splash Valley: Ireland's newest aqua park goes wild in Wicklow

2. Westport House, Co Mayo

Glamping at Westport House

What's similar: When it comes to family attractions, Westport House has really upped its game. The Pirate Adventure Park, with its log flume, swinging ship and cannonball-run slide, has nine new additions to get everyone giddy, including a mini Ferris wheel, frisbee golf and a zip-wire. There's also a birds-of-prey centre and pedalo boats.

What's different: Bring your own tent or van to the campground, or rent a bell tent. The historic Westport House is a USP, too... we doubt Center Parcs has a dungeon.

Details: Family pitches from €38 per night; bell tents €120. Adventure Park tickets: €70 for a family of four, but guests get 25pc off and free access the next day.

Read more: 10 great reasons to visit Westport

3. Hodson Bay Hotel, Co Westmeath


What's similar: This lakeside resort is a winner if you're a family of water babies. Spend the day bouncing around at Baysports, home to the world's biggest inflatable water slide - you can also SUP, kayak and canoe. There's an indoor swimming pool and a new Kids' Adventure Club with activities ranging from cookery school to treasure hunts.

What's different: There are no lodges. Stay at the adults-only wing of the hotel if you're travelling without kids - it's got great lake views and is right upstairs from the spa.

Details: Nightly rates start from €175 on a B&B basis for a family of four.;

Read more: Top 10 things to do in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands

4. Lough Key, Co Roscommon

zipit, lough key.jpg
Zipit Forest Adventures at Lough Key Forest Park

What's similar: Lough Key is an outdoor playground for kids and adults alike. There's a tree canopy trail, a Zipit forest obstacle course, and Boda Borg, where you all work together to conquer quests. It's a beautiful lakeside setting, away from the main road, with lots of walking and cycling (you can rent Segways, too), though it can get busy in peak season. Oh, and the lakeside café does pizzas...

What's different: There are no lodges, so you'll need to bring your own tent or caravan... or arrive by boat.

Details: Camping pitches start from €22 per night, with activities from €5 per child.

Read more: Center Parcs Ireland Review: Everything you need to know about Longford Forest

5. Parknasilla, Co Kerry

Dining al fresco at Parknasilla

What's similar: While you can stay in a traditional hotel room, Parknasilla is also home to 38 woodland villas, where you can unwind in peace... and self-cater. They're pretty swish, with underfloor heating, mood lighting and access to garden areas. Guests get full access to the hotel's facilities, including the spa, pool and kids' club. There's a cool range of free talks and walks too - owl demos, for instance, or shoreline walks with Vincent Hyland of Wild Derrynane.

What's different: No Irish resort has a comparable range of activities to Center Parcs, but you can go horse riding, try your hand at archery or explore the fairy trail - and there's a kids' club during school holidays.

Details: Two-bed woodland villas start from €495 for two nights; If you like this, take a look at the lodges at Fota Resort and Castlemartyr in Co Cork... they allow guests use hotel facilities, too.

Read more: Kerry like a local - 50 things to do in Ireland's 'country within a county'

6. Amber Springs, Co Wexford

Amber Springs

What's similar: Expect a strong focus on families at Amber Springs, with a great kids' club, VR room for teens, indoor playroom and a swimming pool - there's even a brand-new cinema. Amber Park is a play park out back, with activities like go-karting and mini-golf charged as extras (others, like football and a petting farm, are free). The hotel even has its own train, the Amber Express, which runs up to three times a day at peak times.

What's different: It's an Irish, family-run hotel that has grown smartly. There aren't any lodges (so you can't cook in), but there are new Family Den Suites, in a family-only wing. It's close to the beach at Courtown, too.

Details: Rates start from €270 for family of four, including dinner.

Read more: 10 great reasons to visit Wexford

7. Delphi Resort, Co Galway

Zip n Trek.jpg
Zip n' Trek at Delphi Resort

What's similar: If you're an outdoorsy, adventurous family, Delphi's right up your street. You can build a raft, zip around on an aerial trek, fling yourself into the bog and have a go at archery (and that's only the tip of the iceberg). Like Center Parcs, it has an adults-only spa and thermal suite - though obviously smaller - and it's a fabulous place to stay for active groups as well as families.

What's different: There are family suites in the four-star hotel, but also private rooms in the new Wild Atlantic Hostel, which brings the price down for families.

Details: Two nights' B&B with one dinner for a family of four and a land activity start from €467 in the hotel, or €349 in the hostel.

Read more: 10 most unusual adventures in Ireland - from bog challenges to axe-throwing

8. Rockhill, Co Donegal



What's similar: The holiday-park setting isn't as jazzy as Center Parcs, but there's plenty for the kids to do in Area 50, with bouncy castles, trampolines, rock climbing, archery and more. It's better suited to younger children.

What's different: The prices are kinder to the wallet - basic cabins start at around €58 a night. There are swisher ones available though, with gorgeous views over Mulroy Bay. You can also bring your own camper.

Details: Cabins from €58;

Read more: Delicious Donegal: Top 10 places to eat in Ireland's rising foodie county

9. Kelly's Resort & Spa, Co Wexford

Kelly's Hotel.jpg
The view from Kelly's Hotel, Co. Wexford

What's similar: If there's an Irish hotel with the same fabled family status as Center Parcs, it's Kelly's. The Rosslare resort is the kind of place where people book next year's holiday when they check out - so much so that it's completely full this summer (though you can always put yourself on a waiting list). Highlights include an Aqua Club with two pools and outdoor hot tub, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, crazy golf and a famous kids' club.

What's different: The sandy beach is a huge draw, and adult-focused activities like wine appreciation and gardening are a big hit during school terms. The hotel's art collection and wine list beat Longford Forest hands down, too.

Details: Five days midweek from €645pp, plus 10pc service charge, in the spring and autumn.

Read more: Review: Kelly's Resort & Spa, Rosslare

10. The Jungle NI, Co Derry

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Treetop adventures at Jungle NI. Photo: Tourism NI

What's similar: There's a huge array of different accommodation options, including glamping pods, cabins and bell tents. And the list of activities on offer is huge, from laser tag and paintball to llama trekking. It advertises as Ireland's largest outdoor activity centre.

What's different: The biggest difference? The price. Accommodation costs between £17.50 and £25pp, and activities are a bargain if you visit on family fun days, when it's £15 for the whole family (which includes six tokens to use for any activity). Otherwise, activities start at £8pp.

Details: Pods from £80/€89 per night, with a log cabin sleeping eight from £100/€112.

Read more: 20 Cool Campsites in Ireland: How to camp like a champ this summer

NB: All prices subject to availability/change.

Read more:

Center Parcs Ireland: 10 ways to save money at Longford Forest

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