Monday 22 January 2018

Uncover hidden gems on a budget

We live on a veritable treasure island with plenty of places to explore during school breaks, says Sinead Ryan

The lovely thing about April is the back-to-back 'short' weeks, giving lots of time to spend doing fun things with the family, and now we have the May bank holiday to look forward to.

Hopefully the weather will play ball and, if not, then there's always the summer ahead as schools finish up in a few weeks. But how many families scratch their heads wondering what to do and where to go, only to end up back in the same park, or local activity centre instead of being a little more adventurous?

Sometimes we can be very bad tourists in our own country.

We ignore things right on our doorstep, or think it's too much hassle to get in the car or train to go a little further than normal. If you were on holiday abroad, you'd jump at the chance.

So this week, I'm looking at 'hidden gems', you may not have heard about.

While introducing your children to Newgrange, Dublin Zoo or the Japanese Gardens is great, there are local attractions in every county which you may not know exist. Check out the many websites dedicated to your family's enjoyment too.

Tips for Travelling

Bringing small children anywhere can seem like a bit of a nightmare, but planning and lowering expectations can make all the difference.

l Bring a bag of goodies for the journey or queueing. Nothing sugary, but a book or puzzle passes time l Call in advance to make sure the venue is child (or baby) friendly with high-chairs, family admission discounts, etc. l Get the kids fed and settled before leaving the house. Hungry tums lead to fractious children l Explain in advance where you're going or show them online. That way they can look forward to it and plan with you l Let them order meals by themselves, or help with the picnic; they're more likely to eat it

l Have a melt-down plan. Sitting under a tree quietly, or being separated somewhere not fun, will help them regain their mojo.

Outdoorsy Activities Secret Valley Wild Life, Clonroche, Wexford (€32 for family ticket) - tons of animals (you're allowed feed the lambs), activities, hands-on experience. The Ewe, Glengarrif, Cork (€25, family ticket) - incredible sculptured garden and waterfall (open from June). JFK Arboretum, New Ross, Wexford (€13 family ticket) - walks, woods, and visitor centre on 623 acre site. Castlecomer Discovery Park, Kilkenny (woodland free, items individually priced) - zipline (€15 pp), boating, orienteering, tree-top adventure walk (€12.50 pp). Lough Boora Discovery Park, Offaly (free) -walking trails, cycling (bike hire available), fairy trail, sculpture park.

Eagles Flying, Sligo (€35.90 family ticket) - birds of prey, displays, petting farm.

Historic visits Irish Military War Museum, Collon, Meath (€25 family ticket), - history of World Wars I and II, costumes, tours, weapons display, tank driving, family park with playground.

Loftus Hall, Hook Head, Wexford (€25 family ticket) - Ireland's most haunted house. Birr Castle and Science Centre, Offaly (€25 family ticket) - huge telescope and treehouse adventure centre, gardens. Castletown House, Celbridge, Kildare (€25 family ticket) - parkland, river walks, historic house. Craft fair last Sunday of the month.

Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin

Historic house, gardens and IMMA.

Helpful Websites (national parks and wildlife service); (Office of Public Works);;;

Irish Independent

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