Ireland's 30 best family days out
From surfing in Donegal to sheep shearing in Connemara, quality time together has never been so much fun. Here are 30 of our ultimate family days out!
1. Visit a butterfly farm
Our beautiful fluttering friends are on display at this teeny zoo (with real snakes and spiders). View a 15-minute movie about the butterfly life cycle, then visit the tropical house to see it all in action - from a pupae hotel to the emergence of the winged wonders.
Where: The Straffan Butterfly Farm, Ovidstown, Straffan, Co. Kildare, (01) 627-1109; straffanbutterflyfarm.com
When: Open daily to August 31
Price: Adult, €8, child, €5, family ticket, €25 for five
Food: Cafe, souvenir and ice cream shop, lovely garden picnic area too
Good for 7+
2. Tube the Inny river
Run the rapids (all seven of 'em) in an inflated ring as you bump and bob down the river Inny in Longford. Like the bumper cars but with water.
Where: Outdoor Discovery Centre, Ballymahon, Co. Longford, (090) 640-0111, 087 272 1245; outdoordiscovery.ie
Price: 2.5 hours for €30-€35, min group size 12 people (off-peak smaller numbers possible), includes equipment and drop-off and pick-up
Food: Skelly's Bar and Restaurant, Ballymahon; Skellysbar.ie
Good for: Age 8+
3 Forage for lunch
Join a foraging workshop run by green gurus Mary and Robert White and learn what you can (and can't) eat in the wild. Kids will love pond-dipping, finding animal tracks or whizzing up juices from windfall apples (while you can brew up some beech leaf liqueur).
Where: The Old Rectory, Killedmond, Borris, Co. Carlow, (059) 977-3184 or 087 270 7189; blackstairsecotrails.ie
Price: Over-12s, €12, under-12s, free
When: Selected Saturdays and Sundays in summer
Food: Depending on the workshop, you'll either make your own or be served a three-course organic delight.
4. Take baby steps in Connemara
Little feet can't walk too far, so a potter along the buggy-friendly 3km-trail of Lower Diamond Hill gives parents and toddlers just the right length of mini-hike. And then there are the playground and Connemara ponies…
Where: Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, Co. Galway, (095) 41054; connemaranationalpark.ie
Price: Entry free
Parking: Yes, free
When: The park is open year-round; Visitor Centre open March to November
Food: Tea rooms by the Visitor Centre serve a fine cuppa and homemade soup and bread
5. Board a pirate boat
Make like Jack Sparrow and keelhaul some landlubbers to raise the Jolly Roger aboard the Brian Ború, a 56-foot restored ketch that voyages around Waterford Estuary and up the River Suir to Little Island.
Where: Waterford Quay, Waterford, 089 209 8563; traditionalsailexperience.com
Price: Adult, €20, child, €10 for one-hour trip
Food: Coffee, tea and snacks available, but bring your own picnic
Parking: Street parking
Good for: Toddlers up
6. Test your nerve
Zip and zorb, climb and crawl through a gruelling adventure playground at Loughcrew - pit yourself against a forest crystal maze, all spiderwebs and stepping stones, scale the crannóg or climb the killer wall. You choose.
Where: Loughcrew Gardens, Oldcastle, Co. Meath, (049) 854-1356; loughcrew.com
Price: Half day, adult, €32, child, €29 (includes six activities) or entrance to garden, €6
When: Open year-round
Food: Cafe on site
Essentials: Bring a spare set of clothes and a towel, it's messy
Good for: Zipline, 6+
Butterflies flutter by at Straffan
7. Go wild at Fota Wildlife Park
More than 200 cheetahs have been born at Fota since 1985 and their feeding time is a highlight of a visit here. But there are also penguins, gibbons and wallabies waiting to meet you.
Where: Fota Wildlife Park, Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork, (021) 481-2678; fotawildlife.ie
Price: Adult, €15.50, child, €9.50, under-3s free, family ticket for four, €45.50
When: Open daily
Parking: Car park, €3
Food: Savannah Cafe for sandwiches and snacks or Oasis Cafe for burgers, chips, etc, and a picnic area for BYO
Good for: 0+
8. Go underground
Hard to believe that the northern hemisphere's Great Stalactite, 7.3 metres long, was formed from one drop of water. See for yourself at Doolin Caves in the Burren, then head up and out to see what grows (and lives) above ground with a visit to the animals on the farmland nature trail.
Where: Craggycorradan East, Doolin, Co. Clare, (065) 707-5761; doolincave.ie
Price: Adult, €15, child, €8, family ticket, €50 (2 adults + 3 children), book online for 20pc discount; booking recommended
Food: The Garden Cafe
Good for: All ages, though steps challenging for very young (or unfit)
Zorbing: Action stations!
9. Visit the Dead Zoo
Creepy crawlies, an enormous whale skeleton, and a chance to pet a bear or inspect some moon rock. And kids just love the old-style stuffed animals at the Natural History Museum.
Where: The Natural History Museum, Merrion Street, Dublin 2, (01) 677-7444; museum.ie
Price: Free family tours available, book online
When: Open daily, except Mondays
Parking: Street parking
Good for: All ages
10. Be a discoverer
If you've ever wondered which animal is most deadly or why a pebble sinks but a cruiser floats, then the W5 is for your inner child. Science, engineering and exploration made fun.
Where: The Odyssey, 2 Queens Quay, Belfast, (048) 904-677-00; w5online.co.uk
Price: Adult, €11.97, child, €9.15, family ticket, €35.92 (2 adults + 2 kids); under-3s free
Good for: Under-8s
11. Thrills at Tayto Park
Tayto Park is an excellent action day out with twisters, skywalks, a petting zoo and - due to open this July - the Cú Chulainn rollercoaster, the largest wooden ride of its kind in Europe. Gulp.
Where: Ashbourne, Co. Meath, (01) 835-1999, taytopark.ie
When: Open daily, April-September; check website for other openings
Price: Adult/child, €14, under-3s free
Food: Pizza, burger, Asian, and a tea house in a tree house
Good for: All ages, though height restrictions apply on some rides
12. Be a sheep farmer
See a sheep dog in action as he gathers the blackhead horny flock from the mountain farm, feed the lambs and maybe even do a little shearing, all in one of the most stunning spots in the country - Killary Fjord.
Where: Killary Sheep Farm, Bunowen, Leenane, Connemara, 087 298 8051; killarysheepfarm.com
Price: €10 each, family ticket, €25 (2 adult + 2 children)
When: Open April 1 to October 31
Dublin's Dead Zoo
13. Enjoy a Midsummer's dream
This old country estate is heaven for kids (and parents) with a brilliant series of events, including Fairy Tale Day (July 26), full of dress-up and games; Classical Kids (June 28) and Summer Fling (August 30). Plus animals and a farmer's market.
Where: Killruddery House & Gardens, Southern Cross, Bray, Co. Wicklow, (01) 286-3405; killruddery.com
When: Open daily, May to September; weekends, year-round
Price: Adult, €6.50, under-12s, €2, under-4s free
Food: Tea rooms on the estate
Good for: Any age, but toddlers upwards will love it
14. Bucket and Spade it
The harbour in Sandycove has a sandy shore and shallow waters that kids love to paddle in, and afterwards there's Teddy's Ice Cream for a nostalgic 99, or posh newcomer Scrumdiddly's in Dún Laoghaire.
Where: Sandycove, Co. Dublin
Bring: Flask of tea, sandwiches, anorak and wind-breaker
Parking: Street parking can be jammers in summer but easy to get to by DART or bus
Sightsee: James Joyce Tower, the Martello Tower that figures in Ulysses, is a few minutes' stroll
Good for: Any age
15. Shiver and shake
The country's most haunted house is Loftus Hall in Co. Wexford, a gaunt, severe-looking mansion and said to be haunted by the devil himself. Tours are run by a "devil's apprentice" and full of scary stories.
Where: Loftus Hall, Hook Head, New Ross, Co. Wexford, (051) 397728; loftushall.ie
When: Open June 27 to September 6
Price: Adult, €10, child (4-11), €5, under-3s, free, family ticket, €25 (2 adults + 2 children)
Good for: 8+
16. Sail into the past
From the vast bulk of the exterior and the huge slipway where the Titanic first launched, to underwater wreckage, the Titanic Belfast is a knockout history tour. Take a tour of the area with titanicwalk.com.
Where: Titanic Belfast, 1 Olympic Way, Queen's Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast, (048) 9076-6386; titanicbelfast.com
Price: Adult, £14.72, child, £6.89, family ticket, £37.05 (2 adults + 2 children); under-6s free
Parking: Car park
Good for: 8+
17. Cook up a storm
Whet your kids' appetites with a cooking session where they'll learn to wield the wooden spoon alongside you, plus goodies to take away.
Where: Kooky Cooks, Pink Ginger, 4 Serpentine Road, Sandymount, Dublin 4, 087 986 4964; pinkginger.ie
Price: Adult and kids, €50 each, includes ingredients
Good for: Ages 4-8
18. High points at Hook Head
Climb the lighthouse's 115 steps for a view of the coastline to Cork on a good day. Afterwards, walk along the headland and see if you can spot fossils in the limestone rocks on the Head.
Where: Hook Lighthouse, Hook Head, Co. Wexford, (051) 397 055; hookheritage.ie
When: Open year-round, tours every half hour in summer
Price: Adult, €6, child, €3.50, under-5s, free, family ticket, €15 (2 adults + 2 children)
Food: Cafe on site
19. Take a boat trip
Forget the Cliffs of Moher, the sheerest drop in Europe is at Sliabh League in Donegal. Take a boat trip (and you may be joined by dolphins, whales and seals) and swim at the foot of these beauties.
Where: Slieve Liag Boat Tour, Nuala Star, Teelin Harbour, Donegal, 087 628 4688; sliabhleagueboattrips.com
Price: €20-€25 depending on numbers (call for family rate)
Parking: Free on pier
Good for: Swimmers and nature lovers, any age
20. Go back to nature in Tralee
The water safari might be more of a thrill for kids than the wildlife exhibition, but at Tralee Bay Wetlands there is plenty to keep them happy. Play king of the castle in the viewing tower, sit in a bird hide or rent out a pedalo and afterwards head to the nearby Aquadome (aquadome.ie) for a splash.
Where: Tralee Bay Wetlands tour, Ballyard Road, Tralee, Co. Kerry, (066) 712-6700; traleebaywetlands.org
Price: Adult, €6, child, €5, family ticket, €20 (2 adults + 3 children)
When: Open daily, but check opening times
Food: Lakelands Cafe
Good for: Buggy riders and up
21. Ride the waves
Head north to Portsalon in Donegal, home of many a beautiful beach, for a surf lesson that will teach you the basics of pop-ups and balance both in and out of the water.
Where: Adventure One Surf School, 4 Pier Road, Rathmullan, Co. Donegal, 087 628 5565; adventureone.net
Price: Adult, €30, child, €25, family ticket, €70 (2 adults +1 child, extra child €20)
22. What is the stars?
The Planetarium in Armagh (armaghplanet.com) is a good starting point for budding astronomers, but nothing beats the real thing. Take a picnic and a rug and enjoy an evening's star gazing at the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, one of only three gold-tier reserves in the world.
Where: Southwest Kerry, from Kells to Valentia Island to Castlecove, contact 083 448-9069; kerrydarksky.com for guides or more information
23. Go on dolphin watch
Where the mouth of the Shannon feeds into the Atlantic is the place a group of 200 bottlenose dolphins like to hang out. You can hear them chat via an underwater microphone in Draíocht, skipper Geoff Magee's boat - and you might even spot a whale.
Where: Dolphinwatch Booking & Information Centre, the Square, Carrigaholt, Co. Clare, (065) 905-8156; dolphinwatch.ie
Price: Two to three-hour trip, adult, €30, child, €15 (10pc discount for cyclists)
When: Runs April to October; booking ahead essential
Food: Snack bar on board
Good for: Toddlers upwards
Stay at: Pure Camping, purecamping.ie
24. Island hop to Inis Oírr
Rent bicycles and cycle over to the rusty hulk of the Plassey wreck, take a jitney ride, swim at An Trá, the long sandy beach where two dolphins like to visit. Lunch? It's got to be Teach an Tae, where much of the food is home-grown and the cakes are unbeatable.
Where: Ferries make the return trip several times a day from Doolin pier, Co. Clare or from Ros a' Mhíl, 23 miles west of Galway to Inis Oírr, aranislands.ie or visitaranislands.com
Dolphin watching in Kerry
25. Saddle up, hombre
Ride out on the Wild Atlantic Way along Streedagh Strand or Mullaghmore in Sligo or, if your crew are seasoned riders, test 'em with a trek across to O'Connor's island through a sea channel where they can gallop along the strand.
Where: Island View Riding Stables, Grange, Co. Sligo, (071) 916-6156/086 195 6615; islandviewridingstables.com
Price: For one hour, adult, €25, child, €18; booking advised
Open: Daily, year-round
Essentials: Walking boots or rubber boots
Good for: 4 plus, though 6 plus is best for lessons
26. Play Total Wipeout
Fly down a 12-foot waterslide, bounce on a floating trampoline, catapult your siblings into the water - all at a floating water park in Upper Lough Macnean. What larks.
Where: Corralea Activity Centre, Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh, (048) 66 386 123; activityireland.com
Price: Adult, £25, family ticket, £30 (1 adult + 1 child, 7-9); can be combined with canoeing, surfing, caving or windsurfing
When: Open summer, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday
Essentials: Swimsuit, towel, old trainers
Food: Bring a packed lunch
27. Get lost in Wicklow
Fine day? Head to Greenán maze in Co. Wicklow and challenge your inner compass with the half-acre hedge maze. Tricky. Then go walkabout with the peacock, pigs or donkeys.
Where: Greenan, Ballinanty, Co. Wicklow, (0404) 46000/086 884 5624; greenanmaze.com
When: Open daily, June to end August, April to October, weekends only
Price: €7, under-2s free
Food: Cafe with good coffee on site
Good for: All ages
28. Visit a secret island
There's a mysterious air about Garinish Island. Maybe it's because the Gulf Stream allows exotic plants to flourish there. Pack a picnic, climb to the top of the island and spread your rug while the kids play hide and seek. On the way back, the ferryman might just take you past Seal Island.
Where: Garinish Island, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork, 027 63040; garnishisland.com.
Starting point Blue Point Ferries run every 30 mins from the Blue Pool, next to Quill's Woollen Market, Glengariff
Price: Island entrance, adult, €4, child, €2, family ticket, €10. Ferry ticket, adult, €10, child, €5, under-6s free
Open: Daily, April to October, opening hours vary
A summer treat...
29. Kayak the Camlin River
Make a splash with a 10km-loop along Longford's Camlin River and the mighty Shannon, and paddle a stretch of Cloondara Canal too. Ideal for kayak newbies.
Where: For more details, bluewaysireland.org. Start at Richmond Harbour, Co. Longford. Kayak rental, Arthur Rozel on 086 051-5898
Price: Adult, €10 per hour, delivery, €15, child (6-12 years with guardian), free
Essentials: Bring swimsuit, change of clothes, old trainers, waterproof bag and towel - there are showers at Richmond Harbour
30. Go animal crackers
It's a golden oldie, 28 hectares of reptiles, birds and mammals, 400 creatures in all, smack in the centre of Dublin's Phoenix Park. Take the Dublin Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour (hop-on-hop-off-bus.com) and avoid parking hassle.
Where: Dublin Zoo, Phoenix Park
Price: Adult, €16.80, child, €12, under-3s free, family tickets, €47 (2 adults + 2 children)
Parking: Paid parking at The Lord's Walk, Chesterfield Avenue beside the zoo
Food: Meerkat Restaurant, plus cafes and kiosks
For more information on accommodation, places to eat, or family outings in Ireland, see discoverireland.ie