Great Family Days Out in Ireland
We may as well as get it out there first and foremost – this year has been one of adaptation and improvising, a year when we have had to spin on a coin and make sense of it all. Family, of course, always comes first, and so here’s a collection of family days out that brings together regular squeals of delight as well as occasional reflection. It is true to say that this has been a life-changing year but it’s also true to say that some things don’t change at all: a family that plays together stays together. Have a ball – just make sure it can bounce before you throw it.
Officially Ireland’s most popular visitor attraction, Dublin Zoo is many things to many people. It isn’t just a great day out – if you want to dig a little deeper, you’ll gladly embark on a journey of discovery about the world’s amazing wildlife. Amidst all of this, there are almost 30 hectares given over to animals that can be observed in environmental spaces that replicate their respective native surroundings. This Grand Dame of visitor attractions celebrates its 190th birthday in 2021. For an entity so old, we have to say it’s still looking splendid. www.dublinzoo.ie
DUNMORE EAST ADVENTURE CENTRE, CO WATERFORD
What exactly is a Wibit Wipeout Aquapark? It’s a fair enough question, as there is only one of its kind in Ireland. Where will I find it, I hear you ask. The answer is this: at Dunmore East Adventure Centre. A purpose-built splashtastic and activity establishment that uses shielded coves as outdoor play areas for the likes of sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and paddleboarding, there are more than water-based pastimes here – factor in a 12m tower (for climbing and abseiling), adventures caves and the famous Powerfan Freefall route and you have a dedicated adventure/activity experience that you won’t forget in a hurry.
LULLYMORE HERITAGE PARK, CO KILDARE
A woodland refuge in Rathangan that caters for toddlers and older children isn’t to be (safely) sneezed at, which means Lullymore is ideal for wider age-group families. Set across 60 acres in the organically abundant Bog of Allen activities for the younger ages include a Fairy Village, a Funky Forest, and treasure hunts. Older, more rough-and-tumble tykes will surely find the ‘ancient bog bodies’ intriguing. Parents, meanwhile, will appreciate buggy-friendly pathways and gardens that are, you might say, pitch-perfect for picnics. www.lullymoreheritagepark.com
TAYTO PARK, CO MEATH
Located in Curragha, less than 10km from Ashbourne, Tayto Park has quickly joined the family attractions list with a gung-ho attitude. It isn’t surprising, given that it’s a clever mix of theme park and zoo. Unusually for Ireland, the thrill rides here are actually, well, thrilling – from the Rotator and the Cú Chulainn rollercoaster to the Shot Tower and the Viking Voyage water ride, your pulse will rapidly increase. Younger thrill seekers are well catered for via a mini driving school, a steam train, pony rides, and a well-maintained mini-zoo. www.taytopark.ie
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, DUBLIN
Also known as ‘the dead zoo’, the National Museum of Ireland hasn’t really changed that much since its inception in 1856. Its large collection (about three million, not all of which is displayed) hasn’t changed that too much, either, which makes sense in every way. What does make sense, of course, is how popular this museum is – and how popular it is with children, in particular. From stuffed and mounted mammals, birds and fish to insects and basking sharks, the specimens are a wonder to look at. And for enquiring minds to mull over and then talk about. https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/Museums/Natural-History
CASTLECOMER DISCOVERY PARK, CO KILKENNY
Between visiting a coal mining museum, trying to stay upright in a high ropes setting and doing the best you can to stay dry on Ireland’s longest over-water zip wire, Castlecomer Discovery Park – a non-profit social/community enterprise – will keep you and the family occupied for hours on end. Across 80 acres of natural forestry and lakes, the activities (which are individually priced) and facilities here are second to none and great, great fun. www.discoverypark.ie
BURREN NATURE SANCTUARY, CO GALWAY
Based in Kinvara, this family-friendly 50- acre organic farm is a balm to the soul, and more suitable, perhaps, for a quieter day out with younger children. Highlights include a charming Fairy Village, indoor and outdoor adventure playgrounds (to suit all weather conditions, thankfully) and the Botany Bubble, which is home to a wide range of Burren flora. Add a mile-long looped nature trail that allows access to a lake, hazel and ash woodland and wildflower meadows, and you have a day out that you rarely experience.
FOTA WILDLIFE PARK, CO CORK
A 100-acre park that is one of the best visitor wildlife and conservation attractions? It’s no wonder that this is a hugely favoured place, beloved as much by adults as it is by children. Home to about 50 bird species and almost 30 mammals, there is a great sense of freedom here for both visitor and resident (some of the animals roam, graze and subtly engage with people). But it’s more than this – much like other places mentioned here, Fota has a vision to, as they say on their website, “inspire people to understand and conserve the biodiversity of our natural world.” Long may it continue. www.fotawildlife.ie
LOUGH KEY FOREST PARK AND ACTIVITY PARK, CO ROSCOMMON
This is up there with the best of the best, and perfect for kids to shake off the boredom (which, in turn, will alleviate parental burden!). Wide-open spaces and gorgeous landscapes form the background to the highlight here: the Boda Borg, a Krypton Factor-type sequence of challenges that will really inspire, infuriate and excite. Plus points here for the zip lines, Jeep safaris, bikes and high wires. www.loughkey.ie
MUSEUM OF COUNTRY LIFE, CO MAYO
There is a playground at Castlebar’s Museum of Country Life, but we guarantee the younger members of the family will have their attentions snagged more by what is inside than outside. This very smart, contemporary museum (which, unusually, sits side by side with a Victorian Gothic mansion) provides a year-round series of workshops, talks, tours and exhibitions that enable us to discover and contextualise our rural past and why our slowly disappearing way of (country) life is something we shouldn’t forget.
WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA