School’s Out: 43 things to do with kids this summer
From toddlers to teenagers, there’s loads for your children to do this summer
Body and Soul: The enchantingly creative arts and music festival really does deliver a ‘magical experience’ for kids. Photograph: Allen Kiely
Opening of 1916 Centenary Exhibition at the GPO, Dublin, last year. Photograph: Paul Sherwood.
Irish International Rugby star and former Dublin GAA player Kim Flood with the 1st class students from Scoil Chaitríona, Baggot Street, help launch Ireland’s largest inflatable 5k event, the Wild Air Run. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan
1. Summer Stars
Public libraries, June-September
Cartoon characters Binky and Zoink headline the “Be a Summer Star” reading programme for children at public libraries all over the country. When children register at their local branch, they get a card, which is then stamped for every book they read. There are rewards at different stages along the way to keep them reading and an awards event at the end. In Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, the dlr Lexicon is launching the programme with a Family Day on June 24th.
2. Music and Beautiful Beasts
Temple Bar, Dublin, June-August
The Ark, a dedicated cultural centre for children, will echo to the sound of music for the rest of June, with events such as the chance to test-drive an instrument (June 24th-25th) and a discovery trail of live performances (June 24th). A free “Beautiful Beasts” exhibition of animal sculptures runs from July 1st to August 27th, with “Enchanting Transformation” workshops for pre-schoolers, on dates between July 20th and August 5th.
Free and from €5; ark.ie
3. Agricultural shows
The sounds, sights and smells of a traditional agricultural show make for a transfixing summer outing. Big and small, these celebrations of rural life take place all over the country, with events ranging from “beauty” competitions for cattle, horses, sheep and poultry, to show-jumping, horticultural competitions and tug of war. Ones to look out for include Cork Summer Show (June 17th and 18th), West Kerry Show in Dingle (July 16th), Tullamore Show (August 13th), Connemara Pony Show, Clifden (August 16th-19th) and what claims to be Ireland’s oldest – the Iverk Show in Piltown, Co Kilkenny (August 26th), which was founded in 1826.
Find a show near you: irishshows.org
4. Saturdays at Dublinia
Christ Church, Dublin, June-August
Find out about medieval cookery (June 17th), stone masonry (July 8th) and Viking finger braiding (August 12th) at a series of special family events on Saturdays that are included in the admission fee. This not-for-profit heritage centre gives an educational and entertaining insight into life in both Viking and medieval Dublin and offers views across the city from St Michael’s Tower.
Family* €25; dublinia.ie
5. Wild Air Run
Various venues, June-August
The focus is on fun not finishing times for this 5k course incorporating 10 giant, inflatable obstacles. Suitable for all fitness levels, and spectators can come along and laugh at your efforts for free. Operating in venues such as Kilkenny Castle (July 1st); Dublin’s St Catherine’s Park (July 8th) and Marlay Park (August 5th); Cork’s Fota House (July 29th), Galway Racecourse (August 19th) and more.
Family €80; wildairrun.com
6. Waterford Greenway
It’s the first summer that this 46-kilometre, off-road track along a disused railway is open to cyclists and walkers. Bring your own bikes or hire some to pedal part or all of what was considered to be Ireland’s most scenic rail route when it opened in 1878. There are three high viaducts to cross and the villages of Kilmeadan and Kilmacthomas en route offer the chance to stop for coffee.
Bike rental from €15; visitwaterfordgreenway.com
7. Parks Tennis
Some 150 parks and clubs host this low-cost summer programme, so there’s bound to be one running near you. It gives children of all ages a taste of what can be a sport for life, with at least an hour’s tennis coaching every day, Monday-Friday, for the duration. Schedules and costs vary; equipment can be provided.
From about €15 a week; parkstennis.com
8. Chapterhouse Outdoor Productions
Various venues and dates from June 21st-August 6th
There’s no better date to see an outdoor performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” than on the night itself, June 21st, at Lyrath Estate, Co Kilkenny. It is being staged by the UK theatre company Chapterhouse, which has chosen fabulous backdrops for a touring repertoire that includes “Peter Pan” at Tullynally Castle Gardens, Co Westmeath (June 23rd, 7.30pm) and Castletown House, Co Kildare (July 1st, 4pm), and “The Wind in the Willows” at Belvedere House, Co Westmeath (August 2nd, 7pm) and Strokestown Park House, Co Roscommon (August 6th, 5pm). Check the company’s website for more productions and venues.
Family €56; chapterhouse.org
9. Science 4 Summer Camp
National Aquarium, Galway, July-August
Hands-on experiments, classes and a seashore safari introduces children to the wonders of science in the oceans, on the shore and in the engineering that goes into keeping the aquarium running. Children design and make models that they can bring home in these weekly camps that run over five weeks. The junior ones are already booked up.
10. Adventure Kayak Camp
Lucan, Co Dublin, July-August,
Want your children to paddle their own canoe? Well, here’s a way for them to learn or improve their technique. Canoe Ireland is running five-day camps over eight consecutive weeks at its training centre in the Strawberry Beds. Skills award certificates can be attained.
Juniors €99/seniors €145; canoe.ie
11. Airfield Camps
Dundrum, Dublin, July-August
A new Young Chefs Camp is introduced into the summer mix this year at this green oasis of farm and gardens within sight of Dundrum Shopping Centre. There are also art, forest and “Airfield experience” five-day camps to choose from, but all will involve plenty of outdoor action. And, of course, it’s a great place for a family outing any day.
From €145; airfield.ie
12. Family Comedy Weekend
Farmleigh Estate, Phoenix Park, July 1st-2nd, 11.30am-5pm
All ages, workshops 5-12 years
The former Guinness family estate is transformed into a “funny farm” for the weekend, with stand-up comedy shows, workshops and amusing storytelling. Performers at this collaboration between the Office of Public Works and Punch Lion Events include Joe Rooney (Father Ted), Paul Tylak (The Secret of Kells), Reuben (RTÉjr) and Sharon Mannion (Dublin Comedy Improv). Peter O’Byrne (Craic Pack/Killinaskully) leads comedy workshops for children aged five to 12.
13. Viking Invasion
National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Castlebar, Co Mayo, July 1st-2nd
A weekend to celebrate our Viking heritage with demonstrations on how the Vikings lived, traded and battled. It is being run in conjunction with the museum’s temporary exhibition, “The Hoard and the Sword”, featuring one of Ireland’s most important Viking silver finds, at Cushalogurt, near Clew Bay, in 1939.
Free but some events require booking; museum.ie/country-life
14. The Viking Voyage
Tayto Park, Ashbourne, Co Meath, all summer
The commercial theme park is also looking to our Scandinavian forebears as inspiration for its newest attraction, now open for summer 2017. The flume ride incorporates a Viking village, five replica ships and two round towers, not to mention 1.7 million litres of water. With the Cú Chulainn rollercoaster and various other rides, there’s plenty to keep adrenaline junkies happy, along with a zoo and crisp factory tour for those who prefer to be more sedate.
Entry adult/child €15, all-day wristband €28, u3s free; taytopark.ie
15. Run Away with the Circus, Co Tipperary and Dublin, July
For children who dream of being a Big Top entertainer, Cloughjordan Circus Club in Co Tipperary is running a five-day camp, July 17th-21st, at which international circus teacher Simon Llwellan (Sorin Sirkus, Belfast Circus School) is sharing some of his expertise. Meanwhile, the Dublin Circus Project is organising camps for ages 8-14 on the northside (July 10th-14th) and the southside (July 3rd-7th).
€50 and €150; littlebigtop.info, dublincircusproject.com
16. Pirate Day
Hook Lighthouse, Co Wexford, July 2nd and August 27th
Captain Hook and his cronies arrive on the peninsula of the same name to take over the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. Children are invited to come dressed as pirates to blend in and avoid capture, and perhaps win themselves a fancy dress prize. There’s music and nautical games on the lawn.
Adults €9, children go free on these days; hookheritage.ie
17. Family Fun Raceday
Co Kildare and Co Meath, July 8th
Take your pick between Naas and Bellewstown racecourses, both of which are running family-friendly race meetings on the second Saturday in July. There’s family entertainment and a food festival at Naas, while at Bellewstown the family fun day is the culmination of a three-day racing festival.
Family €20; goracing.ie
18. Bone Stories
National Museum, Kildare Street, Dublin, July 12th and August 22nd
Skeletons may all seem to look the same, but not to archaeologists. Professional diggers share their “bone-reading” skills at family workshops, revealing how they can tell much about the way people lived from their remains. These drop-in sessions are part of a family programme running every Wednesday (2pm-4pm) and Saturday (11.30am-1.30pm) through July and August. Meanwhile, the Decorative Arts and History branch of the museum is celebrating its 20th birthday over in the awesome Collins Barracks, where children are invited to drop in over the summer and design a birthday card in its family activity area.
19. City Spectacular
Dublin, July 7th-9th; Cork, July 15th-16th
World-class, international street performers are only part of the story at the Laya Healthcare City Spectacular that runs for three days at the capital’s Merrion Square before moving to Cork’s Fitzgerald Park for two days the following weekend. The rest of the action ranges from drama and dance workshops and science shows to birdbrain quizzes with Dustin the Turkey and Pat Divilly’s positive mental fitness for all the family. Don’t just stand there, get stuck in.
20. Adventure Bootcamp
Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, July-August
Time to push the children out of their comfort zone? A five-day, military-style outdoor camp, presenting a range of challenges and experiences, promises to do just that. Instruction in survival and camouflage skills, self-defence, air rifling and map reading is designed to build confidence, encourage team work and “develop the leader within”.
21. Designer Minds
Venues in Munster and Galway, July-August
Education is balanced with fun to give children a sample of Steam – science, technology, engineering, art and maths – through hands-on projects, challenges and experiments. Divided into junior and senior groups, they work with materials such as Lego, Raspberry Pi computers, robots and science kits.
22. Make a Ballet
Various venues, July-August
Ballet Ireland tours its popular summer school around different theatres, starting in Ennis, and finishing in Navan, visiting Tallaght, Letterkenny, Naas and Cookstown in between. The company invites young dancers to collaborate for a week on creating a ballet, which is then performed for family and friends. No previous training necessary and there are separate groups for juniors (6-11 years) and seniors (12-plus)
From €90; balletireland.ie
23. Create an App
Donnybrook and Blackrock, Dublin, August 7th-18th
Tech-loving teenagers can learn all the steps in designing and developing an app, before creating their own, in a two-week camp run by the Columbus Club. Specialising in teenage summer courses, the club also offers week-long camps in photography, animation, baking, Irish and film-making.
24. Big Wild Sleepout
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Co Down, July 22nd-23rd
A perfect chance to try family camping, but you do need to bring your own equipment and food. Hosted by the nature charity RSPB as a fundraiser, there will be activities to keep all ages entertained, from mini-beast hunting to bat detecting and bushcrafts to stargazing. Toilets, security and cooking areas provided.
£17-£20 (under-4s free); bwso2017.eventbrite.co.uk.
25. Bray Air Display
Bray, Co Wicklow, July 22nd-23rd
Look up to see the UK’s aerobatic Team Raven, an F-18 jet from the Spanish Air Force and the Catalina Flying Boat, among many other performers, at Ireland’s biggest air show. On the ground there is a food and craft village, seafront funfair and the chance to climb aboard a helicopter for a pleasure flight (€50/€35). But do travel by public transport to the town this weekend if you can. Meanwhile, on the same Saturday, on the other side of the country, Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum in Co Limerick hosts its now annual air show.
Free; brayairdisplay.com, foynesairshow.com
26. Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Co Armagh, all summer
Check out the new Giant’s Lair story park at what was voted “family visitor attraction of the year” in the 2016 Ni4Kids Family Awards. It’s a bewitching trail for all the fairies and elves in your life. There’s also an extensive adventure playpark. The Lúnasa Festival, July 30th-August 27th, with a programme of more than 30 events, is a particularly good time to visit.
North Dublin, all summer
No need to worry about the weather forecast when planning a visit to this indoor challenge zone, which opened last year just off the M50 at exit 4. Ideal for multi-generational groups, there are 28 rooms, each with a conundrum to solve in a set time. Teams must comprise three to five people and they have 90 minutes to accumulate as many points as they can on the live scoring system, in tests of mental and physical skills. Make it as competitive – or not – as you like.
€17.50 per head; goquest.ie
28. Free First Wednesdays
Countrywide, July 5th, August 2nd
The Office of Public Works offers free admission to almost 50 heritage sites around the country on the first Wednesday of each month. Tickets are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so families are encouraged to get there early. The Dublin Castle State Apartments, the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre for Newgrange and Knowth in Co Meath, Kilkenny Castle and the Charles Fort, Co Cork, are among the participating venues.
29. Free Kid Sundays at GPO
O’Connell Street, Dublin, June-August
There’s free admission for children to the GPO’s Witness History visitor centre every Sunday during the summer. Within the walls of the iconic building, the events of the 1916 Easter Rising and beyond are presented in fun, bite-size and child-friendly portions. Interactive maps, video booths and “real-life” soldiers all help to bring the history alive.
Family tickets from €26 (Mon-Sat), adult €10 (Sun); gpowitnesshistory.ie
30. Earagail Arts Festival
Co Donegal, July 4th-23rd
Circus acts from the Indian deserts of Rajasthan transform the centre of Ireland’s most northerly village, Malin, for a “Wild Atlantic Weekend” on July 8th-9th. The colourful spectacle includes acrobats, ropewalkers, dancers and illusionists. Among the other festival shows for children are “Kila Kids” in Letterkenny on July 15th, and “The Merman’s Tale” for ages 3-11 in Letterkenny on July 17th and Dunfanaghy on July 18th
Free and various prices; eaf.ie
31. West Cork Literary Festival
Bantry, Co Cork, July 14th-21st
A Children’s Festival within the main festival presents a variety of workshops for young scribes, as well as 3pm readings by popular authors such as Jane Mitchell (age 11-plus) on July 15th; Dave Rudden (age eight-plus), July 19th, and “Geek Girl” Holly Smale (age 11-plus), July 20th. If your children are wondering what to read next during their summer holidays, take them for a free consultation at the Book Clinic for all ages in Bantry Library on July 18th, 9.30am-12.30pm.
Readings €6; westcorkmusic.ie
32. Galway International Arts Festival
Galway, July 17th-30th
July 21st will be a night to forget bedtimes when Transe Express’s stunning, high-energy spectacle, “Chariot of the Sea” starts to wind through the streets from Eyre Square at 10pm. If that’s too late, catch its large-scale aerial performance, “Mobile Homme”, the next day, at St Nicholas Church, 4pm. One children’s show for age four-plus not to miss is an adaptation of the Oliver Jeffers book, “How to Catch a Star”, using puppetry and music, running July 18th-29th (no shows July 22nd-24th) in the O’Donoghue Theatre.
Free, show €10-12; giaf.ie
33. Junior Doctors
Raheny and Cabinteely, Dublin, July and August
So your teenager wants to be a doctor? Two working doctors have set up a new week-long summer camp for aspiring medical students. Running through July and August, it offers secondary-school pupils from first to sixth year “the real life experience of what it’s like to be a doctor or healthcare professional, from wearing a white coat and stethoscope, to listening to a heart, to doing CPR”. Groups are limited to 15 at a time.
34. Creative Wellbeing for Kids
Dundrum, Dublin, July 24th-28th
Small people can have big worries, so this five-day mini-retreat aims to give them ways to calm their anxieties and build their confidence as they face moving up into secondary school, exams and other stress. Yoga, mindful movement and meditation are some of the sessions on the programme at this camp in Taney Parish Centre.
35. Sunrise Children’s Festival
Brigit’s Garden, Co Galway, July 29th-30th
Building on last year’s inaugural event dedicated to children and their families, new areas for 2017 include Brainiac’s fun-educational tent, a huge archery tag pitch and a “healing area” where adults can reconnect with their inner child. The rest of the action includes fireshows, forest crafts, giant bubbles, music, dance and artisan food stalls, in the setting of these beautiful Celtic gardens and surrounding woodlands, 20 kilometres outside Galway city.
Weekend family ticket €169, family day ticket €99/€89; brigitsgarden.ie
36. Spraoi Festival
Waterford, August 4th-6th
“From Source to Sea” is the theme of this year’s Spraoi centrepiece – the night-time street parade on Sunday, August 6th. Starting off at 9.30pm, it is a celebration of the River Suir, from the middle of which a spectacular fireworks display will end the night. Garter Lane Arts Centre runs the SprÓg Children’s Festival in the lead-up from July 31st, with science, arts and crafts workshops, and lots more.
Free; spraoi.com, garterlane.ie
37. Stradbally Steam Rally
Co Laois, August 6th-7th
Bring a tent or caravan and camp in the grounds of Stradbally Hall to make the most of this two-day festival, where the vibe is vintage. Now in its 53rd year, attractions include working steam engines, pre-1930 tractors, vintage cars and bikes, birds of prey, carnival, children’s area and food court.
Admission €10, u12s free, caravan €20, tent €10; irishsteam.ie
38. Dublin Horse Show
An annual pilgrimage for pony-mad children, as participants or spectators at the RDS Showgrounds. They can scream on their peers in the finals of the Pony Club mounted games and rub shoulders with international show-jumpers. Those possessing a little less equine enthusiasm can always shop among the 300 stands of the indoor trade fair.
Family of six €60 (€55 Sunday) but seats in main arena cost extra; dublinhorseshow.com
39. Kilkenny Arts Festival
Kilkenny, August 11th-20th
Children can enjoy twice daily, secret garden pop-up concerts, theatre shows and workshops at a festival which generates an entertaining buzz in the Marble City’s medieval streets. The classical music programme of lunchtime and evening concerts gives budding musicians the chance to hear inspiring, world-class performers.
Some free, various prices; kilkennyarts.ie
40. Groove Festival
Killruddery, Co Wicklow, August 19th-20th
Two days of music, wellness and food for all the family. UB40, Primal Scream, Hot House Flowers and new Irish band Hudson Taylor are among the acts on the main stage. A new family zone has a full schedule of shows, while there’s yoga and mindfulness for kids in the Thrive area. And the very little ones can get stuck into a sand-pit and petting zoo in the toddler zone.
Day tickets, adult €59.50, teens €24.50, u12s free; groovefestival.ie
41. Overnight Primitive Skills Camp
Irish National Heritage Park, Co Wexford, August 19th-20th
There’s a chance to sleep in the Viking settlement of the heritage park during this weekend of learning traditional crafts, such as shelter-building, fire-by-friction, spoon burning and cooking over a fire. Or bring your own tent for what is a collaboration between primitive skills practitioner Steven Dirven from the Netherlands and Ciara Hinksman of EarthForce Education. If it sounds too costly – in time and money – check out Hinksman’s day camps (from €30) for children aged 5-14 on various dates during July and August in both the heritage park and two Co Wicklow venues.
Adult €150/child €75, plus €25pp accommodation; earthforceeducation.com
42. National Heritage Week
Countrywide, August 19th-27th
From the Kerry Bog Pony Show, eagle flying and bat walks to family concerts, nature walks and art workshops, there is an incredible range of events under this year’s tag line “It’s in Your Nature”. Look out for all the “Wild Child” happenings on August 23rd. An excellent, dedicated website invites you to search by “where, when and what” to plan your last round of outings before the school doors re-open.
Mostly free; heritageweek.ie
43. Creative boredom
In your own home, all summer
Too much organised activity and entertainment can stunt children’s imagination, according to child development experts who say boredom is an essential stimulus for creativity. So if you are a schedule-driven, go-go household, make sure you slot in times for children to do absolutely nothing this summer.
*Family prices are for two adults and two children, unless otherwise indicated.
While every effort is made to ensure information is accurate at the time of compilation, please check details before making a journey.