16 museums to inspire young minds this summer

Spend a day dressing up as Normans, looking at the galaxy or playing games about climate

Hook Head Lighthouse has been a guiding light to ships off these shores for almost 800 years, and their events calendar is worth keeping an eye on. Look out for the arrow ceremony.

Hook Head Lighthouse has been a guiding light to ships off these shores for almost 800 years, and their events calendar is worth keeping an eye on. Look out for the arrow ceremony.

 

Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum
Ballynacragga North, Co Limerick; adult €12, child €6 (under-fives free); flyingboatmuseum.com
Did you know Foynes was at one time the epicentre of commercial aviation? That Pan American Airways, British Overseas Airways, and American Export Airlineswere some of the major commercial airlines flying regularly into the small Limerick village? It’s all fascinating stuff, but here’s the real attraction: the only B314 flying boat replica in the world. It might not sound like much on paper, but this ocean liner of the skies had a 14-seat dining room, honeymoon suite, and sleeping berths for all passengers on transatlantic flights. Darragh Geraghty

Ulster American Folk Park
Castletown, Omagh, Co Tyrone; adult £9, child £5.50; nmni.com
Like all good Pixar movies, the best museums have figured out the magic formula of keeping both adults and children engaged and entertained at the same time. The Ulster American Folk Park does it as good as any. A huge outdoor museum (with plenty of indoor exhibits, too), it brings the past to life in a way few other places can. With more than 30 buildings to explore, you can follow the trail of thousands of Ulster men and women who journeyed across the Atlantic, from a full-scale emigrant sailing ship to the log cabins of the American Frontier. DG

King of the Vikings
10 Bailey’s New Street, Waterford; adult €10, child €5kingofthevikings.com
Step into the distant past in a handcrafted replica Viking house amid the ruins of a 13th century Franciscan Friary. You’ll be greeted by guides decked out in full Viking regalia ,who’ll tell you all about life in Viking Waterford. The fun really starts when you put on a state-of-the-art VR headset and travel back 1,100 years, coming face to face with the great Viking leader Reginald, founder of Waterford City. DG

Natural History Museum
Merrion Street Upper, Dublin 2; free; museum.ie/natural-history
Better known as the Dead Zoo, the morbid nature of this city centre institution is thankfully lost on young minds. They’ll be too busy gazing up in wonder at the skeletons of ice-age elk, or squealing in disgusted delight at the monumental collection of creepy crawlies. It is a godsend for city-bound parents on a rainy day, the quiet Victorian charm providing instant relief from the hectic streets outside. DG

The fully scaled handmade model village and railway line in Clonakilty, Co Cork
The fully scaled handmade model village and railway line in Clonakilty, Co Cork

West Cork Model Railway Village
Inchydoney Road, Clonakilty, Co Cork; adult €8.50, child €5; modelvillage.ie
It’s a common misconception that only middle-aged former comedians on BBC4 appreciate model railways. The truth is, kids love them too. At the Model Railway Village in Clonakilty, you’ll get to explore a fully scaled handmade model of the old West Cork Railway Line, with fully working trains passing through towns the railway served. After stomping Godzilla-like around these miniature landscapes, a trip on the Road Train through Clonakilty should snap everyone back to reality. DG

Stradbally Woodland Railway
Stradbally, Co Laois; family (four) €15, adults €7, children €3 (under-fives free); facebook.com/stradballywoodlandrailway
The Stradbally Woodland Railway was Ireland’s first volunteer-run heritage railway, having been set up way back in 1969. Steam trains operate every bank holiday weekend from Easter to Halloween with extra dates during the summer. The volunteers are always happy to chat and answer any questions passengers have. Additionally, the annual Stradbally steam rally takes places every August bank holiday weekend and features steam engines, steam rollers, attractions, a carnival, food, drink and more. Both are ideal for kids big and small.

The Stradbally Woodland Railway is operated and maintained entirely by volunteers and runs through the forests of the Stradbally Hall estate in Co Laois. Photograph: Kieran Marshall
The Stradbally Woodland Railway is operated and maintained entirely by volunteers and runs through the forests of the Stradbally Hall estate in Co Laois. Photograph: Kieran Marshall

Ulster Transport Museum
Holywood, Co Down; family ticket €30; nmni.com
Hailed as one of the finest transport museums in Europe, Thomas the Tank Engine lovers and aspiring pilots will love a day trip here. Horse-drawn carts and Irish-built motor cars sit alongside steam trains and flight simulators, ships, and tractors in the award-winning museum. The DeLorean sports car and vintage delivery trucks are just some of the colourful must-sees, and next door, the Ulster Folk Museum offers more historical insights. Jo Linehan

Hook Lighthouse
Hook Peninsula, Co Wexford; adult €9, child free; hookheritage.ie
Grab a pair of binoculars for a visit to this historic beacon on the sunny southeast coast. Hook Head Lighthouse has been a guiding light to ships off these shores for almost 800 years, and offers visitors a unique insight into the inner workings of a functioning lighthouse alongside stories of those who inhabited this magical space. Keep an eye on their events calender, too. JL

Costumed demonstrators at the Ulster American Folk Park, which has plenty on offer to keep children and adults both engaged
Costumed demonstrators at the Ulster American Folk Park, which has plenty on offer to keep children and adults both engaged

Knights & Conquests
Granard, Co Longford; adult €5, child €3.50; knightsandconquests.ie
Bring history class to life with a trip to Ireland’s highest motte, and its bailey, just outside Granard. It stands 162 metres high with a view from the top that includes five lakes, nine counties and the faint outline of the Sliabh Blooms. Right beside the motte is Knights & Conquests, a community-run heritage and visitor centre where kids can dress up in Norman costumes, receive a Norman name and dig for artefacts in the Norman CSI room. Sandra O’Connell

Viking Splash
St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2; adult €25, child €13; citysplashtours.com
Take a history tour with a difference with Viking Splash, a tour that’s way too much fun to leave to tourists alone. Kids of all ages love it, even if they’re only laughing at you in a horned helmet. The excellent tour guides are guaranteed to get even the grumpiest, most reluctant teenager engaged. Who wouldn’t enjoy driving through the streets in an open top boat shouting at people? SO’C

A Viking Splash Tour enters the Grand Canal Basin. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
A Viking Splash Tour enters the Grand Canal Basin. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Cavan Burren Park
Blacklion, Co Cavan; free; cavanburrenpark.ie
Budding geologists and archeologists will be blown away by the history and adventure at the Burren Park. Discover the Neolithic tombs, 350 million-year-old fossils and ancient rock art at the site, dating back to the Carboniferous period. Beyond the visitor centre, the Geopark offers a host of attractions from waterfalls and abbeys, mountain boardwalks to forest trails. JL

W5 Belfast
The Odyssey, Queens Quay, Belfast; adult £9.80, child £7.50; w5online.co.uk
An award-winning science and discovery centre in Belfast, W5 has 250 interactive exhibits and attractions. With six themed exhibition areas and regular live science demonstrations, there is enough going on here to keep kids of all ages entertained for days. Younger children will get a kick out of becoming a space explorer and climbing a giant rocket in Spacebase, while all the little brainiacs can explore MED-Lab, a brand new area taking you on a high-tech interactive journey through the human body. DG

Cool Planet Experience
Powerscourt Demesne, Co Wicklow; adult €9.50, child €5.50; coolplanetexperience.org
A trip to the world’s first permanent visitor centre dedicated to climate change might not sound like a barrel of laughs, but the Cool Planet Experience is a surprisingly fun family day out. Through a series of high-tech exhibitions and games, kids will learn the science behind climate change and what they can do to help. Each visit lasts up to two hours, so the rest of the afternoon can be spent exploring Powerscourt House and Gardens. DG

The Science Gallery
Trinity College, Pearse St, Dublin 2; free; dublin.sciencegallery.com
It’s free, it’s right by the Dart, and it’s one of the best science museums in Europe. With a marvellous melding of science and art, this museum uses cutting-edge technology and clever use of space to explore some big ideas. The exhibits are always changing, so expect anything from visions of a future dominated by artificially intelligent robots, to interactive experiments on memory. Teenagers in particular will be thrilled at the beautiful and limitless application of science outside the classroom. DG

A Godsend for city-bound parents on rainy day, the Natural History Museum – also known as the Dead Zoo – on Merrion Square in Dublin
A Godsend for city-bound parents on rainy day, the Natural History Museum – also known as the Dead Zoo – on Merrion Square in Dublin

Imaginosity
Sandyford, Dublin 18; adult €8, child €8; imaginosity.ie
Ireland’s only interactive children’s museum for the under 9s, Imaginosity lives up to its name. Built on the philosophy that children learn best when they’re having fun, there are three floors of interactive, educationally designed exhibits that visitors can navigate at their own pace. Meet the Eco Badger up on the roof garden, learn about how the unique “green” building works, or make your way up the Climber past the Wizard’s Lair and the Rocket Ship to Rapunzel’s Castle. DG

Armagh Planetarium
College Hill, Co Armagh; adult €9, child €7; armaghplanet.com
Change the way you look at the night sky forever with a visit to the Armagh Planetarium. Through interactive displays, learn about the cosmos and watch the latest space news unfold in real time. Smallies are invited to design, build and even launch their own rocket, take a walk through the cosmos and sit back in the new Digital Theatre which offers a 3D look at galaxies far, far away. JL

All summer long, The Irish Times will offer tips, advice and information for parents on how to help their children thrive during the holiday months. Read all about it on irishtimes.com/summeroffamily