16 super summer outdoor adventures for families

Get outdoors and try something new, from cycling and hiking to handling birds of prey

The Waterford Greenway runs for 46km along the old railway line from Dungarvin to Waterford city

The Waterford Greenway runs for 46km along the old railway line from Dungarvin to Waterford city

 

Portumna Forest Park
Portumna, Co Galway; free; coillte.ie
These 450 hectares of woodland offer so much more than just lush walking trails. The forest park is bursting with amenities, from mountain biking trails with gentle gradients that travel along the lake shores, to family-friendly cycling loops and orienteering courses. The real treat here though is the birdwatching platform, where the White Tailed Sea Eagle is just waiting to be spotted. Jo Linehan

Ballycroy National Park
Co Mayo; free; ballycroynationalpark.ie
The Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park, 15,000 hectares of Atlantic blanket bog and mountainous terrain, is a vast uninhabited and unspoilt landscape dominated by mountains. The bigger ones can take a hike, while little legs can stay close to the cafe and visitor centre with a gentle 2km looped boardwalk, which offers views of Achill and the Nephin Beg mountain range. By night, let them stay up late for a visit to the Mayo Dark Sky Park (mayodarkskypark.ie), to see some of the darkest, most pristine skies to be found this side of Hawaii. Sandra O’Connell

Sea Synergy Awareness and Activity Centre
Waterville, Co Kerry; seasynergy.org
There’s more opportunity to keep your eco worriers happy at the Sea Synergy Awareness and Activity Centre in Waterville. It runs all sorts of family-friendly adventures during the summer including stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and, if you want to keep your feet dry, sea shore safaris. There are workshops and summer camps too, guided by marine biologists. SO’C

Waterford Greenway
Waterford City, Dungarvan and Kilmacthomas; adult bike €25; waterfordgreenwaybikehire.com
Head off en masse and en famille along this fantastic 46km off-road cycling trail (just watch out for walkers, it’s their trail too). It runs along the old railway line from Waterford city to Dungarvan, passing a Viking site, spectacular gardens, and a ruined castle. The Waterford and Suir Valley Railway still runs parallel to the greenway so make sure you keep an eye out for passing trains! There’s a dancehall, a workhouse and some viaducts too, with a shuttle bus service to bring you back to your car. SO’C

Lough Key Forest Park and Activity Centre
Co Roscommon; loughkey.ie
This is hands down the best day out for pre-teens, mainly because of the Boda Borg, a series of fiendishly fun quest-type challenges. Once you’ve had your fill of that, you can get your fill of fresh air, whizzing through the trees on high wires and zip lines, or riding on Segways, kids Jeep safaris, or bicycles. You could also enjoy the park on foot, of course, you killjoy. SO’C

Carlingford Adventure Centre in Co Louth, is your one-stop shop for an adrenaline-pumping adventure, on the water or in the air
Carlingford Adventure Centre in Co Louth, is your one-stop shop for an adrenaline-pumping adventure, on the water or in the air

Carlingford Adventure Centre
Carlingford, Co Louth; carlingfordadventure.com
Your one-stop shop for an adrenaline-pumping adventure, this centre offers every activity imaginable, from kayaking, zip lining, and water trampolining, to archery, laser combat, and a skypark. Whether entertaining teens or smallies, everyone is catered for here. For those not so actively inclined, the onsite holiday homes and stay-and-play packages (from €650 for a five-night stay) mean you can choose to keep moving or simply relax and enjoy the picturesque medieval town. JL

We Are Vertigo
Cedarhurst Road, Belfast; from €8; wearevertigo.com
A whole building is dedicated to fun at the We Are Vertigo HQ in Belfast. Try your hand at indoor skydiving, learn to lunge and roll at a ninja master course, run amuck in the Inflata-park and indoor ski, adventure and climbing centre. Hone in on one activity or try a multi-adventure package; there’s something for all ages here. JL

Skywalkers take to the rope bridge in Kells Bay, Co Kerry
Skywalkers take to the rope bridge in Kells Bay, Co Kerry

Skywalkers
Kells Bay House and Gardens, Co Kerry; kellsbay.ie
Though it might sound like a Starwars reference, Skywalkers is actually Ireland’s longest rope bridge, dangling high about the River Delligeenagh. Those brave enough to walk the 11m stretch can also enjoy their Bamboo Glade and Bogwalk, and explore the subtropical plants and flowers here. Topped off with a visit to the conservatory cafe, a day trip here is a jungle-inspired experience. JL

Castlecomer Discovery Park
Co Kilkenny; discoverypark.ie
With 80 acres of woodland and lakes, the Discovery Park is the perfect place to enjoy good old-fashioned nature, but there’s a range of organised activities to try, too. These include tree-top walks, a zip wire, a high ropes challenge, climbing walls, boating, archery, mountain biking, adventure playgrounds and orienteering. There’s even axe throwing. At the hub of it all is the Coal Mining Museum, with a purpose-built cafe and a craft village. SO’C

Baysports
Hodson Bay, Athlone, Co Westmeath; baysports.ie
Inflatable water parks are such fun that it’s a wonder more of our watery locations don’t have one. Baysports is basically an inflatable island of fun with towers, trampolines and slides, as well as a water-based obstacle course. If anyone has the energy left you can team it up with pedal boats, kayaking sessions or stand-up paddle boarding. They’ll have flippers for feet by the time they get out. SO’C

Con Faughnan from Raheney with Urban Farm volunteer Katrina Marsh, visiting the Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs at Dublin City Council’s urban farm in St Anne’s Park, Raheny, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Con Faughnan from Raheney with Urban Farm volunteer Katrina Marsh, visiting the Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs at Dublin City Council’s urban farm in St Anne’s Park, Raheny, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Dublin City Farm
St Anne’s Park, Raheny; free; dublincityfarm.com
Dublin County Council’s first urban farm has only been open a month, and it already feels like an established weekend destination for families. Located in St Anne’s Park, it is a working community farm run by more than 20 local volunteers. Children can get up close and personal with a wide range of rescue animals, from Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs to miniature ponies, while learning about organic farming and animal care. Darragh Geraghty

National Bird of Prey Centre
Blessington, Co Wicklow; adult €8, child €5 (under 5s free); nationalbirdofpreycentre.ie
Located on the grounds of the magnificent Russborough House, the Bird of Prey Centre is home to more than 40 different birds of prey, including the recently re-introduced golden eagle, white-tailed sea eagle and red kite. Visitors are given an expert guided tour of all the birds on display, as well as the chance to handle some of the hand-reared birds. For an extra special treat (and an extra €50 per person) you can take one of the larger hawks on a leisurely walk through the house grounds. DG

Airfield Estate
Overend Way, Dundrum, Dublin 14; adult €12, child €5 (under-threes free); airfield.ie
Airfield Estate might just be the most pleasant surprise in all of Dublin. A 38 acre estate with working farm, exquisite gardens, and miles of walking trails through gentle woodland, it’s hard to believe this peaceful haven is slap-bang in the middle of the city. Every morning children can help collect freshly laid hen’s eggs, followed by a demonstration of the beautiful Jersey herd being milked. There are also pigs, donkeys and goats throughout the farm. The icing on the cake is the Overends Kitchen – a cafe so good it’s worth the trip alone. DG

Dunfanaghy Stables
Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal; leadouts with children start from €15; dunfanaghystables.com
This is the ultimate horseriding experience. Set off with Helen and her team to see Ireland’s rugged coastline on horseback. There are plenty of options, from a half-hour beach trek to a week-long trail, staying in Arnolds Hotel, with Shetland ponies for tiny tots, Connemara ponies, quiet Cobs and Irish hunters, all sure-footed when it comes to crossing mountain paths. JL

Feeding goats at the Burren Nature Sanctuary
Feeding goats at the Burren Nature Sanctuary

Burren Nature Sanctuary
Kinvara, Co Galway; Adult €8, child €11; burrennaturesanctuary.ie
Located on a 50 acre organic farm in Kinvara, this heritage site has more to keep the kids entertained than you can fit in a day. Follow the nature trail through ancient fairy woodland, explore the vast collection of wildflowers and orchids in the dome-shaped Botany Bubble, run wild in the adventure playground, and meet a whole host of friendly animals. Twice a day kids can help feed and pet donkeys, mountain goats, alpacas, pigs, cows and other animals. DG

Fungie the Dolphin
Dingle, Co Kerry; adult €16, child €8; dingledolphin.com
Is it the same Fungie we all remember seeing back in the day? Who cares! Your kids certainly won’t. Not when they’re zipped up in lifejackets, being doused in fresh sea spray as their boat crashes through waves. When the geriatric beast finally breaches the surface, leaping through the air in all his bottle-nosed glory, it’s a guaranteed memory-maker. DG

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