50 great family days out in Ireland

There’s something to suit all ages, interests, locations and budgets in our ultimate guide


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. 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. 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 café 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

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


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 Airlines were 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. DG

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

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.

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

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

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

Make and do

National Gallery of Ireland
Merrion Square West, Dublin 2; free; nationalgallery.ie
Not all family days out are created equally. Parents at home with young children face a disappointing dearth of free and accessible activities during the week. Enter the National Gallery. Their thoughtful programme includes family-friendly tours, new parents' tours, baby workshops and seasonal events. Sunday is their Family Day when drop-in workshops, tours and activities all have a family focus. But any day of the week the Creative Space is open with free art packs and a bright, welcoming atmosphere. DG

Kinsale Pottery and Arts Centre
Kinsale, Co Cork; kinsaleceramics.com
Kids love to make a mess. It is the natural order of things. So why not harness that primal urge into something fun and creative? Kinsale Pottery and Arts Centre run weekly classes, weekend breaks, summer schools and summer camps - perfect for filling up those mid-term breaks. Classes are taught by young professional artists and qualified teachers, and kids will get to experience a wide range of messy activities from pottery and tie dye to theatre building and paper marbling. DG

National Print Museum
Beggars Bush, Dublin 4; free; nationalprintmuseum.ie
One on the finest lesser-known attractions in the country. For the parents: a fascinating museum in a converted military chapel dedicated to the historical impact of print in Ireland. For the kids: a trip through time to experience what it was like to be a young apprentice printer, with tactile and engaging activities including traditional hand-setting and printing. On the mezzanine level of the museum, overlooking all the wonderful printing presses, is a family-friendly education area. DG

Causeway Link, Ennis, Co Clare; glor.ie
A thriving arts centre located in Ennis, Glór plays host to a fantastic programme of theatre, music, dance, visual arts, film and workshops. With an art gallery, a 485-seat theatre and a 60-seat studio, there's always something good to see. However, it is in their focus and dedication to igniting the imaginations of young people where glór really shines. Free events and workshops make for a perfect day out, including family trad sessions, children's art classes, furniture painting and singing circles. DG

Crawford Art Gallery
Emmet Place, Cork; free; crawfordartgallery.ie
With a strong focus on education and discovery, there is plenty here for the whole family. Every Sunday and Bank Holiday they offer free tours and art workshops, as well as concerts and storytelling events. Their dedicated art classes for children use a wide range of media and focus on technique and confidence building. DG

Toy Soldier Factory
Kilnamartyra, Co Cork; €3 (under-10s free)toysoldierfactory.ie
A veritable Santa's workshop, the Toy Soldier Factory roughly half-way between Killarney and Cork city doesn't just let you play with the toys, it lets you make them. Using one of hundreds of different black rubber moulds you can create anything from model soldiers and fairies, to seasonal ornaments and chess sets as many times as you want. A real factory using traditional 17th century casting techniques, there is also an incredible Battle of Waterloo exhibit, featuring a diorama of 15,000 hand cast and hand painted Prince August Model Soldiers. DG

Lorge Chocolatiers
Kenmare, Co Kerry; two-hour course €17; lorge.ie
Become a chocolatier for the day with these child and family chocolate-making workshops at Lorge. Learn from the experts as they guide smallies and adults through the rich history and origin of the delicious sweet treat, before getting stuck into dipping, molding, and making your very own creations. You can sample the award-winning chocolates throughout the experience, too. JL

Bear Essentials
Bawnboy, Co Cavan; Build Your Bear kit from €29; bearessentials.ie
Kids can meet their brand new furry friend at this make-and-do experience in Cavan. They choose their favourite teddy and then learn how to stuff and customise it. Afterwards, they can bring him outside for a teddy bear's picnic, or visit the largest collection of teddy bears in Ireland at their Bear Essentials Teddy Bear Shop. 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

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


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 11-metre 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 café, a day trip here is a jungle-inspired experience. JL

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. JL

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. SO'C

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

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

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

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


Seafest and Cork Harbour Festival
Port of Cork, June 7th-9th; seafest.ie
It's Cork's turn to throw the country's biggest maritime festival this year, as Seafest moves from its Galway home to the Port of Cork. The free, family-friendly festival will see more than 100 watery themed events taking place including vessel tours, marine displays and "have a go" at sailing opportunities. There's a music stage, a special Kids Zone, and a daredevil tightrope walker too. SO'C

Cork Midsummer Festival
Cork City, June 13th-23rd; corkmidsummer.com
Stay on in the Rebel County for more free family friendly events, this time all over the city. These include productions from the Young Playwrights programme by Grafitti Theatre Company and Fighting Words; and the Cork Proms and Cork Carnival of Science at Fitzgerald Park, which offers non-stop interactive activities and garden games. SO'C

Cruinniú na nÓg
Nationwide; June 15th; cruinniu.creativeireland.gov.ie
Take part in more than 700 free creative activities around Ireland for youngsters as part of an initiative designed to encourage their participation in creative activities in their local community. Led by Creative Ireland across 31 local authorities, supported by local artists and arts organisations, activities include everything from shield making and game coding to Japanese kite making. SO'C

Hinterland Festival of Literature and Arts
Kells, Co Meath; June 27th-30th; hinterland.ie
Remind kids that summer's not the time to ditch the books, but to read more of them, at the Hinterland Festival of Literature and Arts. Child-friendly events include a Roald Dahl Treasure Hunt, comedian Jason Byrne and illustrator Oisin McGann discussing their Accidental Adventure of Onion O'Byrne series, and a map making workshop with illustrator Jennifer Farley. SO'C

Kaleidoscope Festival
Russborough House, Blessington, Co Wicklow; June 28th-30th; kaleidescopefestival.ie
Kicking off right as schools close, Ireland's first dedicated family camping festival is a great way to start the holidays, promising multi-coloured fun for all ages across 15 stages. Fighting Words, the Science Gallery, and conservationist and animal lover Collie Ennis are all involved, there's music, adventure sports, water sports, morning runs, meditation, tai chi and yoga, plus the Scrumdiddlyumptious Festival of Food. SO'C

Festival of Curiosity
Dublin city; July 18th-21st; festivalofcuriosity.ie
Dublin's international festival of science, art, design and technology is much more child friendly than you might think, with interactive installations, pop-up playgrounds and curiosity carnivals. Last year saw everything from Lego building to curious crafting, playable electronics and art machines. Events take place in multiple city centre locations. SO'C

Earagail Arts Festival
Co Donegal; July 10th-28th; eaf.ie
All roads lead to all parts of Donegal in July, for this bilingual summer festival which takes place across multiple locations. The event is now in its 31st year and has plenty to appeal to younger visitors ,including the multigenerational Choir of Ages, Twinkles by Dansema Dance Theatre, and Citadels of the Sun, a musical adventure on Letterkenny's Main Street. This is both a festival and a road trip, with venues ranging from purpose-built theatres to galleries, village halls, forests and beaches. SO'C

Spraoi International Street Arts Festival
Waterford City; August 2nd-4th; spraoi.com
For the August Bank Holiday, don't miss Waterford's extravaganza of street performances from both home-grown and international acts. Sunday night sees the Spraoi Festival Parade with dramatic floats and costumed performers - weaving through the city's medieval streets. There's dedicated fun for kids with SprÓg, presented by Garter Lane Arts Centre, with fun family events in the week before and during Sproai. SO'C

Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin; August 3rd-4th; the-beatyard.com
Bodytonic's quirky festival succeeds in being both hip and family friendly, and includes a quirky line-up of music, headlined by Groove Armada and Chvrches. There's also a KidsYard area with opportunities for a family rave and plenty of fun with Bricks 4 Kidz, plus Gamesyard for older kids, with arcades, crazy golf and ping pong. There's all the grub any of them could ask for too at Eatyard. SO'C

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann
Drogheda, Co Louth; August 11th-18th; fleadhcheoil.ie
The family that plays together stays together, and nothing could be more family friendly than the annual Fleadh Cheoil festival which takes place in Drogheda this year for the second time. It's one of Ireland's most popular events, and the world's largest annual celebration of Irish music, language, song and dance. SO'C

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