The top five spots in Dublin to go for a walk with the kids
A family day out in the great outdoors is easier than ever thanks to well-maintained public walkways and helpful technology
Kids often find it boring to hike with their parents and siblings, but if their friends come along on the hike, the transformation in their attitudes can be spectacular.
Get to the heather and furze above Tibradden Wood – like Aran and Vinny – and you’ll find wonderful views and an ideal spot for a picnic. Photograph: Gerry Mullins
A view from Killiney Hill over Dublin Bay – the obelisk provides shelter on blustery days. photograph: getty
There has never been a better time to be an outdoors child in the Dublin area. There has never been such an abundance of public parks, with well-maintained playgrounds and walkways. And there has never been such a push towards getting families to exercise, and this is key to introducing children to the great outdoors.
Kids often find it boring to hike with their parents and siblings, but if their friends come along on the hike, the transformation in their attitudes can be spectacular. Once they start walking together, they begin yakking and/or competing, and take little notice of distance being covered, or energy levels being depleted.
Technology, too, has delivered two elements that make hiking in Ireland far easier these days. Accurate weather forecasting means we don’t have to hike in bad weather. Met Éireann (met.ie) provides accurate images showing where the rainclouds will be up to five days in advance. Then satnav enables us to locate parks and trails that just didn’t exist on the torn and sellotaped maps of yesteryear.
There are three other elements that were scarce years ago, but play an important role in the creation of a successful family hike today: coffee, toilets and playgrounds. With these qualities in mind, here are my top five hiking recommendations for you and your family this autumn:
1. Ardgillan Castle and Demesne, north Co Dublin
As you leave the free car park at Ardgillan, you’ll be greeted by one of the most spectacular views of any public park on these islands. The castle is nestled half way down a steep hill that ends at the Irish Sea. The Mourne Mountains sit on the northern horizon, and Rockabill lighthouse on the eastern one.
Go left, and follow the park’s perimeter path in a clockwise direction. The paths are buggy-friendly, and good for bikes too, but they’re a little rough for scooters.
Including shortcuts, the hike takes around an hour (3.5km). It takes in woodlands and parklands, and finishes at a very well-equipped playground, including a zip-wire and other cool stuff. The grass beside the playground is a suitable picnic spot, so bring a lunch, a picnic blanket and perhaps a ball.
Alternatively, retire to the nearby castle where the tearooms will help you replace any toxins you may have lost during the walk. For further information, see the website (Ardgillan.ie).
2. Tibradden Wood and Zipit, near Rathfarnham, Co Dublin
Tibradden Wood offers a delightful walk through a maturing pine forest, and a challenging stone path to the top of one of the Dublin mountains. For children who are seven years and older, there is the exciting prospect of using the Zipit facilities, and climbing between the trees using ropes (charges apply). The parking is plentiful and free.
From the car park, follow the narrow trail that rises through the spacious and Gruffalo-friendly woods, and the ropes and platforms that have been installed by the Zipit people. This part of the walk is buggy-friendly, and challenging without being overly difficult for young children.
After about 15 minutes, the surrounding forestry changes to the dark, foreboding density of Sitka spruce plantations. The terrain gets rough, and while the more nimble children will enjoy springing between boulders, those pushing buggies will turn back. Fret not; the coffee shop at the carpark makes for a pleasant waiting area.
Back on the hike, the treeline stops suddenly and gives way to heather and furze. On this exposed mountain top, the wind can be strong, but the views over Dublin city, its bay, and Howth are magnificent.
You’ll eventually reach a stone enclosure called a cairn, which provides shelter from the wind. It’s an ideal spot to picnic and get ready for your descent, which takes around 20 minutes. For further information, see the website (zipit.ie).
3. Killiney Hill and Dalkey Quarry, south Co Dublin
The car park on Killiney Hill is spacious and free, and because it rests beside a well-equipped playground and green space, it should be viewed as a destination in its own right.
From the car park, it is a short stroll east into Dalkey Quarry. Here, between the gorse and brambles, you may spot foxes and other wildlife. The children will find many opportunities to climb mini-cliffs and therein lies danger. Short leashes should apply.
To exit the quarry, look out for steep granite steps that lead to the highest point that you can see. On climbing these steps, you’ll find the views over the harbour at Dún Laoghaire, and the quarry from whence it came, impressive.
From this point you should head towards the obelisk on Killiney Hill, which is about 25 minutes away along dirt and stone paths. The obelisk offers recessed seating on all four sides, so no matter which way the wind is blowing, it provides shelter. The views include Dublin city and Killiney Bay, and are spectacular.
Coffee and loos are provided in the Tower Tea Rooms, which are down the hill to the west of the obelisk. The same path will lead you to the car park, and the well-equipped playground again – a suitable reward for hard-hiking little ones.
4. Lambay Island, off north Co Dublin
This changed in 2014 when Skerries Sea Tours negotiated permission to bring small groups ashore. Now, for a fee, one can land on the island, have a guided tour of the farm and the wild hilltops and cliffs that are home to deer and wallabies – yes, wallabies.
The trip starts at the harbour in Skerries in north Co Dublin in an eight-metre rib that takes up to seven people. During the 25-minute journey you will definitely get shaken about, and probably wet, but isn’t that what kids like?
The hike itself starts in the labourers’ cottages, and wends its way through the island farmyard, past the castle and gardens, and soon starts to climb. At 126m, Lambay’s peak isn’t lung-bustingly high; children from six years upwards should not have difficulty.
Being an island, there are magnificent seascapes in all directions. Look out for the wallabies. They were introduced to the island in the 1950s, and some more arrived from Dublin Zoo in the 1980s. Their numbers are estimated to be in the region of 80 to 100. Skerries Sea Tours offers tours of Lambay Island for around €70 per person (consider for special occasions). Prices may vary according to group size. skerriesseatours.ie
5. Castletown House, Celbridge, Co Kildare
Castletown is a magnificent mansion built near Celbridge, Co Kildare, in the 1720s by then Speaker of the Irish House of Commons William Conolly. He was regarded as ‘the wealthiest commoner in Ireland’.
The hike starts in front of the house, which is five minutes’ walk from the free car park. It takes just over an hour and follows an anti-clockwise route around the grounds; passing under mature trees and along the Liffey before looping back to finish at the house.
It’s difficult to get lost in this flat and relatively small area, so just wander around and eventually you’ll get to the river. This is a good spot to rest, and skim stones. Beware of moving water when children are around.
The paths are relatively smooth and suitable for buggies, tricycles and – mostly – wheelchairs. It’s probably a little rough for scooters. Try to coincide your hike with the Country Market and Craft Fair, which takes place behind the house on the last Sunday of the month, April to October. castletown.ie