Get out and about with the kids this summer
When it comes to a day out with the children, planning and anticipation are half the fun. And there are lots of free options out there, so take the time to decide what would make a great family day out for you.
As primary school pupils throw down their school bags for the last time this week, two months of freedom beckon – full of promise no matter what the weather because children don’t get as hung up about rain and grey clouds as their parents do.
While available time and/or finances will dictate how many special days out you can schedule between now and the end of August, planning and anticipation are half the fun. And there are lots of free options.
Draw up “wish lists” with your children – you might be surprised by some of the simple things they want to do.
Surprise them in turn with something they have not thought of.
Here is a selected guide to some of the very many places to go this summer:
Free on first Wednesdays
ON THE FIRST Wednesday of every month, various heritage sites managed by the Office of Public Works that normally charge admission throw their doors open for free. So on July 4th and August 1st, it won’t cost you anything to bring the family to the State Apartments in Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin; Charles Fort in Kinsale, Co Cork; Athenry Castle in Co Galway; Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre (Newgrange and Knowth) and Trim Castle in Co Meath and the Rock of Cashel in Co Tipperary – to name just a few. See heritageireland.ie.
Summer for Science
THERE ARE numerous events to mark Dublin’s year as European City of Science, including ones geared specifically to children such as the Ark exhibition (see below) and a week-long interactive science club, for children aged six to 11, at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, July 9th-13th. Entry is free but there are only 20 places; booking opens July 2nd at 9.30am. See cbl.ie
For other activities see dublinscience2012.ieand for science-themed places to visit all over Ireland, such as Birr Castle, Co Offaly, Straffan Steam Museum, Co Kildare, and the Arigna Mining Experience, Co Roscommon, see the atlas on ingeniousireland.ie.
FLOATING NESTS, a laser snail trail and a shoal of 150 recycled metal fish are just some of the attractions at the science-themed, interactive art exhibition Awakening Curiosity at the Ark, the cultural centre for children in Temple Bar, Dublin. There is also an indoor roof-top art garden where little hands can make their own creations. On July 12th-15th scientists will be there to talk about their work. Aimed at age four upwards, it runs until August 6th and no booking required. Cost: €4 per child and accompanying adults go free.
Toddlers are catered for every Tuesday morning between today and the end of July with the interactive telling of the story of The Magic Turtle and the Jelly Fish. Cost: €10 per child, accompanying adult goes free (€8 for child if adult is concession) and booking is essential.
See ark.ieor tel 01 670 7788 for more information.
Anyone for tennis?
SHREDDIES PARKS TENNIS offers an hour of tennis coaching every weekday throughout July for children age six to 12-plus on courts all over the country. For example, it operates at 54 different venues in Dublin, nine in Galway, nine in Limerick and this Friday, June 29th, is registration day for most of them.
See: parkstennis.comfor your nearest venue or tel 01 833 8711.
Cost: rates vary but in Galway it is €30 and in Dublin €35 per child for the entire month; racquets and balls supplied.
Take to the streets
THE STREET Performance World Championships in Fitzgerald Park, Cork (July 14th-15th) and Merrion Square, Dublin (July 19th to 22nd) are always great free days out.
Sixteen street artists from around the world compete for the championship title, which is decided by a public vote. New this year is a large play area. See spwc.ieor tel 01 674 5922.
Find a festival
HUNDREDS OF festivals all over the country provide free entertainment and extra incentive to visit the host town or city. There are the “biggies”, such as those in Galway (see below), Birr Vintage Week (August 3rd-10th), Kilkenny Arts Festival (August 10th-19th), the Rose of Tralee International Festival (August 17th-21st) and the Tall Ships Races in Dublin (August 23rd-26th), while two-thirds of the programme at Ballina Salmon Festival in Co Mayo (July 8th-15th) is devoted to children. But look out for lesser-known events such as the Lughnasa Festival at Craggaunowen, Quin, Co Clare (August 5th-6th) and Terryglass Arts Festival in Co Tipperary (August 15th -19th). See discoverireland.ie.
Go to Galway
THE CITY OF the Tribes is all go. The Volvo Ocean Race Finale festival (June 30th to July 8th) has plenty of family-friendly attractions in both the Global Village and Race Village by the harbour, including mini chef workshops in the food pavilion, hands-on science and technology games in the innovation hub, pottery/painting workshops and fun fair.
Meanwhile on the water, there is the chance to have a taster session of sailing, wind-surfing, kayaking or water polo. See volvooceanracegalway.ie
One week later the Galway Arts Festival (July 16th-29th) brings spectacle and colour to the streets. Highlights of the free events include shows by the Catalan masters Efimer (July 16th-19th) the great Macnas parade on July 22nd and Spanish street theatre, Kamchàtka, July 24th/25th. See galwayartsfestival.com
Take art to heart
WITH FAMILY TOURS every Saturday at noon, art workshops for children aged four to 10 at 3pm every Sunday (numbers limited to 25) and supervised drop-in drawing workspaces, there are plenty of child-friendly opportunities for visits to the National Gallery, Merrion Square, Dublin. There are also family packs available at the information desk at anytime. And it is all free. See: nationalgallery.ie
Across the Liffey there is a busy programme of children’s camps and workshops throughout July and August at Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, on Parnell Square, catering for children aged 18 months to 18 years. Prices vary. See hughlane.ieor tel 01 222 5553.
Walk on high
ELEVATED WALKS seem to be all the rage. For the new Croke Park Roof Top Tour, children need to be at least 1.2 metres tall (that’s three-quarter inches short of four feet). Cost: €25 adults, €15 children. But any young GAA fan would love just a tour of the stadium: adult €12, under-12s €8, which includes entry to the museum. See crokepark.ieor tel 01 819 2300.
There is a new tree-top walk at Castlecomer Discovery Park in Co Kilkenny where the same minimum height for children applies and they must be aged at least seven years.
There are plenty of other things to do and see at the 80-acre site; a car park charge of €2 is being introduced and while walking trails and playground are free, cost for activities range from €7/€5 (family €20) admission to its Footprints in Coal experience, to €12.50 per person for the tree-top walk. See discoverypark.ieor tel 056 444 0707.
If you are anywhere near Roscommon, try the Zipit adventure aerial trail (age seven upwards; cost from €15) in Lough Key, which is just one of the many attractions at this extensive forest park.
(Note: closed July 4th-11th due to Girl Guides camp.)
See loughkey.ie; tel Zipit on 051 858 008.
RATHBEGGAN LAKES in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath, gets favourable mentions in parenting forums, which is a good indication of appeal and value for money. There is plenty to do apart from fishing, including a pet farm, playground and paddle boats. Cost: €2 admission; activities such as fishing (€15 per person for the day) have extra charges. See rathbegganlakes.comor tel 01 824 0197. Castlecomer Discovery Park (see above) also offers fishing at €15 for four hours; two-hour fly fishing lessons cost €25 adult and €15 child.
THERE WILL be a pop-up, do-it-yourself film studio in which anyone can write, shoot and screen a movie at the Half Moon Theatre, Cork Opera House in Cork, from July 10th-14th. Booking for the all-age workshops, entitled “You’ll Like This Film Because You’re In It” and costing €5, is essential. (You can go back to the same venue for free during July 30th to August 3rd, to visit the Amazing Ultra Sonic Music Studio, and help write and produce Cork’s anthem for the End of the World, which will be released into outer space.) See: corkoperahouse.ieor tel 021 427 0022
Take a cruise
SEE THE capital in a different light with a 45-minute tour on board the Spirit of the Docklands that travels along the river Liffey, from Bachelors Walk. See liffeyrivercruises.comor tel 01 473 0000. Cost: Adult €12.60, under-16s €8 and family (2/2) €30.
For a tour of Dublin city centre by both land and water, clamber on board one of Viking Splash Tours’ colourful amphibious vehicles dating back to the second World War. See vikingsplash.comor tel 01 707 6000. Adult €20, under-12 €10, family (2/3) €60.
In Galway, cruise the Corrib on the Corrib Princess; three sailings daily from Woodquay Pier during July and August. Cost: adult €15, child €7, family (2/3) €35. See corribprincess.ieor tel 091 592 447.
On the buses
IT IS WORTH noting that two children under 14 can go free with every paying adult (€18, or €15.30 online) on the Dublin Bus Hop on Hop Off tour. So encourage friends or family visiting the capital this summer to take along your children for the ride! See dublinsightseeing.ie.
Two wheels good
CYCLE WITH your family in safety on the Great Western Greenway – the longest off-road cycling and walking trail in Ireland. Voted a European Destination of Excellence, the 42km traffic-free route follows the old Westport-Achill railway line. If you can’t bring your own bikes, there are several places where you can hire them along the route and Clew Bay Bike Hire runs a drop-off and collection service. See greenway.ie
Cost: At Clew Bay Bike Hire, a family of four can hire bikes and all necessary safety equipment for a full day’s cycling for €60, and that includes a drop-off/pick-up service along the route. See clewbayoutdoors.ieor tel 098 37 675.
Ride the rails
CHILDREN AND adults alike can be charmed by a trip on the Waterford Suir Valley Railway, from Kilmeadan along the banks of the river Suir. See wsvrailway.ieor tel 051 384058. Cost: adult €8.50, child €4, family (2/3) €23.
Or how about a day trip on a steam train? The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s programme for July and August includes return journeys from Dublin to Rosslare, Belfast to Portrush and Dublin to Kilkenny (to be confirmed). See steamstrainireland.com
Meanwhile, conventional rail travel can be fun too. Irish Rail has special offers to various summer events, including the Volvo Ocean Race Finale in Galway and the Titanic Experience in Belfast. And a family of one/two adults and up to four children can have a day’s unlimited travel on the Dart and short-hop commuter service (Balbriggan-Greystones) in July and August for an all-in ticket of €10. See irishrail.ie
Dip into Dublinia
“LIVING HISTORY” characters will enliven the Viking and medieval centre between 11.30am and 3.30pm every Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer. See dublinia.ieor tel 01 679 4611. Cost: adult €7.50, child €5, family (2/2) €23.
Pack a picnic
WITH FOOD being sold at every turn, the pleasure – as well as the economy – of bringing your own is sometimes forgotten. So whether it is just to the local playground, a scenic spot or Dublin Zoo, which has a special “Great Gorilla Picnic Weekend” on July 21st /22nd, make sure you pack food-to-go and spread out a blanket at least once this summer.
TICKETS FOR families with up to four children are significantly discounted at the Dublin Horse Show (August 15th-19th). Children don’t have to be pony mad to enjoy it, although it helps. See dublinhorseshow.com.
Cost: adult €21, under-16s €15, family (2/4) €54; reserved seats for show jumping cost extra.
NO SUMMER is complete without a visit to at least one branch of the National Museum, in Dublin and Co Mayo. And unlike many museums in other parts of Europe, they are all free admission. See museum.iefor details.
The recently reopened Maritime Museum (family admission €10) is another reason to take a trip to Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, as is the Teddy’s ice cream that is now also sold at the far end of the East Pier – an excellent incentive for walkers.
Every effort is made to ensure information is correct at time of going to press, but please check websites or phone before travelling.