Armagh Planetarium

09 Dec Family fun at Christmas – the AA Roadwatch guide

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – Christmas is coming and the kids are getting excited about Santa’s visit. But it also presents a challenge – how do you occupy the little ones when they have more than two weeks off school in the depths of winter?

Fortunately, here in Ireland we’re used to amusing ourselves when the weather isn’t playing ball and so there are lots of great places to take the children at this time of year. From the oceans to the stars, science to nature and maybe even the chance to meet the big man himself, here are a few of our favourites…

FARMLEIGH HOUSE & ESTATE
Christmas at Farmleigh House & Estate

Set in 78 acres of land just northwest of the Phoenix Park, the beautiful Farmleigh House is used by the government to entertain foreign dignitaries and host high-level meetings, as well as being open to the public. Each Saturday and Sunday leading up to Christmas, there’s festive fun for all the family, with horse and carriage rides, storytelling, puppet shows and lots more. Best of all, everything is free!

ESSENTIAL INFO:

The Christmas programme runs every Saturday and Sunday until December 18th from 10am to 4pm. Entry to all events is free but puppet and storytelling sessions are on a first come, first served basis. The ground floor of Farmleigh House (where all Christmas events take place) is fully accessible to wheelchair users. The house is closed on December 24th-27th and December 31st to January 3rd. The estate is closed on December 25th-26th and January 1st. More info here.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Access by car is via the Phoenix Park. The closest entry point for Farmleigh is the Castleknock gate. You can also get there on the number 37 Dublin Bus and get off at the Castleknock gate. Farmleigh is a 15-minute walk from the gate. Detailed directions for drivers and bus passengers are posted on the Farmleigh website. Photo © Farmleigh House & Estate.

SEA LIFE, BRAY
Sea Life, Bray

If your little ones are captivated by the deep blue sea, a visit to Sea Life in Bray could be just the ticket. The aquarium houses a huge collection of marine life, and you can sit in on feeding time with rays and tropical sharks among other fascinating creatures. Some are friendlier than others – the ‘Toxic Terrors’ feature lets you get up close and personal with some of the most venomous sea animals and is likely to delight older children.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

€10 for adults, €7.50 for children – group discounts are available. Sea Life is open from 11am-5pm (Mon-Fri) and 10am-6pm (Sat-Sun) every day except Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day. Christmas Eve opening times are – 11am-4pm; New Year’s Day – 12pm-6pm. Advance booking is recommended. More info at the Sea Life website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Sea Life is situated on Strand Rd in Bray. Enter the town and follow signs for the seafront/Sea Life. Paid parking is available in front of Sea Life and along the seafront. If you prefer to use the train, it’s a three-minute walk from Bray DART station, which is half an hour from Dublin city centre. Dublin Bus’s 45, 84 and 145 routes serve Bray Main St, from where it’s a short walk to the centre. Photo © Sea Life, Bray.

WINTER WONDERLAND AT WESTPORT HOUSE

Westport House in Co. Mayo is a stunning 18th century stately home in beautiful grounds, and this December it has been transformed into a winter wonderland. Kids and adults can enjoy a fun-filled few hours with Santa, Mrs Claus and the elves – including story time, face-painting, and the chance to paint your own gingerbread men. The highlight is a very special visit to Santa in his magical grotto in the Dining Room, where each child will receive a gift and a chat.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Admission: adults (16+) €14, children (2-15) €28, infants (1-2) €15, babies free. Open Friday to Sunday every weekend until Sunday 11th December, then every day from December 16th-23rd. The house is not accessible for wheelchairs and buggies but according to the website, 90% of the estate is. More info at the Westport House website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Westport House is located on Quay Rd, just west of Westport town centre. The town is situated at the end of the N5 Longford Rd and is also accessible from the Clifden or Ballina directions via the N59.

ARMAGH PLANETARIUM
Armagh Planetarium

Armagh Planetarium is the ultimate destination for families fascinated with the cosmos. The main attraction is the spectacular shows that are projected onto the planetarium’s dome. Until December 22nd, an astronomical version of the Christmas story is told in ‘Mystery Of The Christmas Star’. Aside from the shows, there’s a real meteorite (4.5 billion years old!), interactive exhibits, an outdoor landscaped Astropark and a huge amount of fascinating facts about the solar system and beyond.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Entry is £2 for the exhibition area (or free Mon-Fri during term time). For the shows, ticket prices are £6 for adults, £5 for under-16s and seniors. A family ticket (up to two adults and three children) is £20 per show. Discounts are available for large groups. All shows must be pre-booked. Standard opening times are 10am-5pm but there are some extra evening shows. Closed on Sundays, December 24th-28th and Jan 1st-2nd. More info at the Planetarium’s website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Armagh Planetarium is located on College Hill in Armagh City, approximately 30km from Monaghan Town via the N12/A3 and 50km from Dundalk via the N52, N1, A1 and A28. Photo © Armagh Planetarium

AQUAZONE, DUBLIN

If the sprogs need to let off steam, they can get wet and wild at Aquazone, which claims to have Europe’s biggest and best water rides and attractions. There are some hair-raising, high-speed slides, plus flumes, a pirate ship, wave pool and lazy river.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Admission during the school holidays is €15 for adults and €13 for children and students. A family ticket (two adults and two child or one adult and three children) costs €47. The centre is closed for maintenance from Dec 19th-26th, but it’s open again between 10am and 5pm from Dec 27th – Jan 8th (except Jan 1st), so it’s perfect for a post-Christmas dip. Aquazone is wheelchair accessible. More info at the Aquazone website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Aquazone is part of the National Aquatic Centre on Snugborough Rd, Dublin – close to where the N3 Navan Rd meets the M50 at J6 Blanchardstown. The centre is also served by Dublin Bus routes 17a, 236, 38 and 38a.

SANTA’S WORKSHOP AT AILLWEE CAVE, CO. CLARE

Located in the heart of The Burren in Co. Clare, Aillwee Cave is a spectacular network of underground caverns, otherworldly stone formations and a thunderous waterfall. It’s a fantastic family day out all year round, but never more than when Santa is in residence. Along with Mrs Claus and his team of elves, Santa will greet each child with a gift, while there is face painting, a puppet show and lots of carnival entertainment too. This year, for the first time, there is also a special Sensory Day for children with autism and other sensory challenges, with softer lighting and music and a slower pace to the festivities.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Admission: adults €16, children €34, babies €7. Open Friday to Sunday every weekend until Sunday December 18th, plus Wednesday 21st and Thursday 22nd. Sensory Day is on Tuesday 20th. Not suitable for wheelchairs or buggies. The caves are open throughout the holidays except for Dec 24th-26th and Jan 1st. More info at the Caves’ website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Aillwee Cave is located just off the Ballyvaughan/Ennis Rd (R480) in the north of Co. Clare. From the Galway direction, take the N18 Claregalway/Limerick Rd and then the N67 Kilcolgan/Lahinch Rd. Turn left onto the Ennis Rd (R480) around 2km south of Ballyvaughan. From the Ennis direction, take the R480 the whole way to the caves.

BIRR CASTLE & SCIENCE CENTRE
Birr Telescope

If you’re looking for an educational day out for your little stargazers, then try the Science Centre at the 11th century Birr Castle in Co. Offaly. The museum tells the story of early photography, engineering and astronomy in Ireland, particularly through the eyes of the pioneering Parsons family, who own and still live in the castle. The prize exhibit is a reflecting telescope which was the largest in the world for over 70 years after it was completed in 1845. The stunning grounds are open to the public too, though tours of the fairytale castle are only available from May to August.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

€9 for adults, €7.50 for seniors and students, €5 for children aged 5-12 (under 5s go free). A family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) is €25. Open 10am-4pm until March 15th. Closed Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day. The museum and grounds are wheelchair and buggy-accessible, though some paths are gravel so can be rough. More info at The Birr Castle website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Birr Castle is located in Birr, Co. Offaly on the N52 Tullamore/Nenagh Rd and the N62 Athlone/ Roscrea Rd. If you’re travelling from the east, you can take either the M4/M6 Dublin/ Galway Rd (exit at J5 Tullamore on the M6) or the N7/M7 Dublin/ Limerick Rd (exit at J21 Borris-in-Ossory on the M7). Photo © Flickr user bea & txema & alan.

WINTERVAL, WATERFORD

This is more of a pre-Christmas option, but Waterford’s Winterval is Ireland’s biggest Christmas festival so it definitely warrants a mention. 2016 is its fifth year, and every weeks until December 23rd there are over 30 events and attractions to choose from, including Santa’s Grotto, the Christmas Market, a carol concert, horse drawn sleigh, ice skating, the Elves’ Workshop and more. Something for everyone!

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Many events are free, but full listings and ticket sales are available at the Winterval website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Winterval takes place at a variety of venues around Waterford city centre.

THE PLANET, CORK
The Planet, Cork

If it’s action you’re after, The Planet has it in spades. Cork’s largest family entertainment centre has plenty to keep the whole family entertained on a drizzly afternoon – bowling, laser tag, pool and Cosmo’s Funworld – a soft play area with slippery slides, rope bridges, a huge ball pool and bouncy castles, with a separate area for under-5s. There’s a diner too.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Admission is free and activities are priced individually. A full list is available here. Closed December 25th-26th and January 1st. Closes early on December 24th (4pm) and 31st (7pm).

HOW TO GET THERE:

The Planet is located on the Old Mallow Rd, in the north of Cork City. It’s just off the main N20 Cork/Limerick Rd.

IMAGINOSITY, DUBLIN
Imaginosity, Dublin

Kids can let their imaginations run wild at Imaginosity – “Ireland’s only interactive children’s museum for the under 9s”. The ethos is all about learning through play, and there’s a dazzling array of interactive attractions where kids can be a shopkeeper, a mechanic, a doctor or a newsreader, and even learn to drive on a simulator in a real car. There’s a wide range of Christmas-themed events throughout December.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Adults €8, children (3+) €8, concession €7, toddlers (1-2) €6, babies (6-12 mths) €2. Annual Family Membership is available. Closed December 24th-26th. The building is wheelchair accessible. Full opening hours, event calendar, accessibility info and a comprehensive FAQ are available at the Imaginosity website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Imaginosity is located in Sandyford Business District, a short distance from J13 Sandyford on the M50, just off the Drummartin Link Rd. Sandyford Luas stop is approximately 10 minutes’ walk from the museum. Detailed directions are available here. Photo © Imaginosity.

The AA Routeplanner and AA app can help you find your way to each of these attractions quickly, safely and easily – with live traffic information provided by the AA Roadwatch team.

Chris Jones
jonesc@theaa.ie