Wax Museum Plus, Dublin

15 Aug Family fun when the sun doesn’t shine: the AA Roadwatch guide

The August bank holiday may be behind us but there are still a couple of weeks left before the kids go back to school, and you can’t always rely on the sun to shine to keep them entertained. Fortunately, there’s a whole host of fun, exciting and educational activities on offer around the country so you and your family can enjoy a day out when the weather isn’t playing ball.

GET ACTIVE
Ball pit

If it’s pouring down outside and your little ones are starting to climb the walls, there’s no better remedy than taking them somewhere they can let off steam. For younger children, indoor play centres can be perfect – they can spend an hour or two running, jumping and sliding until their hearts’ content while you observe with a coffee. Try these centres in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin’s Long Mile Rd.

For older kids, there are even more options. Ten-pin bowling is an evergreen activity for all the family – there’s an alley in all the cities and in many large towns where you can unleash your competitive side. And for a retro spin, why not try out roller skating? There are rinks in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Newbridge.

If you’re going to get soaked if you go outside, you may as well get wet inside! With hair-raising slides, wave machines, lazy rivers and paddling pools, splashing around at a water park is a great way to spend a wet afternoon. Aqua Zone in Blanchardstown, Dublin, has thrilling slides for older kids (and grown-ups!) and the safe and fun Pirate Ship area for the under-8s. If you’re in the north-west, there’s Waterworld Bundoran, while Funtasia in Drogheda is another popular spot.

And if there’s a budding petrolhead in the family, indoor karting could get the green light. There are tracks all over the country where kids from around 8 years and older (depending on the centre) can have a go at becoming the next Lewis Hamilton:

GET EDUCATIONAL
Imaginosity, Dublin

School may be out but there’s no reason that learning has to stop for the whole summer. There are lots of attractions and activities that are both educational and fun, no matter what gets your kids’ brain cells whirring.

Imaginosity in Sandyford, Dublin, is a great all-in-one choice for under-nines. There is a wide range of hands-on exhibits and play areas across three floors, and kids are encouraged to navigate it at their own pace. There are workshops too, focusing on science, theatre, art, engineering and more. W5 in Belfast is similar, but with more of a scientific focus – its name stands for “Who, What, Where, When, Why”, the questions posed by science. With over 250 interactive exhibits and a full programme of events, there’s plenty to keep everyone happy – including the grown-ups.

For older children with the space bug, observatories and planetariums are a great choice. Blackrock Castle in Cork is home to Cosmos at the Castle, an interactive astronomy exhibition, and daily planetarium shows that should get the kids dreaming of space. Birr Telescope and Science Museum in Offaly is a great option in the midlands, with a more personal perspective on space discovery told through the eyes of the pioneering Parson family.

Finally in Northern Ireland, Armagh Planetarium has been delighting children and adults since the late 1960s, with interactive exhibits, workshops and spectacular star shows in the domed theatre. Perfect for rainy days.

BE ENTERTAINED
Popcorn

What better way to put in a rainy afternoon than by watching a movie? While you can always go to a regular screening, many cinemas offer special kids’ screenings, often in the morning or early afternoon, at a discounted price. No need to worry about your little ones getting shushed from across the cinema, as everyone is in the same boat!

While a cinema trip is always an exciting event for kids, you can ramp up the excitement by taking them to an IMAX show. With a huge screen (generally 22m wide by 16m tall, but they can be bigger), IMAX used to be the preserve of educational and nature films. Now though, you can catch many blockbusters in IMAX, and the sensory overload is something the kids aren’t likely to forget in a hurry.

BRAVE THE OUTDOORS
Forest walk

Sometimes when the weather is bad, there’s nothing for it but to wrap up warm, get the wellies on and brave the elements! It’s unlikely that the kids will mind too much – who didn’t love splashing in puddles as a youngster, after all? Whether you live in a city and have a choice of parks to visit, or you’re in the countryside and can get to a forest or dedicated walking trail, you should have plenty of choice. Here are a few ideas:

Alternatively, head underground for an awe-inspiring visit to one of the magical caves that are dotted around the country. In many cases, these subterranean worlds lay hidden for millions of years, only to be discovered by chance in recent times. Many of them offer guided tours, often on a boat, while you can learn more about the geological processes responsible for creating the caves at their visitor centres. Some even offer kids’ parties! Here are a few of the best:

SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
Wax Museum Plus, Dublin

Kids can unleash their inner Picassos at Giddy Studios in Dundrum. They offer little ones the opportunity to paint their own pottery masterpieces – from egg cups and tiles to dinosaur ornaments and money boxes. Once painted, the pottery is glazed and fired in a kiln, and then you pick up the finished article a week later.

If you fancy combining creativity with a little bit of history, the Toy Soldier Factory in Macroom, Co. Cork lets you cast and paint your own miniature, and in this case you get to take it home on the same day. While you’re there, don’t miss their dioramas showing battle scenes from history, including the huge Battle of Waterloo showpiece that features over 15,000 figures.

Or how about rubbing shoulders with the celebs at Dublin’s National Wax Museum Plus? Recently relocated to Westmoreland St from its previous site at College Green, the museum hosts waxworks of everyone from movie stars to politicians, cartoon characters to sporting icons – not to mention the spooky Chambers of Horrors! There’s an educational aspect too, with rooms dedicated to periods of Irish history, great writers and science and discovery. It’s a well-rounded family day out.

DON'T FORGET!

Take out or renew your AA Membership before you start packing the car. For just €8.25 a month, you get 24-hour breakdown cover in Ireland and the UK (meaning you can take the car to Northern Ireland in confidence), personal cover (which covers you in any car) and Home Start, which means you’re covered at your home or very near your home address.

Chris Jones
jonesc@theaa.ie