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17 Jul Family fun when the sun shines: the AA Roadwatch guide

Main pic: public domain

The weather doesn’t always play ball in Ireland, but we’re bound to get at least a few sunny days in the coming weeks. When it happens, you’ll want to make the most of it. The country is full of interesting and exciting day-trip destinations to make family memories over the school holidays – here are a few ideas to get you started.

CYCLE THE GREENWAYS
Cycling

Photo: public domain

Cycling with the family can be stressful – but not on the greenways. These are old railway lines that have been converted into off-road walking and cycling trails. No cars, no junctions and mostly flat terrain: a perfect summer’s day out for young or novice cyclists. You can bring your own bikes or rent them along the way, bring a picnic and enjoy the scenery of a landscape without traffic (a rare sight for us at Roadwatch!).  Each trail snakes under viaducts and through old tunnels, which the kids will love. The Great Western Greenway in Mayo passes a number of beaches and the Waterford one has two rail-themed playgrounds (one at Durrow and one at Ballinroad). Each trail is divided into one-to-two hour sections, but for younger children, your best option is to pick a short stretch of the trail starting and ending at towns that the railway used to serve.

ESSENTIAL INFO

The Great Western Greenway (42km) stretches from Newport to Achill along the Mayo coastline, off the N59, while the Great Southern Trail (40km) snakes from Rathkeale to Abbeyfeale in Limerick, just off the N21.

The Waterford Greenway (46km) travels from Waterford City to Dungarvan, and the Athlone to Mullingar Greenway (40km) does exactly what it says on the tin.

If you don’t have your own bikes, they can be rented along the way – check each trail’s website for their local providers. You can find info on all Irish greenways here.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN IRELAND’S HERITAGE
Kilkenny

Photo of Kilkenny Castle by Aldebaran, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

The Office of Public Works recently made all its heritage sites free for children under 12, so why not get their imaginations going with a trip to a castle or fortress? Ireland’s history is full of rich stories that really come to life in children’s minds at heritage sites across the country. OPW sites include castles such as Donegal Castle, Kilkenny Castle and Ross Castle (Kerry), fortresses like Dún Aonghasa (Galway) and Charles Fort (Cork) and other famous historical sites including the Rock of Cashel (Tipperary), Newgrange/Brú na Bóinne (Meath) and the Glendalough Visitor Centre (Wicklow). Many sites have age-specific tours, or let you wander at your own pace. Bring a picnic on a sunny day (make sure to eat in the designated areas!) and let the little ones immerse themselves in the past.

ESSENTIAL INFO                                                                         

The OPW is in charge of a total of 780 sites, 70 of which have guided tour services. Children under 12 go free to all sites, while adult prices vary for each one.  As well as that, all sites are free for all visitors on the first Wednesday of each month.

You can learn more about all OPW heritage sites here.

Check our Routeplanner for directions to your chosen site, as well as details of any delays or traffic incidents along the way.

GO TO EXTREMES AT AN ADVENTURE PARK
Archery

Photo: public domain

Want to have a memorable day out, pick up a new skill or two… and maybe even tire the kids out? Try one of the adventure centres around the country, where you can learn to kayak, rock-climb or shoot arrows, among other outdoor pursuits. In Lough Key Forest Park (Roscommon), check out a Segway tour through the forest or try your hand at Boda Borg – a Swedish Crystal Maze where the whole family will have to work together to solve the puzzles and overcome obstacles. Galway’s Delphi Adventure Centre and Louth’s Carlingford Adventure Centre both have a big focus on watersports, but you can also take mountain biking and bushcraft survival lessons in Delphi and climbing and ziplining in Carlingford. Meanwhile in Castlecomer Discover Park (Kilkenny), there’s a new high ropes course and boating lake.

ESSENTIAL INFO

All centres have a wide variety of activities for all age groups, from the little ones right up to the grown-ups, but it’s wise to book in advance where possible.

SEEK THRILLS AT TAYTO PARK
Tayto Park

Photo by KillianfromTaytoPark, used under CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence

Crisp-based theme parks aren’t exactly ten-a-penny, so you’re guaranteed a unique day out at Tayto Park. Ireland’s only permanent theme park is famous for its wooden rollercoaster, but there are plenty of attractions to keep the whole family entertained. Older children and adrenaline seekers will love the four themed zones with a skywalk, zipline and water rides (make sure to bring a change of clothes!). For those who are too small for rollercoasters, there are plenty of age-specific playgrounds, a dinosaur walk, mazes and live shows. There’s also a petting zoo – where pygmy goats and Highland cows wander about freely – and a larger wildlife section where you can see big cats and exotic birds. And if you’ve ever wondered how crisps are made, you can take a factory tour (weekdays only) to learn all you ever needed to know.

ESSENTIAL INFO

Tayto Park is located north of Ashbourne, just off the N2 Dublin/Monaghan Rd: turn off at the signs for Dunshaughlin and Ratoath. You can use our Routeplanner to check for any delays or incidents on your journey. Bus Éireann also run direct routes from Dublin and Drogheda (103 and 105).

Entry is from €15 per person, with all-inclusive wristbands from €28. Book in advance when you can, especially at weekends. See here for full details.

EXPLORE THE PHOENIX PARK
Phoenix Park deer by Superchilum under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

Photo by Superchilum, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

For many children, the Phoenix Park is synonymous with Dublin Zoo, which has been delighting visitors young and old for almost two centuries. One of the world’s oldest zoos, it’s home to 400 animals from all over the world, as well playgrounds and exhibitions for all age groups. Outside the zoo, however, the Phoenix Park has enough attractions for a full week’s worth of day trips, with no two days the same. The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre has exhibits on the park’s history and runs free weekly conservation workshops for children ages 6 to 12 on Sunday mornings. At the far end of the park, Farmleigh House has a whole summer programme of free family events, ranging from puppet shows to farmers’ markets. Or for a less structured visit, just take a picnic to one of the green spaces, visit one of the many children’s playgrounds and/or get close to the park’s herd of wild deer, who normally graze near the Papal monument.

ESSENTIAL INFO

The Phoenix Park is located just north-west of Dublin city centre, with the main gates at Parkgate St (near Heuston Station) and Castleknock Rd. There are also a number of side gates. It’s worth planning your route before you head out, as it can be a very long walk from one end of the park to another.  Car parking is available at the Papal Cross, the Lord’s Walk and the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre. Dublin Bus operate a number of routes near the various gates (37, 38, 39, 46a, and 70) and the Luas Red Line stops at Heuston Station, near the Parkgate St entrance.

The Visitor Centre workshops take place each Sunday from 11am – 12pm.  Farmleigh House’s summer programme can be found here. Family tickets for Dublin Zoo start at €49 and can be pre-booked – see here.

MEET DOMESTIC AND EXOTIC ANIMALS
Fota cheetahs

Photo: courtesy of Fota Wildlife Park

If you have animal lovers at home but you’re too far from Tayto Park or the Phoenix Park to visit their zoos, don’t fret. There are plenty of places around the country where you can meet animals of all kinds, learn about their habitats and maybe even feed them – education and fun at the same time. Fota Wildlife Park in Cork is one of Ireland’s largest visitor attractions, with animals and plants from around the world. It also runs Arts and Crafts workshops and Family Fun Days throughout the summer. In Kerry, Coolwood Wildlife Park outside Killarney is home to animals including lemurs, macaques and alpacas on a 50 acre site. Stone Hall Visitor Farm in Limerick has all of the usual farm animals, but also a few you mightn’t expect like llamas, peacocks and emus. In Galway, Turoe Pet Farm allows children to get close to rabbits, donkeys and goats, and explore a 14km nature trail. And in the east of the country, Secret Valley Wildlife in Wexford is a growing conservation park, where children can have a go at being a zookeeper for a day.

ESSENTIAL INFO

  • Fota Wildlife Park is just outside Cork City: turn off the N25 Cork/Waterford Rd at J3 Tullagreen. Family tickets start from €48.
  • Coolwood Wildlife Park is off the N72 Killarney Bypass at Coolcaslagh. Family tickets are from €30.
  • Stone Hall Visitor Farm is located in Curraghchase, approx. 20km from Limerick City off the N69 Foynes Rd. Family prices are from €35.
  • Turoe Pet Farm in Galway is not far from the M6 Dublin/Galway Rd at J16 Loughrea, with prices from €24.
  • Secret Valley Wildlife is in Clonroche, Wexford, off the N30 Enniscorthy/New Ross Rd. Family tickets start at €32.

Check out the AA Roadwatch team’s recommendations for longer breaks within Ireland.

Lauren Beehan
beehanl@theaa.ie