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Bulgaria Czech Republic Europe Featured Poland Romania Slovakia Sport and leisure Winter sports

Skiing on a budget in eastern Europe

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While undoubtedly fun, the expense of skiing can be off-putting. There’s kit to buy, flights, ski passes and accommodation to pay for – not to mention the cost of après-ski. It all adds up very quickly. With this in mind, we’ve done some research and found a handful of more affordable ski resorts in Eastern Europe. They may not be as glam as Gstaad, but they won’t break the bank…

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”POLAND – ideal for beginners and families” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22293″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Poland’s most popular resort is Zakopane, a two-hour drive from Krakow and ideal for beginners and families. Intermediate skiers and those looking for a great nightlife should look elsewhere, but if skiing in the snow-tracks of a former Pope is one of your goals, then you’re in luck (Pope John Paul II was a regular visitor).

Zakopane is made up of several smaller resorts spread around the town which can be accessed by bus. Most offer pay-as-you-go lift passes and eating out is also quite reasonable. Skiing conditions are at their best in January but be warned: the days are short and cold. The end of February and the full month of March are popular with skiers.

GETTING THERE:

Ryanair fly direct to Krakow from Dublin and from Cork and Shannon with one stopover. Taxis, mini-buses and coaches can be hired for transfer to Zakopane.

MORE INFO:

discoverzakopane.com

Image by Konrad Wąsik, used under CC-BY-3.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CZECH REPUBLIC – great for kids” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22294″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]The Krkonoše is the Czech Republic’s highest mountain range and Janské Lázne is a small spa town nestled among the peaks. Book your flights to Prague and it will take you about two hours to get to the snow. Once you arrive, there are gentle, wooded slopes which are suited to beginners, intermediates and children. There are also child-friendly menus and hotels, and cheap lessons.

GETTING THERE:

Aer Lingus and Ryanair both fly direct to Prague from Dublin. They also operate flights from Cork and Shannon with one stopover. It’s a two-hour drive from the airport to the resort and a number of taxi services can be booked for a fixed price.

MORE INFO:

janske-lazne.cz

Image by T. Przechlewski, used under CC-BY-3.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BULGARIA – great nightlife” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22295″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Borovets is the oldest, biggest, and one of the cheapest ski resorts in Bulgaria. It’s especially good for those who haven’t skied before and intermediates, as there are good nursery runs for those starting out and most hotels are located next to the slopes. Borovets is also known for its busy and affordable nightlife.

GETTING THERE:         

Ryanair fly to Sofia three times weekly and there are shuttle services to Borovets once you land, which take approx. 55 minutes. Aer Lingus fly to Bourgas, located to the far east of Borovets, but it will take an extra three and a half/four hour journey. Car hire is available at Bourgas Airport.

MORE INFO:

bulgariaski.com/borovets

Image by Tropcho, used under CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”ROMANIA – perfect for beginners and intermediates” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22296″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Romania’s most popular ski resort is Poiana Brasov, Transylvania and is perfect for beginners and intermediates. The ski area covers 14km which is small compared to other European resorts, but it is still a very attractive and affordable location for a ski break. There are two cable cars and a gondola that will bring you to an altitude of 1775m. You can then enjoy a long, 45-minute run to the bottom without taking another lift.

While you’re there, you could also take a day away from the slopes and pay a visit to nearby Bran Castle, which inspired Irish writer Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

GETTING THERE:

Ryanair, Turkish Airlines and Blue Air all fly to Bucharest, Romania direct. There are also flights from Cork and Shannon which include one stopover. Getting to the slopes requires an extra three-and-a-half hour travel. Shuttle buses and taxis are available for hire or you can take the train which will be approx. four-and-a-half hours. A taxi from the airport to Bucuresti Nord station is 30 minutes by car. You then take the train to Brasov and use local transport to get to Poiana Brasov.

MORE INFO:

ski-in-romania.com

Image by Surovyi, used under CC-BY-2.5 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”SLOVAKIA – suitable for advanced skiers” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22297″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Jasná in Slovakia is located in Chopok mountain, one of the highest in the Low Tatra range, and is suitable for all skill levels, from beginners to experts. Snow is guaranteed for five months a year with the ski season lasting from the end of December to the start of April. There’s lots to do besides skiing with restaurants and nightclubs as well as an Aqua Park and indoor sky-diving.

GETTING THERE:

A number of airlines operate from Dublin to Bratislava, Slovakia but Ryanair is the only company that flies direct and offer several flights each week. Car hire is available at Bratislava Airport and it will then take over three hours to reach Jasná.

MORE INFO:

jasna.sk

Image by Marcin Szala, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET COVERED” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]The AA’s Winter Sports Cover can be added to your Essential or Extra* Travel Insurance policy if you decide to hit the slopes. As well as all the benefits of AA Travel Insurance, adding on Winter Sports covers you for things like your ski pass, lessons and equipment.

*Don’t forget that AA Members get extra benefits on Travel Insurance with the AA Extra Policy. If you’re an AA Member at the time you take out Annual Travel Insurance, you can enjoy unlimited medical cover and no excess on any claim – as well as the usual benefits – from just €34.99.

Main image used under CC0 licence.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Europe Ireland Sport and leisure

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

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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.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET ACTIVE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22245″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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:

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET EDUCATIONAL” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”21823″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BE ENTERTAINED” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22249″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BRAVE THE OUTDOORS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22242″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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:

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”22247″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”DON’T FORGET!” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

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.

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Categories
Europe Featured Ireland Sport and leisure

Family fun when the sun shines: the AA Roadwatch guide

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CYCLE THE GREENWAYS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22084″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”IMMERSE YOURSELF IN IRELAND’S HERITAGE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22123″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GO TO EXTREMES AT AN ADVENTURE PARK” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22214″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”SEEK THRILLS AT TAYTO PARK” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”22216″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”EXPLORE THE PHOENIX PARK” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”22215″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”MEET DOMESTIC AND EXOTIC ANIMALS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”22220″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]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.

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

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Categories
Europe Featured France Germany Italy Spain Sport and leisure

Top tips for a European cycling holiday

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With routes spanning the continent, a European cycling holiday could be the perfect way to get off the beaten track and see those places that would otherwise pass you by. It’s a great way to get plenty of exercise, too. We asked Mike McKillen of Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, for some advice for anyone considering taking to the saddle.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET THE RIGHT MAPS AND APPS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“Preparation is needed – you can’t just land there and do it. Get hold of the Eurovelo Cycle Route Network Map. That’s a website that is maintained by our parent organisation in Brussels, the European Cyclists’ Federation. It’s like the AA for cycling. They have an offshoot called Eurovelo, which are European bicycle routes – generally off-road but they can be on less-traffic roads like access-only routes.

“You should also go online to order trail maps from IGN, the French Ordnance Survey. They show cycling routes for the region, and you can get the scale that you are comfortable with – you would need at least 1:50,000, preferably 1:25,000. That’s just for the planning.

“Once you get there, turn on your GPS and use the ViewRanger app. That has cycling maps in it, and it gives you the detail you need to turn right here and know that in 400m you’re going to hit a cycling trail and be off-road.”

Remember too that you can use the AA Routeplanner (available on the AA app) when you are planning car journeys abroad.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”DON’T FALL FOUL OF THE LAW” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

“If you’re bringing your bikes on the back of your car, don’t forget that you have to have a lighting board on the bikes showing your number plate, indicators and stop lights, with lights to light the number plate. That has to be on the last bike of the stack. A lot of Irish drivers don’t know that French police, for example, will pull them over and won’t let them proceed. In France, you also have to have two high-vis vests and a breathalyser in your car.”

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”KNOW YOUR BIKE RACKS!” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“The one on the top of the car is for lightweight sports bikes that you can lift with one hand. Touring bikes are heavier, and I would find mine difficult to lift it up onto the roof, so I have a rack that fits onto the tow hitch at the back of my car. It takes two bikes, but you can get them for up to four.”

Click here for a full AA guide on travelling with a roof rack.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CONSIDER RENTING BIKES” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“I lead tours, and we always end up renting bikes if we’re abroad because it’s just so much easier. The nice thing about renting a bike is, if something goes wrong with it, the company generally comes with a van, picks it up and gives you a replacement. Of course, then you’ve got to wait for the van to come to you and it could be two hours away.

“If you’re hiring the bikes there, you would need to make contact with a bike hire company, or engage the services of a bike touring company over there. They book everything for you, they know you’re going to do 80k a day on this leg or 55k on the next one, and they book you into lovely pensions, B&Bs, villas or hotels. Whatever grade you want, you just tell them. This way, you don’t have to carry a tent or sleeping bag. All you need is your camera and water bottle, and they transport your luggage to the next hotel.”[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GETTING THERE…” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“When booking your passenger fare on the ferry, there is a drop-down menu for vehicles and an option for ‘bicycle’. You just cycle in the same way as you would drive in, and the crew tell you where to put the bike. Generally they have a ‘strop’ – a strap that fixes it to a rail. If you’re travelling by train, you’ll need to bring as strop to immobilise it and stop it flying around the carriage – otherwise you’ll have to stand with it and hold it. 

“With Aer Lingus and Ryanair, you have to bag the bike. You can order a bike bag online but I don’t like taking bikes on a plane because you have to take them apart and reassemble them when you get to the other side, and then you have to find somewhere to put the bike bag. You don’t want to be carrying that with you, so you need to find somebody to hold it for you at the port or airport until you come back, and then you have to do the whole thing in reverse.”

Don’t forget to buy your AA Travel Insurance before you go![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”ON YOUR BIKE – AND OFF…” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

“With a nice, leisurely group that don’t want to do huge kilometrage, you’d be planning on anywhere between 40k and 100k a day. That’s doable by six o’clock in the evening, and it gives you plenty of time to go and change, shower, have an aperitif and then go for your dinner at eight. It also includes a two-hour lunch break – al fresco, on the patio, in the café or restaurant! So, start off at 9:30 in the morning, have a two-hour lunch and you can still be in at 6 o’clock in the evening having done 100k.”

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“There’s a lot of myth about having to take protein supplements and so on, but you don’t. If you want to lose weight, a cycling holiday is the best way to do it. You don’t need to be stuffing your face every half hour. You’re trying to force your body to mobilise the fat reserves that you have built up to get rid of them, so it’s a great way to lose weight. You don’t need to train for these holidays. If you’re talking about a leisurely family or group trip, children are well able to do these as well.”

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BRING A FIRST-AID KIT” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“Most cycling injuries are from a fall off the bike, so a broken wrist or collarbone, or gashes and lacerations. Bring pads and enough to do a splint so you can strap up a broken wrist.”

Hopefully you won’t be unlucky enough to suffer something more serious while abroad, but here’s some advice on minimising the stress and expense.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”DON’T FORGET YOUR TOOLS!” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_column_text]“If you are the leader and bringing your own bikes, you would need to bring a set of tools that will deal with every nut. Most bike nuts are Allen ones, so you need an Allen key set. You would need a cone-tightening spanner just in case cones on the bearing races come adrift and get loose.

“You need a spare tube suitable for every wheel, so if you’re bringing children I would make sure they are on adult bikes with 26″ tubes – if you have children on smaller bikes, you have to pack a tube specific to their wheel size. Then you need tyre levers because cyclists do their own repairs. A good multi-tool device will have most things you need for tightening things up.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]