With the school summer holidays almost underway, you’re probably trying to plan some day trips to keep the kids outdoors and entertained! We’ve set out to find the best family days out across the country – and the best part is; all of our selections are either completely free of charge, or are part of OPW Heritage sites and offer free entry on the first Wednesday of each month!
A memorable day out can take many forms depending on your family’s interests: a water sports filled day at Lissadel beach, a historic walk though Malahide castle, a coastal drive down the Wild Atlantic Way or a relaxing ramble though a Forest Park – or a combination of the lot. So whether you feel like packing your family up into the car and taking mini road trip around the country, or want to take a quick drive somewhere closer to home, check out our favourite suggestions from each Province:
Altamont Gardens, Carlow:
Free all year round, these stunning gardens stretch for more than 40 acres, filled with expansive lawns, beautiful woodlands full of exotic shrubs and ancient trees all surrounding a lily pad lake. Take a breath-taking walk through the Arboretum, Bog Garden and Ice Age Glen, sheltered by ancient oaks and leading to the River Slaney. There are picnic tables available to set up the perfect al fresco lunch with the kids.
The Phoenix Park is a national landmark, which spans an impressive 1752 acres, and really offers something for everyone, and best of all, you can enjoy most of it for free. With the expansive park for wildlife watching, summer walks through Furry Glen, a friendly five-a-side, a sightseeing trip (The Wellington Testimonial, The Phoenix Monument Papal Cross or The Tumulus) or take a historical pit-stop into the Phoenix Park visitor centre, you and your family can easily spend a summer’s day exploring all The Park has to offer.
With additional treats to explore such as Farmleigh House, which offers free guided tours daily, Dublin Zoo, and Aras an Uachtarain.
As part of Heritage Ireland, Rathfarnham Castle offers free entry on the first Wednesday of each month. History buffs can marvel at the historic, original parts of Rathfarnham Castle which date back to the 16th Century. There are also some tearooms & a children’s playground on the castle’s grounds.
Wicklow Mountains National Park:
Covering almost 50,000 acres, Wicklow Mountains National Park is a stunning area of conservation and biodiversity. The park includes stunning mountains, Glendalough Valley and it’s monastic site, blanket bogs, hillwalking paths and gorgeous lake views. There is a great variety of wildlife and their habitats in the park including sika deer, goats, red squirrels, pine martens, badgers, peregrine falcons, native oak woodland, Scot’s pine woodland, and plantation conifer forests.
One of Ireland’s designated heritage towns; Westport is extremely picturesque and bubbling with family friendly activities. You could try your hand at climbing Croagh Patrick or go on a family pony trek, visit the historical Westport house, its Pirate adventure park or use its caravanning park. Make sure you don’t miss out on walking or cycling The Great Western Greenway, Ireland’s longest off-road trail. Or if you want to take in the stunning scenery why not take a Road Trip along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Portumna Castle & Gardens, Galway:
Sitting proudly on the shores of Lough Derg of the River Shannon, Portumna Castle offers free entry to the public on the first Wednesday of each month. Originally built in the 17th Century, the house has undergone major reconstruction over the last few years with the original 17th-century kitchen garden restored to its original splendor; there are also three formal gardens to explore.
Surrounded by Lough Derg, and Portumna Forest Park, the area is a great choice for a summer family day out.
Lissadell Beach, Sligo:
Nothing sounds better than visiting a beach on a summer’s day, Lissadell Beach in Sligo, is popular with locals and offers some action packed activities. The beach is ideal for walking, summing, surfing and a whole host of water sports for you and the kids to enjoy.
Athenry Castle, Galway:
After some restoration works, completed in 2005, Athenry Castle is now open to the public via an external wooden staircase reconstruction. Offering free entry on the first Wednesday of each month, history buffs will marvel at the castle, a beautiful example of a medieval keep, with original battlements and exterior carvings.
Dun a Ri Forest Park, Cavan:
Steeped in history and legend, the Dun a Ri Forest Park would make a great family day out, with attractions such as a wishing well, an ice house, old military barracks and some castle ruins, this picturesque park is like something out of Irish Folklore, in fact, it’s said that Cuchullain himself rested here at night while fighting the armies of Queen Maeve of Connaught.
Ulster Museum, Belfast:
Visit every corner of the globe and learn about all sorts like the Egyptians, dinosaurs, the Bronze Age, Morpho butterflies, whales and dolphins! Art, history and natural sciences are all on show with collections being made for over two centuries to bring the museum to life. The museum is free all year round.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park – Giant’s Lair and Adventure Play Park, Armagh:
A magical story is brought to life on this trail of fairy houses and magical art. Explore over 10km of woodland used to create a childhood fantasyland with dragons, giants, fairies and witches. The Giant's Lair is inspired by mythical folklore and spreads over a mile of the woodlands at Slieve Gullion Forest Park, where your kids can follow the route and sit at a giant’s table and visit a ladybird’s house!
From the pathway there are fantastic views of the Ring of Gullion Mountains including Slievebrack and Mullaghbane. The play park has everything from slides and swings to climbing frames and a maze, plus you can get your hands on some delicious treats in the courtyard! This adventure is free all year.
Lough Muckno Leisure Park, Monaghan:
Set in the expansive Muckno Forest, just outside Castleblayney, you and your family can try your hand at waterskiing and wakeboarding, or orienteering. Or if you prefer something more leisurely, you can take in the picturesque surroundings and enjoy a walk or nature trail in the woods, with a host of picnic benches you can pack a lunch to take with you.
Garnish Island, West Cork:
Garnish Island in Glengarriff Harbour, Bantry Bay, has gardens full of rare and beautiful flowers to explore. Kids will love the Garnish Island Ferry, which passes a seal colony en route. For the history buffs, the Island also has a fully restored Martello tower, where you can take in the amazing views of the bay from the battlements of the tower. Entry to the public is free on the first Wednesday of the month.
Ardnacrusha Power Station, Clare:
A very new addition to our list is the newly opened Ardnacrusha Power Station. In the 1920’s the hydro-electric station became a symbol of Ireland’s forward thinking and to mark the ESB’s 80th anniversary, it has been made open to the public for free guided tours.
Another destination stop, Killarney has so much to offer, from boat trips out on the many lakes, dolphin spotting off the coast, Killarney National Park or take part in one of the towns many seasonal festivals. Or if you would prefer something a little more leisurely, a stroll around Muckross House & Gardens might just be the thing.
Desmond Castle (French Prison), Cork:
Declared a national monument in 1938, Desmond Castle has had a varied existence through the ages, originally a customs house in the 16th Century, it served as a prison during the 18th Century and a workhouse during the Great Famine – guided tours are available daily and entry to the public is free on the first Wednesday of every month.
Hopefully some of these Irish spots are yet to be explored by your family & have made it onto your list of day trip destinations. If you are taking to the road on an Irish adventure this summer, you can learn more about Aviva car insurance here or call us in Galway on 1890 33 22 11.