We’re getting braver. This summer we took five day-trips. Not too adventurous and not too far from home, but a step-up from last year. Baby-steps – or toddler-steps as the case may be. So here’s a quick review of five destinations – all within an hour of Dublin:
1. Clara Lara
This was possibly our favourite day out this summer, partly because we did stuff we never do, like rowing, kayaking, go-karting and sliding down a huge water-slide (well, the kids did – there’s no way I was getting on the slide) and partly because it was a beautiful sunny day when we were there, right at the start of the summer, when it’s all still stretching ahead.
Clara Lara in Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow has loads of wide open space; it has rope swings over water, a giant raft, a great playground, a sandpit, all sorts of climbing contraptions, plus the pay-extra activities like kayaking and rowing. If your kids are small, there’s plenty to do without the add-ons. There are lots of picnic tables and free uses of barbecues. We didn’t try the café – we had a picnic and only bought ice-creams. It’s €10 per adult or child over four, so not cheap when you consider that doesn’t cover kayaking or rowing, but it’s a very well-run, well-organised park, and I think it’s worth the entrance, especially if you’re there on a fine day.
First reaction from the kids: This doesn’t look like a water-park?
Final verdict from the kids: That was the best day ever.
What we loved: The water – swinging across the water, floating on a raft across the water, walking on stepping stones across the water, rowing in the water and falling into the water (do not wear good clothes or shoes) And the staff – really helpful, friendly and knowledgeable – in a stand-out worth-mentioning kind of way.
The bad bits: none!
2. Kilruddery House and Gardens
I should say Kilruddery Gardens as we didn’t go into the house – we went on a “cloudy with a chance of rain” day, but as it only took fifteen minutes to get there, we figured it was worth the risk. The rain held off and we spent three hours roaming the beautiful gardens and letting the kids run free. That’s the beauty of Kilruddery if you have small kids – there were no crowds or cars to worry about; just a huge expanses of grass for running and trees for climbing and flower-beds for jumping. There’s also a sandpit, picnic tables and a tea-room. The food is pricey – I paid €18 for two coffees and four buns, but it’s all very pretty and home-madey, and the entrance cost isn’t huge if you’re just going to the gardens (€6.50 for adults and free for kids under twelve).
First reaction from the kids: A garden? This is going to be really boring
Final verdict from the kids: I love it here, I want to get married here
What we loved: The freedom to run around and the prettiness of everything.
The bad bits: The millions of wasps at the tea-room, but that wasn’t Kilruddery’s fault.
2017 Edit: We’ve been back to Kilruddery many times since our first trip and it’s always lovely, especially in the sun. Sometimes we bring picnics and sometimes we eat at home then go for cake in the tearooms – both are great options. But most recently we decided to go early and have lunch there, and it was disappointing – the food is tasty but very over-priced (a small wrap for €8.50!) and there’s not a great selection for kids. So bring a picnic, and enjoy the fabulous cake or ice-cream there instead.
3. Tayto Park
Ireland’s answer to Disney, Tayto Park in Ashbourne, Co. Meath and has everything that kids love – two huge playgrounds, two mazes, a Vortext tunnel, a petting zoo, a bit of an actual zoo with tigers and leopards no less, picnic areas, a sandpit and of course, the man himself, Mr. Tayto.
There are also activities that cost extra, which like Clara Lara, you can avoid if your kids are young. We did air-jumping and also took the toddler on a mechanical pony-ride (there are real ponies too), and got away without spending too much more money – the entrance fee is €13 per person (with under-threes going free) so it’s not cheap at the outset. There’s an insanely high zip-wire and an equally horrifying “Rotator” ride that turns people upside down 100 feet up in the air which I can safely say I will never be reviewing.
There are plenty of picnic spots, plus restaurants and cafés – we brought a picnic, so I can’t say what the food is like.
First reaction from the kids: When do we get the Taytos?
Final verdict from the kids: Can we eat our Taytos now?
What we loved: The kids loved everything, especially meeting Mr. Tayto and the free packets of crisps on the way home
The bad bits: It was very, very busy the day we were there, therefore the grown-ups spent much time and energy watching and chasing the runaway toddler. And it’s not cheap. But for a once a year excursion, it’s a great day out.
For a full post on Tayto Park, click here
Everyone knows Glendalough, so this isn’t really a review, but it was one of my favourite days-out this year. And it’s free! I love free stuff. Especially with kids, because it takes the pressure off. If we pay €40 to get in somewhere, we really have to enjoy it – even if the kids say it’s boring and it lashes rain and the food is awful. Whereas if it’s free, it doesn’t matter.
We went this year on one of the first really hot days of the summer, and as is often the case, parking was a challenge. But once we were sorted, the day just rolled out in its own easy way – no agenda, no rushing, no nagging the kids to hurry up or slow down or hold hands or stay close. They climbed and jumped and ran, and then played a serious game of “gather as many pine cones as you can for no particular reason” after the picnic, meaning the grown-ups got to sit in the sun for half an hour, doing absolutely nothing. I’m starting to remember why it was my favourite day.
First reaction from the kids: What do you mean there’s no playground?
Final verdict from the kids: That was the best day ever. Can we bring 4,000 pine cones home?
What we loved: The freedom, the views, the fresh air, the ice-cream
The (very minor) bad bit: Parking is hard to find on busy days (read: on any dry weekend day)
5. Rathbeggan Lakes
Rathbeggan Lakes is a fun-park in Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath. Here’s what’s really great: the entrance fee is €2.50 per person, and under-twos are free. So compared to most farms or fun-parks, it’s really great value. The entrance fee* covers playground, pet-farm, fairy garden, heritage park and obstacle course. There are also pony-rides, bungee bouncers, zip wires, fishing, paddle boats and those giant inflatable things that float in water while kids roll around inside – all of these cost extra. So if you go here with very small kids, you can have a really cheap day out, but if they want to try the activities, the cost adds up quickly.
(*when we were there in 2014, the entrance fee covered bouncy castles too, but apparently these cost extra now – updated August 2015)
We were there between two bursts of torrential rain so didn’t get to try everything, but if you can convince your kids to be satisfied with the basic activities, this is really good value. Go while they’re too young for bungee-bouncing…
First reaction from the kids: It’s raining, the day is ruined, let’s go home.
Final verdict from the kids (four hours later, dashing through the rain): Why do we have to go home already?
What we loved: How cheap it was! Also, we were there with friends – eight adults and eight kids – it was an ideal spot and a perfect size for going with a group.
The bad bits: The toilets – avoid if possible.
(all prices and details for each day trip correct at time of publication, August 2014)
One more for luck: Dun Laoghaire
Dun Laoghaire is on my doorstep so it’s not really a day-trip, but it’s my favourite place in the world, so I had to include it here. On a Sunday afternoon, we go to the People’s Park for a wander around the market, then join the hundreds of other picnickers with the spoils of our browsing – crepes, hot-dogs and Falafals, or cup-cakes and brownies and coffee if we’ve eaten lunch at home. There’s a playground, Teddy’s ice-cream around the corner, colour and flowers and picnic blankets everywhere, and an atmosphere that catches my breath every time I’m there. Afterwards, we head back along the seafront, and if we’ve time, we go for a walk on the East Pier; looking at the boats on the glassy sea on the way out, and at the seaside skyline on the way back in. On a sunny day, it could be the south of France – it’s breathtaking.
We brought picnics on most of our days-out, so as part of a blog linky on Dairy Free Kids called “What’s in your picnic basket“, I’ll tell you what’s in ours. It’s not exciting – it’s always, always the same. Baguettes with ham, cheese and mayonaise. Every time. But it cuts out arguments over who’s having what or who doesn’t eat what, and they’re quick and easy to make (during the inevitable two hour period it takes to get out of the house). And of course there are treats – Veronica’s Snacks are a favourite, so are Frubes, bite-size chocolate brownies, Kinder Bueno bars, and pastries from Insomnia – because no day-trip is really underway until we have our take-away coffees for the journey. If you’d like to see some picnics that are actually good and interesting, click the badge on the above 🙂
My best investments for day-trips this summer were these runners from Next and especially this cross-body bag from Oasis – you can play chasing with the kids in Kilruddery, pet goats in Tayto Park and row a boat in Clara Lara with this bag on board and hardly notice it’s there. That’s my excuse for shopping anyway.
Do you have any suggestions for easy day-trips?