Five more day-trips: Another whistle-stop tour

Once upon a time, we went on lots and lots of day-trips. In 2014, I put together mini-reviews of our trips that summer, including Tayto Park, Clara Lara and Rathbeggan Lakes. I did something similar in 2015, when we tried Wells House, Powerscourt Waterfall and Kia Ora Farm. In 2016, I summed up the places we’d gone mid-week, most of which were free.

But then it all sort of stopped. In 2017, between book-writing and a weekend in London, we didn’t do quite as many day-trips, and I never got time to write about them. And in 2018, our very first day-trip for the whole year was in August. So this is a summary of mini-reviews for five new-to-us trips we did over the last two years, all of which coincidentally took place on days that started out overcast or raining, and then came good. In fact, this post could alternatively be titled “Winging It – the only way to do day-trips in Ireland”.

Newbridge House and Gardens

First and foremost, Newbridge House is not in Newbridge, it’s in Donabate in North Dublin, and it’s somewhere we’ve been meaning to visit for years, after hearing many great things about it. The praise is justified – it’s a really good day out, even for the eldest, who I thought might be too old for farms.

We started with the playground – is there anything more exciting than a never-before-seen playground when you’re a kid? Then we went through to the parkland on the far side of the playground to have our picnic. There were lots of family groups there, also winging it on an overcast day, and within minutes of sitting down to eat, we were rewarded with bright sunshine that lasted for the rest of the afternoon.

Entrance to the car park, playground and parkland area is free – after that, if you want to pay to see either the farm or the house or both, you buy tickets from a desk beside the café. We decided to visit the farm and leave the house for another time – it was too sunny at that point to consider doing anything indoors.

The farm is really, really good – a huge variety of animals, and lots of lovely wide open spaces. We saw horses, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs, peacocks, and hamster-like-things that the girls said were guinea-pigs and the youngest insisted were cats (they definitely weren’t cats).

We spent about two hours wandering around the gardens and the farm, aided of course by the non-stop sunshine. Then we went for coffee, and wandered back towards the car park. This meant going through the playground and therefore took 45 minutes. But it was warm and bright, and they were having fun, and it’s easy to say yes in the sun.

First reaction from the kids:

Can we stay in the playground!

Final verdict from the kids:

Can we stay in the playground!

What we loved:

The farm was the best we’ve ever seen – such a huge, airy space, and so many animals to see. We haven’t gone to a farm in a while so it was a real novelty for the kids, especially the small boy who perhaps missed out on the whole farm trip thing by virtue of being the youngest.

The less good bits:

We had promised the kids coffee and cake at the end of the day, and the cakes in the café looked good, but they were a disappointment. Maybe we chose badly, but the frosting on mine tasted of that oniony taste you get when you store cakes in the same fridge as savoury food. There were only plastic forks available and both of the girls’ forks broke – one in a mouth and one in a cake. My coffee wasn’t great and I ended up throwing it in a bin, three-quarters full. I am admittedly a cake-and-coffee-snob and we often choose day-trips based on whether or not there’s a good coffee shop. You could absolutely go to Newbridge Farm with your own picnic and avoid the coffee shop entirely.

Cost: 

We paid €22 for five of us which was I think really good value for the day out.

Greenan Maze

Greenan Maze is in Wicklow, about an hour from us in Dun Laoghaire, and a number of friends had recommended it so it was on our list for some time before we eventually made it one August Saturday. When we arrived, the sun broke through the clouds and we started with lunch on a picnic table on the grounds – a good omen for the day ahead.

We checked out the playground first (because we happened upon it and who can say no to kids who’ve just found a new, albeit small, playground) then we steered them through the farm museum which was really, really good. Dating back to the 16th century, there’s a bedroom, a dairy, a barn, a kitchen, and a bottle museum. The rooms have been restored with old furniture, and kept the kids’ interest far longer than I expected.

Next up, a gorgeous nature walk, a pond, a visit to the farm animals, and then the big attraction itself: the maze.

The maze was very good fun, even if at times  I wondered if we were ever going to find our way out. It’s 7 feet high so even the tall people among us can’t cheat, though at one point,  my husband had to hoist my youngest up over a hedge to see if he could help us work out where the exit was.

He was four at the time, so this plan was flawed, but we did eventually make our way out. To recover (any excuse) we went for coffee and really good cake in the tea rooms.

For me, the farm museum was the highlight, and the kids were fascinated by it too, but the bit they remember two years later is of course the maze.

First reaction from the kids:

What do you mean we have to look at a museum?

Final verdict from the kids:

Please can we go into the maze again? (No WAY!)

What we loved:

All of it, in particular the museum (me), the maze (them), the cake (all of us)

The less good bits:

It’s not cheap, but I think for a day out with lots to do, it’s worth it.

Cost:

Adults €8, Children €7, Children two and under are free, and there are family tickets that work out a little cheaper.

Slieve Gullian

The most amazing thing about Slieve Gullion is that it’s free! It’s also in Northern Ireland, so a little further than we’d usually go for a day-trip, but we’d been in Louth earlier in the day and knew Slieve Gullion wasn’t far from there.

We started with lunch in the restaurant (the food was fine, not amazing) and then went off to explore. Slieve Gullion is a forest park, so first and foremost it’s a nature walk, but there are all sorts of treasures for kids to discover in what’s called the Giant’s Lair.

We saw a giant bowl, spoon, and chair straight out of Jack and the Beanstalk, and explored fairytale houses that you can go in to and climb through, all connected by rope bridges. And of course, lots of fairy doors.

In the mouth of the giant

There’s also a a really good playground when you get to the end of the walk, and a small maze.

First reaction from the kids:

What do you mean we’re in Northern Ireland?

Final verdict from the kids:

Can we move to Northern Ireland?

What we loved:

It’s free! And in fairness, everything – it’s a lovely walk, surprises around every corner, a great way to get kids outdoors.

The less good bits:

The restaurant – I’d heard it was really good but the food we had on the day was only okay.

Cost:

Nothing! (Well, except food if you decide to eat there – you could bring a picnic)

Additional note: Don’t use Sat Nav to find it, follow directions on the website here

National Stud and Japanese Gardens

The National Stud in Kildare is another place that’s been recommended many times over, and until last summer, we’d never been. We set off one cloudy Sunday afternoon, crossing everything it wouldn’t rain. When we arrived, it felt a little overwhelming, but we picked up a map, and soon got our bearings.

We started with the Stud, and the kids queued up for a pony ride. The queue was long but they were happy enough to run around while the grown-ups held their place, and pony rides are always a novelty for kids who don’t do it often, so everyone was happy.

We walked through to the Japanese Gardens then, and for me, this was the real highlight.

There’s an easy to follow route through the gardens, and photo opportunities at every turn.

It’s peaceful and mesmerizing, as Japanese gardens tend to be, and something completely different. It also didn’t matter that it was mostly overcast – it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

After that we went for coffee and a run around the playground, then back to the stud where we walked the fairy-trail (there is a fairy-trail everywhere now, but hey, it keeps the kids interested).

The walk was gorgeous, there was lots of running around in open spaces and fresh air, we saw horses, and again, the overcast sky didn’t hamper spirits. In other words, exactly what you want in a day-trip.

First reaction from the kids:

Can we have a pony?

Final verdict from the kids:

Can we have a pony?

What we loved:

The pony-ride, the Japanese Gardens, and the fairy trail

The less good bits:

Nothing, we loved all of it.

Cost:

Family ticket: €29.50

Belvedere House and Gardens

Our visit to Belvedere House and Gardens in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, took place when we were staying in the Bloomfield House Hotel during October mid-term break, which also happened to be our wedding anniversary. We woke to hear rain pelting against the windows, and our hearts sank – what to do with three children on a wet day in Westmeath? We decided to wing it, and drove to nearby Belvedere. With the rain still pouring down, we started with cake and coffee and it worked – by the time we’d eaten the really good cake and looked around the lovely shops opposite the cafe, the rain had stopped and we were ready to wander.

We made our way through the woodland walk down to the edge of Lough Ennell, a place I’d gone on childhood picnics with my Longford and Westmeath cousins, and after taking 4,000 photos, we all had a go on the zip line (even me, much to the kids’ surprise).

Lough Ennell Belvedere House - Office Mum

We walked then to the beautiful Walled Garden and the Fairy Garden, and read the story behind the “Jealous Wall” – a purpose-built ruin to block the view of a neighbour’s bigger house. By late afternoon, the kids were in the playground, the sun had come out, and we even managed to get an anniversary photo.

It was easily one of our favourite days out ever.

First reaction from the kids:

What do you mean we have to go out in the rain?

Final verdict from the kids:

The sun’s out – why do we have to leave?

What we loved:

The cake, the lake, the fairy garden, the autumn leaves, the stories behind the follies and the Jealous Wall.

The less good bits:

I can’t think of a single thing.

Cost:

We paid €26 for two adults and three children

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If you have other day-trip suggestions (for any late summer September days or for next year) I’d love to hear them?

Here are links to some others we’ve done:

Titanic Experience Belfast (and the most amazing afternoon tea of all time)

Accidental tourists in Wells House

Clara Lara – what it is and how do do a day out there

Mini-reviews including Tayto Park andRathbeggan Lakes

Mini-reviews including Powerscourt Waterfall and Kia Ora Farm

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Author: Andrea Mara | Office Mum

Blogger, freelance writer, author, mother - muddling through and constantly looking for balance.

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