Even though we may give out about the weather in Ireland a lot, thanks to our mild climate and stunning landscapes, Ireland’s outdoors are always in season. Coupled with the fact that we are trying to play our part with social distancing at the moment and seek outdoor adventure we tried out some of Cork’s best loved outdoor activities for families over the last few weeks. As a Cork native, I am asked very regularly what are my top favourite family activities or things to do in Cork and I and delighted to say they are all outdoors. Also, these activities would make great communion and birthday party alternatives or even gift ideas!
Zipit is a fantastic outdoor adventure centre not far from Cork city where you can climb high into the treetops, swing into cargo nets, surf with a difference or try cycling over a treetop bridge before zipping down one of our many ziplines. As most of you will have learnt by now Tree Climbing is our national family pastime.
I have been meaning to try out Zipit for some time but I did not appreciate what was in store until I saw it for myself. Once harnessed, you are given a short instruction, followed by a practice circuit, then away you go, into the trees as you ascend higher with each circuit, secure in the knowledge that qualified instructors are around if you need them, to offer guidance, encouragement or get you back down to the ground. There are 5 circuits ranging from 1 – 20 metres high and you have 3 hours to complete the circuits or if you like you can do the first few circuits more than once. From beginners to adrenaline junkies, there are circuits for all abilities. The minimum age is 7 and this is a perfect family activity as many adults will enjoy discovering their inner child with this one.
It is quite an exhilarating and energetic activity both mentally and physically so three hours is plenty and in fact we called it a day just before our time was up as our crew were wrecked at this stage. However, they absolutely loved it and we will be going again in the next few months. Rain would not put me off this activity either as the tree canopy would provide some shelter and it is meant to be more fun in the rain as the zip wires move more freely.
Farran woods is home to many walking trails with beautiful views of Iniscarra lake, a children’s playground (just next to Zipit), deer enclosure and duck pond, so there is plenty to entertain everyone in the family and make a day of it with a picnic. It is the perfect destination for a kid’s birthday party and you could bring a picnic (ham sandwiches) or bag of treats each to eat at the playground after before heading on a walk around the duck pond. For the winter months Zipit opens on weekends only and pre-booking is essential so click here to find out more about Zipit in Farran Woods.
Cork Harbour Boat Hire offer the perfect solution to social distancing outdoor fun with their self-drive boat tours of Cork Harbour for families looking for fun things to do in Cork. There is one family unit in each boat and the tour guide is in his own boat leading the group around Spike Island, the old monastic settlement and prison which resides in the middle of Cork Harbour. The boats are really easy to drive and there was full training before we were let loose out on the water. We had great fun spotting all the activity on the harbour including Haulbowline (the Irish Naval base), the canons of spike Island, St.Colman’s Cathedral, and much more. We were told some days you may spot cruise liners or ships along the route.
The highlight of the trip was when the kids sat on Craig’s lap taking turns of steering the boat. They all loved it even the little one so much so that we have treated our granddad to a trip for his birthday in the next few weeks. It would make the perfect birthday present for children or adults. There is a max of 5 per boat with no more than 4 adults and the one hour tour costs €50 in total. Click here for more information on Cork Harbour Boat Hire.
My final activity probably deserves a blog post all on its own as there is so much to do here and offers great family quality time when it comes to things to do in Cork. Ballyhass lakes is a 40 acre site and home to 20 activities across land, water and height. However, for quality family time I would recommend the adventure day pass or aqua park as it is fantastic value for money and an unforgettable family day out for all the family.
Ballyhass lakes is not only home to Ireland’s largest cable wakeboard facility but it also offers a large yet manageable inflatable waterpark for all ages. What makes this waterpark unique to any other one we have visited is that the water was crystal clear with water temperature a perfect level being an inland lake. The temperature has been known to hit 15 degrees. While the inflatable park is large, it is well laid out so it is easy to get around and you are not really queuing for anything.
The Adventure Day Pass is only €30 per person or €100 for four and with this you can enjoy a land, water and height activity. You would want to leave a day for this and leave some time in your day to have lunch and a rest. For lunch you can bring a picnic or there is a hot food option on site with chips and burgers etc.
We choose to do the aqua park and the zip wire which I would highly recommend. The zip wire goes over land and water and there are two lanes one of which takes you through the tree tops before coming out over the water. The team here are very encouraging and patient with anyone who is nervous but I must say I did not see one child holding back…..(only a few adults…..)
We ended our day with Archery but at this stage we were starting to tire so if you feel that three activities may be enough you could do tow activities for €25 per person or just the aqua park for €15. There was no extra charge for wetsuits which I thought was very fair and the social distancing measures were really impressive even though we were outdoors. Entry to the inflatables were staggered and the numbers on these reduced.
I must say it would make the perfect day out for small communions or birthday parties and best of all it is outdoors. We adored our day here and will be regular visitors as we all had such a laugh and it was a great way to take a break from every day life! For more information on Ballyhass lakes Click Here!
Nature Trails at Fota House & Gardens
The gardens at Fota House are truly a hidden gem here in Cork and one of my favourite family fun activities in Cork. They are beautifully preserved (cared for by the OPW) and offer adventure, escape and tranquillity around almost every corner. There are many walkways and trails to discover and you could spend hours lost in amongst the trees, languishing in the open areas or exploring the formal and Victorian walled gardens. All of this is free and there is only a charge of €3 for the car park.
Family Fun Activities in Cork
However, should you wish to add a bit more fun to your day you can buy one of their trail packs for €4 each. They have two to suit both young and older children. We had great fun following the map as children always love map reading and leading the way. While our three were running along, working out which way to go at each juncture, stopping to find little titbits and clues as per the instructions, Craig and I wandered along at our own pace, chatting and enjoying the surroundings. Pure Bliss!!!
We stopped on route at the giant’s chairs for a picnic before continuing along the trail and discovering the Victorian walled gardens, the shed with old tools and the formal gardens. The children were extremely curious and enjoyed the few hours we spent wandering along. I really do think it was the nature trail and activity pack that added that element of structure and fun to our afternoon.
We spent the next hour rolling down the grass hills, playing ball and generally chilling out in the open area just behind the house. As family fun activities in Cork go this one got big thumbs up from me and I am looking forward to trying out their house tour as I believe they have one geared towards children coming shortly!
Trabolgan Day Passes
Lucky for us we live only a half an hour from Trabolgan and so we can make regular day trips with the kids. Trabolgan was one of my own favourite spots as a kid and I love to watch the kid’s excitement when we head down there now. Trabolgan day passes are great value as you get a full day of fun so get down early and plan it out beforehand!
Trabolgan Holiday Village is located on over 140 acres of woodland beside the sea, 30 mins from Cork city and operates as a holiday camp or day visitor attraction.
Family Things to Do at Trabolgan
We normally start at the playground so kids can have a run around and I a coffee. One word of advice take a good look at the activities timetable for the day at this stage as there may be shows that you want to see and some of the activities have specific time slots. I prefer to organise our swimming around the shows as the kids will be starving after swimming and you can get lunch into them while watching a show.
There is a glass roof over the main outdoor area and the main stage is under this so if you get a fine day like we did last week it is was perfect to sit outside and relax while actually enjoying a picnic while being entertained.
Our next port of call is normally the swimming pool and with the waves and slide we normally pass away an hour or two here. The water was actually quite warm last week and I was pleasantly surprised with the renovations in this area. There is new flooring running throughout the changing area and a new seated area for those who wishing to sit this one out.
After our picnics we head back to the playground for a walk out towards the water area. However, last week I stumbled across the duck pond which has been developed into a nature area. It is a gorgeous spot to sit with a prompt board to encourage children to search the surroundings for little titbits of nature. I am glad to see Trabolgan making use of their gorgeous natural setting more.
The sports centre houses a jungle gym (admission included in the day pass) and a coffee shop for more hours of fun and it is here you can buy tickets to any of the TAS activities. You can also use your day pass for these instead of the swimming pool but to be honest we would not do these everytime as there is so much without having to include them.
Places to Eat in Trabolgan
At this stage we would head back down for another show as they are normally getting quite tired. A great way to end the day is Sally O’Hara’s Restaurant in the main square so I don’t have to cook when we get home and I know they will be starving after going all day so they will eat a belly full. Along with the main menu a carvery is available which is brilliant for the kids. There is a family special at the moment of €45 for two adults and two kids. I have never been disappointed with the food here and they have excellent coeliac choices. The staff are extremely friendly and always so accommodating.
Other dining options are Costa Coffee for a quick snack or Big Als@Casey’s Fast Food so there is something for everyone!
I am delighted with the renovations they are doing every year but I hope they might add new shower cubicles some time soon as I am not too fond with the open showers!
At the moment the Trabolgan day passes are €12 per person/ €50 for a family pass which is outstanding value as you can have one of the main activities which are swimming, crazy golf, birds of prey, TAS (Trabolgan Adventure Sports). Follow Trabolgan on facebook and keep an eye on their website as there are always doing offers on Trabolgan day passes. Click here for more.
What the Kids Said about Trabolgan
“Next time we go we are staying so we can do more stuff”
Seaside foraging is an age old fun activity and something that I love as the children are outdoors and learning but best of all my children love it more so much so we went out on a drizzling August day and by the end of the session the rain down poured but I had to still drag them off the beach kicking and screaming as they did not want it to end!
Sea Synergy based in Waterville in Kerry offer sea activities including foraging all along the South Kerry coast and a morning foraging is a great way to spend some time with the kids. We met Lucy, a marine biologist Sea Synergy on Glanleam Beach in Valentia Island and she brought us on a little adventure!
Lucy first introduced us to a number of items she has collected over the years including shells and marine wildlife bones before we all took to the shoreline looking for items washed up from the sea. Marine life can be found in so many places including along the walls, on the rocks, under rocks and in rock pools as well before you even go to the sea. Lucy also provided fishing nets for a spot of fishing and Saoirse picked a crab out of the water causing for great excitement.
The children were in their element learning about all the items we discovered and even did not notice the drizzle of rain that began a little while into our adventure. We got great ideas and tips from Lucy for our own expeditions but found this session very good as we got so much information from Lucy on our travels and she knew just where to look for things we would never find.
Sea synergy run workshops from Waterville and are also hoping to do the same from Valentia in the summer. I for one would travel just to attend these workshops as it encourages a great interest in exploring and the great outdoors in already curious minds! Sea Synergy will also come out to locations of your choosing for small groups or families t so you can enjoy a spot of foraging. They offer a huge range of services so make sure you check out their page.
Fota House Easter Egg Hunt
This year the annual Fota Easter Egg Hunt had a a Peter Rabbit and Friends theme and even the sometimes damp weather did not spoil our fun.
The grounds at Fota House are gorgeous and lend themselves perfectly to the adventures of Peter Rabbit including Mr. McGregors garden and much more…
The children had great fun enjoying the activities set up for them, following the trail and most of all running along the gorgeous landscaped gardens. They did not even notice the drizzle of rain that fell from time to time.
The trail was set it very well with plenty of sign posts to follow and fun stops on the way. There was plenty of time and space to run and explore for little excited ones! Fota House and Gardens is an excellent place to explore to pass away an afternoon, check out more by clicking here!
The team members at each stage were very friendly and interacted great with the children but that was not the end of the Fota Easter Egg Hunt as there were old time games set up for the children to enjoy while the parents sampled the delights of the market stalls in front of the house! Once the children had completed the trail and handed up their cards, they received a well deserved chocolate egg!
The egg hunt was well organised and collecting your cards was seemless so well done to Fota House and Gardens for organising such a fun activity in the great outdoors. Each ticket cost €8.50 and adults were free and you could spend a good half a day here so great value for money! Don’t forget to keep an eye out for more activities on http://fotahouse.com/
The Great Western Greenway
The Great Western Greenway with Clew Bay Cycles
No trip to Westport would be complete without a cycle along the World Class Great Western Greenway (Westport – Achill) which is a 42km traffic free cycling facility and primarily follows the line of the famous Great Western Midlands Railway, which closed in 1937. The route offers gentle gradients and some of the most idyllic scenery in the West of Ireland. We always try to tie in some cycling on our holidays as our children love to cycle and more so with us.
We contacted Clew Bay Bike Hire and found them very helpful as obviously we would not cycle 42km during our short trip so they advised us of the best route for our family. They recommended that we drive to the town of Newport and collect our bikes here. Then we cycled the 18km to Mulranny. The journey took us approx. 3 to 4 hours as we stop for plenty of rests, snacks and chats on the way. It was a very safe route as you were only close to the road at the start for approx 1km. After this we were travelling through open farm lands often sharing the path with the sheep doted across this landscape. The scenery was breath-taking and even though it was not the warmest day of the year it was so refreshing cycling through the open countryside. The children were relaxed and enjoyed the freedom as they could come to no harm. There are a couple of cafes that you can stop at for refreshments or lunch and at one of these stops we spoke to a family that were doing our route in reverse and both ways. They felt that the reverse journey was easier and more downhill.
We rented two adult and two children’s bikes from Clew Bay Bike hire and I must say that they took safety very seriously and checked the children more than once to see if they had the right bikes for their size. They offered us plenty of family solutions including carriers, toddler trailers, family bike units and children’s bikes that attach to adult bikes. Our children are keen cyclists and regularly cycle long journeys so we were confident that the four single bikes would do but there is a gradient hill as you get closer to Mulranny and they did tire at this point so I felt that we could have done with a child’s bike attach to our bikes as let’s face it, it is 18 km and can be hilly at times.
Once we arrived at Mulranny we were met by the team of Clew Bay Bike Hire who took our bikes from here so we could avail of their pickup service to be brought back to Newport. This pick-up service is all part of the service and was a welcome reprieve for two tired soldiers (and mum) who have a short nap on the journey home. There are shorter or longer routes along the greenway which Clew Bay Bike Hire have stations doted all along. You could bring your own bikes and then the greenway would be free but often it is easier to rent the bikes once you arrive at our destination as there only so much you can get into the boot. Clew Bay Bike Hire have many packages to choose from and offer excellent family discounts so you can have a great day out for all the family that will not cost you your shirt and best of all you will all get plenty of exercise!!! To see their packages check out the link below: https://easypeazyfamilybreaks.com/activities/bike-hire-westportclew-bay-cycles/
The Waterford & Suir Valley Railway
I’ve travelled the Waterford Bypass many times, but I never knew that metres from that very road lies a hidden gem, The Waterford & Suir Valley Railway.
The railway is a heritage project that runs hourly services along the 8.5km of the old Dungarven – Waterford route, much to the enjoyment of novelty seeking children and with plenty of impressive panoramic views for the grownups
We arrived at the station (which is easily found just a couple of hundred metres off the Main Waterford Bypass) 40 minutes before the next train was due to leave, and so I thought we might have a job keeping 3 young children amused for that time. However, the friendly team at the railway had gladly thought so too. First the children lined up for face painting, and then after a quick bite to eat on the picnic benches, we combed the station to find each item printed on our colourful activity sheet.
Along with the arrival of the train on the hour, the children were also surprised with the appearance of two familiar faces in Peppa Pig and Fireman Sam. After a quick hello and cuddle with the aforementioned characters, we boarded our partially open carriages and waved goodbye.
The activity sheets in the children’s hands had four unmarked pictures, including the ruins of Kilmeaden Castle and a Lime Kiln, which were to be checked off on the journey. Along the route, one is afforded an opportunity to take in the colourful and expansive scenery that the banks of the River Suir has to offer. The children on the other hand were waiting for one part of the map in particular, The Magic Woods.
At the Magic Woods, fairies can be seen climbing about their little wooden houses, where bridges connect the village in the trees. The train stops here for a few moments while little hands point in admiration at the enchanted site.
The spin remained enjoyable all the way back to the station, though some children in our group did mention they were a bit bored by the end.
The excitement levels rose again when we arrived back at the station which was a hub of activity again in contrast to the tranquil trek we had just completed.
Photos were taken with Peppa, time was spent with Fireman Sam on the play mat and the children were eventually corralled back to the boring four wheeled car.
The cost for 2 adults and 3 children was €23. This might seem a bit steep for a 40 minute train journey, but when you take into account the fun at the station before and after the train ride, it’s actually good value for money.
There’s a nice café in a restored train carriage, or as I said, picnic benches outside if you would like to bring your own lunch. There is also toilets and baby changing facilities.
If you are in the South East and looking to spend a few hours on something that’s a bit different, take a trip over to the Suir Valley Railway and you won’t be disappointed.