The summer holidays can be an expensive time for families. Trying to keep the kids entertained during that 8 week period of school holidays can seem like an insurmountable challenge. I’ve come up with a list of some free days out for families in Northern Ireland. This guide is really useful for both families living in Northern Ireland and those who are visiting for a short break.
Visit the beach
We’re very lucky here in Northern Ireland as we have a vast array of fantastic beaches. We’re also lucky that no matter where you are in NI, you are never more than 35 minutes away from a beach. Northern Ireland has over 500 kilometres of coastline and 31 beaches listed in The Beach Guide. Northern Ireland is renowned for its stunning beaches many of which form part of one of two ‘Areas of Outstanding Beauty’ On the weather front we’re not so lucky so beach days may be at the mercy of our unpredictable weather. Our family’s favourite beaches here in Northern Ireland are Castlerock, Waterfoot, Portstewart Strand, Portrush and Tyrella. Let me know your favourites in the comments section below. I’m on a mission to visit as many new beaches this summer as possible.
Make your visit to the beach a magical and memorable experience by building a fantastic sand castle. Seek out your inner child and go rock pooling together or if you’re even more adventurous you could grab a snorkel and see what you can spot in the sea!
Your Pick of Parks
There are lots of great parks here in NI. Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park is my local and a firm favourite with all of our family. It has something for all ages which suits us as it can be a challenge to find activities that will keep all 3 kids occupied at once. We are also regulars at Wallace Park in Lisburn. We’ve also heard great things about the new Mo Mowlam Park at Stormont so that’s one on the ‘to visit’ list for this summer! It’s an in inclusive play park that allows children of all abilities play together. It has a roundabout and a swing that can hold a wheelchair and a sensory area suitable for children with sensory needs. I will update you all on it once we’ve visited.
When at the park, why not go off the beaten track and look for places that you haven’t explored before. You might find a secret garden or hidden maze. You could create a treasure hunt for the kids. Go one step further and create a real treasure map with an X marking the spot. Bury a wooden box with some old bits of jewellery in it before the kids get there… Real treasure!
There’s plenty more at Tannaghmore
One of our favourite ways to spend a day is to visit the fabulous Tannaghmore Gardens. It houses a play park, a small animal farm and some wonderful gardens. There is something for all ages here and plenty of activities to help the kids burn off the extra energy. Let’s face it the aim of any good day out is to tire the kids out! The play park has just undergone a £250,000 refurbishment and has some fantastic facilities. Tannaghmore is also home to the Kissing Gate. Legend has it that couples who kiss over the gate will get married within the year. This has made it a popular spot for wedding photographs too.
Take a walk on the wild side through the forest
Take a walk through one of our forest parks and you might even spot a Gruffalo. Colin Glen Forest Park is currently home to the Julia Donaldson Gruffalo Trail, a nice way to spend an afternoon. If searching for Gruffalos isn’t your thing there are plenty more forest parks to explore from Gosford Forest Park in County Armagh to Castle Caldwell Forest Park in County Fermanagh (there may be a charge for car parking).
Pick a bouquet of wild flowers together or forage for some wild garlic that you can cook together with later. Go on a nature walk and see what you can discover on the forest floor.
Feed the ducks along the Lagan Tow Path or simply take a leisurely stroll
The Lagan Tow Path stretches along the River Lagan from Belfast to Lisburn. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and makes for a fantastic free family day out. You can take a leisurely stroll along the bank of the Lagan or if you’re feeling more energetic, why not cycle the route. There are various points for entry to the path along the way. If you’re lucky you might even spot an otter or a seal.
Try out some bird watching or go on a nature walk at Lough Neagh Visitor Centre Oxford Island
Oxford Island is a National Nature Reserve renowned for it’s diverse wildlife habitats. At the centre located on the South-Eastern shores of Lough Neagh, children can learn about the importance of these habitats. Alongside the educational hub that is the discovery centre, there are a number of forest trails, bird watching hides and a little play park. The centre also houses a little cafe if you haven’t brought your own picnic.
Have a competition to see how many different birds or animals can be spotted.
The Ulster Museum has plenty to entertain
You could never get bored at the Ulster Museum. It really has something for everyone and the whole family could spend hours here exploring the wonderful artefacts and exhibitions that change regularly. Keep an eye on their website for special events. Once you’ve finished why not take a stroll through Botanic Gardens and visit the Palm House.
Immerse yourself in fiction at your local library
Something that we can often forget about in today’s digital world is our local library. There is so much for families to do here. During the summer months the libraries. Whey not participate in ‘The Big Summer Read’.
Reading together is so good for a child’s brain development. Take time out to read a story and get lost in the characters.
Check out Finn MacCool’s handy work at Giant’s Causeway
I don’t think the Giant’s Causeway needs any further introduction being one of NI’s most visited attractions. Again there may be a fee for car parking but the Causeway itself is completely free to visit.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Continue the giant adventure or frolic with the fairies with a visit to the Giant’s Lair
We were recently invited along to Slieve Gullion Forest Part to see the ‘Footsteps in the Forest Festival’ preview. This really is a magical place with an amazing play park, fairy kingdom and the Giant’s Lair. All of the art installations along the trail are inspired by local legend. Fun for the whole family that will keep them entertained all day.
The key to having a magical day of fun for all of the family is to see things through the eyes of a child. Find the magic in every moment and seek out fun and adventure at every opportunity. Climb a tree, dig for treasure or get lost in the wilds… Oh and also bring a picnic.
“And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling.” Shanti
I’d love to hear your comments on things you like to do as a family that don’t cost the earth….
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