25 outings and activities to do with the kids this summer… and they’re FREE

Summer vacation has arrived but with families facing many extra expenses, free events and activities are always welcome.

Here’s our guide to some of the best things to do and places to go across the country to keep those dreaded cries of “I’m bored!” at the bay.

1. The Ark Children’s Cultural Centre, Dublin 2

The Rock, Paper, Scissors exhibition is open Tuesday to Saturday from July 9 to August 20 at The Ark in Temple Bar. After exploring the exhibit, children aged 5 to 12 can head to the creative zone with their family to create unique works of art from fabric, wood, paper or plastic. Ark.ie

2. Bray Aerial View, Wicklow

The main Bray Air Display event takes place on Sunday, July 24, although ground activity kicks off on Saturday, July 23, with some aerial activity throughout the day. Kids will be thrilled by some of the best display teams and individual acts from around the world showcasing their aerobatic skills. BrayAirDisplay.com

3. Style Icons Museum, Kildare

Youngsters who love fashion, music and film will lose themselves in the Newbridge Silverware Museum, which displays costumes and memorabilia that belonged to stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Grace, Princess Diana and the Beatles. VisitNewbridgeSilverware.com

4. Wexford Lavender Farm, Wexford

There are three free woodland walks through the lavender fields and woods of Wexford Lavender Farm in Gorey. The Purple Haze Café provides free maps of the walks, which range from 2 to 7 km in length. There’s also a 1km Woodland Warriors Trail for the little ones, which is a loop walk with rustic playground equipment, and they’ll love the enchanted woods. WexfordLavenderFarm.com

5. Old Railway, Westmeath

The 43km Old Rail Trail runs from Mullingar to Athlone in County Westmeath, so you can ride a route suited to your family’s age and fitness level. A good option is to head towards Ballinea on the Old Rail Trail before returning to Mullingar on the Royal Canal Greenway.

6. Kilkenny Arts Festival

The Kilkenny Arts Festival runs for 11 days from August 4-14 and has plenty of free events. These include the Secret Music Series, which are pop-up performances by leading Irish and international musicians, and the form of conjuration exhibition at the National Design & Craft Gallery. KilkennyArts.ie

7. OPW Free Days

Did you know you can visit some amazing Irish heritage sites for free? Thanks to the Office of Public Works (OPW), admission fees are waived at some of these amazing sites across Ireland on the first Wednesday of every month.


8. Solas Eco Garden Center, Laois

Pretend you’re in France by heading to the Solas Eco Garden Center in Portarlington for its French Festival on 16 and 17 July. There will be disco and live French music, street performers and French mime, face painting, guest speakers, history lectures and food samples. Children will love the dedicated space in the center where hens and chickens roam in the wild. EcoGardenShop.com

9. Glencar Waterfall, Leitrim

This famous landmark in Leitrim served as inspiration for WB Yeats in his poem, The stolen child, and it has a waterfall 15 meters high. There’s a playground to keep the kids entertained, picnic tables and a cafe, and you can stretch your legs with a walk through the lush woodland forest. LeitrimTourism.com

10. Aras an Uachtarain, Dublin

Áras an Uachtaráin has free guided tours most Saturdays organized by the OPW, where you can see the main reception and the state rooms of the President’s Residence. You might even spot his dogs, Bród and Misneach. Tickets are available at the Phoenix Park Visitor Center, which has a playground and cafe. President.ie

11. Galway Arts Festival

Free events at the Galway Arts Festival include LifeLine, which features 150 people performing Europe’s biggest high-flying spectacle on the River Corrib on Saturday 16 July. It culminates with BassAlto, a visual and poetic circus performance by an all-female company of professional wire-walkers and performers from the local community. Giaf.ie

12. Adventure Walks, Limerick

Adventure Walks is a collection of fun 1km and 2km scavenger hunts designed for explorers aged 4-15 at 12 Limerick locations. Download the Adventure Walks app on your smartphone and let the fun begin. Limerick.co.uk

13. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin 2

Budding artists will enjoy a guided tour of the National Gallery, designed for children of all ages and their guardians, parents and carers. It takes place every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. NationalGallery.ie

14. National Sandcastle and Sculpture Competition, Meath

For visual enjoyment, Bettystown Beach will be the setting for this annual pageant on July 24. It awards prizes to the best sand castles and sculptures made by people under the age of five, eight and 13, families, junior sculptures under the age of 16 and seniors.
sculpture from 16 years old. It’s free for spectators. Participants pay 2 to 5 € to participate. Register on Eventbrite.co.uk.

15. Leebeen Park, Longford

The beautiful Leebeen Park has been landscaped with nature trails, a fairy garden, benches and picnic tables, outdoor exercise equipment and walking loops. There’s a boardwalk along the lake, home to swans and other wildlife, and the playground has swings and a zip line. Longford.co.uk

16. Earagail Arts Festival, Donegal

As part of the Earagail Arts Festival, Letterkenny Regional Cultural Center will host a hands-on art room where visitors can experience the exhibits on display and create their own works. The art room is accessible from Tuesday to Saturday from July 9 to August 27.


17. Rockin’ Food and Fruit Festival, Wexford

The Food Marquee at the Rockin’ Food and Fruit Festival in Enniscorthy is an artisan food market with over 50 local and artisan vendors. There are also free outdoor concerts at the festival, which runs from July 28 to
August 1. RockinFoodandFruitFestival.ie

18. National Botanic Gardens, Dublin and Wicklow

Tours take place daily at the National Botanical Gardens, which are oases of calm and beauty. The greenhouses, visitor centre, herbarium and library are huge attractions in Glasnevin Gardens, while Kilmacurragh is particularly famous for its collections of conifers and rhododendrons. BotanicGardens.ie

19. Duckett’s Grove, Carlow

The surviving towers and turrets of Duckett’s Grove Walled Gardens and Pleasure Grounds in Carlow are great to explore. Children won’t be bored as there is a playground with slides, poles, an obstacle course and much more. CarlowTourism.com

20. National Museum of Ireland, Dublin and Mayo

The three different museums that make up the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life in Mayo and Archaeology, Decorative Arts and History in Dublin – are all fascinating. They’re a great way to pass a few hours and keep young minds engaged. Museum.ie

21. Delgany Fairy Trail, Wicklow

Refreshed for 2022, the Delgany Fairy Trail at Greystones is an autism-friendly sensory experience. It’s a magic wood
area where residents and visitors are invited to visit the small houses and cottages of the resident fairies. This includes a Ukrainian fairy, who decorated her cottage with sunflowers and Ukraine’s signature blue and yellow colors. GreystonesGuide.com

22. Cavan Burren Park

Budding geologists can discover 350 million year old fossils, ancient rock art and prehistoric graves at the geopark. Free visits are also organized every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in July from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. On August 20, children will have the opportunity to discover what it is like to be an archaeologist by learning to excavate the remains of a Viking house. CavanBurrenPark.ie

23. Fitzgerald’s Park Playground, Cork

Kids will love the playground at Fitzgerald’s Park with its castle and sunken pirate ship structures. There is a 2.6m climbing wall, with slides, swings, climbing pyramid, basket swings, hedgehog and ladybug springs and horizontal bars. The handicap-friendly play area is fully accessible, with wheelchair access to most sensory equipment.

24. Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Down

Those heading north should visit the beautiful Slieve Gullion Forest Park in Newry,
which takes visitors to a fantasy childhood land of mystery, dragons, giants, witches and fairies.
There is also an adventure play park and a specially designed trail for children and adults with additional sensory needs.

25. Summer Stars, Nationwide

Summer Stars is the nation’s free children’s reading program that takes place at all public libraries and online each summer. It runs until August 31, so check social media and your local library’s website for upcoming events and activities. LibrariesIreland.ie

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Richard V. Johnson