15 fun things-to-do on camping holidays this year
The abundance of new walks and cycle tracks along greenways and blueways make for excellent and easy opportunities to enjoy and explore the great outdoors this summer. This scene at the Grand canal in Vicarstown is typical of the lovely landscape and opportunities without any traffic or arduous climbs.
The Vanhalla summer guide to family-friendly activities
Holidays are not about destinations but rather discovery, experiences, and shared memories.
No better way to get away from it all, the 9 to 5, the ponderous routine, and the predictable daily timetable than a bit of adventure.
Try your hand at something new, something different, something you’ve always wanted to do, but just never got around to it.
Holidaying at home this year – we won’t mention that unspeakable staycation word – and avoid the airport queues and extortionate parking charges – here’s some ideas of things to do while on holiday in Ireland this summer. This guide will help you, but remember, when you’re on holidays, local knowledge is invaluable, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Go on, give it a go!
First up must be surfing. The best fun ever for all ages. Everyone from 7 to 70 and a few years leeway either way can have a go. Irish beaches are among the best in the world, over 80 of them designated blue flag beaches. You don’t have to splash out on expensive equipment to try surfing, as board and wet suit hire is readily available, and for good measure you can have a lesson included. Surfing is great gas as a group activity. Portwest and outlets like Lidl and Penney’s do a good line in entry level gear before you graduate to the more expensive brands.
Lots of options here and great surf schools and rental to choose from in Lahinch www.benssurfclinic.com two hours surf session with all equipment, coaching, indoor changing and shower facilities €40); Rossnowlagh www.finmccoolsurfschool.com 2 hour lessons costs €39 for adults, €29 for children aged 8 to 15; Portrush www.troggs.com group surf lesson £35 for age 6 and upwards, one-to-one lesson £55 for one hour, Hen & Stag Parties 2 hours, £35 per person); Tramore www.freedomsurfschool.com surf board & wetsuit rental €25 half day/€30 full day; adult surf lesson minimum two people €40, group rates available; lessons for teenagers €35; Achill www.achillsurf.com surfing plus a range of other outdoor pursuits; for details & rates 085 1554376; also in Achill is Pure Magic and if kitesurfing or Stand Up Paddle Boarding aka SUP is your thing then they will fit you out. They also have accommodation and restaurant options with bookings at www.puremagic.ie . In Dunfanaghy, Donegal Narosa Surf Shop and School where they ‘love sharing the stoke’, are always helpful and ideal for family or groups who want to give surfing a go. Details and bookings from www.narosalife.com – adult lessons, all levels from €50 for 90 minutes session, group rates available; children (6-16) group lessons from €35.
Again, a good one for all ages and all the family. Not at all as daunting as it looks, and you’ll cherish that thrill and those photos for a lifetime. Scream by all means, do look down, but don’t hesitate. It’s over in a flash but the memory is forever. Castlecomer Discovery Park lays claim to Ireland’s longest zipline. It is 300 metres long and 35 metres over ground at its highest point as you zip over lakes, stunning woodland, and a 17th century restored bridge. One run on the zipline costs €16. You can also try the Tree Top Walks, €13 per person; Climbing Wall €6; Boats & Canoeing, minimum age 4 years, max 4 persons per paddle boat, €16 per boat; or visit the Coal Mining Museum (adults €5, children €3 Student/OAP €4, family rate €15) www.discoverypark.ie
There’s something about horses. For all their power and strength, they are so reassuring and comforting. Trekking along in woodlands or across a beach is an amazing experience and suitable for everyone in the family. It’s relaxing and offers a different perspective on the world, an opportunity to embrace your childhood stories and dreams. It’s not the movies though, so unless you’re an experienced rider this equestrian adventure will not involve cantering or galloping. In truth these good-tempered nags are ‘self-steering’ and will plod along and get you back safely at their own pace.
Lots of options all over the country. For sandy beaches and moorlands with views of the Atlantic Ocean and Ben Bulben, try Island View Stables in Sligo www.islandviewridingstables.com (071 9166156; accommodation, meals, self-catering, transfers available, rates on request) or in the midlands, Annaharvey Farm Equestrian Centre, Tullamore (www.annaharveyfarm.ie equestrian holiday packages and group lessons available); or the Tipperary Mountain Trekking Centre near Borrisoleigh (One hour scenic trek suitable for beginners and younger children, 1 person €55, 2-3 people €40, group of 4-6 €30 per child under 16, €35 for age 16 and over www.timotrec.com
Sunset gallop on Rossnowlagh Beach, Donegal: Photo credit: courtesy of Michelle Duffy
Greenways and Blueways
Thanks to some visionary investment in reinventing old railway routes, canal towpaths and riverbanks we are spoilt for choice for this wonderful way to explore the great outdoors. Perfect family day out you can opt to walk or cycle these designated routes at your own pace. As they are all level there are no arduous climbs and far safer than the roads as traffic is restricted.
Among the most popular are the 46km Waterford Greenway to Dungarvan, (www.greenwaysireland.org) which takes you over the impressive eight-arched viaduct bridge at Kilmacthomas. There’s the 44km Great Western Greenway from Westport to Achill via Newport and Mulranny www.greenway.ie
Something a bit less strenuous is the Blueway along the Nore from Graignamanagh to St Mullins (8km); the greenway from Carlingford to Omeath www.carlingfordloughgreenway.ie (7km) or the Shannon Blueway from Carrick-on-Shannon via Battlebridge to Drumshanbo (14km) which takes you across the stunning Acres Lake boardwalk www.bluewaysireland.org
There’s also a new blueway along the River Barrow currently being developed by Waterways Ireland from Lowtown in Kildare via Rathangan, Monasterevin, Vicarstown to Athy, a distance of 46km www.waterwaysireland.org
No worries if you don’t have your own bikes as the trailheads all have bike-hire services with lovely spots to rest or refreshments on all these routes. Price guide for bike hire – adults €25; children €10, electric bikes €45 with child seats, helmets, locks hi-vis jackets all included from firstname.lastname@example.org
Lighthouses have enthralled us for centuries. What stories they could reveal as they have kept lookout across our seas and oceans for generations. Ireland with its rich maritime heritage has over 80 lighthouses which you can visit and explore. By dint of their purpose, they are all situated in some of the most stunning coastal landscapes. Perhaps make a list and visit them all over time, starting with the oldest, Hook Lighthouse in Wexford, which was built 800 years ago.
Hook Lighthouse (www.hookheritage.ie) features a café, souvenir shop and family-friendly 45-minute guided tours. They cost €10 for adults, €6 for children; family of five ticket for €30; with children under-5 free of charge.
Other locations to get you started on your lighthouse adventure are in Fanad, Donegal (www.fanadlighthouse.com adults €10, family ticket 2 adults & 2 children €25; extra child €3, child under 5 is free); Loop Head in Clare (loopheadlighthouse.ie) and Valentia Island in Kerry (www.valentialighthouse.ie adults €7.50, children €4, family ticket for family of 5 €20, students & seniors €6.50).
Open water swimming became a bit of a fad during the pandemic, even sparking a run on trendy dry robes. Fashionable or not, it is invigorating and healthy to get those endorphins flowing. The Forty Foot is of course Dublin’s fabled swimming spot at Sandycove. Another smashing location for a dip in the Irish Sea is at the Guillamene at Newtown Cove near Tramore, Co Waterford. Also, well worth checking out is the designated swimming area in the River Barrow at Graiguenamanagh, which is staffed by lifeguards during the summer months. Free of charge.
The beauty of open water swimming is that you can paddle or plunge on your own terms, and it’s all free of charge. However, do take care, heed advice, warning signs and with sea temperatures around Ireland this time of year about 12 degrees, brace yourself for the cold-water shock and the dangers posed by cramps or currents. See also www.swimireland.ie
Before there were ever greenways or blueways we were always blessed with the sheer beauty of the great outdoors in so many of our mountain ranges and national parks. In Wicklow it’s hard to beat the treks around Glendalough suitable for all the family www.glendalough.ie with services, refreshments, toilet facilities and all-day parking available for €4. Enjoy the fresh air, the thrill of stumbling on a herd of wild deer, and again it’s all free. www.irishtrails.ie
Also highly recommended are Killarney National Park, Kerry (www.killarneynationalpark.ie); Glenveagh National Park, Donegal (www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie) and Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, Galway www.connemaranationalpark.ie.
It would be remiss of me not to mention one of my favourites from our own patch, The Slieve Bloom Way, a 75km marked way with a lovely swimming spot at The Catholes and the waterfall at Glenbarrow among its highlights www.slievebloom.ie . For a break and refreshments check out The Falls at Glenbarrow café at trailhead for home cooked bakes, teas and barista coffee.
Oyster Farm Tour
Mention of Letterfrack and Connemara brings to mind another adventure which is fun and in that vicinity. If you fancy some scrumptious and succulent oysters fresh from the brine you can visit Connemara Oyster Farm at Ballinakill Bay which is part of the Bord Iascaigh Mhara ‘Taste the Atlantic’ (bim.ie) seafood experience, just outside Letterfrack. Learn how to shuck your own oysters, get a guided tour, see how they are harvested and sample them in situ, all for €30 at DK Connemara Oysters. For bookings www.dkconnemaraoysters.ie and more info from www.bim.ie
If that sounds like too much effort and you simply prefer to have the famed food of love served up to you on a platter, well then treat yourself to a visit to Moran’s on the Weir Oyster Cottage in Kilcolgan, Galway as this is their signature dish and costs €14.50 for half a dozen. Yummy! www.moransoystercottage.com
Kayaking is great craic for all age groups. There’s a plethora of options around our waterways and along our coasts where you can discover how to paddle your own canoe. Highly recommended for that personal touch, vast knowledge, expertise, high standard of equipment and safety are the crew at Selkie Sailing near Gweedore in Donegal. Along with coastal kayaking adventures, the possibility of spotting bottlenose dolphins around Inishmean, the team at Selkie can also provide sailing tours and surfing lessons. For a 3-hour sea cave kayaking adventure, featuring wildlife tour and historic walk on Owey Island the cost is €40 for adults and €25 for children under 10. For bookings 086 2223328 facebook.com/SelkieSailing
Still on a maritime theme we must include a visit to an aquarium. Again, ideal for all ages and a great option to get indoors if the weather is acting up. Interesting and educational, you can explore the mysteries of the ocean deep and encounter sharks, sea horses, octopuses, clown fish and even penguins at excellent aquariums in Dingle (www.dingle-oceanworld.ie adults €16.50, children €11.50, family 2 & 2 €52), Achill Island (www.achillexperience.ie adults €8, children €4.50 and child under 2 is free) and at Salthill in Galway Atlantaquaria established in 1999, (www.nationalaquarium.ie) where the price is €13 for an adult and €8.50 for a child.
The 98 km mountain bike trails at Ballyhoura Forest Park (www.visitballyhoura.com) set the benchmark for this increasingly popular pursuit, more commonly known as MBT to the enthusiasts who relish these mountain trail adventures on two wheels. The 80 km mountain bike routes across the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Laois-Offaly are the newest addition to explore, with accommodation, refreshments and bike hire available at the trailhead in the scenic village of Kinnitty. The unspoilt and scenic Slieve Bloom Way is also suitable for hiking and camping. For bike hire go to www.midlirelandadventure.ie E-Bike 6 hours €85, full suspensions 6 hours €85, hardtail 6 hours €55, MX Junior for children 6 hours €45. 3-hour rental options also available. See also www.visitkinnitty.com for accommodation, refreshments and other services.
Lough Boora and Lullymore Heritage & Discovery Parks
These two nature parks in Offaly and Kildare have been developed by Bord na Mona across vast expanse of cutaway bogland. Perfect for a family day out they have an interesting blend of activity and art. Lough Boora (www.loughboora.com) in the heart of Offaly is free to visit with a €4 charge for car parking, offers a variety of walking and cycling trails, birdwatching, fishing, a fairy trail, and a sculpture park. Lullymore Heritage Park (www.lullymoreheritagepark.com) near Rathangan in the Bog of Allen has a funky forest, pet farm and road train trips among its attractions. Both centres have refreshments available and cater for school tours. Two adults and 2 children €33, extra child €8, children under 2 are free and adult admission is €10.
Well maybe not quite island hopping in a Grecian sense, but sometimes as an island nation we tend to forget that we are also surrounded by some incredible offshore islands that deserve our attention. Some, like Achill and Valentia are accessible via land bridge, others like Omey can be explored on foot at low tide.
There are others such as The Skelligs, Rathlin, Tory, Clare Island, Arranmore, Inishbofin, The Saltees and perhaps the most famous of all, The Aran Islands which can be reached by short ferry crossings, 30 to 45 minutes. It makes for a great day out, the boat trip alone can be great fun, with departures from the likes of Portmagee, Ballycastle, Magheroarty, Westport, Burtonport, Cleggan, Kilmore Quay, Doolin and Galway.
Don’t assume that you’ll get a spot on the ferries, so best to book your place in advance. For instance, with www.doolin2aranferries.com which can also incorporate a stunning sea view of The Cliffs of Moher, a return ticket to Inis Oirr costs €32 or €45 to include The Cliffs. That combination will cost €120 for a family ticket for two adults and two children.
Brewery or Distillery Tour
With the upsurge of interest in craft beers, artisan gins and speciality whiskies this is a great way to learn all about your hops and infusions. While the Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Storehouse may be the market leaders in this space either side of the River Liffey in their Dublin City locations, in Smithfield and St James’s Gate, there’s lots of other equally interesting options around the country for the discerning aficionado.
Vanhalla can heartily recommend Wicklow Wolf Brewery & Taproom in Newtown Mountkennedy, just down the road from Roundwood Village www.wicklowwolf.com and the wonderful The Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo, Leitrim www.theshedistillery.com
Of course, it would be a sacrilege not to also refer you to our own local craft beer success story down the road near Stradbally in Co Laois at Ballykilcavan Brewery. Based at the historic Walsh-Kemmis family farm which dates back 13 generations to 1639, and those boys know their barley! Find out more and arrange a visit at www.ballykilcavan.com
Fish n’ Chips al fresco
A simple one to finish up with but a goodie, nevertheless. Everyone has their own favourite chipper, and an acceptable queue and reasonable wait time can be good indicators that there’s something tasty afoot. This is where the arguments begin as local favourites and rivalries kick-in.
Fresh fish n’ chips at source, with the requisite amount of salt n’ vinegar are hard to beat. They taste even better when enjoyed al fresco, to the sound of the sea and in the glow of the setting sun.
Dingle is certainly right up there in the running for a few good options and The Little Saltee chipper in Kilmore Quay certainly has its many fans. Hard to beat Mena’s Chipper at the greenway trailhead in picturesque Omeath. Today, however, Vanhalla is going to opt for the current reigning champion in our book, Spooney’s at Vaughan’s on the Prom in Lahinch. Their tasty and generous portion of fresh fish n’ chips in their secret recipe is hard to beat for €12.50. Worth the trip to Lahinch alone.
You can’t beat a good camping BBQ…
Breakfast is served
Did we mention visiting a pet far at Kildare Farm Foods, exploring stalactites in Aillwee caves, whale and dolphin watching in West Cork, steam train rides in Stradbally, the waterparks in Roscarberry and Moville, and there’s so much more to do on holidays throughout this summer, we’ll have to revisit those and others, another day.
Enjoy your summer!
A version of this article was first published in the Sunday Times on May 8, 2022.