Soft-play centres and pottery studios. Aqua-parks and aquariums…Exhibitions ranging from ancient hoards of gold to smart clothes and masterpieces by Yeats and Caravaggio. There’s no shortage of indoor entertainment (with a side order of education) for kids in Ireland.
Why not start by taking a lie-detector test? By building your own racing car, watching a tornado form or comparing your hand to a gorilla’s? Interested? With some 250 exhibits, not to mention daily science demos and shows, Belfast’s W5 is one of the best family days out in the country. It may be designed for children, but adults will be smiling just as widely leaving this fun-tastic interactive discovery centre.
Dublin’s Imaginosity makes a similar impact. Aimed at kids under nine, it terms itself a "museum", but any learning here is strictly of the hands-on variety. Can you see your little ones practising to be newscasters in front of a real TV camera and blue screen, shopping in a mini-supermarket, or tending to patients in a pretend hospital ward? A three-storey climbing structure leads to a rooftop garden too.
Family days out...
The real sign of a good children’s attraction, of course, is the extent to which both adults and kids get a kick out of it. Imagine wandering through the mocked-up medieval streets of Dublin, or coming face to face with a Viking? That’s the offer at Dublinia, near Christ Church Cathedral.
Or what about uniting young and old through the medium of... chocolate? There’s a rapidly growing artisan chocolate scene in Ireland and families can take tours and get hands-on at workshops at Butler’s Chocolate Factory in Dublin, or the Chocolate Garden in Carlow, to name but two. And yes, you get to take your product home.
You may know Belfast’s Odyssey Arena as one of Ireland’s top music venues. But did you know you can see ice hockey here? The atmosphere at a Belfast Giants home game is sensational.
Travelling with grandparents? No problem. Every generation will find something to treasure at Tara’s Palace Museum of Childhood. Housed within Powerscourt House in County Wicklow, exhibits include Ireland’s largest period dollhouse and a host of dolls, games and toys from yesteryear.
Likewise, older kids and grandparents alike will love the combination of history and hair-raising spooks at Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol – one of the largest unoccupied jails in Europe.
Kids may yawn at the prospect of a visit to a museum and gallery on holiday, but in Ireland you can turn grimaces into grins with a host of family-friendly programmes, maps and events.
At the Armagh County Museum, for instance, you could find yourself beavering away at a costume or drama workshop. At the Museum of Country Life in County Mayo, you can ask for a box of traditional yard and street games (complete with materials and instructions to play hopscotch, snatch-the-bacon, skittles and other games of yore). Book ahead, and you can organise to open it at a dedicated workshop.
Nor does education and entertainment have to be confined to Planet Earth. At Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork, you can not only tour an historic dungeon and turret tower, but learn about life in outer space at the award-winning Cosmos at the Castle exhibition.
Best of all, on the first Friday of every month, the Castle hosts open house events, with access to the exhibits for free.