Lonely Planet has just published the 12th edition of its Irish guide. Here are its Top 21 things to do in Ireland.
The best days out with the kids and things to do as a family near Edinburgh and Glasgow and around Scotland, including beaches, Scottish Wildlife Trust sites, parks and adventure playgrounds.
Whether you find yourself in the depths of the dark season in Scotland, or glorying in a sunny day, here are 10 great days out for families.
The Firth of Clyde, dubbed the Costa Clyde by Glaswegians, has the best range of beaches within easy travelling distance of the city.
An award-winning sandy beach stretching for almost two miles from the town of Ayr, ideal for picnics and sandcastle building.
The northern end is the most popular with an esplanade, a huge expanse of grass, and outdoor and indoor children’s play areas. Amenities include crazy golf, a putting green and several cafes, and other listed activities are bird watching and fishing trips for skate, haddock and cod.
On rainy days Pirate Pete’s on the esplanade is a treasure trove of gangplanks, scaling nets, ball lagoons and slides for toddlers and young pirates up to age 11.
A long, sweeping stretch of sand with a lively esplanade and spectacular views over the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran. The beach is well maintained, and there is a well-equipped play park for children. Popular with kite enthusiasts and windsurfers. Lovely Italian gardens to the north, and sand dunes to the south.
A picturesque harbour serves as a fishing and ferry port, and a modern marina is a haven for yachtsmen. Plenty of shops and restaurants in town and no fewer than seven golf courses, including the championship course of Royal Troon.
A beautiful expanse of sand at the mouth of the River Irvine backed by sand dunes and grassy areas. Picnic sites, parking and toilets, and if the water is too cold the Magnum Leisure Centre has a swimming pool, a lazy river, family slides and a teaching pool.
It also has a children’s soft play area and an ice rink. Other local attractions include the Scottish Maritime Museum on the harbourside, with ship models, lifeboats, and visits on board the MV Kyles, the oldest floating Clyde-built vessel in the world.
Conveniently located near the town’s shops and cafes, a clean sandy beach with a children’s play area, amusement arcades and a boating lake. Car parking and toilets by the harbour and fishing port, from where an esplanade stretches south bounded by grassland parks. Woodlands Bay to the south of the beach is a good place for finding fossils. Daily boat trips to the curious volcanic island and nature reserve of Ailsa Craig.
Take a 10-minute ferry ride from the coastal resort of Largs to the isle of Great Cumbrae, where a small sandy blue flag beach lies in the shelter of Millport Bay. Winner of the Keep Scotland Beautiful Best Beach Award for two years running.
A crazy golf course, mini-dodgems for kids, a summer funfair and trampolines, and no shortage of shops and cafes. Cycles for hire for a popular 10-mile circuit of a quiet coastal road around the island. Largs also has a small beach, and a Viking entertainment complex with exhibitions, story telling, a soft play area and a 25 metre-long swimming pool.
Pollock Country Park
A sylvan wonderland on the south side of the city with 145 hectares of woodland, gardens, riverside walks and meadows where highland cattle and Clydesdale heavy horses graze. Themed walking trails, mountain bike circuits, and countryside ranger events such as pond dipping and wild flower planting.
Pollock Country Park offers 145 hectares of woodland, gardens, riverside walks and meadows, along with the ancestral home of the founder of the National Trust for Scotland
Formerly the ancestral home of the founder of the National Trust for Scotland, Pollok House is a grand mansion with walled gardens and the UK’s finest collection of Spanish art.
The park also houses an eclectic exhibition of art and antiques in the Burrell Collection – and an adjacent children’s swing park. There are cafes in both Pollok House and the Burrell collection.
Who: Suitable for children of all ages.
Mugdock Country Park
A short drive from Glasgow, 260 hectares of ancient woodlands, moorlands, wetlands and lochs with expansive views of the city to the south and the Campsie Fells to the north. Jewels in the crown are a centuries old oak forest carpeted with wildflowers in spring and summer, and a tranquil loch.
A network of footpaths leads to a castle dating from the 14th century, and an easy orienteering course for families. Bicycles, tandems and child bike trailers are available for hire, and there is a play park for kids and a more challenging adventure trail for older children.
Regular events include story telling for youngsters and craft workshops.
Who: Suitable for all ages.
An hour’s drive south of Glasgow is a nature reserve at New Lanark, run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, where a way-marked footpath leads through woodland along the banks of the River Clyde to a spectacular three-stage waterfall tumbling down a gorge. The Corra Linn falls were painted by Turner, and eulogised by Wordsworth.
Bonnington Linn, above New Lanark, Falls of Clyde: the perfect setting for a Scottish family adventure
Bonnington Linn, above New Lanark, Falls of Clyde: the perfect setting for a Scottish family adventure Photo: Alamy
A highlight is a restored 18th century cotton mill village, a world heritage site, with a visitor centre, puppet theatre, and summer craft workshops for children making fairy costumes, paper lantern hot air balloons and butterfly lights. Suitable for primary and secondary school children.
A short ferry ride from Gourock to Hunter’s Quay by Dunoon leads to a magical little gorge where exuberant vegetation crowds around a stream tumbling down a succession of rocky falls.
This is a true fairyland, where a footpath and wooden bridges wind up through the kind of scenery that would be familiar to Frodo Baggins. At the top, a woodland contour path affords fine views of the Cowal hills and leads to Benmore Botanical Gardens, featuring over 300 species of rhododendron and an avenue of giant sierra redwood trees.
Not for toddlers.
On the eastern shores of Loch Lomond, a modest hill walk affording splendid views of what Victorians called “the most beautiful of Scottish lakes”.
Beginning at the car park in the pretty village of Balmaha, it is an easy ascent through a forest of old Scots pines and up a clear, well-used footpath on the open hillside. There is no need to go all the way to the top (358 metres) to enjoy the views, and find a grassy picnic spot. Can be combined with a stroll along a loch-side path to a small beach below the hill. Shops, cafes and waterfront restaurants in Balmaha.
Heads of Ayr Farm Park
Animals are the big attraction of this play-park near Ayr, notably Ralph the Camel, Troy the Tapir, and a menagerie of llamas, lemurs, meerkats, ponies, donkeys and goats.
Activities include bumper boats, water wars, electric tractors and diggers, and a giant aerial runway. Quad bikes for adults with toddlers and others for older children, and an undercover Play N’ Wild adventure barn with drop slides and a two-storey soft play area.
Toddlers can slide, seesaw and explore in a play zone with sensory games.
Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre and Aquarium
Eagles and falcons, kestrels and hawks, and owls big and small are among more than thirty birds of a feather in a little avian zoo in Balloch on the shores of Loch Lomond, devoted to conservation and education.
Guided tours explain the history and individual character of every bird, as well as the global plight faced by many birds of prey.
Additional packages include handling and flying hawks.
Who: All ages
An adjacent aquarium has the country’s largest collection of sharks among over 1,500 creatures, viewed through a ‘tropical ocean’ tunnel and in inter-active rock pools. Activities include animal feeding, a quiz trail – and sleepovers in the glass tunnel.
Who: All ages
Calderglen Country Park
An outdoors experience in a scenic wooded glen in East Kilbride with a children’s zoo, tropical glasshouse, nature trails, and play areas.
The zoo has a range of exotic and endangered animals including owls, marmosets, wallabies and meerkats, and there are miles of walks through woods and along the banks of the River Calder.
A dedicated play area for younger children, and a more demanding adventure play area for older children. Talks and tours of the zoo with one of the keepers to learn about the animals and biodiversity and conservation. Pre-school sessions with story telling and ‘guess the animal’ games.
Who: All ages
M&D’s theme park
The Giant Condor meets the Runaway Mine Train and the Flying Carpet at this complex of roller coasters, slides, disco boats and dodgems in Strathclyde Country Park, Motherwell.
Split into kids’ rides, family rides and thrill rides, the park caters for all ages. The Game Zone is one of Scotland’s biggest indoor amusement arcades with more than 150 games, and the country’s first glow-in-the-dark 10-pin bowling alley with 16 lanes.
An 18-hole crazy golf course plays over water and into a pirate’s galleon, and a soft play area for under threes has spiral chutes, trampolines and a ball pit.
A highlight is Amazonia, an inter-active indoor tropical rainforest with monkeys, toucans and pythons.
Who: All ages
An indoor adventure centre for wee ones in the city with play frames, ball pools, trampolines, slides, a go-kart track, and an astro-turf football pitch.
The aim is to stimulate imaginations by recreating an Amazonian swamp, a Bornean rainforest and an Egyptian pyramid.
Babies and toddlers are catered for in a separate play area with a foam octopus and a mini racetrack. Party rooms available for special occasions. A restaurant and Starbucks Café are on site.
After decades of tumultuous change, a more refined wave of affluence has reached Dublin, where visitors will find a restaurant renaissance, musical creativity and a glorious sense of history.Video by Fritzie Andrade, Max Cantor, Chris Carmichael and Aaron Wolfe on November 12, 2014.
Dublin’s been through tumultuous change in recent decades, from the Celtic Tiger years, when BMWs were de rigueur, to the post-crash depression, when the cacophony of incessant building suddenly went silent. Today, signs of economic recovery are emerging, but it’s a more refined wave of affluence than what the flashy boom years had to offer. The city is finding a new way to exist — neither ostentatious with wealth nor bowed down under debt. A hugely popular bike share program has replaced the “beamers,” craft beer is gaining precedence over elaborate cocktails, and Dublin restaurants are undergoing a creative renaissance that prioritizes imagination and Irish ingredients over heavily stylized and overpriced dishes. Throughout it all, from its centuries-old pubs to its Georgian architecture to the stately Trinity College at its center, the city has retained its glorious sense of history.
1. Begin in the Bog | 3 p.m.
The National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street (free admission) is worth multiple visits, thanks to a well-signed archaeological collection that provides an excellent background for a visit to Ireland. Bronze Age gold jewelry dug up during turf cutting, Viking swords and medieval farming tools are all on display in this handsomely decorated Palladian structure that dates back to 1890. The stars of the show, however, are the “bog people” — preserved corpses of men who were killed (presumably sacrificed) and tossed into peat bogs during the Iron Age. The preservative qualities of the bogs ensured that the bodies are in remarkable condition — one still has nearly a full head of curly hair.
2. Craft on Draft | 5:30 p.m.
The craft beer scene has exploded in the last few years, with bottles of Irish-made lagers, ales, stouts and ciders now standard issue at almost every city watering hole. For one of the biggest selections of craft brews, head to Against the Grain, an unpretentious pub on Wexford Street with hundreds of offerings, including Irish-made bottles from O’Hara’s, Eight Degrees Brewing and Mac Ivors. The pub is owned by the Galway Bay Brewery, which produces its own range of delectable drafts.
3. French-Irish Cuisine | 8 p.m.
The Green Hen, a much-lauded restaurant on buzzy Exchequer Street, has won many admirers with its combination of French atmosphere and Franco-Irish cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients. Try the pan-fried duck breast, which comes with a purée of parsnips and a celeriac mash, and be sure to order a side of bread, a moist, dark version of classic Irish wheaten bread, made with Guinness and black treacle. Dinner for two, about 80 euros, or about $100, at $1.21 to the euro.
4. Late-Night Tipple | 10:30 p.m.
Down the street from the Green Hen is Fallon & Byrne, a hybrid food hall, deli, restaurant and wine shop, housed in a former telephone exchange, that specializes in high-quality produce and artisanal food. The basement houses the wine cellar, a chic and convivial space where you can pull bottles off the shelves lining the walls and enjoy them at the communal tables scattered around the cozy room, along with a menu of bar snacks like cheese, crostini and oysters.
5. Medieval Cathedral | 10:30 a.m.
Much of Ireland’s history can be read in Christ Church Cathedral, which dates back to circa 1030. William of Orange came here to give thanks after he ensured the Protestant ascendancy at the Battle of the Boyne; it houses Strongbow’s tomb; and parts of the television series “The Tudors” were filmed inside (admission, 6 euros). The medieval crypt is full of treasures, including a mummified cat and rat discovered stuck in an organ pipe (so iconic they rate a mention in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake”). The belfry tour (4 euros; 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.) provides a beautiful view from the top and an up-close look at the flying buttresses, as well as the chance to try bell-ringing. If you want to go even farther back in time, get the combination ticket (13.25 euros) that includes the Dublinia museum, the Viking “experience” connected to Christ Church by bridge, where hokey but entertaining exhibits impart an extraordinary amount of information about Dublin’s beginnings as a Viking settlement.
6. Bikes by the Bridges | 1:30 p.m.
Dublin got a bike share program in 2009, and its enormous popularity (it’s now one of the most successful such programs in Europe) has led to the creation of a number of city center bike lanes and a cycling-friendly culture. Grab a bike from one of the many stations (locations at dublinbikes.ie; 5 euros for a three-day ticket after which every ride of 30 minutes or less is free) and cycle down the banks of the Liffey River, which slices through the city. Stop at one of Dublin’s famed bridges, each of which tells a story: the Ha’penny (the city’s first pedestrian bridge; payment to cross was once a halfpenny), the O’Connell (a part of Dublin life since 1794, said to be unique in Europe for being wider than it is long), and the newest, the Rosie Hackett (named for a trade union activist involved in the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Easter Rising, and the first to be named after a woman since 1792).
7. Go for a Guinness | 3 p.m.
Craft beer may be the new thing, but a pint of “the black stuff” is still required drinking on any trip to Dublin. The enormous Guinness Storehouse museum (admission, 18 euros), set amid the cobbled streets and imposing buildings of the St. James’s Gate brewery, explains how the stout is made and gives the history of the company, along with a selection of the familiar “Guinness is good for you” advertisements. The best part of visiting the storehouse comes near the end, when an employee supervises visitors in pulling a proper pint of Guinness (it’s a strictly adhered-to method involving holding the glass at the correct 45-degree angle and waiting 119.5 seconds before topping it off). Take it up to the top floor Gravity Bar, where the 360-degree view of Dublin is worth lingering over.
8. Restaurant Renaissance | 7 p.m.
Forest Avenue is a new addition to Dublin’s booming culinary scene, and it might just have the most exciting food in the city. The owners, John and Sandy Wyer, opened this small, airy spot in November 2013, and it’s been getting rave reviews for its tasting menus. Dishes like a salad of Annagassan crab with smoked salmon and chilled zucchini, and beef carpaccio with smoked oyster mayonnaise, pickles and horseradish quietly impress with their flavor and innovation. Changes appear on the menu weekly, but with food at this high a standard, that’s just more reason to return. Dinner for two, about 120 euros.
9. Beyond ‘Trad’ Music | 9 p.m.
Live music is in Dublin’s blood, but just about the only Irish accents you’d hear in a city center pub advertising traditional music are either on the stage or behind the bar. Leave the renditions of “The Fields of Athenry” for the countryside and head instead to the Sugar Club, a central venue with an eclectic calendar of live music and a fun-loving vibe. Anything from indie-folk to soul to country music to hip-hop can be found most nights of the week, along with the occasional high-energy comedy, burlesque or cabaret night.
10. Go North | 11 a.m.
The “north side” of Dublin (meaning north of the Liffey) has traditionally been more working class than the upscale south side. A stroll around offers glimpses into lives that haven’t changed much in half a century, from the hawkers selling fruit from baby carriages to the elderly ladies pulling their wheeled shopping bags behind them. Begin with a coffee and homemade pastry at Brother Hubbard, a bright and welcoming cafe on Capel Street then stroll down Henry Street, the north side’s main shopping precinct. At O’Connell Street, check out the towering silver Spire of Dublin, built for the millennium and nicknamed, in classic Dublin fashion, “the stiletto in the ghetto.” It’s just up the street from the General Post Office, an earlier incarnation of which was occupied by rebellion leaders during the 1916 Easter Rising. Whether the holes in its pillars are bullet holes from that historic conflict has been long debated, but even the suggestion is enough to stimulate the imagination.
11. Gaelic Games | 3:30 p.m.
There are a few “Gaelic games” unique to Ireland, and two of them are played at Croke Park, Dublin’s 82,300-capacity stadium. Gaelic football, which has the highest attendance of any sport in Ireland, is played with a ball similar to a soccer ball that can be picked up as well as kicked, while hurling, possibly the fastest field sport in the world, uses wooden sticks called hurleys and a small leather ball that can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour. The atmosphere at a Sunday afternoon match — matches are played March through September; admission 10 to 15 euros (standing and seated) — spent cheering on teams from all over Ireland in the company of their passionate fans, is unbeatable.
The Marker (Grand Canal Square, Docklands) is Dublin’s hottest new hotel, drawing trendsetters to its rooftop bar and tourists to its comfy, colorful, modern rooms. It’s part of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Grand Canal Square in Dublin’s new tech hub.
Dating back to 1824, the Shelbourne (27 St. Stephen’s Green) is an elegant historic hotel overlooking St. Stephen’s Green. Its Horseshoe Bar is a Dublin landmark; anyone who’s ever been anyone in Ireland has stopped here for a drink.
The Guinness Storehouse once more tops the bill, welcoming 1,157,000 visitors in 2013 – an increase of 70,000 visitors on its 2012 performance.
The iconic Dublin attraction was followed closely by Dublin Zoo, with just over a million visitors, and the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience – which saw a 10% boost over last year thanks to 960,000 paying visitors passing through.
Top 10 Fee-Charging Attractions 2013
1) Guinness Storehouse, Dublin: 1,157,090
2) Dublin Zoo: 1,026,611
3) Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, Co. Clare: 960,134
4) National Aquatic Centre, Dublin: 858,031
5) Book of Kells, Dublin: 588, 723
6) Tayto Park, Co. Meath: 435,000
7) St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin: 410.000
8) Fota Wildlife Park, Cork: 365,396
9) Blarney Castle, Cork: 365,000
10) Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin: 326,207
The ‘free attractions’ listing was topped by the National Gallery, as per last year, but there was a significant new entry – with the Newbridge Silverware Museum of Style Icons entering the top ten at No.5 with 350,000 visitors during 2013.
Top 10 Free Attractions 2013
1) National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin: 641,572
2) National Botanic Gardens, Dublin: 550,000
3) Farmleigh, Dublin: 435,476
4) National Museum, Archaeology, Dublin: 404,230
5) Newbridge Silverware, Kildare: 350,000
6) Science Gallery, Dublin: 339,264
7) National Museum, Natural History, Dublin: 284,323
8) National Library of Ireland, Dublin: 260,323
9) National Museum, Collins Barracks, Dublin: 251,226
10) Chester Beatty Library: 250,659
Overall, the combined top ten fee-paying attractions in 2013 recorded a 5% increase in visitors. The combined top ten free attractions rose 7& over 2012.
Speaking today, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar said:
“It’s good to see visitor numbers growing at so many of our key attractions, and it’s further proof that Irish tourism is going from strength to strength.”
The list will be seen as further good news for Irish tourism, after recent CSO figures revealed overseas visitors were up 9% from January to May of this year.
Both lists also confirm the dominance of Dublin in Irish tourism… with six of the 10 top paid-for attractions and a whopping nine of the top 10 free attractions all located within the capital.
– See more at: http://www.independent.ie/life/travel/ireland/irelands-top-10-tourist-attractions-revealed-30397521.html?1234567891#sthash.8fegJHEN.dpuf