Nature is a great educator and most children love being outdoors exploring, playing and connecting to nature. In Ireland we are lucky to have many wonderful places to discover nature. We have put together some of our favourite fun places for nature education for kids in Ireland. So next time you are looking for a day out, check out if there is a place near you!
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Cool Planet Experience, Wicklow
Cool Planet Experience aims to inspire visitors to make sustainability so cool it becomes the norm! This is achieved through a series of interactive and engaging exhibitions, games and competitions.
Visitors to the Cool Planet Experience will see for themselves the science behind the highs and lows of our changing climate while discovering new and exciting innovations and how they can put them in place, not just during their visit, but through their everyday life to make a change and create a healthy future for our planet.
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Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens, Cork
Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens in Cork is operated by Irish Heritage Trust, an independent charity. There is plenty for families with children of all ages to enjoy including, house tours, special events & workshops.
To learn more about nature and the world around us, Fota House have a number of special nature themed activities and trails that can be taken when you visit. These include;
- Digging for History where you can get stuck into the award winning Victorian working garden with a tour through the glass where kids will learn fun facts and finish off with the opportunity to pot their own plant to take home and enjoy or take away a packet of seeds to plant later.
- Queen Maeve’s Honey Bee Adventure is a great introduction to bees with an activity based talk which will have children buzzing around the farmyard doing their waggle dance and discovering how the hive works.
- Victorian Working Garden Tour can be taken 7 days a week from March to September by arrangement. There is a wide variety of interesting plants for visitors to see.
- Junior Plant Hunters Activity Trail collect your activity book and take the trail to discover everything there is to see and do in the gardens and arboretum. A fun way to spend a morning or afternoon discovering nature.
- Little Explorers Trail is a fun trail around the gardens and arboretum to explore the wonders of nature.
- Plant Hunters Tree Trail is a trail to identify rare and unusual species at Fota. It is a free-ranging trail suitable for older families and adults.
Be sure to check opening hours before you travel.
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Powerscourt Estate & Gardens, Wicklow
Powerscourt Estate & Gardens in Wicklow offer an amazing nature experience. Visit at any time of year and be delighted by their clever planting and places to explore the great outdoors, spot wildlife and discover Ireland’s highest waterfall! Powerscourt Gardens has been voted no. 3 garden in the world by National Geographic and it is just a short drive from Dublin city centre.
In addition to the beautiful surroundings, they run regular events which include nature inspired events for children and adults, with everything from gardening workshops to bug hunts and guided walks and tours.
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Strokestown Park, Roscommon
Strokestown Park has a 6 acre working walled garden which has been restored over time and offers visitors an insight into the horticultural design and architecture from the 1740’s to the present day.
Former owner of the house, Henry Pakenham, was an avid gardener and travelled extensively gathering plants and seeds from around the world to grow at Strokestown Park. Many of these exotic plants can still be seen today.
The walled gardens include a 4 acre pleasure garden, 2 acres of fruit and vegetable gardens, a lily pond, fernery, rose garden, peach house and vinery.
In addition the surrounding woodlands have many fine specimens of beech and oak trees and you can enjoy a walking route through the woodlands and get glimpses of the house and gardens beyond.
Also on the site is the National Famine Museum where you will get an insight into life in Ireland during famine times. And there are regular events organised for visitors to enjoy.
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Birr Castle Gardens & Science Centre, Offaly
Birr Castle has 50 hectares of gardens and woodlands to explore, so be sure to pack a picnic when you visit. Throughout the year there are nature & science themed workshops & events taking place including Nature Detective mid-term and summer camps.
The gardens and terraces around the castle are home to a varied and interesting variety of plants, shrubs and trees, including some of the world’s tallest box hedges.
Water also features around the grounds with waterfalls, a lake and 2 rivers to enjoy. Here you will spot a good variety of birds and wildlife and enjoy a walk in the Fernery.
Before you travel, be sure to download the app for an audio tour of the gardens. You can also pick up maps at the visitor centre to enjoy a self guided tour of the gardens, woodlands, science centre and great telescope. There are 3 different maps with points of interest marked on each one.
After discovering all the grounds have to offer, be sure to stop off in the huge tree house, Ireland’s largest and play area and pop in to see the science centre too.
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National Museum of Ireland – Natural History, Dublin
NMI – Museum of Natural History aka ‘The Dead Zoo’, has galleries of animals from Ireland and overseas, also geological exhibits form a total collection of about 2 million scientific specimens with a Discovery Zone.
It is free to visit and they run regular, free educational events and workshops for children and adults to enjoy.
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Johnstown Castle & Gardens, Wexford
Johnstown Castle is a spectacular gothic Castle in Wexford and offers an amazing day out in nature for all ages. You can explore the beautiful ornamental gardens designed by Daniel Robertson, walk by the 3 lakes where you will spot peacocks and other wildlife. There is also a Victorian Walled Garden and an Ornamental Pleasure Garden to discover and enjoy.
The grounds incorporate 2 research farms run by Teagasc, who own the entire estate. The farms have been carrying out pioneering agricultural related research for more than 50 years. They have teamed up with the Irish Heritage Trust to work on a new visitor centre and experience and will be running nature related workshops and events during the year.
The Irish Agricultural Museum is housed within the grounds of Johnstown Castle and is home to one of the most comprehensive collections showcasing farming and rural life in Ireland with everything from tractors to kitchens!
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National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Thurlough Park, Mayo
The National Museum of Ireland – Country Life in Castlebar, is open 7 days a week and brings to life the traditions of rural life in Ireland. Exhibitions are full of wonderful objects from long ago.
Learn about how people lived in the towns and countryside, cut turf, caught fish and worked in the home. Educational nature related workshops, exhibitions and family programmes for all ages take place throughout the year.
Entry is free and you can explore the surrounding woodland, greenway and impressive award-winning Victorian gardens.
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Belvedere House and Gardens, Westmeath
Belvedere House and Gardens incorporates 160 acres of grounds with 10 kms of serene trails along the lakeshore and through the woodlands. The trails provide the opportunity to explore the flora and fauna at Belvedere. Some trees throughout the estate have been planted for hundreds of years. In addition there is a walled garden and arboretum with many exotic plants and a fairy garden for younger members of the family.
Belvedere House hosts nature themed events throughout the year including Bat Walks, Dawn Chorus and Tree Walks. Details can be found on the events page.
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Irish National Stud and Gardens, Kildare
The Irish National Stud is a farm that specialises in breeding racehorses. The site is also home to the Japanese Gardens, which maps the ‘journey of life’ according to Japanese history and St Fiachra’s Garden with an environmental trail and four acres of woodland and lakes for families to have an ecological day out. For younger children there is a fairy trail and a well equipped playground along with a Horse Museum.
They offer ecological school tours where children can get up close to horses and wildlife in a relaxed natural environment. They will see horses and foals in the paddocks and enjoy hands on interaction with miniature Falabella horses. When they visit the horse museum they will learn more about the anatomy of the horse, as there is a full skeleton of Gold Cup winner Arkle. Then enjoy the Japanese Gardens and follow the path through tunnels and streams with an explanation of the symbolism of each section.
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Castlecomer Discovery Park
Located 18 km North of Kilkenny City, Castlecomer Discovery Park has a range of exciting recreational, cultural and educational activities for visitors of all ages.
The park has 80 acres of natural woodland with 6km of trails throughout, a fishing lake, an interactive coal mining museum, design craft and nature workshops and award winning café.
You can book team challenges which include orienteering and they have a digital scavenger hunt for visitors to download and solve which will teach children & adults more about the natural environment and history of Castlecomer.
Castlecomer is an accredited SFI Discover Centre and run DPSM (discover primary science & maths) days for primary schools, connecting the children to nature through outdoor play, learning and adventure.
For secondary schools they have a comprehensive programme of activities related to nature, geography, science, biology & ecology, that can be combined with adventure and team building activities.
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Barnett Demesne, Belfast
Take the kids out for some fresh air within easy reach of Belfast city centre at Barnett Demesne, located next to Malone House. The park features an arboretum, daffodil garden, eco-trail, orienteering routes and a children’s playground – or for those looking for a little bit more adventure, you can try the bike trails and jump parks.
The park, which is named after William Barnett who was the last owner of Malone House, is popular for family walks due to its proximity to the River Lagan, Shaw’s Bridge and nearby Clement Wilson Park. Barnett Demesne is also home to woodland and wildflower meadows, many wild animals (including rabbits, badgers and squirrels), and birds for your family to spot.
More than 70 species of wildflower grow in the meadows during the summer months which is a beautiful setting for any family picnic. It is also home to an annual Spring Fair, which offers music, entertainment and wildlife displays each April.
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Tropical World Letterkenny, Donegal
Tropical World is home to a wide range of animals and plants and incorporates a butterfly house and mini zoo with animals and birds including lemurs, marmosets, meerkats, tamarins, owls, parakeets and many different species of butterfly.
It is open seasonally, so do check opening times before you travel. It will give you a good insight into the living world around us as you can get up close to animals & plants.
Clara Bog Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre, Offaly
Clara Bog Nature Reserve is free to visit and has many free events for children. The bog itself is reputed to be the best remaining example of a raised bog in Western Europe.
There is a 1 km boardwalk looped walk on Clara Bog which lets you see the wonderful plants, birds and animals which Clara Bog is home to, and to soak up the atmosphere of an exceptional raised bog in the heart of Ireland (NB wear trainers or shoes). The Visitor Centre also organises walks, art and nature activities on a regular basis.
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Discover Nature Through Photography
Brian Cregan Photography works with primary and secondary schools to offer insightful photography and creative nature workshops that helps young people express themselves in a creative way. He often incorporates nature into the themes, using flowers, leaves and other objects to create art that is then photographed in different ways and can be kept as a keepsake to enjoy forever.
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Coole Park, Galway
One of the most stunning nature reserves in Galway, Coole Park offers a wonderful day out for all the family whether it be to enjoy the organised nature walks, explore the forest, spot the swans on the lake or head over to enclosure near the visitor centre and go deer spotting.
Coole Park is free to visit and there is free parking on-site.
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Seaforde Gardens, Down
The tropical butterfly house at Seaforde Gardens is home to hundreds of free flying exotic butterflies from around the world. You will also see reptiles, parrots and other animals on your visit.
Afterwards take a stroll around the beautiful gardens where the kids will love getting lost in the maze! It is open seasonally so do check opening times before you make your journey.
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Phoenix Park, Dublin
The Phoenix Park in Dublin offers nature in an urban setting and families have enjoyed spending time there for many years. It is managed by the OPW and the visitor centre offers free nature themed educational workshops to primary schools including;
- Trees, what would we do without them?
- Discover the animals that live in the park
The park is free to visit and includes The People’s Gardens, a 22 acre park showcasing Victorian horticulture at its best. Next to the visitor centre The Victorian Walled Kitchen Garden offers inspiration and education on the horticultural skills involved in designing a Victorian Kitchen Garden as well as growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. There is also a viewing hive, where you can see bees at work and sample the honey produced by them.
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Brigit’s Garden, Galway
Brigit’s Garden takes you on a magical journey into the heart of Celtic heritage and mythology. The award-winning Celtic Gardens are widely regarded as one of the most spectacular in Ireland, set within 11 acres of native woodland & wildflower meadows.
In addition to the Celtic Gardens visitors can enjoy the nature trail, an ancient ring fort (fairy fort), thatched roundhouse and crannog, and the calendar sundial, the largest in Ireland. Brigit’s Garden is very family-friendly with a kids’ discovery trail, a natural playground, café and lots of opportunity to explore. They run summer camps and regular nature themed events throughout the year.
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Seafari Kenmare, Kerry
Seafari Cruises are a great way to explore the wildlife and nature of Kenmare Bay. You go out on the bay in a comfortable and sheltered passenger vessel, out to one of the largest seal colonies in Ireland. See if you can spot Kathleen, a stunning seal with a red coat. The rumour is that Kathleen is a selkie, a seal which was once human according to legend.
You may also get to see otters, white-tailed sea eagles and other sea-birds. Humour and fun are part of a Seafari cruise and whilst the boat is not often rocked by waves in the calm waters of the bay, it is frequently rocked by laughter. Tea, coffee, squash and biscuits are offered on all cruises and for those feeling a nip in the air there is a medicinal shot of rum.
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The Burren, Clare
As you drive up County Clare towards Galway you will reach The Burren, a unique area of historic, cultural and geographic significance. The landscape made of limestone is crisscrossed with cracks and interspersed with rocks and plants. Kids will enjoy clambering about the landscape.
Here are some of our favourite nature attractions as you make your way through The Burren:
- The Burren Centre – explore the flora, fauna, geology, legends, archaeology and natural history of the Burren.
- Burren Perfumery – perfumery, tearooms and lovely gardens to wander around;
- Burren Nature Sanctuary, on the outskirts of Kinvara which has an Adventure Playground, Nature Trail, cafe and soft play area.
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Galway Atlantaquaria Ireland’s Largest Native Species Aquarium, can be found by the sea in Salthill.
There are over 100 native species and a wide array of exhibits over two floors at the aquarium.
With regular tours, interactive feeding times and touch pools there is always something new to learn about the marine life of Ireland.
The education department run marine themed holiday camps during the school holidays.
Glenveagh National Park, Donegal
Glenveagh National Park is one of six national parks in Ireland. Situated in the Northwest of Co. Donegal, Glenveagh encompasses some 16,000 hectares in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains.
The award-winning Visitor Centre incorporates a living heather roof mimicking the surrounding landscape causing minimum disturbance. The extensive displays contained within provide an introduction to the parks natural and built history as well as providing information on walking trails, events etc. Guides on duty will also be happy to provide visitors with information about the park and surrounding area.
Schools can book educational learning days & guided tours where the children will:
- Learn about protected nature places in Ireland and around the world
- Learn more about biodiversity
- Gain an understanding of how humans impact the world
- Explore their role in caring for and protecting the National Park
- Brainstorm on solving problems and designing new ideas for the National Park as it grows.
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Sea Synergy, Kerry
Award winning Sea Synergy Marine Awareness & Activity Centre is nestled in the colourful coastal village Waterville, Co. Kerry on the Ring of Kerry and perfect for families looking for fun adventure and discovery along our beautiful Wild Atlantic Way!
The awareness centre houses a unique interactive exhibition on Ireland’s sea life where marine biologists will give you a tour without having to get wet!
Hold some of the largest animals on earth’s bones and see some of the ocean’s smallest and extremely important animals in the exhibition as you get up close to nature!
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Tralee Bay Wetlands, Kerry
Visit the Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre and Nature Reserve and immerse yourself in nature. You can enjoy:
- Guided nature boat tours
- Bird hides
- The ecology and wildlife centre with a wildlife exhibition telling the story of the natural heritage of Tralee
- The nature board walk, offering a bugs eye view of nature!
- Water sports and activities
- Scenic views from their 20 metre Viewing and Observation Tower
During school holidays they run Eco Explorer Nature and Activity Camps which are affordable, educational and fun. And they also run regular nature themed events and workshops during the year.
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Belfast’s Window On Wildlife
Nestled in the heart of the Belfast Harbour Estate, Belfast’s Window on Wildlife is home to birds and wildlife from all over the world, and you and the family can get up close and personal with them from the comfort of the visitor centre.
Two hides, constructed from shipping containers to tie in with their surroundings, offer different perspectives on the reserve and feature a members-only area, which is perfect for budding photographers. As you look out over the reserve towards the famous Cavehill, you might also be able to spot the resident konik ponies which graze the reserve to help keep it in the best condition for ground-nesting birds like lapwings.
RSPB NI provides lots of new homes for nature at the site, including a sand martin bank and a swift tower. There’s a lot to see at the reserve no matter when you visit. In summer, artificial islands give common and Arctic terns a safe place to breed and the reserve comes to life with the sound of the warblers arriving from Africa. In winter, the water is full of wildfowl like wigeon (a type of duck, and not us misspelling pigeon!) and teal, while black-tailed godwits can be seen digging in the mud for food.
Belfast WOW is open every day except Tuesdays, and is Free for RSPB members.
Over to you now. Can you recommend any more fun places for nature education for kids in Ireland? Please share them with us in the comments box below.