As parents we know how expensive it can be to entertain the kids, so we thought we would put together a list of things to do for free with the children, yes, the things that are completely free of charge. Here’s our suggestions for the best free things to do in Northern Ireland with kids:
Visit the Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens in Belfast is a great place to take kids. There are spaces to walk and run around in, plants to see and you can pop into the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine to see a range of tropical plants and flowers. Encourage older kids to enjoy taking unusual pictures of the buildings, plants and flowers with their iPod’s or phones.
We like the Tropical Ravine because it gives a sense of “being in the jungle” and we like to visit the fish ponds at the end of the Ravine too. You can continue onto the Ulster Museum then for some more indoor free time.
Roe Valley Country Park, Limavady
Head off for a family walk to Roe Valley Country Park at Limavady. This scenic and tranquil park on the outskirts of Limavady offers spectacular riverside views and woodland walks. Lots of outdoor activities are available such as fishing, canoeing, climbing and orienteering too.
And if you need to head indoors, you can learn about heritage in the museum and countryside centre where you can see the remains of buildings used in the linen industry and a restored water wheel, as well as finding out more about Ulster’s first domestic hydro-electric power station, which operated from here under the guidance of local genius J.E.Ritter.
For the disabled visitor there is a specially designed trail emphasising the wildlife of the park. This includes an audio guide for blind and partially sighted visitors.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park
The huge burial cairn located on the summit of the mountain, the South Cairn, is known as The Calliagh Berras House and is the highest surviving passage tomb in Ireland.
According to legend, it is associated with a witch who could transform herself into a hare. Legend has it that she tricked Finn McCool into jumping into the nearby lake, from which he emerged an old and withered man. While she was forced to restore his youth, it is said his hair remained white like an old man’s for the rest of his life. This fate is still said to befall anyone who bathes in the lake.
Slieve Gullion Courtyard, set in the midst of the park, offers a homely coffee shop and restaurant.
Family Cycling in NI
Castlewellan Forest Park has good cycling facilities for families with picnic spots while Gosford Forest Park has a 4 mile cycle trail starting and finishing in the main car park, suitable for children of all ages. You can expect to complete the trail in about an hour, not including stops along the way! More information on cycling for families here.
Make The Most of Libraries
Make sure to check out your local library and find out what classes and events that they run throughout the year. Your local library branch is a wonderful, free, resource for families.
All libraries host very popular, annual summer reading programmes while many of the branches run or host parent and toddler groups, storytelling sessions, arts and crafts classes, book clubs, games and activities sessions, exhibitions and so on.
Not to mention the fact that there is free computer access and the option to borrow books and DVDs!
For a change of scenery, why not visit a different library to your local branch?
Visit a Playground
There are some great playgrounds throughout the counties and in Belfast. Why not print the list and aim to visit them all over time? It’s an activity that is both free and good fun!
Make sure to bring some snacks and drinks or a picnic lunch.
History & Heritage
There are some great free museums in Belfast, Armagh & Derry:
- The Workhouse Museum, Derry occupies two floors of the old Workhouse building. The building is of great historical interest and a number of ghostly residents are said to haunt the building and surrounding area.
- The 4 Museums forming the National Museums of Northern Ireland are all free to visit and are all extremely child-friendly and offer plenty of activities and events throughout the year: Ulster Museum, the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Ulster American Folk Park and Armagh County Museum.