WITH two Bank Holiday weekends on the horizon, help is on hand from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) for parents looking for ways to keep their kids entertained over the breaks.
NITB is encouraging families to take some time out to enjoy a fun day in Northern Ireland by exploring a museum, discovering a new attraction, enjoying one of the many events taking place or to simply taking a walk in a local park.
NITB’s Destination PR Officer Pauline Gormley says there is a wonderful selection of ways to keep you entertained this year with something for everyone to enjoy including a wide range of free attractions to explore.
“Many parents will be thinking of ways to keep their children entertained during the school breaks but not everyone knows that there are lots of free attractions across Northern Ireland that will provide a great day out,” said Pauline.
“There are also many family friendly events taking place, not to mention the hundreds of local parks and scenic walking routes that families can also enjoy,” she added.
Come face to face with dinosaurs, meet an Egyptian Mummy and see modern masterpieces with a visit to the Ulster Museum. As Northern Ireland’s treasure house of the past and present, the museum is home to a rich collection of art, history and natural sciences and is free to all visitors (closed on Mondays except Bank Holidays). Why not take a hike up Cave Hill mountain where you can enjoy breathtaking views of Belfast and find out more about the local area at the Cave Hill Visitor Centre, from Stone Age cave-dwellers to the building of Belfast Castle. St Anne’s Cathedral was first consecrated in 1904 and is open to visitors on weekdays with plenty of interesting things to see including mosaics, stained glass, sculptures and the largest Celtic Cross in Ireland.
Other things to do
The streets of Belfast City Centre and Cathedral Quarter will come alive for five days from May 2 – 6 to the sound of laughter and the sight of acrobatics, music and comedy as the Festival of Fools celebrates 10 years of coordinated comedic chaos.
Join bird experts at sunrise for a Dawn Chorus event on May 4 and hear the wonderful cacophony of sound produced by the native birds living in Cave Hill Country Park and learn how to identify each species’ unique song. Meeting place for this event is the car park below Belfast Castle at 4am.
Belfast will be playing host to some of the magnificent ships that have sailed the high seas at the Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival from May 25 – 27. The festival will celebrate the city’s unique maritime heritage alongside Titanic activities that will include tours, talks, exhibitions and drama as well as family friendly entertainment and music throughout the three days.
Explore 9,000 years of vibrant history at the Ballymoney Museum. On display are rare finds from the Bronze and Medieval periods, exhibits associated with the political upheaval of the late 18th century and the United Irish Rebellion as well as a new exhibition on the heroes of Irish motorcycle road racing. Carrickfergus is the most archaeologically explored town in Northern Ireland and the treasure excavated throughout the years is on display at Carrickfergus Museum as well as photos and objects that have been donated by the local community and tell the story of the ever-evolving town. The Giant’s Causeway is the only World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland and is the result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. It is the focal point of a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and harbours a wealth of local and natural history (there is a fee for admission into the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre and car parking).
Other things to do
For the first time ever, the much loved Disney characters from four popular TV shows appear together live on stage in an unforgettable celebration of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in Ballymoney Town Hall on May 4. Join the fun and enter into the colourful worlds of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Dora the Explorer, Boots the Monkey and Peppa Pig.
Glenarm Castle is delighted to host the 7th Annual Tulip Festival on May 4 – 6. The gardeners have planted some 8,500 tulips which will provide the most spectacular and colourful display for our visitors, representatives from Bloms Bulbs will also be available to discuss all your bulb requirements and there will be a range of local crafts available within the garden over the course of the weekend.
Cushendun’s Big Arts Weekend is a three day event not to be missed. Taking place from May 3 – 6, enjoy jazz, a music workshop, poetry, an art exhibition by local artists, a sand sculpture competition, a craft workshop and much more.
The Crazy Sheep Racing event has been taking place for a number of years in Ballycastle and will see sheep race around a track in Ballycastle with all proceeds from the races being donated to charity. The unique event will be taking place from May 24 – 26 and will include pony rides, pony trekking, boating, go-karting and farm tours on the Paddy Wagon.
There will be a huge amount of fun happening during the Bank Holiday weekend at the Portrush Raft Race event which will be taking place from May 25 – 26. Watch as 80 homemade rafts compete in this fun race in aid of Portrush RNLI.
Armagh County Museum is the oldest of its kind in Ireland and its fine displays and collections reflect the rich and varied lives of the people who lived, worked and had connections with this famous city and historic county over the centuries. On display are military uniforms, wedding dresses, ceramics, natural history specimens and railway memorabilia. Discover the Solar System, the Galaxy and beyond at the Armagh Observatory and Astro Park which is situated adjacent the Armagh Planetarium as well as viewing a range of sundials and historical telescopes. With four miles of footpaths, five birdwatching hides, woodland, ponds, wildflower meadows, picnic and play areas, the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre is an excellent destination for day trips and the perfect way for families to get close to nature.
Other things to do
Taking place on May 4 in Loughgall Country Park is the Apple Blossom Fair where visitors can enjoy a wide range of apple-themed events as well as the chance to sample different apple produce and enjoy the rural ambience. There will be something to suit all ages and event highlights include orchard tours, cookery demonstrations and a dog competition.
Learn about the origins of the Beltaine Festival and the Mythology of Spring at the Navan Centre and Fort’s Spring Festival on May 6. Meet Finn, Grainne and their friends who will show you the traditional arts of bread making and butter and cheese making, test your skills with the tribal school of fight or try your hand at some ancient sports. Don’t forget to come dressed up to enter into the competition to be crowned the King and Queen of Spring.
Aliens are taking over the Armagh Planetarium during Planet Aliens which will be taking place on May 6 and 27. Design and make your own alien to take home with the help of professional sculptures.
Take a tour of the Hillsborough Courthouse and Fort and find out more on the history of the courthouse which used to be a market house built to attract linen manufacturers to the area. Newry and Mourne Museum boasts diverse collections including material relating to the building of a merchant town and the first summit level canal in the British Isles. Artefacts on display include a granite cross from Newry’s Cistercian Abbey, a pair of mill shoes from Bessbrook and examples of Carrickmacross lace. The North Down Museum, situated at Bangor Town Hall, boasts permanent historical exhibitions which display the important Early Christian Monastery, the coming of the Scottish settlers and the nostalgia of seaside holiday heydays. Also on display are The Ballycroghan Swords, dating from 500 BC and a ninth century hand bell found near Bangor.
Other things to do
On May 3 there will be a Family Fun Night in Killyleagh with lots of fun activities for all the family including arts and sports. All children must be accompanied by adults. Or why not join the fun at the Teddy Bear’s Picnic in Portaferry on May 6 with lots of activities taking place including face painting, teddy craft and a bear hunt.
The Down Royal Park Golf Course is hosting a Family Fun Day on May 4 which will include a free play on the new family friendly Pitch and Putt course. There will also be bouncy castles, face painting, balloon modelling, a magic show and disco
The Killyleagh Horse and Pony Show will be taking place on May 4 and is one of the oldest competitive events in Ireland. It has grown into one of the most popular outdoor events of the season with horse and pony jumping on display.
Enjoy a trip to Inch Abbey and sample the delights of traditional steam train and rail travel on May 6 and 27 as the Down Patrick and Co Down Railway’s Black Beauty makes its debut in her shiny new colour scheme.
Experience Ards on an enchanted Fairies and Folklore tour where you will hear about the story of Shane McAnanty, the King of the Ulster Fairies, who resides on Scrabo Hill. With midsummer approaching Shane McAnanty will be up to his usual mischief and help is needed to seek out this little man, taking place on May 24.
The Northern Ireland Countryside Festival makes a welcome return to Moira Demesne and this year the two day event will feature three great events in one giant festival, including the National Countrysports Fair, Finn McCool Strongman Festival and the brand new Back to Our Roots Festival on May 25 and 26.
The Ards Annual Puppet Festival is taking place on May 25 – 27 in the Ards Arts Centre with performances telling stories from around the globe told through glove and rod puppets, shadow puppetry and music.
Bread, Blues and Bikes is the theme of a day at Castle Ward’s International Bread Festival on May 25 – 27. Visitors can enjoy baking demonstrations, breads and foods from around the world, taster sessions and a raft of bread related activities on May 25, music legend Van Morrison will be playing on May 26 and bikers from across Ireland are being encouraged to get on their motorbikes, pushbikes and vintage bikes to tour around Strangford Lough before relaxing in the front lawn and enjoying an open air concert on May 27.
The Clinton Centre in the heart of Enniskillen hosts the Higher Bridges Gallery, a modern and contemporary exhibiting space that promotes the arts. The gallery hosts a number of different exhibitions throughout the year showing a range of artistic talent. Castle Archdale Country Park is situated just outside the village of Lisnarick and extends over 230 acres along the shores of Lower Lough Erne. Stroll through this park and visit some of its many features including a red deer enclosure, wildfowl ponds, butterfly garden and wildflower meadow. A trip to the Headhunters Barber Shop and Railway Museum is like taking a remarkable journey into the past where visitors can study the bygone age of steam travel and enjoy amazing artefacts associated with the railways which operated throughout Fermanagh.
Other things to do
Florence Court is the place to be on May 4 if you’re thinking about getting some hens to enjoy your own free range eggs. The Rare Breeds Poultry Fair will see exhibitors of pure breed poultry displaying all manners of rare breeds with the opportunity for visitors to learn more about the animals.
Visitors can enjoy the thrill of both land and water adventure activities at the Share Village’s Mayday Extravaganza from May 4 – 6 where you can take part in fun sessions in a range of activities including canoeing, banana skiing, archery, climbing and circus skills. Make sure you bring your swimming costume, sun cream, change of clothes, towel and hat and book in advance.
The Marble Arch Caves will be holding a Fossil Fun Day for children on May 6. Enjoy some hands-on activities and learn about fossils that can be found within the Geopark from 12noon – 5pm.
Enjoy a wonderful opportunity to take a Cot Trip in Crom’s 100 year old traditional craft boat. Cruise around the Lough and see the Crom estate from a different perspective on May 27.
Observe craftsmen at work at Turfs Crafts and explore the Bog Museum which has reconstructed lifestyles and habits of pre-historic Ireland with artefacts excavated from Irish boglands including sculptures, bones and large antlers from a Great Irish Elk dating back some 15,000 years. Discovered during peat cutting in the 1940s, the Beaghmore Stones is a complex of early Bronze Age megalithic features, stone circles and cairns and provides a very interesting backdrop for a family walk. Thought to have been built around 1320 by a local chieftain, Harry Avery O’Neill’s Castle is an unusual and interesting structure and is a great place to explore with children with two towers and a latrine chute still remaining.
Other things to do
Jamboree in the Park is taking place in Ecclesville Park on May 3 – 5 and will see three nights of world class entertainment with spectacular live stage shows.
Pull on your wellies and come along to the Rare Breeds Show at the Ulster American Folk Park on May 4 – 6. Rare and minority breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry make the museum their home for the bank holiday weekend and the experts will be on hand to answer questions on a variety of interesting animals including Dexter cattle, Kerry Hill sheep, Gloucestershire Old spot pigs and many prize poultry breeds.
The Foyle Valley Railway Centre hosts an exciting and fascinating collection of railway artefacts including the majestic County Donegal Railway steam locomotive and diesel railcars. Visit the museum and learn about the outstanding railway history of the city. Step back in time by visiting the Green Lane Museum, located in the Roe Valley Country Park, and view historical exhibits relating to the linen and agricultural industries from a bygone age before exploring the spectacular riverside views and woodland walks of the park. Within the former Derry Port and Harbour Commissioner’s Office, built in 1882, is the Harbour Museum which displays an eclectic collection of objects showing the city’s maritime connections including architectural drawings, plans of the city and archaeological finds. The Coastal Zone at Portrush is the main centre for marine and coastal education and here visitors can take a journey of Northern Ireland’s wildlife and heritage found under the sea and along our coast. The viewing platform at the back of the centre offers excellent views towards the sea where dolphins and seals can sometimes be seen.
Other things to do
Choose from many different activities on offer including hovercrafting, laser clay pigeon shooting, golf, tennis, surfing, archery, climbing, zip line and horse riding during the Binevenagh Activity Weekend in Limavady on May 4 – 6.
Enjoy a Family Fun Day at Jungle NI in Moneymore and partake in a tantalising array of exciting adventure activities including archery, boat rides, body zorbs, llama trekking and lots more, taking place every Sunday from May 6 – September 26 as well as selected Mondays.
The Earhart Festival is one of the city’s leading community festivals and will be taking place in various locations from May 19 – 25. For 2013, the theme is ‘Connecting Worlds Apart’, celebrating community arts, courage, innovation and creative expression in the City of Culture. Over 40 events have been planned for the festival including the Derry Day Celebrity Concert will see Derry~Londonderry’s musical talent perform on a stage on the Foyle Embankment.
A spring break in Northern Ireland starts from only £49 based on two adults sharing for a room only overnight stay.