50 free activities to get out and enjoy this summer

The best things in life are free - and we've got 50 of them. Ciara McDonnell rounds up the festivals and days out that won’t break the bank.

1. Touch Tanks At Lough Hyne - For one day only, Marine Biologists will be on the shores of Lough Hyne, with tanks full of the sea creatures that live in its waters. Kids will be able to learn all about the nature reserve’s native sea life, and even touch them! 25th August 11am-1pm; skibbheritage.com/

2. Find The Fairies - Fairies can be found in their droves in both Tipperary and Kerry right now. Templemore Park in Tipp is home to a gorgeous fairy trail that has both ample picnic tables and an excellent playground. Derrynane House and nearby Darryquin play host to two trails that beg to be explored. http://www.templemoreparkfairytrail.com; https://irishfairytrails.com/

3. Open Air Cinema Happenings are curating the open-air cinema at Fitzgerald Park this su mmer, with movies best enjoyed from the comfort of a snuggly picnic blanket. www.happenings.ie

4. Ballina Salmon Festival - The Ballina Salmon Festival is well regarded as one of the most family-friendly festivals of the year. For the second week of July, the Mayo town transforms into a carnival of face painting and music and of course – salmon! https://ballinasalmonfestival.ie/

5. The Other Burren - Cavan Burren Park is located on limestone bedrock that was created under a tropical sea 340 million years ago and features sink holes and a relict riverbed along its 10km of walking trails. https://www.cavanburrenpark.ie

6. City Spectacular - Taking over Dublin and Cork once more, the Laya City Spectacular remains one of the best free family days out during the summer months. Expect circus tricks galore and a brilliant food village to maintain full tummies at all times. 6th-8th July in Dublin; 14th and 15th July in Cork. https://www.cityspectacular.com/

7. Follow The Pirates - Inisbeg Estate has its very own pirate trail, where kids can explore while learning all about the sacking of Baltimore. This trail is super high tech and even has its own app, should the more tech savvy families require it. http://www.inishbeg.com

8. Free Wednesdays Make the first Wednesday of each month Exploration day. The OPW has continued it’s wonderful Free Wednesday programme, allowing visitors to gain free access to our national heritage monuments all over the country. https://www.opw.ie

9. Get Arty Cork’s Crawford Gallery has a rolling family-friendly programme, which offers free tours and access to its wonderful exhibitions all year long. During the summer months, this wonderful city centre space is an ideal spot to get respite from the hustle and bustle of outside, and a visit to its café is a must. http://www.crawfordartgallery.ie/

10. Build An Aquarium - As a part of Seafest in Galway this weekend, children are invited to head to the central pier and work together to make a giant collaborative aquarium from recycled materials. Workshops run on the hour from 10am to 6pm today and tomorrow, with the last session at 5pm each day. https://seafest.ie

11. Visit A Playground In A Castle - Birr Castle in Offaly is lovely and filled with historical wonderment, but its real attraction is the super amazing playground that houses the country’s largest tree house as well as picnic areas, a bouncy pillow, sand pits, sweet shop and hobbit hut. http://birrcastle.com

12. West Cork Children’s Literature Festival - As important as the West Cork Lit Fest proper, this festival is a hub of amazing children and young adult authors who will be giving talks and running workshops for would-be writers and mega fans. 13th-20th July. http://www.westcorkmusic.ie

13. Visit A Greenway - There are two Greenways in Ireland, one in Galway and one in Waterford. Both offer gorgeous, safe and scenic passage for families who wish to combine cycling with holidaying. A much-recommended day out. www.visitwaterfordgreenway.com; www.greenway.ie

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14. Meet Ireland’s Native Reptile - The Clara Bog Nature Reserve in Offaly is home to Ireland’s only native land reptile – the viviparous lizard, as well as newts, dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, caterpillars and frogs along its extremely peaceful boardwalk. http://www.clarabognaturereserve.ie

15. Cork Pride Family Fun Day - Pride is launching its 2018 festival with an afternoon of rainbow activities, picnics and entertainment from our favourite Disney characters as well as face painting and a dog show. 29th July 12pm-4pm; http://www.corkpride.com/

16. Lough Muckno Play Park - Wilberts Enchanted Garden at Lough Muckno, County Monaghan is a supercharged play park that caters to children from age 2 to 16. With separate play areas for all age ranges, this park is free of charge and promises hours of fun. https://monaghantourism.com

17. Festival of Curiosity - 14 venues and spaces will transform into interactive installations, pop-up playgrounds and curiosity carnivals as the Festival of Curiosity takes over Dublin. This is a wonderful way to explore the city with your children. 19th-22nd July; https://festivalofcuriosity.ie

18. Townlands - Under 12s go free at this year’s Townlands festival, where a Kids Beatz disco reigns supreme and life size board games will keep them occupied for hours. https://townlandscarnival.com

19. Walk The Gruffalo Trail - There is a finite amount of time during which you will be able to live through the magic of your children, and if you have a toddler who has loved The Gruffalo, then get to Colin Glen in Belfast, where sculptor Andrew McIntyre has created a magical trail for children to enjoy. https://www.colinglen.org

20. Go Geocaching - Go modern day treasure hunting by using your phone’s gps to find geo caches that other adventurers have hidden in some of Ireland’s most beautiful spots. To find out more, check out https://www.geocachingireland.com

21. Follow The Shannon Dolphin Trail - Starting at the Shannon Dolphin Information Board in the town's Market Square, and following along an extremely well sign posted trail, the Kilrush Dolphin Trail guides along the Shannon to Aylevaroo Point where families can spot dolphins while enjoying a picnic. www.shannondolphins.ie

22. The Jackie Clarke Museum - Containing artefacts that date back over 400 years, this free museum in Mayo is ideal for young visitors who are interested in the background to the Easter Rising. http://www.clarkecollection.ie

23. Plants Under The Microscope - Use microscopes, stereoscopes and hand lenses, with expert guidance from leading Irish botanists Howard Fox and Maria Cullen at this family workshop in Future Forests, Kealkil, as a part of the Ellen Hutchins Festival. 25th August 2-4pm; facebook.com/EllenHutchins200/

24. Foynes Airshow - This all-day event will see a spectacular air show over Foynes in Limerick, as well as a fun fair and lots of child-friendly street entertainment. 28th July 12pm-6pm; http://www.foynesairshow.com/

25. Visit a Lavender Farm - Wexford Lavender Farm in Gorey is home to walking trails, a lavender distillery and a playground as well as a gorgeous café. https://wexfordlavenderfarm.com/

26. Visit The Observatory - To celebrate the midsummer lunar eclipse, Blackrock Observatory are running a free family workshop to teach children and their associated adults all about lunar eclipses. 27th July 7.30pm-8.30pm; https://www.bco.ie

27. Pet A Donkey - One of Cork’s most popular attractions, The Donkey Sanctuary in Mallow offers an opportunity to get up close and personal with gorgeous donkeys who have been rescued and set out to pasture. http://www.thedonkeysanctuary.ie/

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28. Check Your Sense Of Smell - Learn all about the native plants which make the gorgeous scents that The Burren Perfumery is famous for. Visitors can check out The Soap Room and The Blending Room before having tea and cake in the onsite tearoom. https://burrenperfumery.com

29. Summer Stars - A must for avid readers, local libraries come together each year to run this excellent reading programme, aimed at kids of all ages. There are monthly events as well as reading lists to keep readers busy all summer. http://www.librariesireland.ie/summer-stars/

30. Go To A Puppet Festival - Dowtcha Puppets are celebrating their fifth annual puppet festival at Fitzgerald Park and Bishop Lucey Park this August. Expect lots of good old-fashioned fun, with workshops and shows all weekend long. 3rd – 5th August at Bishop Lucey Park 11am-5pm and Monday 5th August at Fitzgerald Park 11am-5pm.

31. Find A Forest - There’s oodles of fun to be had at our local forests, thanks to Coillte. With walking trails well sign posted, and a host of wildlife to discover, check out your local forest for a family walk followed by a picnic. www.coillte.ie

32. Sprog at Spraoi - The children’s programme of Spraoi, Waterford’s awesome arts festival has become as exciting as the main event. With workshops and events going on all weekend with children in mind, this is just the ticket for you and your little ones. http://www.spraoi.com/sprog/

33. Say Hello To The Otters - Find out all about the otters of Blackpool with UCC Graduate Grace Walsh, as she tells families all about this really important addition to Blackpool. 18th August 3-5pm; book by emailing events@corknaturenetwork.ie.

34. Kids Yoga @ Chester Beatty - The Chester Beatty Library is running children’s yoga workshops this summer, with games, relaxation and animal-themed poses. The next workshop is on 12th July.

35. Scarecrow Festival - Durrow Scarecrow Festival is celebrating its ninth year this year, and has upped the ante accordingly. The Scarecrow Village, featuring circus performers and lots and lots of scarecrows is a must visit. 29th July – 6th August. http://durrowscarecrowfestival.com

36. Drive By - The Copper Coast Stretching between Dungarvan and Tramore, Copper Coast UNESCO Global Geopark gets its name from the 19th Century copper mines that lie beneath its land. Its visitor centre is a brilliant resource for families with an interest in history. https://coppercoastgeopark.com

37. YUM Festival - Join some of Ireland’s youngest musicians as bands, singer songwriters and artists come together to treat the people of Fitzgerald Park to a daylong concert. 28th July 1-6pm.

38. Streams Of Bunclody Festival - Celebrating local art and culture, this weekend-long festival is in its second year and a full programme of family friendly craic agus ceol. 20th-22nd July https://www.bunclodyfestivals.ie/

39. Climb To The Top Of A Lighthouse - Imagine life as a lighthouse keeper at Galley head this summer with a guided tour of the famous lighthouse and its lighthouse keeper's houses. 26th August 10am-4pm; irishlandmark.com

40. Live Like A Lord (For A Day) - Curraghchase Forest Park is the immaculate woodland estate and lakes around the shell of the 18th century Curraghchase House in Limerick, which has an excellent playground near picnic tables. coillteoutdoors.ie

41. Story Time - The Storytelling Caravan is rolling up to Fitzgerald Park this August, when Melissa Baker will enthral her audiences with her old fashioned but utterly timeless approach to story telling. 4th and 5th August, 1.30pm and 4.30pm.

42. Cycle By A Sculpture - Pack up the bikes and head to Lough Boora in Offaly, where life-size sculptures dominate the landscape along an easily navigated cycle and walking trail. http://www.loughboora.com

43. Make Use Of The National Museum - Our national museums in Dublin and Mayo are not only free to visit, but run regular free arts and crafts workshops aimed at families with young children. https://www.museum.ie

44. Watch A Whale - Whale Watching Ireland are running a special nationwide event on 25th August, when they are leading groups on a whale watching expedition on some of the country’s major headlands. http://www.iwdg.ie/

45. Discover Castlecomer - You’ll have no problem spending an entire day at Castlecomer Discovery Park in Kilkenny. From an elf and fairy village to a mega playground, there’s lots to do, and excellent toilet facilities to boot. There are lots of adventure activities on offer too, but they are not free. https://www.discoverypark.ie

46. Youghal Medieval Festival - Make like a knight and get ready to take part in a battle of medieval proportions as Youghal gets set to reinact medieval times in forty events starring over 150 performers. 19th August 12pm-6pm; youghal.ie

47. Run Free In The National Parks - With six expansive national parks in Ireland, encompassing mountain ranges and lakelands and wildlife that will take your breath away, there are days of exploring to be had exploring our wildest landscape. https://www.npws.ie/national-parks

48. Ardmore Pattern Festival - Despite its name, the Ardmore Pattern Festival is a week of family friendly fun with art and craft workshops, puppet shows, face painting, sandcastle competitions as well as an air display, cookery demos and lots more. 23rd-29th July; http://www.ardmorepatternfestival.ie/.

49. Wobbly Circus Show - Introduce your little ones to the joy of the circus with this epic street show. Featuring clowns and tightrope walkers as well as mime and slapstick comedy guaranteed to bring the belly laughs; this is not to be missed. Fitzgerald Park 1st, 7th, 21st July 2.30pm and 4pm.

50. Teddy Bear & Fairy Picnic - Possibly the cutest event of the summer, join hundreds of fairies and children with their teddy bears as they along Ballincollig’s fairy trail by Elder Fairy. Wear your fairy outfit and enjoy the puppet show and face painters who’ll be on hand. 22nd August 2pm-4pm.


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