Along with castles, museums, history, and beautiful scenery, Northern Ireland offers engaging things for families. Kids can visit a farm and see native red deer, program a robot, or even do a hedge maze. From the city to the country, Special Needs TravelingMom Kathy has put together information on four of her favorite things for families in Northern Ireland, her second home. Add these to your Northern Ireland itinerary for a trip the whole family will love.
Don’t Miss These 4 Fun Things for Families in Northern Ireland
When you visit a place often enough, it becomes familiar. You learn the roads, where the shops are, the good restaurants, and the fun things to do. It becomes a second home. Northern Ireland has become that way for us. My husband is a native so we visit family as often as we can. (If you are looking for tips on visiting Northern Ireland I’ve put together this list.)
Over the course of our visits we’ve driven the breathtaking Causeway Coastal route, sighed over the rolling hills that are just as green as you’d expect Ireland to be, and we’ve let our imaginations run wild visiting its many castles. We have also found plenty of kid friendly things for families in Northern Ireland. Here are four of our favorites.
1. Carnfunnock Country Park
Take the beautiful Antrim Coast Road about 25 miles from Belfast and you will find Carnfunnock Country Park. Carnfunnock Country Park offers 191 hectacres of Northern Ireland natural beauty and fun. The park contains 5 star camp grounds, picnic areas with a sea view, hiking trails and much more. At Carnfunnock Country Park, one of our favorite activities was trying our hand at the age-old United Kingdom fun, the hedge maze. The park is vibrant with a painter’s palette of flower gardens. As a Scout leader, one of my favorite features was that most of the plants and trees are labeled or signed. We were able to see many plants and trees we do not see in our native Texas.
Carnfunnock has a bright and whimsical playground with room for everyone. Families can also play mini golf with a sea view or channel their inner explorer with treasure hunting, geocaching, or orienteering. Families pay to park and the playground, trails, and maze are free. Other activities, such as mini golf and face painting, are extra.
Special Needs Mom’s Perspective
For special needs families with mobility issues, there is parking directly next to the playground. The rest of the park does involve a lot of walking. Other than crowds, there aren’t too many sensory triggers here.
2. Streamvale Open Dairy Farm
Belfast is a bustling cosmopolitan city, but just a few minutes outside the city center, Streamvale Open Farm made us feel as if we had driven miles into the countryside. Driving through Northern Ireland, it’s easy to see how important agriculture is to the country. Streamvale is a working family dairy farm that was established in the 1800’s. Visit and spend a fun and interactive day learning about dairy farming in Northern Ireland. Prices are about $8 for children and $10 for adults, but they do have family packages available.
It’s one of my kids’ favorite things for families in Northern Ireland. We made our second visit on our trip this summer. Along with being able to walk through the working dairy, kids can feed a wide variety of animals, including beautiful red deer, pigs, and chickens. They can also have cuddle time with bunnies and puppies.
Lots of Fun on the Farm
Since the last time we visited, they have added scheduled activities such as dog agility training, cow milking, and the feeding time. They have also added a Play Village where kids can dress up and be a vet or farmer. At each activity, there was a Streamvale employee teaching kids about the animals and the farm. Streamvale offers pedal go carts and an indoor play area. The kids loved riding the tractor up to the hilltop to feed the deer. Mom and dad loved the view of the emerald rolling hills and city below. This is a working dairy, so the ice cream can’t get any fresher. Be sure and finish your visit at the ice cream shop, where I highly recommend the lemon ice cream.
Special Needs Mom’s Perspective
There is some walking involved here and a few trails, but much of the farm is accessible. The farm is one of the very popular things for families in Northern Ireland and can be crowded. Farms also come with allergens. All of these are things for special needs families to consider as they plan a visit.
3. Pickie Fun Park
We visited the picturesque seaside town of Bangor, Northern Ireland for the first time this past trip. It was like stepping into a postcard, with the boats reflecting off the water in the marina and the cheery colorful buildings. After a day out in Bangor we visited Pickie Park. It’s a small but adorable little park on the Bangor waterfront perfect for younger kids.
At Pickie Park kids can play on the playground or enjoy the splash pad or “help” mom and dad pedal the swan boats. Challenge each other to a round of mini golf then all aboard the Pickie Puffer for a tour around the park. After the train, take a slide down the bounce house. My kids’ favorite activity was the go carts. Pickie Park’s carts were fast enough for the kids enough to have fun but slow enough for mom to not worry.
Families can also grab lunch or a snack at the Pickie Park cafe. The playground and splash pad are free but the other activities require park admission and separate tickets.
4. W5 at the Odyssey
With an engineer dad and two science loving kids, we have been to a science museum or two. W5 at Odyssey in Belfast is one of the nicest children’s science and STEM museums we have visited. W5 has 6 themed exhibition areas with over 250 interactive exhibits in areas like CSI, engineering, and science. Admission to the museum is around $11.
With airplane simulators to fly, microscopes to view, or crimes to solve, the museum is completely hands-on for kids. It was a great place for sensory input for my special needs kiddo. The museum is located in the heart of the Titanic Quarter. The enormous wall of windows provides beautiful views of the port and the nearby Titanic Museum Belfast.
The programmable robot was my son’s favorite as he is a young coder. There is also a floor for virtual reality and technology. Even got mom and dad into the exhibits on this floor going on a virtual safari.
Fun & Learning in The Titanic Quarter
After seeing the museum, there is a fun multi-story outerspace climbing structure to work up an appetite. The Odyssey – where the W5 is located – offers dining options from Pizza Hut to Indian to an American Style Diner. Families can make a whole day of fun and learning by visiting W5 in the morning, grabbing lunch at the Odyssey, and then heading over to the Titanic Belfast. The Titanic museum offers the Family Trail scavenger hunt activity to get kids involved in the visit. These are two of the best things for families in Northern Ireland right in vicinity of each other.
Special Needs Mom’s Perspective:
The museum is very accessible from the exhibits to the restrooms to the elevators. The W5 is understandably one of the most popular things for families in Northern Ireland. The popularity can lead to crowds, a possible sensory trigger for fellow special needs families.
A Memorable Destination for Families
Northern Ireland is full of castles, museums, and history. By all means, visit as many as you can. But it is also full of things for families that are geared toward young travelers. These places are a wonderful way to burn off steam or keep kids engaged in a trip.