The second-largest city in the Republic of Ireland, Cork is both ancient and contemporary, set against a backdrop of a rugged coastline. This compact city provides an intimate, family-friendly alternative to Dublin, with activities that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. From browsing the city’s unusual museums to hiking its countryside boreens and surfing at Inchydoney Beach, read on to discover the best things to do with kids in and around Cork.
Best reserved for slightly older offspring, a tour of the city’s former jailhouse is a great way to pique young imaginations. While family-friendly, the severity of penal life in 19th century isn’t whitewashed, and visitors are encouraged to interact with the detailed grizzly exhibits and the architecture itself, with the cells all restored to their former misery. Located on Daly’s Bridge, on the other side of Fitzgerald Park, just 2km (1.2mi) from St Patrick’s Street, this is one of Cork’s prime attractions. For an enhanced atmosphere, book one of the evening tours.
A member of Ireland’s Zoological Society, this entire 40ha (100-acre) attraction is geared towards educating visitors on the importance of biodiversity and the preservation of natural life – which it does so excellently. Offering species of fauna and flora from every continent, this is not your average city zoo. Asiatic lions, red-necked wallabies and Brazilian tapir are just a few of the exotic creatures found in this sanctuary. While a slight departure from the centre of Cork, 10km (6mi) and easily accessible, Fota Wildlife Park is the second-largest tourist attraction in Ireland and an ethical choice for animal lovers of any age.
For old-fashioned, adrenaline-spiking fun, look no further than Cork’s National Kart Centre, built from the remnants of an old Ford engine factory. Offering two different tracks – one suitable for kids aged eight and over and the other for teens aged 15 and up – you don’t need to be a motor buff to enjoy the high-velocity thrills of racing to the finish line, as training is provided. The centre can also be booked for private children’s parties.
For an excellent introduction to surfing for kids of all ages, visit the windswept Inchydoney Beach, which provides the perfect conditions for learning the sport. A haven for watersports fans, some parts offer a safer, less choppy tide, making it ideal for practising. The Inchydoney Surf School, located in Clonakilty, is the area’s longest-running school for budding surfers. It also has board rentals, if you want to teach the kids yourself.
The 54ha (134 acres) Regional Park Ballincollig was used to manufacture gunpowder from the 1800s to the beginning of the 20th century. Nearly all of the park’s original structures are preserved, dotted around a labyrinth of canals and sluices engineered to export weapons to the British Armed Forces. Now managed by Cork City Council, the park features various woodland trails, play areas and sports facilities. A bit out of town, Ballincollig is located on the south bank of the River Lee. Dogs are welcome if kept on a lead.
The Esknamucky Walk, also known as the High Walk, meanders along the forested foothills of Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve, offering impressive views of the ancient woods and mountains nearby. Cross the stone bridge over the crystal-clear Canrooska River, and follow the path until you reach the waterfall. Stop to admire the water cascading on moss-covered rocks, surrounded by old oak trees. The hike is easy and recommended for families with kids. It’s a bit over an hour outside Cork by car.