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A short break in Laois: fun activities for all the family
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Adventure out to cascading waterfalls, get a slice of local history or discover what it’s like to captain a barge, you won’t be short of fun activities for all the family on a short break to County Laois.

Read on for our insider’s guide on how best to enjoy quality time with the kids in this great county.

Travel back in time

Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum 

Begin your journey with a fascinating bit of history at Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum in southern Laois. Immerse yourselves in 1850s Ireland at this evocative museum in a restored workhouse, where you learn about the people who worked within its walls.

Time travel is a classic feature of children’s storytelling and this is the perfect opportunity to teach the kids about a key period of Irish history. Explore authentically restored dormitories, a kitchen and a waiting hall, all of which housed 1,200 people during famine times – enjoy a family day out with a difference.

Castle Durrow

Enjoy the scenic gardens at Castle Durrow.

From poverty to opulence, 20 minutes west of Donaghmore is Castle Durrow, a 300-year-old estate and now one of Ireland’s most opulent country house hotels. Stroll around its beautiful gardens, maybe even finding time for an impromptu game of hide and seek.

To tire the little ones out, hop on bikes and cycle through the grounds. Growing herb gardens at home is a popular family activity and you can get some inside secrets from the castle’s head gardener with a tour of the estate. Explore the south gardens, courtyard, walled garden, herbaceous border, Herb Parterre, orchard and vegetable garden. 

Finally, make time for a family dinner in the on-site restaurant. Taste the gorgeous food created from ingredients grown at Castle Durrow and see if the kids can remember what they spotted during the tour.

Family friendly trips

Rock of Dunamase 

Take the whole family to the Rock of Dunamase.

Jump back in time at the Rock of Dunamase, a half hour spin away from Durrow. An imposing and magnificent example of the remains of a Celtic fortification, you’ll get spectacular views of the surrounding countryside at this limestone outcrop. Get the kids’ imaginations going with talk of the warriors who fought throughout the centuries, from the early Christians to the Vikings and Normans, before it was finally destroyed in the Cromwellian invasion in 1650. That’s a whole lot of history for one visit.

Stradbally Steam Museum

It’s full steam ahead less than ten minutes away at the Stradbally Steam Museum where budding engineers can learn all about steam, fire and farm engines. Celebrating the steam engines that once ruled Ireland’s railways, roads and farmlands, the museum has a fine collection of noteworthy items like the Mann Steam Cart from 1918 which ploughed the land.

Kids learn all about what farming was like long before JCB and John Deere became household names. Visits are by appointment only so be sure to book early.

Barrowline Cruisers

Get out on the water on a narrowboat and continue your journey to Vicarstown on a Barrowline Cruiser. Experience the full extent of the Grand Canal and the River Barrow with no previous sailing experience necessary - the cruisers are simple to operate whether you choose to hire a larger wide beam barge or a narrowboat.

Combining traditional charm and modern-day convenience, the galleys on board are fully equipped with sinks, fridges, ovens and hobs and even running water. There’s a toilet, shower, central heating, separate cabins and a first aid kit to ensure a comfortable and safe adventure. Relax and enjoy the passing countryside as the waters gently guide you along the way.

Outdoor adventures

Emo Court and Gardens

Stroll through the gardens of Emo Court.

Picnic at the large neo-classical mansion at Emo Court and Gardens, where there’s a colourful history to uncover and beautiful gardens to enjoy. The pleasure grounds spread over 35 hectares, first laid out in the 18th century with formal lawns and a 20 acre lake.

The lakeside shores are the perfect spot to lay out your family picnic and enjoy the stately elegance of your surroundings. Pop into the house once you’re finished for a guided tour.

Glenbarrow Waterfall Loop 

Lace up your walking boots if you’ve got older children, and set out on the Glenbarrow Waterfall Looped Walk, half an hour from Emo Court. The forest walk will take you through a mature coniferous woodland passing the Clamp Hole, the largest waterfall on the river, which is sure to impress the kids.

Get some family bonding time in along the remote, peaceful walk, but be aware the terrain can be sometimes rough and wet underfoot. Head in spring when the trail is ablaze with bluebells for a particularly special experience.

If you’re planning a short break that the whole family will love, you couldn’t ask for a more family friendly place than County Laois. Check out our Laois destination page for more ideas for your next family holiday.

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