Animal Wood Park, Castlewellan, County Down
Where’s the best playground for your kids? It’s a tough call, so here’s some help with 10 of the finest that can be found in Northern Ireland.
Play time surprises
Playtrail is a happy and fun place to bring children. This exciting play and educational spot in Derry~Londonderry has a junior play park, adventure play area and sensory garden, plus an outdoor auditorium and a woodland fairy walk with lots of surprise play opportunities. Two areas – one an eco-house of straw bales – can be used for children’s parties.
Face to face with the Gruffalo
Youngsters will love meeting the characters from the best-selling picture book, The Gruffalo, at Colin Glen Forest Park. From a Gruffalo Archway entrance, to a delightful Gruffalo-themed seating area next to the Colin River, the Gruffalo Trail fits nicely into the landscape of the park. It’s a great place to let little imaginations run free, on the way to meeting an 8ft-high Gruffalo.
Where the child can go wild
For a thrilling day out with the kids, Carnfunnock Country Park is it. There’s ample green spaces for all ages to run around and play, plus heaps of different activities, all wrapped up in spectacular views. A play area, miniature railway, mini-golf and a range of other attractions will ensure your child will go wild, then sleep well when they go home.
Step into the wardrobe
Imagine the kids’ surprise when the door of a wardrobe pops out of nowhere in Kilbroney Forest Park. Then, like CS Lewis, the Belfast-born writer of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they can step into the magical world of Narnia. Short enough for tiny feet, the Narnia Trail weaves through a forest path and there’s citadels, tree people and a beaver’s house along the way.
Whisper ‘I can hear you’
A 'whispering' wall is one of the lovely features that draws parents and their children to Belfast’s Musgrave Park therapy garden, developed with the help of local schools. The wall has a mosaic finish and is fitted with acoustic equipment to encourage audio experiences. There’s also a lovely sand play area, a story circle area, willow tunnel and a range of play equipment.
It’s like a magical living storybook, so boys, girls, elves and fairies can all be found enjoying the amazing Giant’s Lair and Adventure Playgound in the beautiful Slieve Gullion Forest Park. The Giant’s Lair Children’s Story Trail will keep the young ones enthralled for hours, and at the end there’s a huge play park with specially designed toddler’s area and excellent adventure play equipment.
Drum Manor Park is the perfect scenic place to the let the kids bring their bikes or go running about to burn off their energy. They can feed ducks in the ponds, jump about around the old manor ruins, explore the butterfly and Japanese garden and woodlands, or spend a few hours in the large play area with slides, swings, climbing frames and tunnels.
Lap up the animals
Treat the kids to a day at Animal Wood in Castlewellan Forest Park, where they’ll lap up playing on a series of wild woodland animals, including a badger and its den, a red squirrel and a giant spider. Also sure to keep the entertainment flowing is a wooden play structure with climbing wall, fireman’s pole and rope-bridge over to a hollow tree stump slide and Red Kite nest.
Get into the zone
With two multi-coloured soft play areas suitable for toddlers, the enormous outdoor adventure zone next to Enniskillen’s Lakeland Forum is where playtime meets a superb location on the banks of Lough Erne. The kids will play for ages on tunnels, slides and swings, plus a castle, jungle walk, cableway, net climbers and more.
Connect to nature
Kids can connect with nature in a big way at the Secret Swamp at Castle Espie, where it’s all about active and imaginative play. Adventure abounds at hush-hush hide outs, curious stumpery, a magical toadstool glade and a tall tree house. They’ll want to try more, and the clamber web, tree swing, wobbly bridge and swamp stomp stepping stones will oblige.