Ultimate Family Friendly Getaway Guide: Fun Family Activities In Co. Laois

Grab the kids and pack the marshmallows!  If you’ve been promising your family a glamping adventure this year, a few nights at Glamping Under The Stars in Co. Laois could be the answer.

Co. Laois is handy to get to from most places in Ireland. So you’ll avoid those ‘Are we there yet?!’ conversations in the car!

Better still, there are loads of family friendly things to see and do when you get here – from wild swimming & outdoor pools, to steam train rides, horse riding, & pet farms, ancient ruins to explore, and mountain bike trails to try.

You just need to know where to look…

That’s why we’ve created our Ultimate Family Friendly Getaway Guide: Fun Family Activities in Co. Laois, Ireland.

So, before you settle in for storytelling, stargazing, & toasting marshmallows at the campfire, here are some of our favourite family friendly places for you to explore in Laois and beyond…

Little girl on a family day out with pretty Fallabella Pony at Castleview Open Farm

    Favourite Family Friendly Activities in Laois

    Pet Farm

    Castleview Open Farm, Cullohill 

    You’ll find a range of friendly farm animals in the outdoor paddocks: Everything from miniature ponies, donkeys, and goats, to more unusual breeds, (alpacas, owls, silver foxes and even emus!).

    There’s also a maze, crazy golf course and  a mini go-kart track.

    Inside, you can visit smaller fluffy animals, and there’s an indoor play area and café too.

    Glamping tip: The free packs of sliced carrots to feed to the farm animals are a nice touch

    Young girl (of about 11) sits on a brown & white pony looking left out of the image. They are standing in front of a western style stable built of wood and painted in a brown/red colour. There is faded 'ranch style' signage hanging from the open barn doorway. The sun is setting.

    Horse Riding

    Fossey Mountain Springs , Timahoe

    Saddle up! This Horse Riding Ranch in nearby Timahoe, offers lessons in Western, (cowboy style), riding for beginners to advanced. Or you can book a ‘happy hack’ (a gentle trail ride) for all the family. Book your ride in advance if possible.

    And, for older kids, you can try your hand at archery, roping, horse show & hatchet throwing. 

    Glamping tip: Kids will love the friendly horses, and the crazy décor in the cowboy saloon!

    Image shows the outdoor swimming pool (& toddler pool) at Ballinakill. It is a lido style pool.  The pool is empty and the waters are still. It is a sunny day, and the water looks turquoise. The walls surrounding the pool are painted white, and there is a summery blue sky with some white clouds visible in the upper half of the image.

    Outdoor Swimming

    Ballinakill Outdoor Pool , Ballinakill (Open June – September)

    There’s nothing like swimming in the open air to make you feel like summer’s here and you’re on your holidays! So here’s the info on our favourite local lido…

    Ballinakill outdoor pool is open to the public in the afternoons & evenings through the summer months.

    It’s a 30 metre pool with a deep end, and a separate, shallow pool for small children.

    There’s also a good kid’s playground next to the pool, and it’s also walking distance to Heywood Gardens (see info on that further on!).

    You CAN turn up at the gate on the  day, but at peak times (sunny days & summer holidays) it’s advisable to pre-book a timeslot through the website to avoid disappointment.

    See: www.ballinakilloutdoorswimmingpool.com or ballinakillswimmingpool@gmail.com

    Glamping tip: Both pools are heated, but this is Ireland, so bring warm clothing/energy rich snacks for the kids to help them warm up afterwards.

    Dark haired girl of about 8 years old is swimming towards us in a natural outdoor pool (The Catholes Falls in the Slieve Blooms). She is wearing a pink and black wetsuit (just visible), and there is a stream of white water splashing into the pool from the waterfall at the rear right of the image. Rocks are visible on the left.

    Wild Swimming

    The Catholes, Slieve Bloom Mountains (http://www.slievebloom.ie/

    Bring the kids on a real wild swimming adventure in the Slieve Bloom Mountains.

    A bit of a secret among locals, The Catholes Falls is tucked away (your Sat Nav is your friend to find it!) in the Slieve Blooms, about 30 minutes drive from the glampsite.

    There are a series of waterfall-fed pools, but the largest & most popular of them is located close to the car park and picnic area. There is a steep set of steps down to the shallow side of the pool, or you can enter using a metal ladder on the waterfall side where the water is deeper. Brave souls jump in off the rocks, but be careful, as they are very slippery when wet.

    To find the other pools, go over the wooden bridge through the forest and climb down to the water’s edge.

    Glamping tip: As always, take necessary safety precautions when swimming. For example, never swim alone, know your limits, assess the water for safety, (e.g. don’t risk getting in if there has been heavy rain and there are torrents of water), be aware of the water temperature, and never mix water & alcohol. (See watersafety.ie for more details on water safety).

    Please do take extra care with children and novice swimmers in the water.

    Blurred people (looks like a family) walk over large rocks towards the Glenbarrow waterfall in the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The girl in the forground has a bright yellow t-shirt on. The rear of the image is taken up with leafy green trees and woodland plants.

    Glenbarrow Falls, Slieve Bloom Mountains (www.slievebloom.ie)

    For a scenic place to paddle, rather than swim, try the Clamp Hole Falls at Glenbarrow. There’s a short, atmospheric walk through dense pine forest to get there. The waterfall can be impressive after heavy rain, so please use your judgement about getting in near the waterfall if the water is fast flowing when you visit. (See watersafety.ie as above).

    There is a section of river, before you reach the waterfall, with very large, smooth rocks reaching into the waters. These are ideal for kids to strip off socks and pop in for a paddle, but please be aware that the stones are very slippery when wet.

    Glamping tip: Bring a picnic to enjoy, as cafes are few and far between in the area. The Falls Café does good food & snacks, but is only open at the weekends. See The Falls Café for details.

    Two mountain bikes are visible in the foreground of this image. They are resting up against a log fence while the 3 riders (casually dressed blurred figires) have stopped to take in the scenery of leaves & trees.  It is a sunny day.

    Mountain Biking

    For older kids, teens, and mountain bike enthusiasts, the Slieve Bloom Mountains are a complete paradise, with trails of all levels built through the gorgeous forest scenery.

    For beginners, there’s a fun beginner’s bike trail within the grounds of Kinnitty Castle. Which is also a great place to stop and get minerals & ice cream for the family.

    Glamping tip: Bring your own bikes, or hire them at http://www.bloomeriders.ie/ or www.midirelandadventure.ie

    A small red steam engine is puffing steam from a black funnel. The driver is visible wearing a navy blue uniform and cap. Some passengers are just visible in the first open sided carriage behind him.

    Steam Train Rides, Stradbally Woodland Railway  – Bank Holiday Weekends Only

    All aboard! If you’re in Laois over a Bank Holiday Weekend, you can bring the family on a steam train ride through the woodlands of the Cosby Estate, (where the Electric Picnic is held). Apparently, it’s the longest established heritage railway in Ireland.

    Run by volunteers, the the ride is approximately 15 mins in duration, but you can make an afternoon of it by getting snacks in the platform tuck shop, & calling in to the playground in Stradbally town on your way back.

     Glamping tip: Check running times and ticket prices with Irish Steam

    Image show the Rock of Dunamase, a ruined 12th century hill fort) on a sunny blue sky day. Two children are standing in the windows of the ruin.

    The Rock of Dunamase

    Explore cool ancient ruins and imagine pouring boiling oil onto your enemies from the stone slit windows! What could be more wholesome and family friendly than that? Perched on a hill outside Stradbally, (find it by heading towards Portlaoise from Stradbally on the N80 & spot it to your right), the ancient ruins are impressive.

    Dunamase castle dates from the 12th century, and has loads of fortified battlements still intact.  Kids love it! It’s a steep climb, but well worth it for the views to the Slieve Bloom Mountains & surrounding counties.

    Glamping tip: Take lots of photos

    Image shows the sunken pool at Lutyens Gardens (aka Heywood Gardens) in Ballinakill, Co. Laois. In the foreground, a metal turtle sculpture spurts water from it's mouth into the pool, as a child from the rear of the image runs forward towards us.

    Heywood Gardens & Lake Walk, Ballinakill

    Come and see the ‘squirty turtles’! The stunning circular walled gardens at Heywood, (designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens), feature a sunken pool, (with goldfish), surrounded by turtle sculptures that spurt water into the fountain.

    It’s popular with families locally, and there is a pleasant looped walk around the lake, where the walk is livened up with a folly, an obelisk, and a shrine.

    Glamping tip 1: Bring a picnic, or pop in to Ballinakill village, and get coffee in the creative hub at Market Square Studios. (Opening times vary, so do check ahead).

    Glamping tip 2: Park at the lower gateway at the entrance, or drive up to park in the Heywood School car park at the top of the hill (which is closer to the turtle fountain).

    Both car parks are free and give access to the looped walk.

    Glamping tip 3: For a full day out, you could combine the walk with a visit to Ballinakill Outdoor Swimming Pool and/or playground too.

    Young blonde child (a girl of about 5 years old) dressed in pink, reaches to pick one of the hundres of giant daisies growing in the foreground of the image. Behind her, we can see Emo Court House and some large trees on either side of the image. The sky is overcast, but the image is bright and we can see that it is summertime.

    Emo Court Gardens, Lake Walk & Tea Rooms

    Feed the ducks & climb the sculptures. The lake walk at Emo Court is very popular with families.

    Probably because there’s lots to see along the way – from wooden sculptures kids can clamber over, to giant trees from all over the world, to the friendly ducks & swans looking for a treat.

    Emo Court is well worth a visit, with an historic house (open to the public on certain days – check Emo Court Instagram for details), a gorgeous 2.5km walk around the lake, and the CaToCa Tearoom serving lunches & light refreshments too.  

    Glamping tip 1: There is ample parking, and a designated picnic area close to the great house.

    Glamping tip 2: Don’t forget to take some lettuce leaves or frozen peas to feed the ducks (apparently, bread is not very good for them).

    Father and daughter run into the image along the boardwalk at Abbeyleix Bog. It's a sunny day with blue sky & clouds, and unusual bog plants are growing the the foreground of the image.

    Boardwalk on Abbeyleix Bog, Abbeyleix

    Birdsong, butterflies, and bog cotton. You’ll find them all at Abbeyleix Bog. This family friendly looped walk leads you along a cinder path and out into the stark beauty of the open bogland.  There’s plenty to look at along the way, from unusual plants, birds and insects to frogs and even wild deer. And kids enjoy gallivanting along the boardwalk.

     Glamping tip: Stop off for coffee, cake, or toasties at Polly’s Café. They also offer fresh wood-fired pizza (Saturday evenings only). Or pop into town for fab coffee & pastries from Mueller & O’Connell artisan bakery.

    Round Tower at Timahoe, perfectly framed by the sweeping metalwork of the bridge leading across to it from the village green.

    Timahoe Round Tower, Timahoe

    Timahoe’s impressive Round Tower & ruined church are open to the public to investigate & explore.  The visitor centre is staffed by volunteers, so opening times can be a little erratic, but there are signs explaining a little of the (somewhat violent) history of the place.

     Glamping tip: There’s a playground just opposite the historic Timahoe Tower & Visitor Centre, and a Viking Festival with battle re-enactments is held here every June Bank Holiday.

    A family of scarecrows in brightly coloured clothing sit in front of a canvas bell tent with blue & white bunting around the doorway. There is a firepit and a picnic basket set up in front of them - as if they were glamping under the stars. They are part of the Durrow Scarecrow Festival.

    Durrow Scarecrow Festival, Durrow

    This week-long festival happens in the run up to the August Bank Holiday Weekend. For the duration, the town is over-run with straw sculptures of every kind imaginable – past examples include synchronised swimming scarecrows in the river to a ‘life-sized’ straw-stuffed diplodocus dinosaur taking up most of the town square.

    You can follow the scarecrow trail around the town, or enjoy the excitement of the Scarecrow Village, which features various events & activities, bouncy castles, face painting, & craft workshops for kids, a range of music & live entertainment, and a market selling local crafts & produce.

    Glamping tip: Bowes Café in Durrow is a great place to stop for food with kids. The food is good and service is friendly & efficient. There is a garden at the rear of the café, which is lovely on a sunny day.

    Thanks For Reading Our Ultimate Family Friendly Getaway Guide: Fun Family Activities in Co. Laois, Ireland

    So there you have it! Our top tips for exploring lovely Laois with your family in tow.

    We hope you enjoy visiting our favourite places as much as we do. (And if there are any other family friendly places you think we should share, do let us know and we’ll add it to the list).


    Happy Exploring!  Click here to book your stay with us.

    For more info on The Best Hikes, Walks, & Wild Swimming Spots in the Slieve Bloom Mountains click here.

    For more Things To Do in Laois click here.


    For more information or if you have any questions, please email Kyra@glampingunderthestars.ie and I will be happy to help.

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