Family & Parenting

Go somewhere new, do something different - plenty of options for outdoor family fun this summer

Suncream and rain coats at the ready - it's time to go exploring this summer. Here are some ideas for outdoor inspiration across the north when the children are off school

Located between the Omagh and Cookstown at the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains, An Creagán has plenty for families to explore

AS we approach the summer holidays, entertaining your kids becomes a full-time job. So, getting them outside and away from the video games, iPhone and from under your feet is a life saver.

There are countless benefits to outdoor play for children with hundreds of pieces of research showing that children who play outside regularly have healthier body weight, improved vision and immune function, reduced stress, better sleep and improved motor skills.

Yet, one of the major issues parents face is knowing where to go that is new, different, fun, and ultimately not too busy., the website run by Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, is encouraging parents to let their children explore nature's playground and aims to help parents seek out new places to visit in the outdoors, in a safe and mindful way.

Its recently redeveloped website is designed to help give more clear and comprehensive information on the breadth of wonderful hidden gems across Northern Ireland for walking, cycling, mountain biking and canoeing as well as on a range of outdoor beauty spots including parks, forest, nature reserves and beaches.

Here are some suggestions to consider this summer:

1. River Blackwater Canoe Trail: Perfect for families that are looking for a canoeing location suitable for all abilities. This 20km trail is flat with the river meandering lazily through the countryside acting as the boundary line between the counties of Armagh and Tyrone.

2. Ballycastle Beach and seafront is a popular tourist destination located on the Causeway Coast Route on the Antrim Coast. The beach, positioned approximately five minutes' walk from the town centre, is comprised predominantly of sand, with some shingle and offers stunning views of Rathlin Island and Fairhead. The seafront includes a children's play area and sandpit, as well as being the location for Ballycastle Marina and the ferry point that links with Rathlin Island.

3. Cottage Wood on the outskirts of Cushendall village is a 10-acre broadleaved woodland site with a network of paths winding their way through it, viewpoints and picnic facilities. What makes this woodland a must to visit is a very special and increasingly rare inhabitant, the red squirrel, which are regularly seen in this woodland.

4. Lurgan Park is the second largest public park in Ireland. Covering some 259 acres it is overlooked by the grand Brownlow House. The beautifully landscaped parkland contains a number of well-maintained paths which provide excellent walking and running ground. Anyone can hire one of eight rowing boats and view Lurgan Park from the lake.

5. An Creagán is a perfect base to begin your exploration of the Sperrins and enjoy a family day out steeped in history. This heritage centre helps you explore a landscape full of bronze age sites in an interactive way. On site there are walking and cycling trails, and a pond. There is also a fully reconstructed Bronze Age house.

6. Benone Beach, near Limavady, is ideal for a day of sea, sand and picnics. A multiple recipient of the European Blue Flag and Seaside Award it boasts stunning views. Benone Strand and Downhill fall within the Magilligan Special Area of Conservation and one of the largest dune systems in Ireland and Britain. A wide range of wildlife live on the beach, dunes, and shore. It also has zoned activity areas for swimming, jet skis and dogs. Just remember to keep your dog on a lead. is also keen to encourage families to do their bit for the environment this summer.

Teaching children about the importance of protecting the environment from an early age, will have true legacy benefits; helping them harness a positive world for future generations.

When visiting an outdoor spot, families can help protect nature by following a few simple steps such as:

:: Planning ahead by checking the weather and bringing the right equipment such as clothing, footwear, map, wet suit and paddles.

:: Keeping your dog on a lead to avoid livestock worrying and disruption to wildlife.

:: Only camping or lighting a barbecue in a designated area.

:: Avoid starting open fires.

:: Only parking your car in designated spaces and don't forget to consider local access

:: Taking your dog waste and litter home with you

:: To discover hundreds of new outdoor trails and places to explore throughout Northern Ireland, visit

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Family & Parenting