Now, this title might be a bit misleading because our holidays are not defined by the end of school yet, really. My big boy was in preschool 2 afternoons a week, so we’ve pretty much had the freedom to do whatever we want so far.
Next September he’ll be in preschool 5 days, in the afternoons (I’ve mixed feelings about this… More sleep in the mornings for me, but less time for us to have adventures mid week…).
So what we’re trying to do is make the most of our last true freedom. Very dramatic sounding!!!
With me staying at home with the kids, we’ve limited disposable income so I try to keep things as budget friendly as I can. The likes of Tesco Clubcard Boost, using money gifts towards annual passes, that kind of thing.
Nerja, Andalucia, Spain.
Our first adventure this summer was probably what will be our biggest one. It was our family holiday to Spain.
Every year we go to Nerja on the Costa Del Sol in Spain for our family holiday. We get our accommodation for free which is one of the main reasons. I absolutely love the place though, so even if we were paying to stay there, I’d probably still go. Nerja is a medium sized town about an hours drive east of Malaga. We tend to go either before July or in September, I wouldn’t be able for the heat there in July or August, as well as the fact that flights would be a lot more expensive too.
To get to Nerja, it’s a flight into Malaga airport. It’s about 2.5/ 3 hours from Dublin, so not too long to do with young kids. There are a few things you can do to make travelling with kids easier, but that’s another blog post! Suffice to say, it’s never usually as stressful as you imagine it will be, and generally other travellers and flight hosts/ hostesses are more than happy to give you a hand getting on and off the plane. And a decent sling through the airport is a life saver.
Getting to Nerja from Malaga airport can be done in a few different ways. In the days before kids, I’d usually get the bus into Malaga city centre (€1 I think!) and the bus from the city centre to Nerja which would take about an hour (€3.50 ish). It’s by far the most economical way to do it, but I haven’t done it with kids yet, knowing that they’ll be tired getting off the plane and the last thing I want to do it hauls suitcases and kids on and off buses for another couple of hours.
You can pre book a taxi for about €50, which would be the cheapest rate, or including car seats for up to around €80. This is what we’ve opted for most recently in order to have a guarantee of car seats to get from the airport. We used Shuttle Direct in May, and it cost us €78.35 each way. We were met at the airport arrivals, driven door to door with the kids in car seats, and helped with our luggage going from Malaga to Nerja. The driver on the way back wasn’t as helpful but was still ok, I wouldn’t have been enthusiastic about the company if it hadn’t been for the professionalism on the first leg of the journey.
The third option is to get a taxi at the airport. I think going somewhere closer to the airport, this might be the best value, but because it’s a long enough drive to Nerja this is the most expensive way to do it. €70 would be the lower end of the fare this way.
Places to stay would typically be apartments, houses, hotels and hostels.
As I said, we get our accommodation for free (thanks mammy!!) so we stay in the same little house in a ‘communidad’ called Neuva Nerja every time we go. It’s made up of gorgeous little 2+ bed townhouses. There’s a swimming pool in the centre of the commindad, and a restaurant, Mo Gastro Tapas, which serves lunch and dinner (and the food is delicious). Within walking distance one direction (‘up’ from the communidad) is a Eurospar, a gym, bank, playground, bakery, pizza restaurant and take away, and one route into town. The other direction (‘down’ the hill) is a smaller shop, a hotel, fruit shops, pharmacy, vets, and one of the main beaches ‘Burrianna’, and another route into the town. You could stay in the area for a week and not have to venture too far at all.
We went into the town most days, it’s roughly a 20 minute walk (with a preschooler) and the town itself has a great selection of restaurants/ cafes (Pinnochios, Taberna de Pepe, Miramar being a few we love), a few shops though you wouldn’t be going there to go shopping, a few nice sights (Balcone de Europa is stunning), beaches (Callahonda is our favourite in the town though it’s down a lot of steps so not buggy friendly but there’s an ice cream shop at the top so it’s a bonus) and there’s often a festival on for some entertainment.
Overall, Nerja is a pretty quiet town, there’s not a huge amount of activities to keep you occupied but there are a few nice things to do that are family friendly.
The various beaches are all safe… Burriana in particular is a great beach for families, there are little mini playgrounds right on the beach, plenty of restaurants and cafes for lunch/ snack/ drinks/ dinner. You can rent sun loungers for €7 for two for the day, or you can sit away from them on the sand.
There is a road train that does a short half hour tour of Nerja. The times for this are erratic though, which we learned as the driver spent about 5 minutes pushing the time back later and later while our preschooler had a small meltdown. He really enjoyed it once we got on though, and it worked out quite well as there is a cafe right beside where you get on to the train though, so we had a fab lunch while we were waiting.
Cueva de Nerja (Nerja Caves) are about 4 or 5km outside of Nerja, but are really worth a visit. It’s hit and miss whether they ‘guide’ you around (I think that’s during busier times though, as we had to wait for a guide the most recent trip, whereas we were able to go around at our own pace the first time we went in 2012). There are buses that go from the bus station in Nerja straight to the caves and back. Make sure to take note of the times though. We ended up having to walk back the first time we went, during the middle of the day, which was ok as we only had a 14 month old at that stage but with a waking child it could be a nightmare!
Really you wouldn’t go to Nerja for a high energy adventure holiday, but it’s perfect for a family with young kids. Hopefully we’ll make it out at least once or twice more!
Sealife Aquarium and Bray Seafront
This is one adventure that can be done on the super cheap, with a small bit of forward planning. Sealife in Bray is fairly expensive to visit if you decide spontaneously to go; €9.20 (€6.80 for a child) when booked online or a very hefty €11.50 (€8.50 for a child) if you pay on the way in. For maybe an hours entertainment (for us anyway), that is excessive.
Whenever we visit, we order vouchers using the Tesco Clubcard Boost scheme. It’s €3 of club card vouchers for one entry into the Aquarium. So basically it’s free, and once you go in you an come and go for the rest of the day. The best thing I ever started doing was saving my club card vouchers for stuff like this!
We neve tend to spend a huge amount of time there. My big boy can often decide to sprint through, spend a few minutes in the play area at the end, and he’s done, so I’d really hate to pay €20+ for the sake of 20 minutes.
The best thing about using the Tesco Clubcard vouchers, is that they’re not specific to Sealife. You can order them, and use for a number of days out. We just haven’t got around to doing much else bar Sealife!
Parking around Bray can be hard to get, especially on a nice day, but it can be great fun to get the DART to Bray as part of the adventure, head into SeaLife, maybe manage to time it to catch one of the talks, and go for a walk on the seafront or a play on the beach afterwards. There are plenty of ice cream spots and cafes for a snack, and there is a brilliant playground towards the end of the prom to spend an hour.
This is another one that you can use Tesco Clubcard vouchers for, but we save cash gifts from birthdays and christmas, and get an annual pass every year. The family pass is €170 I think, which is a lot of money but we get great value from it. We’re in our third year of having the pass now, and I imagine we’ll be getting it for a few years to come.
Let’s just say I LOVE the Zoo. When you have a pass, especially, it’s one of the more chilled out adventures because you’re not trying to cram the ENTIRE experience into a few hours.
It’s fairly easy to get there. There’s a free car park, or the red line luas stops at Heuston station which is close to the Parkgate street entrance of the Phoenix park which is the closest entrance to the zoo.
On your way in you generally get a little fold out leaflet, which has a map and feeding times. I always try to get in for the elephant keeps talk, especially when there are baby elephants. They are so damn cute, and the keepers give great talks and are happy to answer questions.
The penguins are always a hit, and now the new seal lion enclosure is open, and it’s a million times nicer than it was.
We didn’t get to the keepers talk at the new enclosure yet this summer, but I reckon it will be great, and much easier to see what’s going on than it was at the last one. Definitely worth allowing time for, you can watch the seals swimming under the water, so mesmerising!
Over the summer we go at least 3/ 4 times as a family, and often I’d head in midweek once or twice with a few friends, as you can get a good gang in on the family pass.
My preschoolers favourite animals at the moment are the lions and tigers, the penguins, hippos and the reptiles.
He also loves the playgrounds on the way around… some of these are impossible to avoid- the one between the lions and seals is the newest. It’s covered over and has picnic tables, so it’s a perfect spot to have either a very early or on-your-way-out break even if it’s raining. There is a big and a small slide, so suitable for pretty much any age, and theres a hot drinks machine so you can sit and have coffee while some excess energy is burnt off.
The second playground is inside the african plains on the way up to the hippos and giraffes… it’s basically a big slide. There’s a few picnic tables around but there’s no cover.
Near the chimpanzees there is an old land rover sunk into the ground which is always a hit. My big boy could spend HOURS playing in it, pretending to drive or be off on adventures. All the kids seem to end up playing together here, so it’s lovely. Its near toilets too, so handy if you need a toilet break!
Another small play area is at the next ‘corner’ of the African planes. It’s near a little shop that sells ice cream when it’s open, but is tucked into a corner so it can be an easy one to avoid if you’re trying to keep things moving.
There’s a tractor slide on the farm. Sometimes this can be totally over run, so unless the zoo is a bit quieter I tend to try and avoid it, which isn’t to hard as the farm is quite set back from the main path going around the zoo.
If you’re going to the zoo as a once off:
- Get there early and make a day of it. It can be good to plan your route to catch any of the talks that you’re interested in, and plan for breaks for food in between.
- Bring a picnic. The food there used to be rotten, but they seem to be upgrading a lot of the food spots now. There’s a Costa on the African Planes (sounds totally logical!), but it makes such a difference to be able to get a decent coffee.
- Be comfortable. It’s a long walk around the entire zoo, it must be nearly 5km, so wear comfy shoes especially.
- Resign yourself to the fact that you will be spending time in playgrounds, wondering why you’re in a playground when you’ve come all the way in to see the zoo.
- There aren’t a huge number of places to sit down comfortably, especially around the African Plains, or if the zoo is busy, so bring a blanket if you’re planning a picnic.
It’s definitely one of our favourite adventures!
Laya Healthcare’s City Spectacular
WHY HAVE I NEVER GONE TO THIS BEFORE!?
Laya Healthcare’s City Spectacular is a weekend long family festival that takes place in Merrion Square. There was SO much going on at this. The boys and I headed in on the Saturday, and spent 7 hours taking it all in, and we still hadn’t covered it all, so we ended up going back in the next day. It’s free in, and most of the activities and shows are free too.
The giant tractor bouncy castle, mini tractor race track, and little sand play areas each gave stamps when you took part in each one, and you could then claim a goody bag, her.ie had a little family tent with a play are for toddlers, and comfy seats for parents to sit and feed their babies (such a treat to be able to sit and breastfeed in a comfy chair rather than on the road!), with bottles of water and snacks from Lidl. There was a photo booth set up in an old VW beetle, which my big boy loved.
Inside the park itself there was a Learn- It tent that hosted Lego work shops and a science show, a very fun section with old french toys that were really difficult but really entertaining especially watching some of the kids do so much better than their parents! Face painting, balloon animals, a contortionist show, a chill out area with the most amazing hammocks (pictured below), a dress up area, climbing walls, fun yoga… I’ll be there for the whole weekend again next year! I had as much fun as the kids!!
As well as all this, the new playground in Merrion Square is FAB. We spent at least an hour in there at the end of both days, and could have stayed longer only it was getting so late. That on it’s own would be a great free day out.
Festival of Curiosity
The Festival of Curiosity is a very cool series of events that takes place in Dublin over a long weekend (Thursday to Sunday). It’s split into Curious Days (family friendly) and Curious Nights (some more suitable for adults). Again, many of the events are free, though some are paid for. A lot of them can be booked in advance which is worth doing as they’re very popular.
We booked into Dizzy O’ Dare’s Giant Balloon show. My big boy, Ro, loves going on the train (or luas), so we took the Luas into town and walked across the quays to Wood Quay venue. The host, Dizzy, was brilliant, really entertaining and high energy straight away. Sometimes Ro is a bit sensitve to loud noises though, and when the music started it was a bit much for him. I was really disappointed because he really wanted to get involved and get up with the other kids, but he just couldn’t hack the noise (which was all 80’s music!!!) We enjoyed as much of the show as we managed to stay for though, and maybe if it’s on next year we’ll bring some headphones so the noise isn’t too much for him.
The second Festival of Curiosity event we went to was the Curiosity Carnival. It was in Smock Alley theatre which is an AMAZING venue. The mezzanine was set up with a heap of different things to discover and play.. marble runs, wooden shapes, gooey magic sand, little electronics, paper plane making, lego, and sound canons! Each session was an hour long, and even though there was so much to do, it was nearly a little overwhelming!
The sound canons were brilliant. Once Ro got the hang of them he loved them, and the people working there had endless patience setting up plastic cups for him to knock over again and again.
I would love to go to some of the more grown up events… one that really struck me was The Anatomy of a Lobotomy (yes, I am a bit morbid!), it was an airing of a radio documentary made about the secret history of lobotomies in Ireland. Maybe next year when my baby is bigger I’ll be able to go to more evening things!
So, that is a good selection of our adventures so far this summer!
I’ll do a part 2 in a few weeks time…
Anything coming up that we can’t miss or that you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!