In need of an escape before winter puts a freeze on the fun? Head to Northern Ireland for a break en famille, you won’t even need your passport…
Galgorm Resort & Spa
There are plenty of hotel options in and around Belfast city centre but if you’re looking to make your stay extra special, half an hour outside of Belfast you’ll find the award-winning Galgorm Resort & Spa. With over 160 miles of luscious parkland and the River Maine flowing throughout the estate, this setting is unrivalled. The resort is home to 122 guestrooms made of up of deluxe rooms, and junior and signature suites many of which are suited to a family stay with two bedrooms or extra beds – there’s also fishermen’s cottages and riverside log cabins if you fancy being set back from the main hotel.
The hotel’s grandeur is demonstrated at every corner, from plush soft furnishings to ornate animal sculptures that will capture the attention of children, and adults alike. Retire back to your guestroom where the luxury continues, kids will squeal with delight to find cuddly toy Paul the Penguin, and when winding down to bed time they can kickback in little luxuries such as mini robes and tiny slippers, while the adults peruse the complimentary mini bar… and come morning, head downstairs to Gillies restaurant for a delicious Irish breakfast, aplenty. With an extensive hearty offering of full Irish and continental buffet counters, be sure to grab a slice of the Irish specialty potato bread. Once your food’s gone down perhaps take a dip in the indoor swimming pool with their specific family time swim sessions, or if you’re struggling to get motivated a spa day at the Thermal Village might have more appeal?
Prices from £140 on a B&B basis. Total based on two adults and one child (under 12) sharing. galgorm.com
Belfast Zoological Gardens
Home to more than 130 different species, most of which are endangered or extinct in the wild, a trip to the zoo is a must. Check the website out beforehand for timings on the daily talks and feeding. But remember it’s not just the animals that need feeding, head to either The Treetop Tearoom for some panoramic views and a slice of cake, or The Lion’s Den Restaurant with plenty of hot options for your own cheeky monkeys.
Children under four go free; four to 16 years £6.50; adults £13 belfastzoo.co.uk.
Belfast Castle and Cave Hill Country Park
Overlooking the city, Cave Hill is an iconic landmark of Belfast. Home to Belfast Castle estate, situated on the lower slopes of the park, keep your eyes peeled and spot many different species of wildlife, including long-eared owls, sparrow hawks and Belfast’s rarest plant, the town hall clock. Don’t forget to put some time aside for the Adventurous Playground (admission applies), an award-winning park, suitable for three to 14 years. Burn off excess energy on the cradle swings, slides, spring rockers, sand play unit and bicycle roundabout. For older children, there’s a spectacular space net and aerial runway.
Entry is free, additional charge of £2.50 for the Adventurous Playground.
Helen’s Bay Beach
Helen’s Bay Beach is one of two excellent beaches found in Crawfordsburn Country Park, around 15 minutes from Belfast. With guaranteed spectacular scenery and views across Belfast Lough you can easily wile away an afternoon here. Helen’s Bay Beach is gently shelving which makes it perfect for young ones. Look out over Belfast Bay, keep your eyes peeled for seals and porpoises which can sometimes be spotted off-shore depending on the time of your visit.
Fratellis – Belfast
Opposite Great Victoria Street train station, you’ll find Fratelli Belfast; a family orientated restaurant filled with rustic Italian charm. Fratelli translates to brothers in Italian, so this informal environment has a real family-focus making it the perfect setting for a feast. Kids can get creative with the chance to become a chef for the day. Kitted out in chef attire with their very own hat and apron, let them create a mini masterpiece as they make their own pizza from the “Little Boars” kids menu. But don’t panic grown ups, you’ll be more than looked after with the A la Carte menu – frutti de mare pizza anyone?
Words Rebecca Moore