Northern Ireland is world-renowned for its beautiful natural heritage and wildlife. If you want to be experience some of Northern Ireland’s wildlife, and some from further afield, why not check out our guide to family days out in Northern Ireland where animals are at the heart of your visit?
Animal Encounters – Birds, Ducks and Geese
Head to Castle Espie near Comber to experience birds, ducks and other wildlife within this beautiful wetlands setting. You can buy duck seeds to feed the ducks, go wild in the pond zone and visit any new arrivals in their nursery area. With great outdoor play areas, including a zip line, and a soft play area and great café, Castle Espie makes for a superb day out close to nature.
Peatlands Park, in Dungannon is another great place to go and feed the ducks. With miles of walking trails, you’ll want to pop your wellies on and get right back into nature. Kids will particularly enjoy the train ride through the woodlands. Entrance is free to Peatlands Park and there’s a small charge for the train ride.
Visit the Owls at World of Owls. Situated in Randlestown Forest, in County Antrim, World of Owls is Northern Ireland’s only owl and birds of prey centre. Kids will love learning about these great birds, as well as reptiles and mini-beasts.
Animal Encounters – Northern Ireland’s Best Open Farms
Open farms are a great way for children to get to experience animals in a safe and usually very child-friendly environment. Lots of the open farms have play areas too and you can make a real day of a visit. There are lots of Open Farms across Northern Ireland and you can find your nearest one here. You might like to hear about a few of our favourites though, for a one of the best family days out in Northern Ireland!
The Ark Farm is one of the few Open Farms in NI to be open all year round. With a whole host of farm-yard animals, as well as reindeer, meerkats and peacocks, the Ark Farm has lots to see for all the family. There is a great play park, an ark to explore, tractor rides and a kangaroo ‘bouncer’ (a sort of inflatable trampoline!). New for 2019 is the ‘Jurassic Ark’, a dinosaur-themed area! The Ark Farm is situated just off the dual carriage way between Bangor and Newtownards, and is also a great place for children’s parties.
One of the best-kept secrets in the Carrickfergus area, the Kilcreggan Farm is open to the public for free. Part of a social enterprise scheme, Kilcreggan Farm works with adults and young people with a learning disability to operate a community open farm. Well-worth a visit; this is definitely one of the best free attractions for families in Northern Ireland.
Tickety Moo, near Irvinestown, is an ice cream shop with a difference! Here on the farm, you can meet the cows who have made the milk for your ice cream too! Tickety Moo is open seasonally from Easter to September, but you can check out their opening hours and find more information over on their Facebook page.
If you’re looking for an open farm close to Belfast, Streamvale is the number one choice. Streamvale is a working dairy farm, but there’s so much more than just the dairy cows to see here! You can cuddle the rabbits and stroke the puppies, ride on the tractors and pet the chicks. At some times of year you can even bottle feed the animals too! There are both indoor and outdoor play areas, so don’t let a rainy day put you off a visit to Streamvale.
Animal Encounters – A walk on the wilder side
If you’re looking to get up close and personal with some of the more exotic animals in Northern Ireland, Belfast Zoo is the place to be. We love to visit the giraffes, elephants and zebras, and enjoy feeding time with the penguins and sea lions. The zoo has a super playground too with lots of animal-based play frames and spaces and lots of places to enjoy a picnic.
For younger children, consider taking a buggy to Belfast Zoo even if you wouldn’t normally – it’s quite hilly and can be challenging for younger kids. Don’t let that put you off though – Belfast Zoo is a brilliant family day out in Northern Ireland.
Animal Encounters – Aquariums and Sea Life
Just outside the city centre in Derry-Londonderry, you’ll find The Riverwatch Aquarium. With 8 different habitats found in the local area, you’ll be able to see lobsters, crabs, starfish and a host of other fish and shellfish, and best thing is, it’s all for free!
Head down the Ards Peninsula and you’ll eventually get to Portaferry, home of the Exploris Aquarium and one of our favourite days out in Northern Ireland. Your journey through the aquarium will see you find Dory and Nemo and experience sharks, rays and a turtle, before coming up close with the Exploris seals, all of whom have been rescued locally. You’ll enjoy reading about their stories and seeing them swim in the underwater viewing pools. Otters, a crocodile, snakes and lizards complete this fantastic family day out. There’s also a small soft play area for younger children and a super café.
There are lots of boat trips that you can take around the coastline of Northern Ireland, promising sightings of lots of different wildlife, including puffins at Rathlin Island. However, we particularly like the idea of getting up close with basking sharks on a boat tour!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to the top days out for families at aquariums, zoos, open farms and other attractions and that you’ve found something to entertain the family! If you’re still looking for inspiration, why not check out our other guides:
- Visit Santa in Northern Ireland 2019
- A-Z of top family days out in Northern Ireland
- Free family days out in NI
- Rainy day fun for families in NI