School’s out for Summer and that can only mean one thing – entertaining the kids. If you’re like us and day trips in Donegal are more suited to your circumstances, there are so many fun places to visit within the county.
Last weekend we packed up the minivan and headed off to Fintown Railway, home of a refurbished diesel railcar from the 1940’s. It took exactly one hour from Buncrana so it’s only about a half an hour trip from Letterkenny. The drive there was stunning in the baking sunshine we were blessed with; think sweeping valleys and forest covered hills. It wasn’t long before we spotted signs displaying a brightly coloured railcar and our 5 year old train enthusiast in the back seat could barely keep his seatbelt on.
There is a lovely little kids play area with swings, slides, sandpit and games equipment such as rackets and balls. We had a picnic at one of the many picnic tables while waiting on the next train ride. Trains run on the hour, every hour 11am – 4pm.
Once we were all aboard the ‘Muc Dubh’, it really was a very special experience. The adults appreciated the history of the railway and the stories told in the audio guide. The kids loved looking out the window and spotting horses and sheep by the lake. We travelled 5km along Lough Finn and back again, taking about 45 minutes in total. Our favourite tale was how St. Colmcille prophesised that there would be a black pig running through the hills of Donegal blowing smoke from his nose and this is how the train got its name, ‘Muc Dubh’, meaning ‘Black Pig’ in English.
Adult – €8 / Child* – €5
*Children under 2 go free
2 adults & 2 children €24
2 adults & 3 children €29
2 adults & 4 children €33
Trains run on the hour, every hour 11am – 4pm. See their Visitor Information page for exact opening hours and times.
Some refreshments are available in the small shop on site but a picnic is advisable.
Another scenic leg to our West Donegal journey led us to Dunlewey within 45 minutes from Fintown. (We tried to convince the kids that the quaint little village of Doochary was Postman Pat’s home but they weren’t buying it.)
The Dunlewey Centre has lots to entertain families with young kids and you could easily spend hours there. We opted for the full package of entry, boat trip on the lake and a cottage tour. The kids would’ve been happy with entry alone as that included access to the play area with swings, slides, zip lines, climbing frames and sand areas. There are some animals and birds dotted around the place too. But the boat trip on Dunlewey Lough was a novelty and everyone enjoyed the unique views of Mount Errigal and spotting the ‘haunted house’ amidst the trees on the opposite side of the lake.
A guide took us on a short tour of an original cottage and demonstrated wool being spun into yarn and then being woven into a blanket. Kids, parents and grandparents enjoyed this.
A family pass for entry, boat trip and cottage and two (sprightly) seniors cost €49. Extra activities are available with tokens and a book of 10 tokens cost €17. These were needed for climbing walls, pedaloes, bumper cars, bungee jumps, bouncy castle, rodeo bull and water walking balls. There is a restaurant on site but ample space for picnics outside.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day out in Donegal and only saw a fraction of what’s on offer. It was both educational and fun. The weather was fantastic so we seized the opportunity and chose outdoor attractions. Neither place was over-crowded which was surprising for a good day during school holidays. However, we loved the escape from the usual packed kids attractions.
It strikes me that both Fintown Railway and Dunlewey Centre are located in rural Donegal Gaeltacht areas and don’t benefit from the same footfall as attractions in the bigger towns. Both places provide local employment and are vital to their respective villages. If you’re looking for somewhere to take the kids for a day out this Summer, or entertaining family and friends visiting County Donegal, consider supporting some of the unique places we have in our beautiful county. Shop local and support a community.