As the home of the man who invented milk chocolate, Northern Ireland is never going to be short of somewhere to make sweet memories.
Chocolate pioneer Sir Hans Sloane hailed from Killyleagh in County Down, and the area’s rolling countryside makes it a fantastic half-term escape for family adventure and pure chocolatey indulgence. So, why not satisfy the kids’ sweet tooth (and yours) by whisking them away for a hands-on chocolate-making excursion and some melt-in-your-mouth family fun?
For a family-friendly base to explore County Down, the four-star La Mon Hotel and Country Club, in an idyllic country setting outside Belfast, is simply outstanding. The hotel’s family break packages pamper both grown-ups and children of all ages, offering everything from milk and cookies at bed time for the younger ones, family board games at reception and even the LaMONster Family Playroom. With dedicated spacious family bedrooms, adjoining room types and deluxe suites available, families can relax in the child-friendly surroundings and enjoy a totally stress-free quality time together. And don’t forget you also have access to great food in the Mill Restaurant or Charlie’s Bistro and the use of La Mon Country Club, which includes a swimming pool, tennis court, two gymnasiums, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.
The kids will be on their best behaviour when they know a trip to Wee Choco in Moneyreagh is just a few minutes away. Imagine their excitement when they realise they can be a ‘do good’ chocolatier for a day. At a Wee Choco workshop everyone gets to taste many different types of chocolate, as well as getting to hand-make, decorate and package lots of delicious chocolate goodies they create on the day. There’s plenty to take home too. An extra sweetener is that the profits of this enterprise go towards supporting and benefiting people with learning difficulties and autism in the local community. Eating chocolate and doing good – that’s a yummy day trip for all the family.
For a rewarding dinner after the day’s excitement, head to the Poacher’s Pocket, situated just seven miles away in the heart of picturesque County Down. Originally established in the 1800s as an old coaching inn, this Michelin recommended restaurant offers modern Irish pub food using the finest locally sourced seasonal produce in a restaurant oozing in modern country charm.
Next day, you can keep the kids busy at Castle Espie Wetland Centre on the shores of the stunning Strangford Lough. Pack your wellie boots and ask La Mon to make you a family picnic before discovering these wonderful wetlands, where almost the entire world’s population of Brent Geese resides during the winter months.
A tranquil and friendly centre for all the family, Castle Espie features hides, nature walks and a visitor centre. A picnic area, an indoor soft play area and Wildwood – a natural outdoor woodland play area – are also available. After walking and exploring, drop into The Kingfisher Kitchen for coffee and delicious home-baked treats, or take home a souvenir from the selection of gifts, educational books and bird-themed items in the shop.
During the half-term there will be plenty of frightful Halloween fun to discover at Castle Espie (from 27–31 October). Let the kids hop on their broomsticks and experience the incredible journey Brent Geese make from the Arctic to Castle Espie, or walk on the spookier side of wetland wildlife with a new Beastly Bat Trail, where bravery will be required to discover what’s lurking inside each box.
For more half-term family fun ideas, visit discovernorthernireland.com/
Streamvale Open Farm
Located just eight minutes away from La Mon, this family-run working dairy farm will give the kids lots of opportunities to learn and play for a few hours. In addition to pony grooming, tractor and barrel rides, a state-of-the-art agricultural play village with a vets’ clinic, farm shop and milking parlour encourages children to learn about food and farming through play. The farm is open every day between 17 March and 4 November and there are seasonal events at Halloween, Christmas and other holidays.
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
This attraction will keep the family entertained all day as it comprises two separate museums. Experience local traditions and what life was like in Northern Ireland over 100 years ago in the Folk Museum’s thatched cottages, farms, schools and shops. Meet costumed guides, admire traditional crafts and encounter some farm animals. The Transport Museum features a fascinating collection of past and present land, sea and air transport.
Head to one of the most beautiful gardens in Northern Ireland, looked after by the National Trust, for leisurely family walks, afternoon teas in the café or just simply to relax on a seat in the walled garden. Whatever the season there's always something new to see at Rowallane. At half-term the Tree Terror Trail will give the kids some Halloween goose bumps and let their imaginations run wild.