Last Friday, I woke up to a glorious summer day: the sun shone brightly through my window and its dusty beam tickled my eyes and those very special cells that defy medical classification but give me, and many of you, an above average sense of wanderlust. ‘ A day like this is for exploring’, I said to myself, and I knew exactly where I wanted the exploration to bring us: we would go on a family day trip to Russborough House, Wicklow.
Russborough House is a stately house and estate in Blessington, just outside Dublin, and is the perfect place for a fun-filled family day out: the estate comprises of a beautiful, elegant home, large gardens, a maze, a very well equipped playground and a bird of prey centre. As if this wasn’t enough, Russborough also has a lovely coffee shop, a fairy walk, artisan shops and an array of activities, from horse and carriage rides to sheepdog demonstration!
There is just so much to do, you can easily spend here the whole day (or more) and not get bored! Here is how we got on.
Looking for more family-friendly day trips from Dublin? Find here a list with some of my favourites
How to get there: with kids, the easiest way is by car. The drive from Dublin doesn’t take more than about 20-30 mins: the road is beautiful and the house well sign-posted. Russborough House has a large parking (2 euro for the day, bring coins).
Family friendly facilities: Russborough has a well-equipped cafe with high chairs, baby changing facilities, accessible gardens, and playground. The staff is exceptionally friendly and kids are welcome.
You can find additional information, opening ours and prices on their official website here
Our day at Russborough House, Wicklow: what to see with kids
Russborough is a large estate in covering over 200 acres of parkland.
It is so vast and it offers so many options that, alone with the two kids, I decided to give priority to some activities and leave longer walks and trails for when dad would be able to join us. Some of the trails promise to be beautiful, but I know Little Ms E. doesn’t love walking, so the Rhododendron walk (2 km), the wildlife trail (2 km) and the fairy walk will be tackled next time when dad’s shoulders are are available!
This time, we visited the bird of prey centre, the house, the maze and the playground.
Russborough Bird of prey centre
Russborough sits on tops of a small hill and is surrounded by beautifully maintained lawns. The house is built in the Palladian style and has a central building framed by two semi-circular colonnades. It is an elegant construction and hosts its activities in its various courtyards: the first one you encounter, on entering, now houses the cafe, while the one at the opposite end has the bird of prey centre, where our visit started.
This National Bird of Prey centre hosts birds from around the world, from owls to falcons and hawks. The birds are kept in cages along the perimeter of the yard and on perches right in the centre, and are an impressive sight. Some are small and have a reasonably friendly expression while others have a more feral glance that leaves no doubt: despite the cages and the strings holding them, they are the ones in charge here!
We started visiting the centre on our own but soon a friendly member of staff offered us a tour (free, it is included in the price of the entry ticket) and I am delighted we accepted his offer because it turned this visit into the highlight of the day.
First he showed the different species of birds in the centre (owls, hawks, falcons and a bird with an extremely funny song I am afraid I don’t remember the name of!) and then moved to the piece de resistance of the day: he got us to hold the birds!
The kids were ecstatic: first cautious, they started their falconry adventure holding a teeny tiny owl called Gizmo and then became brave enough to hold a bigger barn owl. They were delighted with themselves and went as far as stroking the soft breast of the birds: it was a cute and proud moment for me and I was delighted they overcame their initial resistance and now have the memory of this experience.
A walk with a hawk: If you are into falconry, a great activity you can do in Russborough is a hawk-walk during which you can fly one of the centre’s largest hawks. You must book this activity in advance and I believe it would be fantastic especially if visiting in a group.
Note for families: the centre is very family friendly and kids are encouraged to familiarise with the birds. At the end of the tour, we received also a workbook to colour in and create a paper model of a red kite (a type of falcon) and also got a present of two postcards with the birds: the kids chose, as expected, a photo of an owl and of a soaring falcon.
Discovering the history of Russborough with a house tour
After the excitement with the birds, we moved to a more relaxing activity: the guided tour of the house. Russborough is a Palladian mansion built in the XVIII century and is a stunning both in external grandeur and internal decor: it develops over two floors and it is packed with furniture, paintings and objects from all over the world. English chairs, Spanish carpets, Italian marbles, every object carries a history so long and so interesting it is in itself a window into the past (it has a microscope donated to Marie Antoinette on her wedding day!).
This wealth of treasure wasn’t always a blessing for the house: in the course of its history, the house endured four robberies and while all pieces were recovered, they eventually moved to the National Gallery of Ireland, in Dubin city centre, for their own protection. Despite losing some of its most important pieces, the house contains a wealth of art and some bespoke paintings that make the tour worthwhile.
Fun family visit fact: it is not easy to keep a 4 and a 6 year old engaged when doing a stately house tour, but two elements piqued my children’s attention: the first one was a secret door and the second one are the huge chimneys. While our guide was telling us about the materials of the immense mantelpieces, my daughter looked at them, intrigued, and whispered to me: ‘do you think they made them this big so Santa could come down easily?’ I have to give it to them: no matter what I throw at them, my kids always find a way to engage!
Russborough Playground and Maze
The most child-friendly area of the Russborough estate is the garden at the back of the cafe, where you can find a large, well-equipped playground and a maze.
Access to the playground is free, but entry to the maze is ticketed so before heading there we stopped at reception where we were given the entry tokens and a map with a diagram of the maze and the estate phone number in case we got lost. At first, the map surprised me but as soon as we entered the maze I was grateful for it: do not underestimate that maze!
We had a lot of fun looking for the centre and, later, for the exit, but it is no easy task: the sides of the maze are tall, the turns infinite and the centre tantalisingly out of reach. We wandered aimlessly for quite a while and in the end we gave up: sitting down in the made with map and pen (always bring a pen with you!) we spent a good few minutes trying to find our way out and my daughter genuinely thought we would have to sleep in the maze, ‘without dad!’.
She is a bit overly dramatic, but a couple of times I did think we would have to call reception: it was, despite and because of all this, a lot of fun and, if you go to Russborough, an activity you cannot miss.
With all these activities our day in Russborough passed quickly and soon we had to get back to Dublin: this was our last excursion before the end of the summer holidays and a great way to end a summer of adventure. Have you been to Russboroguh? What was your favourite part?
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