Top Spots for NI Tots: Armagh Planetarium

Wee Green Folk thought we’d try join in  with NI Science Festival this weekend and made a trip to Armagh Planetarium along with Chewbacca and some of his Star Wars buddies – I have no idea what the rest are called! WP_20160227_004

Armagh is about an hour’s drive from Belfast which coincided beautifully with a morning nap for B. J was suitably entertained with  a sticker book and repeated explanations that we were going to Armagh to see model planets and were not actually going to the moon…I like to call it managing expectations! I find the line defining reality is rather blurred and broken in the mind of a 2 year old.

Of course we arrived spot on 10am  – the few benefits of early starts. The carpark was empty except for a dog and his smiley owner.

Inside the planetarium we were pleased to find admission was free and there were still places available for the “Little Yellow Star” preschool show…bonus. We planted a flag on the moon and stuck our heads through various cardboard cut out astronauts. We even made our own rockets. As you can see arts and crafts are not our forte. The rocket was launched outside in a watery whoosh much to J’s delight! B looked distinctly unimpressed but then our rocket was pretty shoddy!WP_20160227_014

“Little Yellow Star” was a pre-school animated cartoon in the big domed theatre. It was a lovely experience and kept both kids entertained for 15 minutes – no mean feat. It ran through some of the star constellation animal shapes. I had no idea there was  a whale up there! The narrator was live and he did a great job!

Downstairs there are various exhibitions with enough ipads and light projection shows to entertain little ones for a wee while. The adults were a little confused by the 3D glasses – maybe these days our eyes are just too used to fancy graphics to be easily impressed! It would have been fascinating to read some of the displays – maybe we’ll come back for a adult visit one day.

Outside the planetarium is the Astropark which makes a lovely walk. There’s a scale model of the solar system and we enjoyed standing on each planet in turn. Beware to read the markers. It wasn’t until the end we realised earth was scaled up by 200 times! We only made it as far as Pluto. It’s tiny – no wonder it’s been downgraded to a  minor planet! Anyway, little legs were getting tired and a cheesy sandwich picnic was calling. This was our first outdoor picnic of 2016 and a lovely family moment… if not a bit chilly. All in all it was a lovely day out and a nice chance to introduce J to some science although I suspect he still thinks the moon’s made of cheese- you win some you lose some!WP_20160227_026


Top Spots for NI Tots – Libraries

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FREE FREE FREE!!! Toddlers love books and Northern Ireland’s libraries are awesome. I guess some are better than others and it’s hard to comment on how good your local one is but if you live in Belfast you’ll be spoilt for choice.

We recommend Tullycarnet near Dundonald- great parking, great staff and great downstairs children’s area with cushions,rugs and soft toys etc. Only downside is that there’s no lift. It’s good to have the kids area out of the way of the main library so noise isn’t too much of an issue. To be honest I don’t think they mind noise as much these days – they’re glad to get the “business”. Funding is always being cut for these sort of things so use them or lose them. Get your baby a library card (there’s no lower age limit) and you can take out 9 books at a time and kids aren’t liable for fines if you forget to bring them
back. Saying that, you get emailed to tell you when to return books so there’s not really an excuse!

Apart from books many libraries run “Rhythm and Rhyme” sessions. Half and hour of singing and dancing and it’s also FREE. It’s a good family session for pre-schoolers and very suitable for taking multiple siblings. Good place to chat to other mums (or grandparents) and congratulate them on having left the house! Check out the libraries website for info. It’s a great wee session and it’d be a shame to lose them.


Top Spots for NI Tots – Ulster Museum

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Ulster Museum

One word…FREE!!!!! This is a great rainy day activity. The biggest flaw for me is the lack of parking . Street parking is fine at the weekend but weekdays are a nightmare and it’s a shame really. If you’re good with buses, I take my hat of to you. I’d love to be that eco-friendly, public transport parent but so far I haven’t been that brave!

Once you make it inside the museum it’s a toddler dream. High ceilings,  long corridors, high (but safe!) balconies, lift buttons to press and that’s just the building itself.

There are three child specific rooms (that I know of!) – one for arts with colouring in, books and a snazzy light box with coloured blocks. The nature area has lots of drawers (requiring endless “watch your fingers!”) full of beasts and bugs that little ones love! The lower room has toys from around the world and days gone by. All very interesting for big kids too!

In the other exhibits my toddler loves “Segura” – a video installation in a dark room showing the changing nature of an underpass in Spain. I find it scary – certainly a far cry from Cbeebies! Anyway, it’s a great place for toddlers to run around and if they get a little education too, sure that’s great:-)

There’s a cafe downstairs (it’s not free!) and plenty of changing areas and toilets etc. so overall a great morning’s activity. Did I mention it’s FREE! PS – it’s closed on Mondays, don’t be caught out.

As a bonus you’re right beside Botanic gardens and the “Palm House” full of fancy plants. Also FREE and worth a nosey!

Top Spots for NI Tots – LX Gymnastics

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LX Gymnastics

Not on the tourist trail but the  pay-as-you-drop-in Baby and Toddler Gym in Dunmurry (head east from Belfast towards Lisburn) is a hidden gem! Monday and Thursday mornings, 10-12. Free parking, easy access, friendly, helpful staff and the facilities are spot-on for toddlers (and their little sisters!). Costs about a fiver (although we haven’t been for a while so may have changed) and you pay for each child so it could add up but no more expensive than other soft play centres.

There are beams, trampolines, rings and a cool bouncy running thing (I’m not a gymnast!). Just go in and let your toddler loose – obviously you do need to supervise them and most will need a helping hand with the apparatus but they’ll love it! Great exercise and tires them out ready for a nap (hopefully!). We think it’s far better than any normal soft play centre!

There’s also a little kitchen area where you can make yourself a cup of tea but let’s be realistic, that’s never going to happen!

They also run classes for 3+years. We’re not at that stage yet but I bet they’re great!

Top Spots for NI Tots – W5

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W5 Discovery centre

In the Titanic area of Belfast this place is amazing although probably best reserved a treat as it’s our most expensive outing (£8.50 for an adult but under 3’s are free…yay!) On the plus side, once yoW5u’ve paid in it’s an all day ticket so in theory you could go home for a nap or visit one of the adjacent restaurants then come back later.

There’s a giant car park which is fine but you do have to pay for it and it’s a fair enough walk for little legs, probably a buggy job for some. Inside there’s a musical staircase or super speedy glass lift to get you to the under 8 “discovery” area. Then you have any child’s dream play area – with only one exit to keep an eye on if your toddler is likely to make a break for it!

There’s water play, disco, real car, crane, boat, mirrors, fully stocked shop, doll’s houses, kitchen massive wooden train set, animal models the list goes on and on….

There’s also a cosy little part at the back with books and more baby appropriate toys.

Outside the under 8 zone there’s loads more to see and do but we’ve not needed to go much further yet!

Sometimes it’s a little chaotic when there are schools visiting but you could phone ahead and ask. There’s plenty of times we’ve been and it’s been really quiet – usually first thing in the morning. 

Top Spots for NI Tots – Castle Espie

top spotsWWT Castle Espie

We love this place!!! Near Comber, a 30 minute drive east of Belfast city centre, this place ticks every possible box for a family day out! You drive into a large car park, unpack all the paraphernalia to lovely birdsong (if you can hear it over a screaming child!) and walk on the lovely flat surface through the automatic doors to be greeted by the lovely ladies at reception. Then armed with a bag of bird food you start by feeding the duckies. If you’re into waterfowl this is actually an eclectic mix of international and endangered species of ducks and geese. For a 2 year old (and uninformed Mummy) they are all duckies! The only slightly risky aspect of this trip is the open water – but, hey, it’s not deep! Personally, I attach reigns for this part just in case.

PicMonkey Collage 7There’s plenty of scope for a toddle out to the bird hides on great buggy friendly paths. The Strangford Lough scenery is lovely even if you don’t know your Brent geese from your Whooper swans!! There’s a great woodland adventure playground that’s recently been extended. A proper nature experience which kids so often miss out on these days. I  think it would be an awesome site for a Forest pre-school if anyone is so inclined!

If all that natural play wasn’t enough and you’re missing “Funky Monkeys” (seems unlikely!) there’s a little soft play area which was refurbished in 2015. Best suited to toddlers.

Last but not least there’s a great coffee shop which as of February 2016 also seems to have been refurbished as well. You see, this place really does tick all the boxes!!

Cost wise kids under 4 are free…yay! Adults are about £8 each so a little pricey but the money does help support wetlands conservation work worldwide so I don’t mind too much. We love this place so much that we’d highly recommend membership if you live locally and plan to visit a few times a year. Of course if you live on mainland UK you can use your membership to visit some of the other WWT sites. I bet they are all this good:-)

Monkey and Mouse