When you hear "Tayto Park", would you be thinking of cheese and onion crisps, or of tigers and Cú Chulainn? Actually, you'd be right on all counts. Tayto Park near Ashbourne in County Meath is Ireland's only real theme park, and it is so much more, but it also is a monument to crisps flavoured with cheese and onion, a Dublin speciality of old. Because it is run by Largo Foods, owners of the "Tayto" brand.
And also the inimitable "Mr Tayto".
Who provides, let it be said, a photo opportunity in the sprawling (yet compact) park that was created a few years ago next to the factory. So a big yellow potato-person in a red jacket gives you a friendly wave. And invites you to enjoy a day out full of excitement and adventure. For all the family, no less ... can Tayto Park live up to this hype? Let us have a closer look.
Tayto Park - the Basics
Tayto Park is still quite young, and developing - located in Kilbrew (which is near Ashbourne), the park was first opened in 2010. With a travelling time of roughly thirty minutes from Dublin's city centre (albeit on a good day, and definitely not in commuter traffic), the park has always hosted a wide variety of activities, many suitable for all ages.
What you get for the admission ticket is the free run of the whole site, but not the free use of everything. Unlike the major US theme parks, Tayto Park does not operate on an "everything included" basis.
In fact, most of the rides and activities will only be available to guests for further Euros. Either on a token basis, or with an all-day wristband, both to be purchased at either of three locations in the park ... but not available to pre-order online, or to be purchased at the gate.
So here's the first two tips: if you plan to go on the rides, get your tokens or wristbands as soon as you enter the park, queues build up fast for these.
And if you want peace of mind, go for the flat rate, the wristband. This will work out cheaper in most cases. On, and an additional tip: come early, and get the rides in as soon as you can, otherwise you'll be competing with the late arrivals and spending extra time queuing. As as example - we managed to get into the 5D Cinema within ten minutes in the first hour, it took around forty minutes of queuing time in the afternoon.
By the way, getting to Tayto Park is fairly easy, and there is ample free parking. And once you are there, you are faced with three major areas to explore:
The Family Fun Area and Eagle's Nest
This is the most low-key area, aimed straight at younger visitors and their parents, and providing a lot of opportunities to just let the young ones run wild. The Pow Wow Playground caters for children under 12, the Spudhara even for those 6 years or younger. There are train rides, picnic areas, and even rides on (electric) ponies (3 tokens), and in the honey pots of a bear family (2 tokens).
If that is not enough, Eagle's Nest provides a challenge for youngsters (and the nerves of watching parents). Jumping five metres high on the Air Jumpers is for starters (2 tokens), then get shot ten metres into the air at the Shot Tower (2 tokens), and finally brave the Super Hero Training Wall (2 tokens), which lets you free-climb to a height of nine metres.
More sedate is the Crispy Creek Mining Company, where you will pan sand for hidden gemstones (which always requires 4 tokens and is not covered by the wristband).
Tayto Park is actually a zoo as well - not as big as Dublin Zoo, but offering a wide variety of animals, some of which are unique in Ireland. As always, zoos require a bit of planning (like noting feeding times and activities with the keepers), or just a bit of patience to see all the animals.
The animal areas are roughly divided into subcategories:
- Buffalo Ridge - billed as the home of the first herd of American bison in Ireland, and providing a look-out. The bison were actually imported for food purposes, you can still buy Hunky Dorys crisps with buffalo flavour for instance (just don't tell the kids).
- Cat Country - actually this should read "big cats", as there are no moggies here, but mountain lions, Eurasian lynx, and Amur tigers, the largest of all the big cats.
- Down Under - the antipodes are represented by emus and wallabies, wait for children shouting "Look, mum, a kangaroo!"
- Farmyard Friends - an open-plan area resembling a, well, farmyard, including some rarer breeds of domesticated animals. Amongst these are Jacob, Manx and Soay sheep, Highland cattle, pygmy goats, and Vietnamese pot belly pigs.
- Feathered Friends - a very diverse (and at times stunningly beautiful) collection of wil as well as domesticated birds from around the world.
- Wild Woods - this is a shady, wooded area with a host of animals on display. These include ocelots, ring-tailed coatis, Amur leopards, fishing cats, corsac foxes, and aardwolves. Many are masters at hiding from the visitors, so patience will always pay off.
If I had to pick a favourite (and discounting the big cats, which always have pride of place), I'd say the Wild Woods is the place to revisit several times during the day. Because it is full of surprises, and you can spot different animals at different times, going about their different business.
Sitting somehow between the zoo and the Eagle Sky is "Dinosaurs Alive", which is riffing on Jurassic Park, but using animatronic dinosaurs instead of resurrected beasts. Impressive, though some of the exhibits seemed to be in need of cosmetic attention when we visited, and maybe not really scientific enough to satisfy the more scientific dino-nerds. But, hey, it's life-size dinos growling and thrashing, the kids will love it anyway.
Eagle Sky Adventure Zone
Here the activities start ... well, having said that, the 5D Cinema provides excitement in a very sedate way (prepare to be surprised, but it all is an illusion, albeit very convincing). You'll hear a few surprised shouts and scared squeals here, but it is special effects through and through.
Which cannot be said for the Cú Chulainn Coaster opposite. This was Ireland’s first roller coaster, and Europe’s largest wooden roller coaster to boot, only opened in 2015. It rattles, it rolls, and you'll be grateful once it coasts to a halt again. The design has its focus on Irish mythology, the roller-coaster being named after one of the great Irish heroes ... Cú Chulainn. Who seems to be cursed to spend eternity as an ornament on the front of the roller-coaster trains. Okay, the connection with mythology is a teensy-weensy bit cheesy, but it is a wild ride, and you will be satisfied.
If your guts need further churning, head over to the other rides:
- Air Race - an aeroplane-themed ride, your plane spins and rotates simultaneously, guaranteeing mild disorientation at times.
- Extreme Climbing Wall - a very impressive, 21 metres high climbing wall. This will test climbing skills to the max. People have been known to reach the top, but most attempts end with a fall stopped by the safety rope.
- The Rotator - a classic "Frisbie" ride, in which you get seated facing outwards, on a rotating gondola, that also swings high into the air like a pendulum. You won't know where to focus on, or where to hold on to better.
- Sky Walk - trying to survive three levels of obstacles and (often wobbly) bridges high above the ground will test your coordination, stamina, and sense of balance. You'll feel fit for special forces afterwards.
- Tayto Twister - just a tubular slide of twenty metres, but a very exhilarating experience nonetheless.
- Zip Line Extreme - the big daddy of all of Ireland's zip wires, this is the longest and fastest attraction of its kind on the island. Patrons either try to walk on air, jubilantly enjoy the rush of it all, or cling onto the harness for dear life.
All these require tokens - 5 for the Cú Chulainn Coaster, 4 each for 5D Cinema, Air Race, Rotator and Zip Line Extreme, 3 each for the climbing wall and the Sky Walk, 2 for the Tayto Twister. Here a wristband really comes into its own!
Other Attractions at Tayto Park
Difficult to say whether you should give the Tayto Factory Tour a miss or not - it is, after all, a tour through Tayto history with some glimpses of the actual factory thrown in ... but as it is free, why not? And, after all, when do you get to see a potato snack factory in action? (Not on Saturdays, Sundays an Bank Holidays, thanks for asking.) There also is the Vortex Tunnel nearby, a slightly disorienting experience of walking through a darkened tunnel with spinning light effects. Not much to write home about, I thought, but the kids we observed seemed to love it.
And then there are the Restaurants - well, many of them are not that exciting, but I quite liked the Teahouse in the Tree House, which actually is a tree house. Neat idea. And I heartily recommend the Lodge Restaurant, which has the feeling of an old-time safari lodge (expect Allan Quartermain to come down the stairs at any moment) and serves quite good food. Really. Again, come early, it can become crowded fast (and outdoor seating, as usual in Ireland, is not for every day).
The gift shops are fun as well. While you get the usual stuff, the Tayto-branded merchandise ranks from the sublime to the downright hilarious, with the "Cheese and Onion Crisp Chocolate" ranging somewhere in-between. I quite like it, I have to say.
Tayto Park - an Evaluation
Here comes the crunch (and that is not the last bit of Tayto chocolate I mean): is Tayto Park worth it? Or is it just a bottomless pit to throw your money into? Especially visitors from the US, where the "one price covers all" policy reigns, might be wondering ...
To be fair, entrance to Tayto Park plus a wristband works out way cheaper than any US theme park, and you'll have a great day in any case. Plus there is free parking. On the other hand, attractions and rides might be fewer. In the end it sort-of balances out even, especially if you consider that Tayto Park cannot be viably open 365 days a year. The Irish weather, you know.
The entry fee also works out lower than Dublin Zoo, if you come for the animals only.
So, yes, I'd recommend Tayto Park, certainly not for everyone, but especially for families travelling with kids.
Tayto Park Essentials You Need to Know
Tayto Park is generally open between St. Patrick's Day and Christmas, though with wildly varying times - check these at the Tayto Park website before travelling. In July and August the park is open every day between 9.30 am and 8 pm.
Entry fees are € 15 for adults, € 14 for children (reductions available, see website). A single token will set you back one Euro, a wristband will cost you € 15.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary entry (an a wristband) for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.