Jurassic Newpark: A Dinosaur Adventure in the Heart of Kilkenny
Animatronic dinosaurs, a warm swimming pool, and a staff that clearly enjoys their jobs are just some of the draws at this family-run stay. We’re not on a dig in North America or a fictional island west of Costa Rica. We’re in the fields behind a four-star hotel in Kilkenny. And Luke’s super dino talks are just the start of it. Spread around several acres are a dozen life-size, animatronic dinosaurs — from a T-Rex to Velociraptors and a Brachiosaurus. Stationed along a walking trail, they’re interspersed with real-life animals in a mini farm, a covered bouncy castle area, fairy trail, and playground. Staff wear safari-style gear. Welcome to Jurassic Newpark — an experience that feels at once brilliant and bizarre. “If you build it, they will come,” says general manager Mark Flynn of the family-run Newpark Hotel, where the attraction is based. It was his father John’s idea to build Jurassic Newpark, and the punters have indeed come: the park has doubled in size since last year.
Arrival & Location
If you know Kilkenny, you know the Newpark. Set 2km from the city centre, it began life as a reboot of a 19th-century mansion, evolving over the decades to add a ballroom, pool, spa and new bedroom wings. When we check in, it’s alongside coach tours, couples, families and groups of friends. It’s clearly a community hub — a christening, wedding and funeral are underway in different rooms. A lobby refurb leaves the entry feeling fresh, if a little generic (look closely, however, and you’ll clock John’s interest in art, with works by Felim Egan in the dining room, and Patrick Scott prints echoed in two golden satellite-style lights behind reception). A musician plays guitar to serenade wedding guests, and check-in ticks over nicely despite the busyness of it all. It’s hectic, but nobody feels particularly harried or under pressure.
Service & Style
Staff smile. They feel at home. Interactions are natural and interested — all signs of a sense of culture. At dinner, there’s an offer to bring children’s food earlier, staff are happy to engage with kids and nothing is any trouble, be it sharing mains, toddlers under tables or extra orders flying in at different times. Similarly, when our group arrives for breakfast in dribs and drabs, it’s all cheer and no hassle. When heavy rain strikes Jurassic Newpark, leaving us sheltering under a tree, staff rush around handing out ponchos and umbrellas, getting absolutely soaked themselves. Nobody we meet feels like theirs is ‘just a job’. Facilities-wise, Jurassic Newpark is the main event (free to guests but otherwise €15pp; jurassicnewpark.com). In an Ireland of Center Parcs, Emerald Park, and hotels like Parknasilla and Amber Springs, I think it’s a zinger. Kids love their dinos and fairies, facts and diagrams abound, and the growth potential is clear. Costs add up, though (Jurassic Bounce costs an extra €5pp), and the trail landscaping needs work — more imagination and fewer weeds.
Classic and superior rooms are perfectly functional, if cookie-cutter in feel, with no real design points to write home about. Superior bathrooms do come with large, walk-in showers and a separate bath, however. Rooms facing onto the farm and play area may hear animals early in the morning, but thankfully we didn’t hear anything from the wedding in the ballroom, despite our ground-floor room being just a few meters from the lobby. This is, first and foremost, a family hotel. That said, you’ll find it quieter and cheaper off-peak, and adult-only balcony suites offer a sanctuary on the fourth floor. These are more contemporary in style and come with private balconies, outdoor hot tubs in some cases, and four-posters. Bear in mind that there’s a two-night minimum stay on weekends during peak season.
Food & Drink
We ate in the brasserie-style Scott’s bar, with a classy feel to its wood paneling, brass accents, banquettes, and outsized lightshades. It’s a something-for-everyone kind of menu, from chowder and chicken wings to steaks, superfood salads, and plant-based burgers. My 8oz striploin is juicy, medium-rare as requested and served with a proper knife and tasty béarnaise — though I’d like more notes on Irish provenance. More formal dining is available at Gulliver’s, as is breakfast, a pretty routine set-up with stock buffet items including plastic-wrapped portions of bland European cheese. As a busy, 132-bed four-star, bespoke Irish breakfasts may not be an option, but others manage to list producers and lean a little further into local ingredients, and Kilkenny has a killer food scene. A Jurassic opportunity?
The bottom line
This is a classic all-rounder, a distinctly Irish, family-run hotel that “knows what it is”, as Mark puts it. Investing in staff and innovating in ways that remind me of other exemplars like Fitzgeralds Woodlands House in Adare, the Clonakilty Park, or Amber Springs in Gorey, it’s a head-spinning business model but clearly a beloved hotel. Yes, it can be expensive at peak. But the Newpark is a good example of why it’s worth not just looking at price when judging value, but at everything that price includes — dinosaurs and all.
Guests of balcony suites can take breakfast (including a tiered ‘birdcage’ of pastries) in the terrace area, away from the crowds. The National Reptile Zoo is nearby, with animal encounters included in its €14.50/€12.50 fee. nationalreptilezoo.ie
B&B from €240. Family stays start from €788 for two nights’ B&B including one evening meal and park entry. Pól was a guest of…