Looking for a reason to get off the couch this Christmas and get out and about in Ireland? Are you planning a trip to the Emerald Isle this winter and are wondering what to do? Then I’ve got you covered.
I’ve got something for everyone. If you are a city lover I’ll show you where to do a spot of shopping or see the Christmas lights. If you’d like to do something a bit different, I’ll show you where to find cosy fires, Christmas music, hot drinks and maybe even meet Santa. If you enjoy fresh air, peace and quiet I’ve included places to walk, hike or cycle in nature.
Play A Christmas Tune At Shandon Bells In Cork
Built almost 300 years ago and standing 36 meters tall, Shandon Bells is one of Cork’s most iconic buildings.
You'll find out all about 'the goldie fish' and 'the four-faced liar' when you visit (you’ll have to go to find out); but for me, the best part is that you can play the bells. It’s pretty easy too, even I could do it! They have a folder of some well-known tunes that you can try. A Christmas song from Shandon Bells sounds pretty special to me.
Entry for adults is 5 euro and there are discounts available for students, seniors and families. During the winter months, Shandon Bells & Tower are open to the public 11 - 3 Monday to Saturday and 11.30 - 3 on Sunday.
Last year they hosted a Christmas Carol Service so keep an eye on the website for a similar event this year. Find out more at shandonbells.ie.
Warm Up By The Open Turf Fire At Sean’s Bar in Athlone
Sean’s Bar is officially Ireland’s oldest bar (and possibly the oldest in the world). Coins dating back to 900AD were found in the bar during renovations in the 1970s. If you haven't visited it yet you need to add it to your Irish bucket list.
Warm your feet by the open turf fire, for a cosy visit on a cold winter's night, on the banks of the Shannon. Sip their very own whiskey and enjoy live music Thursdays to Sunday. For an extra festive music treat, I can’t recommend enough their Christmas Carol night on the 15th of December. Find out more on seansbar.ie
Step Into History At Kilkenny Castle
Whether you visit for the beautiful Victorian style country house or the 50 acres of parklands, Kilkenny Castlewill not disappoint.
During the winter months, visits to the castle are by guided tour only. Tours last 45 minutes excluding the Tea Room and the Butler Gallery. The Tea Room is situated in the castle’s kitchen. It has the original cooking range, plates and copper pots. It is the perfect place for you to relax and grab a bite to eat before heading out to explore the parklands. Whether you are an art enthusiast or not, do not forget to allow time to visit the Butler Gallery. I’m not, but I really loved it here.
A stroll around the parklands is the perfect way to end your visit feeling refreshed. Take in the banks of the River Nore and enjoy the natural colours of winter.
If you haven’t had enough of Kilkenny, check out some of the many events that feature in Yulefest 2019. Whether you are after Christmas markets, workshops or music there is something for everybody at Yulefest 2019. I’m excited for Mayor’s Annual Christmas Concert on 11th Decemeber.
Kilkenny Castle is open from 9.30 - 4.30 during the winter months. During this period the park is open from 9.00 until 4.00.
Hear The Tragic And Romantic Story Behind Kylemore Abbey
There’s more to Kylemore Abbey than you see on Instagram.
It’s situated on huge grounds that include a 6-acre Victorian walled garden, a neo-gothic church, a café with lots of homemade foods and you can buy some of your Christmas presents in the gift shop. You get to wander freely in the abbey itself but if you want to know more about the history of the place there are talks by the guides throughout the day. Don’t forget to check out the Christmas Themed History Tours where you’ll find out about how Christmas was celebrated in the abbey throughout its history.
Visit Mitchell Henry's library, the dining room and the saloon hall to learn about life in the abbey during the second half of the eighteenth century.
The Victorian walled gardens date back to the late 1800s but fell into disrepair. Luckily for you and me, they were renovated in 1995 and the gardens reopened to the public in 2000. The award winning gardens are a huge hit with garden lovers from all over the world.
A short walk along the lake brings you to the beautiful neo-gothic church. Be sure to visit on a Saturday or Sunday at 2.30 when you can catch a live music performance.
The Tea House by the Walled Garden is closed for winter but it’s ok, you won't be disappointed by Mitchell's Cafe. It’s got a wide selection of homemade meals and snacks. I particularly love their homemade soups and breads.
Whether you want to grab some last-minute gifts or treat yourself, you’ve got to go to the gift shop. Kylemore Abbey produces many of their own foods including Christmas pudding, ham glaze, cranberry sauce and mincemeat for your mince pies. You’ll be all set for Christmas dinner. If you’re fully sorted with food for Christmas, the Benedictine nuns also make a beautiful selection of soaps and shea butter.
Kylemore Abbey is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm every day during the Winter.
Take In The Sea Air On Salthill Promenade
Take a break from the hectic festivities in Galway City and take a walk, jog or even cycle on Salthill Prom. It’s just 3 kilometres from Spanish Arch in Galway but it's the perfect escape from the city. It will take you a 30-minute brisk walk or a 10-minute cycle mostly to get there.
The prom itself is 2 kilometres long. You’ll get to take in the beach and beautiful views of Galway Bay. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Burren in County Clare.
When you reach the end it is tradition to 'kick the wall' before turning to go back. It could bring you good luck.
On your return trip take a break and enjoy views of the bay from the comfort of one of the many cafés, restaurants and bars in Salthill.
Oh and don't forget to check out the iconic Blackrock Diving Tower. If you're feeling brave (or crazy) you can take a dip. Apparently, swimming takes place all year round.
Get In The Christmas Spirit At Bunratty Castle
What a magical place for you to enjoy some Christmas fun. Choose from the Christmas Banquet, Breakfast with Santa and Ice Skating.
There are a few dates left to share breakfast with Santa Claus and his elves. It promises to be a very special occasion for the kids (and adults too). Don’t worry if you miss out on breakfast, there are lots of other Christmas experiences to be had, like ice staking, as well as puppet and magic shows on the traditional street.
Set in the castle’s medieval banquet hall, you can enjoy a three course ‘festive feast’ while the excellent Bunratty Castle entertainers play some classic Christmas tunes. I’m excited for the mulled wine. Hurry though, spaces are selling out fast.
While all of the Christmas activities are happening, the castle and folk park are open as normal. Bunratty Castle & Folk Park is a day out for all the family. When you visit Bunratty Folk Park, you step back in time and get to experience rural Irish life from the 1800s. The park is situated on a 26-acre site and it includes a village street, a pet farm and a walled garden to name but a few.
Find out more about Christmas at Bunratty here.
Cycle The Waterford Greenway
There’s nothing like getting on a bike and cycling through the countryside for getting away from all the shopping, spending and crowds.
Waterford Greenway is an off road 46-kilometre tarmac track built on an old railway line. It runs from Dungarvan to the edge of Waterford City. If you don’t have a bike you can rent one in Dungarvan or Waterford.
Don’t worry if you think you’re not fit enough to do the whole trail there and back. There’s a shuttle bus that will pick you up at the end.
The route itself is stunning. There’s lots of stunning scenery with views of Dungarvan Bay, the Comeragh Mountains and the River Suir. Keep an eye out for the viaducts. My favourite part is cycling through the tunnel.
You’ll need to allow most of the day if you plan on doing the full 46 km. If you're looking for something a little shorter you can start your cycle from any of the access points along the way.
If you're bringing the kids, The Santa Express on the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway is a must. Listen to Christmas music, meet Santa and grab a hot chocolate on the trip through the Magic Wood. The train runs from Kilmeaden to Waterford, which is about 8 kilometres.
You’ll need to book in advance at the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway.
Walk Off Your Christmas Dinner In Glendalough
You probably know Glendalough for its 30 meter high round tower, its monastic settlement and beautiful lakes but it’s also a great place for a winter hike.
Situated in the 20,000 hectare Wicklow Mountains National Park it’s a glacial valley. I recommend you take a hike on one of the 9 waymarked walking trails in the valley. You can choose a short 45-minute walk or a full-on 4-hour hike (and anything in between).
The trails are graded from easy to hill walk. If you’re not an experienced hill walker, I recommend sticking to the ‘easy’, ‘moderate’ and ramble’ trails this time.
I like to go for a feed and a hot drink in one of the local hotels or eateries afterwards as a reward for my efforts.
Board An Emigrant Ship At The Ulster American Folk Park
At the Ulster American Folk Park, you will learn about the life of the Irish who emigrated to the US in the 1800s. On your journey through the park, you’ll meet characters who tell you stories and give you samples of authentic food from the times (some of it tastes quite interesting…).
The journey through the park takes you from the Old World of Ulster to the New World of the United States. You’ll see farmhouses and village streets before you get to board the recreated emigration ship - The Brig Union.
In December you can meet Santa, gather around the turf fire with all of the family and enjoy the Christmas songs and treats. Be sure to book in advance.
They recommend allowing 2 - 3 hours to explore, but I think you need longer. I’d plan the best part of the day to get the most from the Ulster American Folk Park.
Opens Tuesday to Friday 10 - 4 and Saturday & Sunday 11 - 4 during low season.
Get The Perfect Selfie At Ben Bulben Forest Walk
It’s all over Instagram but it’s even better in real life. The 5.5 km Ben Bulben Forest Walk takes around 1 ½ hours to complete and you’ll get stunning views of Ben Bulben, Donegal Bay and even Slieve League.
It is possible to hike Ben Bulben but I’m not recommending it at this time of year. Plus, if you’re at the top, you can’t appreciate the view of Ben Bulben, right?
Explore The Castle & Gardens At Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh National Park is Ireland’s second largest national park and is situated in the heart of the Derryveagh mountains. The stunning castle is perfectly located overlooking Lough Veagh. The gardens at Glenveagh are considered some of the best in Ireland. They are sure to be a highlight for any visitor and a dream for any gardening enthusiast.
The Glenveagh Castle Tea Rooms are open daily. I love their homemade scone with a cup of hot tea after a few hours out walking.
Glenveagh National Park has 6 walking trails ranging from 2 to 8 kilometres in distance. The routes are a variety of looped and out and back, ranging in difficulty and terrain type, taking between 30 and 90 minutes. You’ll find a map and further information in the visitor centre to help you choose the right trail for you.
Learn more about the park on www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie
Spot Santa’s Reindeer at Doneraile Wildlife Park
With 500,000 visitors in 2016, I’m not sure if Doneraile Wildlife Park can be described as a hidden gem anymore. The 166 hectare wildlife park was Ireland’s fourth most visited free attraction in 2016.
It has a variety of walking routes with beautiful gardens and trees. The River Awbeg flows through the park and supplies some lovely manmade lakes and ponds. It’s the perfect place to get some fresh air and burn off those mince pies.
The best part? There is a deer farm in the park. It’s a great opportunity for the kids to get a close up look at Rudolph and friends before they set off with Santa Clause this Christmas.
Speaking of Santa, he will be at Doneraile Court every weekend in December. Grab a hot drink and a snack in The Tea Rooms to warm up after exploring the park. Check out Santa’s Wonderland here.
What do you think? Where else could I have included on the list? What attractions do you plan to visit this Christmas?