The facade of Merrion Hotel in Dublin at ChristmasMerrion Hotel

There are few countries that celebrate a cozier, put-your-feet-up Christmas than Ireland.

With its family-oriented culture and the legendary friendliness of its people, spending the holidays in Ireland is one of the most rewarding decisions you could ever make.

The Irish love big and boisterous reunions and they love festivities on every scale, but they also love quiet evenings in with a few hand-picked friends in front of a crackling fire.

Visit Ireland in winter to see the soaring landscape celebrated by poets as varied as W.B. Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney (you may want to take a volume of each writer’s work along for added atmosphere).

Here are Irish Central’s Top 10 places to celebrate Christmas in Ireland.

1. The Merrion Hotel

With its crackling open fire and rich Georgian drawing rooms, and the deep sofas and flowing champagne to get you in the spirit, the five-star Merrion Hotel is impossibly atmospheric at Christmastime.

Old world civility and elegance meet the wifi, text messaging 21 century here without missing a beat. The Merrion’s hospitality and superior service are simply a byword for luxury, which makes this venue one of the great hotels of the world.

Further information on their Christmas hotel breaks, festive packages and dining arrangements can be found on their website. Treat yourself to a Christmas break in Dublin this winter and we assure you you’ll never want to spend it anywhere else.

2. Dromoland Castle

First built in the 15 century, Dromoland castle in its present form was completed in 1835, although the site itself has been associated with Gaelic nobility since the Fifth century. Of course, being an Irish castle, it was often bitterly fought over, too: Queen Elizabeth I’s armed forces confiscated it at one point, but since they spent most of her long reign purloining Irish property, this was by no means unusual.

Nowadays the castle is a spectacular five-star hotel on rolling acres that is the ideal place to spend the Christmas holidays. Featuring a level of comfort and elegance that will delight you, Dromoland is the kind of venue even U.S. presidents marvel at (G.W. Bush was a guest here in 2004). Ask them about their special winter breaks and remember to find out about their legendary golf course.

3. Ballydavid, County Kerry

Ballydavid, County Kerry is a sleepy little Irish village nestling on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean. But each St. Stephen’s Day (December 26) it comes alive to host the Wren Boys in a colorful and very ancient one day celebration in remembrance of a festival that was celebrated by the Druids (the Irish shaman or pagan high priests).

Wren boys, also called mummers, dress up in masks, straw suits and colorful motley clothing and, accompanied by traditional ceili music bands, take to the street in a blaze of color continuing a unique and unbroken folk tradition. The Ballydavid Wren is a memorable day of marching, music and dance, featuring an explosion of color and Irish exuberance that’s cheering and irresistible in the midst of winter’s gloom.

4. Leopardstown and Limerick Christmas Racing Festivals

What better way to blow away the winter blahs than with a flutter on the nags? The Christmas Festivals at Leopardstown and Limerick are up there among the highlights of the Irish sporting and social calendars. Anyone who is anyone among the Dublin social cognoscenti goes to Leapordstown on St Stephen’s Day, those who spend Christmas west of the Shannon or south of the Silvermine Mountains go to Limerick, as much to shake hands and have a hot port with old friends, home for Christmas, the annual get-together, as to have a bet. And the racing isn’t bad either.

5. Christmas hill walking

Bundle up and get out to see the majestic Irish landscape in its winter repose. Get away from the High Streets and the commercial madness and take time to get acquainted with your own heartbeat.

With it being Christmas time most hill walking trips have a festive theme including mulled wine and mince pies to help you on your way. For more details and booking click the link below.

6. Christmas Pantomime

The pantomime is an distinctly Irish and English comic theatre style where a well known fairy tale can turn into the most pointed attacks on the government and society figures of the day. Ostensibly for children, these shows come larded with sentimental songs and vicious political satire that will keep adults chuckling too.

In Dublin the Gaiety and the Olympia theatre’s are the two celebrated venues for this kind of seasonal theatrical fun. If you want to celebrate Christmas the way the Irish themselves do be sure to book your tickets when you arrive.

7. Funderland at the RDS

From December 26 Funderland at the RDS is the world’s largest travelling amusements show. Go along and you’ll discover that all Dublin stops by although the place itself never feels too crowded.

Featuring five roller coasters, two giant Ferris wheels, and all manner of thrilling attractions this show is an annual hit with kids and all kids at heart.

8. The Abbey Theatre

This Christmas Ireland’s national theatre, the Abbey, will stage an enduring world masterpiece – J.M. Synge’s unforgettable comic satire The Playboy of The Western World.

When the original show was staged in the same venue in 1907 it caused a riot that even the mighty W.B. Yeats himself had trouble subduing. “Ireland you have disgraced yourselves once again!” he thundered at the restive audience, but interestingly he didn’t elaborate on which previous disgraces he was thinking of.

The play endures, as does this elegant theatre, and this may well be the highlight of your Dublin stay this Christmas (be sure to pop into the nearby bar The Flowing Tide for a quick constitutional after the show and you’ll be having a night out like a true Dubliner.

9. An authentic Irish country house

What could be better than Christmas spent in a country house in Ireland? With roaring fires, afternoon teas, hot chocolate and lively guests to meet? The worldwide recession means that this is the best opportunity you’ll ever have to live your dream and take that winter break you’ve always dreamed of. Start by exploring one of Ireland’s best tourist guides and soon you’ll have your feet up in resplendent surrounds – in a country where a white Christmas is always a distinct possibility.

10. Christchurch Cathedral

Ring in the New Year at Christchurch Cathedral, at the heart of the city of Dublin for almost 1,000 years. The cathedral of Holy Trinity, commonly called Christ Church, was founded by the Vikings, rebuilt by the Anglo-Normans and restored by the Victorians.

Architecturally, it is famed for its Norman crypt (the second largest in Britain or Ireland) and for the arcading of the nave, which is considered to be the finest example of Early English in the country.

The earliest manuscript dates Christ Church cathedral to its present location around 1030. Dunan, the first bishop of Dublin and Sitriuc, Norse king of Dublin, founded the original Viking church, which was probably subject to the archbishop of Canterbury. It’s the perfect venue to appreciate the long history of the nation. And afterwards you can sample the finest Fish and Chips you’ll ever taste at the nearby Leo Burdock’s chip shop (a famous Dublin landmark not known to tourists). 

Originally published in 2009.