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

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

The Irish love big and boisterous reunions and they love festivities on any 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 W.B. Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney (you may want to take a volume of each writer’s work along for added atmosphere).

Even though a visit to Ireland might not be possible this Christmas, here are some of the things you absolutely have to do in Ireland during a normal Christmas. 

The Merrion Hotel, Dublin

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 with WiFi and the 21st century at this Dublin hotel without missing a beat. The Merrion’s hospitality and superior service make this venue one of the great hotels of the world. 

Dromoland Castle, Co Clare

First built in the 15th century, Dromoland Castle in its present form was completed in 1835, although the site itself has been associated with Gaelic nobility since the 5th century. It was bitterly fought over when Queen Elizabeth I’s armed forces confiscated it, 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. Dromoland is the kind of venue even U.S. presidents marvel at (G.W. Bush was a guest here in 2004).

Dingle, Co Kerry

Each St. Stephen’s Day (December 26), areas in Dingle, Co Kerry come alive when the Wren Boys come to town in a colorful and very ancient one-day celebration in remembrance of an ancient Druid festival.

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. They are carrying on a unique and unbroken folk tradition. It 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.

A walk along the Dingle Peninsula. (Getty Images)

A walk along the Dingle Peninsula. (Getty Images)

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 Leopardstown on St. Stephen’s Day (Dec 26). 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 as to have a bet.

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 Christmastime, most hillwalking trips have a festive theme including mulled wine and mince pies to help you on your way.

The Leopardstown Christmas Festival in 2016. (RollingNews.ie)

The Leopardstown Christmas Festival in 2016. (RollingNews.ie)

Christmas Pantomime

The pantomime is a distinctly Irish and English comic theater style where a well-known fairytale 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 theaters 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 early.

*The Gaiety has currently suspended its programming, while The Olympia Theatre is bringing its Christmas pantomime performance online. You can learn more here.

The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. (Ireland's Content Pool)

The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. (Ireland's Content Pool)

A cottage in the Irish countryside

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?

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.

A snow-topped cottage in Kilmacrennan, Co Donegal (RollingNews.ie)

A snow-topped cottage in Kilmacrennan, Co Donegal (RollingNews.ie)

Christchurch Cathedral, Co Dublin

Ring in the New Year at Christ Church Cathedral, which has been 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 style 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 afterward, 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 2011, last updated in December 2020.

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