1. Bargain hunt in a 12th century crypt!
Right in the heart of medieval Dublin is a cathedral that dates back to AD1030. Here, amid ancient stone walls is one of the world’s most remarkable locations for a Christmas market: a 12th-century crypt. As well as being the earliest surviving structure in Dublin, the crypt at Christ Church is the largest in the United Kingdom and Ireland, making it an unforgettable place to go shopping in December. The atmosphere is amped up a few notches outside the cathedral, too, with a festive feel that will have you singing Joy to the World in no time. Our advice? Once you’ve done your shopping, stroll down to Dublin’s oldest pub, the Brazen Head for a restorative hot whiskey and traditional Irish music.
2. Take time for a restorative walk
A festive walk is a big part of December in Ireland. And with many of Ireland’s country estate houses beautifully decorated with massive trees, twinkly lights and even a Christmas market or two, they make a fresh counterpoint to the busy, bustling city centre shops. At Castle Crom, on the shores of Lough Erne in Fermanagh a winter wonderland awaits. Spend a crisp winter’s day discovering the magical woodlands and old castle before returning to the house for mulled wine and mince pies as the kids visit Santa and Mrs Claus.
Santa gets a traditional makeover (green robes, not red!) at Belvedere House & Gardens, a magnificent 18th-century hunting lodge on the shores of a lough in Westmeath. The house and gardens are a joy to explore, especially in winter. Dip into the vast gardens and parklands, before moving on to the curious Jealous Wall folly, built in 1760.
3. Do-it-yourself craft works
Ireland is all about craft right now. While our cities twinkle with fairy lights and glitzy baubles, there are lots of crafty things going on behind the scenes to give you an authentically Irish crafty buzz, too. The National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny has a Mulled Wine and Making evening (19 December), where you can create gorgeous textile wreaths and handcrafted decorations.
Or give your Christmas tree a totally Irish twist with decoration-making at Waterford’s Winterval Christmas Fair. And if you’re not feeling creative, don’t panic… you can enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour at SPACE craft in Belfast’s Fountain Centre, and the Makers & Brothers & Others pop-up shop in Dublin’s Dame Lane.
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4. Enjoy the ultimate pub visit
Trust us: step across the threshold of a traditional Irish pub this December and you won’t believe the atmosphere. As friends and family drift back from distant shores, we reunite in cosy little pubs and December feels like one big long party. With great snugs, old wooden countertops, blazing fires and a spirited collection of locals, there is no better place to be this Christmas.
Take an upscale Christmas lunch at 17th-century Grace Neill’s in County Down; squeeze yourself into a snug in Kehoe’s on Dublin’s South Anne Street; or combine having a pint with Christmas shopping for your dad at Foxy John’s pub/hardware store in Dingle, County Kerry.
5. Sing Hallelujah!
It’s the ultimate Christmas tune, and it was first performed in Dublin in 1742, so where better to enjoy the majestic oratorio than in the capital that premiered it. The Daniel Libeskind-designed Bord Gais Energy Theatre (9 December) makes a gloriously modern setting to sit back and enjoy the Christmas sounds, and a Christmas cocktail in the super-cool Rooftop Bar at the Marker Hotel after it is a must. Or book a ticket for Belfast’s Waterfront Theatre (13-14 December), where you can enjoy a performance from the Ulster Orchestra.