Ireland is a great place to visit at any time of year, but it’s especially magical at Christmas. The Emerald Isle is known for its dramatic scenery and its wild and windswept landscapes, but Ireland is also a country where people know how to have a good time. It’s cold at Christmas, but that’s all the more reason for a mulled wine, a good roaring fire, and some enthusiastic singing and dancing.
The Irish know how to party and their Christmas celebrations are big and bright. In the small towns of Ireland, things might not be quite as large as in the cities, but the communities here don’t do things in halves. With Santa on his way, streets trimmed with fairy lights, and lots of authentic Christmas food and drink, it’s in the towns that Christmas is celebrated in a traditional way, but with a modern twist. Here are five Christmas towns to visit in Ireland.
The small town of Cashel in Tipperary loves Christmas. Every year, the Cashel Arts Festival — which arranges activities and festivals throughout the year — organizes and presents “Christmas on the Plaza.” In the center of town, the Christmas lights are switched on, Santa arrives, and from December 11 onwards Christmas markets take over the plaza, offering arts and crafts for sale and some good mulled wine.
If you get even a dusting of snow, which is likely, the town looks magical, and the nearby Rock of Cashel is an incredibly atmospheric place to visit at this time of year. The Rock is a cluster of medieval buildings including an abbey, a cathedral, and a chapel. Set atop a rocky dome of a hill, the rock and the buildings look incredible. It’s a great place to go for some quiet contemplation amid the busy days of Christmas.
Where To Stay In Cashel
At nearby Cashel Palace, a Relais & Chateaux property, Christmas begins on November 21 with Christmas trees and traditional decorations adorning every corner of the public rooms. You can choose to stay for one night at any time over Christmas and this Palladian manor will take you on a journey to a Christmas time of good food, wine, and a cozy Christmas atmosphere. Choose to stay for 3 nights over the Christmas period and you can enjoy a visit from Santa, Christmas dinners, champagne receptions, and hiking and yoga if you need to work off all that amazing food.
2. Wexford Town
Every December, Wexford Town transforms itself into Wexford Winterland, a land of Christmas lights, fir trees, and Santa Claus. From December 1 through 23, Santa arrives with Mrs. Claus and their elves for the town’s North Pole Experience. When you enter the Winterland, fir trees line the way and Santa greets you, welcoming you in for what is a unique Christmas town event.
The great thing about Winterland in Wexford is how it’s been designed to give each family a dedicated experience. There’s no line of children to see Santa at the North Pole Experience; instead, each family can take their time and enjoy the experience as a “pod.” Mrs. Claus will make reindeer food (cookies) with you and you can take yours home to feed the reindeer on Christmas Eve (or eat them right away).
Then it’s time to have a chat with Santa. You can tell him what you want for Christmas — no matter how old you are — and listen to his Christmassy jokes. He’ll give you a golden ticket, which you can take into the North Star Cinema for a special cozy Christmas movie. There’s a lot more going on in the town over December, with parades, lights, and Christmassy food and drink, as Wexford is completely transformed into a Christmas town.
Accessibility And Accommodation
Because this event is carried out on a per-family basis, you can tailor your experience for sound levels and lighting. Anyone with any sensory sensitivity can ask for their experience to be done in softer tones and with lower lighting. The experience is completely accessible to wheelchairs and anyone with different levels of mobility. If you do have any particular needs, you can explain in the comments section of your booking and arrangements will be made. The organizers go to great lengths here so that everyone can enjoy the Winterland.
The coastal town of Tramore in county Waterford hosts a very special light festival every December. The Enchanted Garden Winter Light Festival is held in the town’s Japanese Gardens, which are beautiful to visit at any time of year. At Christmas though, they’re even more beautiful as these gardens become a sea of fairy lights and magical light displays. Lanterns hang from the trees and the Christmas fairy wanders through the gardens, stopping to say hello to visitors and to the little fairies who live in the trees.
The permanent features of the gardens, like the water fountains, look even more magical with the lights reflecting from them, and projections of snowflakes flutter over the walls of the tea house. Being a coastal town, Tramore gets busy in high season with tourists and locals enjoying the beach, and in winter a slower pace arrives and it’s much quieter.
Where To Stay In Tramore
O’Shea’s is a traditional Irish pub with rooms, located by the sea in Tramore. For an authentic experience, eat in the restaurant, drink in the bar, and sleep in one of the guest rooms with the sea as your lullaby. The pub is perfectly positioned for guests to explore the town and feel cozy amid the dark winter evenings.
4. Wicklow Town
Wicklow Town holds a Christmas market every December that’s so much more than just another Christmas market. If you’re expecting a few stalls with local produce and arts and crafts, yes, you will find pretty market stalls lit with fairy lights selling everything the local area has to offer, but Wicklow Christmas Market is more like a Christmas festival than just a market.
There’s a fun fair next to the markets and a Santa express ride that takes visitors all around the town, to the specially erected “North Pole.” When the train gets there, Santa and Mrs. Claus are there to greet you. While Wicklow might not have reindeer, they do have alpacas, and visitors can pet them, take photos with them, and feed them. This year the town has a new addition to its Christmas lineup.
The arrival of the eco-ice skating rink means visitors and locals can get out on the ice and enjoy skating while Christmas songs play, all while knowing this is an environmentally friendly ice rink. If you’re wondering what an eco-ice rink is, it’s a surface that looks and feels like ice but doesn’t require the large amounts of water and power needed to keep a regular ice rink going. Wicklow Town Christmas market has to be one of the most environmentally conscious Christmas events you’ll come across.
Where To Stay In Wicklow Town
Built in 1702 and the birthplace of Captain Robert Halpin, who laid the first cross-Atlantic cable, The Bridge Tavern puts you right in the middle of the action for the Christmas markets. It’s a historic inn with a bar full of character and original features and modern rooms that have been thoughtfully designed. The story of this inn is everywhere you look in the bar and it’s a great place to stay for soaking up the atmosphere of Wicklow Town. I love the grand “doorway” in the bar for staff to go from behind the bar to out into the bar, which is a kind of polished wood pagoda with stained glass on each side.
You might already be familiar with the song “Christmas in Killarney,” now also a stage show, but neither of these come close to an actual Christmas in Killarney. Perhaps in part because of the popularity of the song, Killarney has become synonymous with Christmas, and this town has taken that accolade and run with it.
Most people who come here for Christmas time come for the parade, which is an impressive procession of characters, Santa on various sleighs, puppets, costumes, and lanterns. The parade ends with the town’s light switch on, which is a big event with a party atmosphere. After this the town is in full Christmas swing and markets spring up, carol singers burst into song in the streets, and every shop in town trims up with trees and lights. When “Killarney on Ice” kicks off, anyone can enjoy a skate around the rink while Christmas tunes play.
Where To Stay In Killarney
Coolclogher House sleeps 14 people in its seven bedrooms and is the perfect place for a cozy family Christmas getaway. Set within a private walled estate, this is an old manor house with a lot of luxurious character. The house is close to Ross Castle and is 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the town. Note, the house can only be booked for a week at a time; no short breaks and no weekends. But there’s so much to do around Killarney that you’ll easily need a week to experience it all.