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20 Christmas days out for all the family, from ice-skating to Santa trains

Light shows, Santa’s grotto, moving cribs, panto and much more: there are stocking-loads of fun days around the country in the run-up to the big day

Although plenty of precious yuletide family memories can be made at home, sometimes you just want to escape the four walls and let someone else create the magic while you soak up the atmosphere. But where to go and what to do? Here are some seasonal suggestions for fabulous, festive family days out over the next few weeks.

Christmas cribs, Dublin

After a break with tradition last year when it was relocated to St Stephen’s Green, the live animal crib depicting the nativity has returned to the forecourt of the Mansion House this December, featuring a donkey, two sheep and a goat. The beloved Moving Crib at St Martin’s Church on Parnell Square is open to visitors for the 67th time this year, with carol singing from the Bray Gospel Choir this Sunday, December 10th, noon-4pm.

Wild Arctic Experience, Donegal

The Wild Ireland wildlife sanctuary, set in a magical piece of Celtic rainforest on the Inishowen peninsula in Co Donegal, has been transformed into the Wild Arctic Experience for December. Reindeer, Irish foxes, snowy owls and arctic wolves set a wintry scene for visitors, with a forest trail illuminated by twinkling Christmas lights leading between the wildlife enclosures. You can also book in to see Santa and his elves (before December 23rd). Tickets from €15.

Ice skating, Dublin and Cork

Lace up your skates and hit the ice on Ireland’s biggest rink, in a new location this year at the harbour in Dún Laoghaire in Co Dublin. The rinks, operated by Cool Runnings Events, which also has rinks in Blanchardstown and on the Alpine Skate Trail at Fota House and Gardens in Cork, are cooled this year by HVO, a renewable diesel that has reduced carbon net emissions by up to 90 per cent, according to the owners. Tickets from €17.50.


Treasure Island Panto, The Helix, DCU

Is it even Christmas without a panto? Whether you’ve tots, teens or both, the Treasure Island panto is one for all the family. With a fantastic cast, wonderful characters, lots of hilarious moments, great costumes, familiar tunes, pirates, unusually named studs, and err ... gorillas, all ages (grown-ups included) are sure to enjoy. Oh yes you will! Tickets from €27.50.

Santa House Express, Palmerston House, Kildare

Take a trip on the Santa House Express train to Santa’s manor, where you’ll stop off to visit Mrs Claus and the elves, who’ve been baking tasty treats. Grab an elfie with Mrs Claus before a visit with the main man himself, who is very focused on sustainable gifting this year and will be giving out a huggable husky toy made from 100 per cent recycled materials to every child. Then join the outdoor festivities, where there are fairground rides to enjoy at the Winter Wonderland – every child gets two rides included in the ticket price. Special sensory-friendly sessions available. Child from €28.50, adult from €22.

Winterval, Waterford

The Winterval festival has returned to Waterford city, with a full programme of ticketed and free events until December 23rd. Highlights include the vintage Ferris wheel, carousel, medieval Viking Village showcase, virtual Santa sleigh ride and the Winterval mini express train. There will be live performances on the live stage, shadow puppetry shows, storytelling, a screening of Home Alone with a live score, choirs, tractor parades, jingle bells cycles, Christmas markets and more.

Rathwood Santa Train, Carlow

All aboard the Rathwood Express for a festive train ride through the magical forest (keep an eye out for Santa’s reindeer!) to the sparkling Big Top, where Santa, Mrs Claus and all their elves will be waiting to put on a dance show for all the little boys and girls, created by Spotlight Productions, the team behind The Late Late Toy Show. Afterwards, pay a visit to Santa’s toy factory, where the big man will be giving out gifts. Tickets from €11.95.

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara

Kylemore Abbey in Connemara offers something a little bit different for families at Christmas. In the beautifully decorated abbey, younger folk can listen to storytelling in the front hall or enjoy some Christmas colouring under the grand staircase, while the rest of the family listen to the History of Christmas from Victoriana to Connemara, from one of the history guides. If the weather outside is not too frightening, there are 6.5 acres of walled gardens to explore and a wild play area where you might just spot some woodland animals.

Wonderlights, Malahide, Dublin

Wonderlights has returned to Malahide Castle with a brand new show, The Magic of Winter. Discover light projections on the castle, meet the talking tree, venture into the deep Artic Oceans, explore life in the Frozen Lands, stroll among the magical flying fairies and watch the displays of woodland creatures. A selection of food vendors await, ready to fill hungry bellies in the Alpine Village at the end of the trail. This year an interactive, light-up wristband is included in each child’s ticket, and there’s a special sensory walk, too. Child from €20.50, adult from €22.

Sleeping Beauty, Mill Theatre, Dublin

The Sleeping Beauty panto in the Mill Theatre in Dundrum is a modern take on the classic fairy tale, with a girl power twist this year. The show features “punchy” musical numbers and is just 60 minutes long, with no intervals, making it the perfect introduction to the panto for little ones. Tickets from €22.

Jurassic Newpark, Kilkenny

A dinosaur farm with 12 giant animatronic dinosaurs on the grounds of the Newpark Hotel has become a winter wonderland. With Santa’s grotto, elves, a Christmas-themed scavenger hunt, magic reindeer and dashing dinosaurs, there’s also Christmas storytelling, a toy workshop, face-painting and a live nativity crib. With a Jurassic Bounce covered jump zone, free play in the playground and adventure trail, and a covered carnival games area, there’s plenty to keep children entertained for hours, whatever the weather. Tickets from €15.

The Victorian Christmas Experience, Strokestown Park House and Gardens, Roscommon

A mischievous elf will guide visitors to visit Santa and Mrs Claus at Strokestown House, before taking them on a tour of the Palladian mansion for storytelling and crafts, and out to the woods in the gardens for hot chocolate and other festive activities. There’s a special sensory experience all day on December 14th. €40 per child.

Wild Lights, Dublin Zoo

The popular Wild Lights in Dublin Zoo has returned this year with a new theme, The Enchanted Zoo. A wizard will guide visitors towards a choice of three paths through the zoo at night, where you can wander and take in the fairies, mythical creatures, vibrantly coloured animals, gnome village and a dreamlike candy land all lit up as silk lanterns. You’ll also have the chance to meet the nocturnal zookeepers. Child €20, adult €24.50, with discounts for annual pass holders.

Roscommon Christmas Festival

The Roscommon Christmas Festival takes place this weekend, December 9th and 10th, in Roscommon Town Square and in Loughnaneane Park. Highlights include an enchanted Christmas trail, markets, cookery demonstrations, carol singing, circus performers and an animatronic dinosaur show, with a fireworks display in to close the festivities on Sunday evening.

Yulefest, Kilkenny

Santa’s arrival by boat along the river Nore marked the start of Kilkenny’s Yulefest, with a packed programme of events until December 23rd. Highlights this year include family movie nights, fire displays, magic shows and the big Santa Run on December 17th, with prizes for the best-dressed family, person and dog, and all proceeds going to St Vincent de Paul. Mrs Claus’s mobile farm will also be stationed on the parade beside Kilkenny Castle, where kids can interact with small animals in a magical festive setting.

Land of Light, Westmeath

The forest paths surrounding Belvedere House in Westmeath have been transformed into a magical Land of Light. By night, explore the enchanting woodland trails, where the trees and buildings are illuminated by twinkling lights, dramatic lasers and other spectacular and colourful displays. Several dedicated sensory evenings will have smaller numbers, softer music and toned-down lighting, and a percentage of profits donated to AsIAm. Tickets from €16.50.

Cinderella at the Gaiety, Dublin

The Gaiety Theatre has hosted the annual Christmas panto each year since Turko the Terrible in 1873. To mark the 150th anniversary this year, it’s putting on Cinderella, a modern take of the rags-to-riches fairy tale, which runs until January 21st. As always, good conquers evil and true love finds a way. Tickets €21.50-€47.50.

Santa’s Magical Market, Cork

Santa’s magical (dog-friendly) market is running at the Marina Market in Cork until December 23rd. This year there’s a new interactive Christmas village where families can pose next to the Polar Express train, help the elves make toys, and make treats at Mrs Claus’s bakery. The market is fully accessible and there’s a sensory hour on Sunday mornings at 11am.

Croke Park Santa Experience, Dublin

Guided by the Ice Patrol team, visitors to the Croke Park Santa Experience get to peek inside the North Pole GAA Dressing Rooms to see where all their favourite hurling and football stars tog out on match days, before heading to the Skills Zone to play some festive games. Then it’s time to write a letter to Santa at Cú Chulainn’s Den, before posting it in the GAA Museum post box. Santa will be waiting in the Croke Park Cabin, where children can tell him all about their predictions for the 2024 GAA All-Ireland Championship before receiving a GAA-themed gift. Child ticket €20, adult €13.

New Year’s Festival, Dublin

Moncrieff, Lea Heart and Lucy Gaffney have been announced for the midnight moment matinee in Dublin Castle on New Year’s Eve, an event for all ages at 4pm. Family tickets, €22.90. On New Year’s Day, there’s a full day celebration across two venues, Dublin Castle and Meeting House Square, with live performances from Jerry Fish, Dublin Gospel Choir, Code of Behaviour and lots more in this free, non-ticketed family event.