What I love about Christmas in New York is that the holidays bring out the old world charm of the city. So, last year we planned a December visit to the actual Old World to soak up some holiday charm first hand. Dublin, Ireland celebrates Christmas in a big way and it is a great place to get into the festive spirit.
Dublin is a small, pretty city. The city center is very manageable to walk and many of the central shopping streets are car-free. In December, the streets twinkle with holiday lights wishing you a Merry Christmas in Gaelic. Carolers line Grafton St, the main pedestrian shopping drag, on weekends sending their seasonal songs into the air. Christmas markets pop up on side streets selling crafts and sometimes even have carousels.
The Irish take on Christmas with gusto and you will see many people walking around with Santa hats and light-up Christmas sweaters. There’s even a pop-up shop selling “Deadly Christmas Jumpers,” jumpers being the word for sweater. You’d have to be a serious Scrooge to not get into the holiday spirit in Dublin.
Dublin can be dark and cold in the Winter. The sun sets in the afternoon, but I didn’t mind. With the streets all lit up with twinkling lights the longer evenings seems festive and wintry. Dublin is fairly mild in the winter with weather typically in the 40s, but it can be damp.
One fun thing about celebrating Christmas in a different country is enjoying all their traditional holiday foods. Stopping into a local grocery store you can pick up packages of mince pies, tea cakes, shortbread and many other Christmas treats. We brought these home for a Christmas Day afternoon tea. Dublin also has many sweet shops to buy special chocolates or candies. You’ll also find lots of jams, jellies and chutneys in many different varieties.
Dublin has a thriving foodie scene and excellent restaurants abound. Many restaurants in Dublin serve Christmas menus throughout the entire month of December where you’ll find a variety of eclectic twists on traditional Irish foods. We saw a lot of game and seafood creatively prepared with a combination of traditional and new flavors. The food was exceptional. Our favorite upscale restaurant was The Winding Stair serving modern-Irish fare based on locally sourced meat, fish and produce.
One thing to note is that most restaurants in Dublin will not welcome children for dinner or will allow them only before 6pm. We didn’t see a high chair once. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on Dublin’s delicious foodie scene. Simply schedule your good meals for lunch or make reservations for an early dinner.
Hotels and casual eateries like fish and chips and curry spots, equally Irish experiences, should welcome your children any time. The Epicurean Food Hall near the Ha’penny Bridge lacks something in atmosphere (it looks like a mall food court), but offers a variety of inexpensive international food stalls where you are sure to find something for everyone in the family, including good fish and chips. Families can also try Gallagher’s Boxty House for the local hearty potato pancakes served in myriad ways.
If you’re visiting Dublin during the holidays you may be looking for gifts to bring home. Being the cosmopolitan city that it is, many of the stores on Grafton Street are the same chains you’ll find in any American shopping center. Other souvenir shops tended to either be filled with ticky tacky stuff made for a laugh or high-end tourist traps. I was looking for traditional Aran sweaters, but these are very hard to find. Even in the expensive shops many of them are machine made now. Instead I headed to the vintage shops. At Shotsy, a vintage shop in Temple Bar, I found some beautiful like-new homemade sweaters in traditional stitches at a fraction of the cost.
Of course, if you are traveling with kids, strolling quaint streets, eating great food and soaking in the holiday vibe probably won’t quite cut it. I wouldn’t say Dublin is the ultimate destination for family activities, but there’s enough to sprinkle in some kid fun to make it a successful trip for everyone.
St. Stephen’s Green is a lovely park in downtown Dublin where kids can feed the ducks, run around and play in a playground. There are other playgrounds in Merrion Square Park, the Pheonix Park, Herbert Park and St Anne’s Park.
Kids will enjoy the Viking Splash Tours, a duck tour with a Viking theme, exploiting Ireland’s Viking roots.
Dublinia is an interactive museum that brings alive the sights, smells and experiences of Viking and Medieval Dublin.
The National Wax Museum goes beyond the typical Madame Tussauds celebrities with an interactive kids zone, a recording studio, green screen video room, science exhibits, a Chamber of Horrors, and the history of Ireland as told through wax figures.
The Natural History Museum is so stuffed with taxidermied specimens it’s been nicknamed “The Dead Zoo.” There’s also a discovery zone for hands-on exploring.
There are plenty of family friendly hotels to choose from in Dublin and the city is small enough that location isn’t too big of an issue. Dublin is an easy trip abroad to take with the kids. With a relatively short, direct flight and no language barrier, families can easily explore a different culture just across the pond.