Every Christmas the Wild Ireland animal sanctuary in Donegal is transformed into the Wild Arctic Experience, where foxes, snowy owls and arctic wolves are around to set a wintery scene. And it’s not just the animals – the grounds are illuminated with twinkling lights and installations, with forest trails leading between the enclosures. Kids can go to visit Santa and his elves in the festive wooden hut before getting a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and marshmallows in the café. Wild Arctic is running from December 1-23.
Christmas is taken seriously at Westport House in Mayo, with Winter Wonderland running on select dates from November 19 – December 23. Both the 18th century house and the grounds are decorated for the season, with real snow falling and Christmas trees dotted around the estate. You can visit Santa in his grotto before taking in the grounds on the Winter Wonderland Express Train. Pop into the Georgian house to see the epic Christmas decorations and grab a family photo.
There’s a historical vibe to the celebrations at Strokestown Park House in Roscommon. At the Victorian Christmas Experience running from November 25 - December 22, you’ll be guided by a mischievous elf on an adventure around the Palladian mansion for storytelling and crafts as well as a chance to meet Santa and Mrs Claus. Afterwards you can head out into the woods with a hot chocolate where the festivities continue.
At the Arigna Mining Experience in Roscommon, Santa Underground gives kids a unique opportunity to meet the big man himself on weekends from December 2-17. Each day will feature a different performance from puppeteers, magicians and musical guests – and little ones can get their faces painted and visit the elves in Santa's workshop.
Held at the Galway Racecourse, Elf Town Galway is a fun and unique Christmas celebration. The two hour experience weaves between three buildings, with plenty of surprises along the way, culminating with a visit to Santa who will wow kids with little details you've shared with them in advance. It’s on from November 24 to December 23.
Board the Polar Express as it passes through the Model Railway Village in Clonakilty. Powered by Christmas songs, the Choo Choo Road Train is a festive journey to remember where you’ll meet the elves, do some crafts and visit Santa in a train carriage. You’ll finish up at the Village of Lights to see a miniature West Cork all lit up.
Set among the trees on the Fota House estate, the Alpine Skate Trail brings a little taste of the European mountains to Cork. There’s a festive atmosphere to the whole set up with sparkling lights and decorations all around the trail. It’s suitable for kids aged three and up, and there are cute penguin skate aids to help them along. The trail is open from November 3 and runs until January 28.
This year is the 11th Winterval, which sees the city of Waterford transformed in the run up to Christmas. As well as the continental market with sweet treats sold in the quaint wooden huts, there’s plenty for kids to do, from free puppet shows to craft workshops. There’s a vintage Ferris wheel at Arundel Square and an ice rink on the quayside, as well as an elaborate Santa village, where you can deliver your letter to the big man with Elf Post. Winterval is running from November 17 to December 23.
In Kilkenny, it isn’t Christmas until the kids have seen Santa arrive into the city by boat. November 25 marks the start of Yulefest Kilkenny, with the big man himself riding down the River Nore and making his way through town. For the rest of the festival, explore Santa's magical village, see spectacular Christmas trees, learn to make a wreath or wander the central Christmas market where you can get fresh crêpes and hot chocolate to keep you nice and toasty. Yulefest is running from November 25 - December 23.
Held on Wexford Quay, Wexford Winterland is home to many a festive treat. The big attraction is a trip to see Santa at the North Pole where you can get a photo in his magical sleigh. The whole experience wraps up with a festive movie screened in the North Star Cinema. It’s running from November 30 - December 23.
On the grounds of Belvedere House Gardens and Park in Westmeath, the forests will be illuminated with enchanting, twinkling lights for the annual Land of Light. The trees, the buildings and the night sky are all lit up in a magical display that runs from November 10 to December 23.
Every year, Rathwood Home and Garden World in Carlow is taken over with all things Christmas with the Rathwood Santa Train. The whole family can hop aboard the Rathwood Express to journey through the enchanted forest, ending at the Big Top for an all singing, all dancing show from Santa, Mrs Claus and the elves. Afterwards, each child gets a gift from Santa in the Toy Factory. The show is created by Spotlight Productions (the team behind the Late Late Toy Show) and is running every weekend from November 25 to December 23.
The Santa Express train is back at this year’s Wicklow Christmas Market, which takes kids through the Tunnel of Lights on their way to the North Pole. The elves put on a show and Mrs Claus reads a story, before it’s time to visit Santa himself. Last year’s Eco Ice Rink has expanded into the Eco Alpine Skate Trail, so you can skate on environmentally-friendly ice that feels like the real deal. The market itself is packed with stalls selling food, ornaments and toys, and there’s a fun fair with carnival rides, too. The market runs from November 18 to December 17.
The fun starts before you even leave the car at Santa’s House Express, with a drive-through adventure that leads you through Elf Town, Candy Cane Lane and Santa’s Toy Factory. Once there, you can park up and visit the Jolly Old Elf before a trip to the funfair in the Manor House Gardens. (Though it might be a good idea to save the hot chocolate and treats until after the rides.) It’s running at Palmerstown House Estate in Kildare on select dates between November 24 and December 23.
The Loughcrew Wonderland Light Show event sees the grounds of Loughcrew Estate in Meath taken over by a light display, with each year bringing a different theme into the mix. This year, the installations will bring visitors though the history of St. Oliver Plunkett's family church through lights, soundscapes and projections. It’s on from November 24 - December 23.
Malahide Castle is all lit up for the season, but this is merely a prelude to the Wonderlights 'The Magic of Winter', a sensory adventure through a winter wonderland that takes you through the Irish countryside, across the northern seas and into Arctic forests, with plenty of woodland and cosmos encounters along the way. Wonderlights is running from November 10 - January 2.
Every weekend from November 18 to December 23, Santa pays a visit to Dublin Zoo, so you can combine a festive treat with a trip to see all of the animals. Don't forget to drop in for their annual Wild Lights display – this year sees the debut of 'The Enchanted Zoo', so expect to see magical and mythic creatures done up as larger-than-life illuminations. There will be fairies, gnomes and even a multi-coloured candyland to explore.