I visited Dublin for the first time in my life in December 2022, not realizing an arctic cold front would bring snow, sleet, and temperatures plunging below 30F. I should have packed long johns.
But no matter as I warmed up instantly to Dubliners’ embrace of the Christmas season.
Imagine my surprise when I arrive in Dublin, jet-lagged and groggy, and discover farm animals in a manager at St. Stephen’s Green.
I wandered into this idyllic public park, looking for ways to stay active on my first day in Dublin. When I saw signs for a Live Crib, I decided to investigate.
The squeals of toddlers were the first giveaway that I reached my destination. A little girl was jumping up and down and pointing at the straw. When I reached the roofed hut, I saw sheep, goats, and a donkey lounging in their pastoral abode. The human actors in this play—Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus—were figurines.
I was transfixed. How I wish I could have taken my son and daughter to see a live manager at Christmas when they were little. My commendations to Dublin for providing such a brilliant way for families to celebrate the season.
Christmas at the Castle
Now let me start out by saying that “Christmas at the Castle” was booked out when I arrived in Dublin. I was horribly disappointed since I could have reserved a free ticket in November if I had known.
But a local urged me to walk up to Castle on a quiet afternoon on a weekday and ask if they might let me attend. I saw the grove of Christmas trees lining the entrance to the courtyard. A kind gatekeeper took pity on me and I was allowed to enter. It was just one of the numerous examples of the hospitable Irish.
Since the Castle typically charges 8 euros for an adult ticket the tour the castle, the complimentary access is indeed a big gift to Dubliners as well as tourists.
If you want to encounter a Victorian Christmas in Dublin, you must tour the state apartments. There are large Christmas trees set up on the Grand Staircase as well as multiple public rooms.
The Castle created tree decorations using traditional materials, such as fruits, ribbon, evergreens, paper and glass. They are intended to evoke the origins of Christmas past.
“From trees to turkeys and crackers to cards, many of the Christmas traditions we enjoy today have their origins in the Victorian era (1837-1901).”Dublin Castle
You’ll also see the dining room table set for the Christmas dinner. Traditional children’s toys—dolls, tops, and games—are arrayed on a table.
Dublin Christmas Market
Now be sure to save time to shop for Christmas gifts at the open-air market on the grounds of Dublin Castle. The boutique outdoor Christmas Market featured festive food and drink, artisan craft stalls, the “Neapolitan” Crib, musical acts, and a vintage carousel. It reminded me so much of visiting Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärik in France.
On two weekends, December 10-11 and December 17-18, the indoor Castle Hall craft market took place, showcasing the very best of Irish design and craftsmanship for sale.
Festive Afternoon Tea
There is no activity that I enjoy more when traveling than an afternoon “high” tea at a posh hotel. But let me share a famous American author’s more illustrious recommendation:
“Under certain circumstances, there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”Henry James
I have indulged in high teas at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the Claridge in London, and Fairmont Empress in Victoria, Canada.
But I can safely say that my Festive Afternoon Tea at the 5-star Merrion Hotel in Dublin ranks in my Top Three Teas.
From the second that the hotel staff settled me in my plush sofa near the fireplace, I knew that I would be pampered. My server Patty was a friendly young woman who provided me with excellent advice on which Palais Et Thes tea choices I might enjoy.
I chose Thes Des Songes, an oolong tea with exotic fruits sprinkled with lavender and mallow petals. She went off to brew the tea. Upon her return, I was presented with a three-tier serving plate. There was an array of savory and sweet dishes, including three finger sandwiches, plain and raisin scones, Guinness fruit cake, and cookies.
One of the real joys of booking a high tea is that you can leisurely enjoy an afternoon. I stared at the famous paintings hanging on the walls. The crackling fire swept me into a reverie of Christmas past.
No Dublin Christmas is complete without visiting Guinness Storehouse (according to the brewer). And I guess the 1 million+ visitors who purchase a ticket annually confirm its popularity.
While an adult entry ticket costs 31 euros, I was able to book my ticket through my 5-day All-Inclusive Dublin Pass through Get Your Guide. I can honestly say this was the best investment of my entire trip as I had tickets to over 30+ attractions included in this price. Plus Guinness Storehouse was decorated for the holidays.
“. . . warm embrace of home at the Guinness Storehouse, the heart and soul of Ireland’s most iconic beer.”Guinness
According to the brewer, the Home of Guinness transforms annually into a seasonal experience, behind the famous snow-capped Guinness gates visitors will be treated to not only the seven floors of the engaging Guinness experience but also this year, we will add a collaboration by New York-based Irish visual artist GRIF which celebrates coming home for Christmas.”
I will agree that celebrating the season at Guinness was a must-do activity for me. GRIF’s unique digital Christmas tree and surge film transfixed me. I also enjoyed the live pop-up entertainment. (Sadly, I didn’t realize that I could order a mulled Guinness.) Sipping my complimentary stout, I meditated on the twinkling lights of St. James’s Gate. Seven floors below, I could see the high rises and townhomes of Dublin City lit up from my perch at the panoramic Gravity bar.
Dublin Christmas Lights
Dublin City Council programmed its Dublin Winter Lights from mid-November to January 1, 2023. The organizers proclaimed it an ever-expanding and exciting festival program.
In addition to the return of popular locations such as Merrion Square Park, the Custom House, and O’Connell Street monuments, there were new installations in Smithfield Square, Dublin Docklands, Bridgefoot Street Park, The Spire, and the River Liffey. Dublin Winter Lights turns an already magical city into a winter wonderland for the holidays. And it is free.
“Experience Dublin City Centre in a whole new light and feel the magic this festive season.”Dublin Winter Lights
This is a citywide event catering to all ages. I loved to see the families that wrapped up the kids to ramble through the dark parks. And I could have walked for miles along the Quay to admire the illuminated buildings lining the River Livvy as well as the Millenium Bridge
I decided to see “The Long Christmas Dinner” at Dublin’s national theater. Located in the heart of Dublin (across the Livvy River), the theater opened its doors in 1904. Irish poet William Yates and Lady Gregory founded the theater.
“These revolutionaries defined the ambition of the Abbey Theatre with their manifesto ‘to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland’.”Abbey Theatre
The Christmas play involves no scene changes. We simply watch a family sitting at a dining room table age through the years as sickness, war, and old age claim the occupants.
It can feel depressing yet Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol is certainly no comedy either.
No visit to Dublin is complete if you don’t walk down the chief commercial corridor. No matter day or night, the street is heavily trafficked by shoppers, workers, university students, and tourists.
During Christmas, the words “Nollaig Shona Duit” is illuminated in white script letters on a large sign at the entrance near St Stephen Green. I knew I had entered the fairy gate to see Irish twinkling lights everywhere.
The upscale Brown Thomas reminds me of shopping at Harrods in London. There is a doorman outside to greet me. The windows are decorated with retro and modern holiday scenes. This tony store is quite regal and elegant. If you need haute couture for your New Year’s Eve party, this is the place to shop.
You don’t have to step into one pub to listen to Irish music. Buskers perform on nearly every block of Grafton Street. They often attract crowds who form a circle around them.
I felt like I walked on the movie set for Once, the romantic musical drama film featuring two struggling musicians in Dublin. Watch out for the Glen Hansard lookalikes strumming a guitar.
You should plan to get anywhere on time in Dublin because there are a lot of musical distractions. During the Christmas season, you can expect to hear some holiday favorites.
While I couldn’t find any dedicated holiday walking tour, I definitely saw a lot of Christmas decorations on my outings. The highlight was my Dublin City Walking Food Tour.
My guide Kevin had organized the city walk so we could experience traditional and authentic foods which the Irish love. This included a plate of Fish and Chips from an old chipper, A Beefo on Griolladhn on Thomas Streed, and a slice of Bailey Cheesecake.
But the best surprise was stumbling on a spontaneous holiday concert outside the doors of the Temple Bar restaurant. I truly felt the Christmas spirit watching these young people perform. Temple Bar is home to numerous teaching schools as well as theaters.
On this Christmas Eve, I wish you the best holiday wherever you call home. To quote an Irish blessing:
The light of the Christmas star to you
The warmth of home and hearth to you
The cheer and good will of friends to you
The hope of a childlike heart to you
The joy of a thousand angels to you