As I sip my mulled wine, defrosting from the chilly evening air, I take in my surroundings. The inner city, lavishly decorated cafe’ is warmly lit by a multitude of white candles; the fire is crackling and the air is filled with the warming smell of butter and the voices of the carol singers. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we were on the set of a seasonal Hollywood movie, but we are very far from Hollywood. We are in Ireland, and this is Christmas in Dublin!
Dublin is a fantastic destination for families all year round but Christmas here is really special. So special that, as a family, we always make a point of staying here, for the festive season: despite the cold and the high chance of rain, there is loads to do for children and the many city cafes and museums keep adults well entertained too.
If you happen to be in this part of the world, this is my best advice on how to make the most of Christmas in Dublin.
My mini guide to Christmas in Dublin with children
Check out the Christmas lights
To really soak up the festive atmosphere, start off with a walking tour of the city centre, to see the beautiful decorations.
Dublin is very proud of its light display and there is no better way to enjoy the shiny decorations that taking a walk through the city centre. Lights are abundant on both sides of the river, but my favourite area for decorations is the one around Grafton street and Trinity college. Grafton is draped by lights wishing you Nollaig Shona (merry Christmas in Irish) and in the smaller alleys, the lights fill the sky like little sparkly stars!
Dublin city centre is home to many attractions, so while enjoying the lights you can also visit some of the city landmarks and museums such as the National Gallery (it hosts a beautiful Caravaggio and has a big child friendly cafe), the National History Museum (fun for kids because of the many stuffed animals), the world famous Trinity college campus and library and some smaller but fun museums such as the Little Museum of Dublin or the Ark, a space entirely designed for children.
Dublin city centre is also a paradise for shoppers and I am sure the Disney store on Grafton Street will catch you children’s eyes!
Take a hot chocolate break
While you explore Dublin city centre, make sure you take the time to stop in at least some of its gorgeous cafes. In the last few years, Dublin has truly reinvented itself as a gourmet lovers city and the cafe culture is blossoming. If you like chocolate, you should try the Irish famous handmade chocolate at Butlers on Wicklow street, while if you prefer a more traditional tea you can go for the amazing afternoon tea experience in the Shelbourne: surprisingly family friendly!
Great addresses for a chocolate fix in Dublin are:
- Accents cafe, with nice sofas that will swallow you in comfort, serving nice chocolate in what I call the ‘Belgian’ way. Instead of just giving you a cup of chocolate, you are served also a side cup of chocolate pieces that you can melt in your drink to truly make it your own. This is how chocolate is served in Brussels, a city that definitely knows one thing or two about handcrafted chocolate morsels!
- The Cocoa Atelier, where you can also have lovely macaroons
- Fallon & Byrne, a great spot not just for chocolate but also to pick up some lovely fresh produce for dinner
The very Christmassy scene I described a the beginning of this post happened in one of the many cafes’ on Dawson street. When there, make sure you check out cafe en seine, which is a Dublin institution: its decor, love it or hate it, will be a hit with adults and kids alike.
Go ice skating
During the winter, Dublin had a few ice skating rinks popping up in town: Smithfield and Dundrum are fun and easy to reach by public transport as connected by the LUAS, the fast and reliable tram system.
Did you know that Santa loves Dublin? He sure does and it’s not difficult to meet him in the fair city. You are spoilt for choice for a good Santa experience, but if you are in the city centre, the easiest place to meet him is Powerscourt, on William street South, in the city centre.
Powerscourt is also a great place to defrost while window shopping and has quite a range of restaurants and bars. If you have more time, you might want to check out Christmas at Airfield, which is where we met Santa last year (you can read about our morning with him here!
See the living crib
Every year on Dawson street, in Dublin city centre, you can visit the living animal crib. This is a nativity scene with real animals and the kids love it: usually, you can see donkeys, sheep and goats that are brought to the city during the day and then returned to their farms in the evening.
The visit to the crib is free but donation are encouraged and the proceedings go to The Dublin Simon Community and the Vincent De Paul, both devoted to helping people in need especially in winter (Dublin has a big number of homeless people, so this is an important cause).
Listen to the Christmas carols
Dublin is a very musical city and, at Christmas, you have carol singers everywhere: you can enjoy their singing on the streets (Marrion square in 2016 has a wonderful night of ‘carols by candlelight’ scheduled) but you can enjoy even better performances in church, as part of services or a concert.
Go to the theatre
When I first published this post, I didn’t include what is maybe THE biggest family tradition in Dublin: a trip into town to see the Panto at the Gaiety Theatre. Thanks to your comments, I am now correcting that mistake: I haven’t personally been to the Panto yet but I do know families love it and since the advice come from a super reliable fellow travel blogger (see comments below!) I know I can include it in this list with no fear of disappointment. If the panto is not your thing, this time of the year usually sees many kid-friendly theatre options, a fantastic idea especially during a rainy afternoon.
A word of warning: while I believe Dublin has a truly incredible festive atmosphere in the days immediately preceding and following Christmas, it’s a city that tends to close on the 25th and 26th of December, when options on what to do might be limited. If you are travelling in those times, especially with children, I would highly suggest that you select a hotel with a Christmas meal option or book in advance an activity: good ideas with children can be the ice skating I mentioned above or also the panto at the Gaiety Theatre.