When you think of visiting Ireland, you likely think of warm, sunny days during the summer while you wander around the country. Don’t discount the winter as a time to visit, however – there are plenty of things to do in Ireland in the winter. In fact, there are many advantages to visiting the island during this time of year.
This country is actually easy to visit, as winter in Ireland doesn’t see much snow, so you don’t have to worry about having a hard time driving around the roads. This is also the least popular time to visit, so you don’t have to compete with others for spots at restaurants, pubs, or attractions during the winter season.
I’ve listed not one, but 17 reasons why you should visit Ireland in winter, so sit back with a warm cup of coffee and read all the fun winter activities in Ireland you can do!
1. Winter in Ireland is Warmer Than You’d Think
Winter might not be the time you typically plan a vacation anywhere unless it’s a warm tropical island. But spending the cooler months in Ireland is much cozier than it sounds.
There may be some snow, probably quite a bit of rain, and temperatures can go down as low as around 4°C. But even when the sky is overcast, and the rains come, it’s still not freezing. Putting proper winter clothing on your Irish packing list and a hot cup of your favorite winter beverage can make it all worthwhile.
And what is more romantic than staring out of your Dublin accommodation, onto the city streets soaked in the rain, while you cozy up next to a fire?
2. Fewer Crowds Visit Ireland in the Winter
Even though winter in Ireland is magnificent and offers plenty to keep you busy and exploring, it is one of the quieter times in terms of tourists. This means there are fewer crowds in all of the popular places.
You won’t have to wait in long lines to view those Irish landmarks on your bucket list or risk not getting a spot at the well-known restaurants and pubs. And you’ll have a better chance of finding the best hotel rooms with fewer people booking.
Fewer people also means you can enjoy Ireland attractions at your own pace without bumping into someone around every corner. So if you’ve been to Ireland before but couldn’t get a clear view of the Cliffs of Moher, or battled to appreciate the Book of Kells, try again in winter.
3. Irish Winter Festivals are Tons of Fun
Ireland is known for its lively festivals and events, especially during the holiday months. From stunning Christmas lights in every town to traditional Irish fairs, there is something for everyone.
Leopardstown Christmas Festival, near Dublin, happens after Christmas and is a four-day-long horse racing event. It is a big event on Irish calendars and sees sporting enthusiasts, socialites, and thrill-seekers coming to enjoy the entertainment. A similar event happens in Limerick over the same days.
A festival in itself, New Year’s Eve is also done well in many parts of Ireland. From the lively parties in Cork to the pipe bands and ocean swim in Achill Island, ringing in the new year in Ireland has endless possibilities.
Glow Cork is another must-see if you can. It is mainly focused on the Christmas markets in Cork but includes performances, Christmas carols, and Ferris wheel fun. Plus, many of the markets are decorated and themed in the most wondrous ways – think ice tunnels, Santa’s workshop, and tons of bright and colorful lights.
Waterford City’s Winterval is known for being the biggest Christmas festival in Ireland. It runs from mid-November until a few days before Christmas and has a long list of events for each day.
Some of these require tickets, while others are completely free. Join in the fun, try out the fun rides and other activities, enjoy the live music, and get a photo of the tallest Christmas tree in Ireland (over 50ft tall!).
You can visit other festivals and events during this time including Wexford Opera Festival, Dingle Food Festival (plus see all the best things to do in Dingle while you’re there), Spanish Point Winter Solstice Celebration, and Christmas Craft Fairs in Waterford.
4. Visiting Ireland in December Mean Christmas Markets
Winter in Ireland lasts from December to February. While the second and third months of the season bring their own fun, visiting Ireland in winter is ideal for those die-hard Christmas fans.
The lights, the decorations, and those dreamlike Christmas markets all combine to offer a festive trip to the Emerald Isle. These markets start opening up mid-to-late November, and a few stay open until early January.
You’ll find some of the best Ireland Christmas markets in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Wicklow, and Waterford. Expect handmade gifts and decorations, as well as delightful food across hundreds of stalls.
5. There Is Beautiful Wildlife to See
From red deer, Irish hares, bats, hedgehogs, and even ponies, Ireland has a list of animals that call this place home. And many of these animals do not go into hibernation (the hedgehogs do, though).
So if you find a good weather day in your itinerary and head to one of the national parks, there’s a high chance you’ll spot a few animals. Visit Burren National Park in County Clare, Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal, or even Phoenix Park in Dublin.
There are also great whale-watching spots along the coast, and you might be lucky enough to spot a herd of dolphins or a few baby seals.
If you’re unable to find wildlife, there are also sanctuaries, petting farms, and zoos where you’re guaranteed to meet a cuddly animal or two. Wild Ireland in County Donegal has rescued lynxes, bears, and wolves, which is one of the best things to do in Donegal.
Additionally, Fota Wildlife Park in Cork has an extensive range of wildlife living within its safe perimeters. And the Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll, County Cork, has a family of rescued donkeys.
6. Snowy Irish Landscapes are Even More Beautiful
It doesn’t always snow in Ireland, but when it does, it’s magical. It often rains more than it snows in Ireland in winter, but you can expect 15 to 30 days of snow in certain regions. This snow mainly falls in January and February, so white Christmases are rare – but not impossible.
The great thing about snowfall in Ireland is that it’s seldom disastrous. You won’t have to worry about snowstorms or dangerously icy roads too often if you’re driving around Ireland. A blanket of white coming through in the night won’t leave you stranded or stuck inside. But it will give everything a winter wonderland glow.
If you’re actively seeking out the snow in Ireland, head out on a road trip around Ireland to make your way to Clones in County Monaghan or the Wicklow Mountains in County Wicklow. And if you’ve seen enough snow in your life, you’re least likely to see it in Valentia Island in County Kerry.
7. You Might Find a Spot to Watch the Northern Lights in Ireland
It’s not just Iceland visitors that are treated to a spectacular show of the Northern Lights. A fun fact about Ireland is if you’re lucky and find the right spot, your winter trip to Ireland could also include admiring this natural phenomenon.
These lights are best viewed when the sky is darkest, in locations with minimal light pollution. September to March are the months you’re most likely to track down this wondrous scene in the Irish skies.
On the northern shores of Ireland, the Aurora Borealis is sometimes visible in winter. County Donegal is one of the places that are showered in these striking lights in the sky. Most viewing spots in the county are coastal, like Malin Head, Tory Island, and Dooey Beach.
Another great place to see the lights is County Kerry, at Kerry Dark Sky Park, as it has the least amount of light pollution. The park is also excellent for stargazing.
County Mayo and Country Sligo also offer chances to view the lights. But, there are fewer places than in County Donegal, and they are not as impressive.
8. The Winter Solstice in Ireland is Spectacular
Arguably, the best place to visit in Ireland in winter is Newgrange. This is where you’ll be able to watch the winter solstice phenomenon that amazes everyone lucky enough to witness it. This wonder happens on the 21st or 22nd of December each year.
If you visit Newgrange for the sunrise, you’ll be treated to a magnificent show of a beam of sunlight hitting just the right spot in the narrow chamber leading to the ancient tombs. This creates a natural golden glow inside the chambers, and it’s beautiful enough to attract crowds each year.
Unfortunately, those crowds don’t necessarily make it into the chambers, as you have to apply for entry, and it’s awarded via a sort of lottery. Nevertheless, the monument’s atmosphere at dawn during this event is often enough of an event on its own.
9. Ireland Winter Brings Lower Costs to Visit
Since winter is quieter for tourists coming to the country, you’re not finding heavy tourist prices on things. While some places may close during winter, the hotels and attractions that you find open will most likely cost a little less during winter. Even your flight might cost a little less than usual. That means you’ll have more money on Irish souvenirs if you want to take a few gifts home.
So not only are you getting less crowded attractions and landmarks, but you’ll be able to save a bit of money as well. However, it is good to note that low costs on flights are harder to find closer to Christmas.
10. The Christmas Spirit is Real
The Irish are friendly people, visit the country anytime, and you’ll see that this is true. But when you visit in winter, there’s an extra level of friendliness and fun.
Most Irish people’s warm and welcoming nature gets turned up a notch when they bring out the Christmas spirit. And we’re not just speaking about the whisky.
Winter offers a bit of a break from the myriad of tourists who come to see the Irish beauty throughout the year, so, understandably, locals are more relaxed. This cheerful atmosphere makes visitors feel at home, and it certainly helps warm up the place while the temperatures outside drop to single digits.
11. Dublin in Winter is Magnificent on Its Own
Even if you’re not able to get out and explore the rest of Ireland, spending some time in Dublin during winter will provide you with more than enough enjoyment.
Starting as early as November, Dublin starts getting into the winter and festive spirit. As the capital of the Republic of Ireland, there are high expectations placed on Dublin for events and activities. And the city delivers on all fronts, even if you only visit Dublin for one day.
Enjoy charming Christmas-themed events, plenty of musical entertainment on your doorstep, festive restaurant menus, and everyone in the city is just a little bit nicer. Visiting Dublin is an excellent way to start or finish your Ireland trip in winter.
Some top Dublin winter entertainment includes:
- Don’t miss the Dublin Winter Lights
- Catch a performance by The Guinness Choir In St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- Go Ice Skating
- Watch a musical
- Do all of your Christmas shopping
12. Irish Food Tastes Better in Winter
Homely food is something that the Irish do right, and you can especially appreciate this in winter. When you’re looking to warm up, a steaming bowl of stew goes down much better than a fancier meal.
You can find many of these in the pubs and restaurants or try cooking them yourself if you’re in self-catering accommodation. If you’ve made friends with locals, you may even be lucky enough to enjoy a meal at an Irish home. And for an added experience, book a food tour and take your taste buds on an adventure.
Some traditional Ireland winter food includes:
- Beef and Guinness stew
- Beef and Guinness pie
- Shepherd’s pie
- Dublin Coddle
13. The Cold Beers Still Go Down Just Fine
During Ireland in the winter, the Irish pubs offer a warm meal, cold beer, and festive chatter all season long. Whether you stop at a bigger pub in Dublin or a smaller one in the countryside, you’ll love ending your night this way. Regardless of how else you choose to spend your Ireland trip, a stop at one or more pubs is necessary.
Order your food with a pint of Guinness beer, and you’ll instantly understand why this is such a popular activity. The pubs often also host live music and events. With large fires crackling and drinks flowing, you’ll find yourself enjoying the Irish winter thoroughly.
Beer isn’t the only option, though. Most pubs will also serve mulled wine, hot cider, Bailey’s, and, of course, whisky.
14. You’ll See a More ‘Real’ Side of Ireland
The country indeed gets busier every year as it becomes more popular. But, winter is less busy and allows visitors to see a different side of this beautiful country.
Instead of being surrounded by tons of tourists, you’ll have many opportunities to connect with people in a way that you wouldn’t be able to during busier months. Visiting Ireland during winter gives you a little more insight into the culture and life of locals, outside of the tourist bustle that is felt throughout the other seasons.
15. There Are Plenty of Winter Sports to Do in Ireland
Perhaps not the first thing on everyone’s list of things to do, but Ireland does offer opportunities to stay active and chase down an adventure.
One of the most popular outdoor Ireland activities during wintertime is skiing. The mountain ranges are all there for grabbing some snow, strapping on your skis, and enjoying a day filled with fun.
Those who enjoy catching a wave or two can do so in the stormy winter waters along Ireland’s coast. This is both exhilarating and daring.
Other ways to get outside and move include cycling and tackling a hiking trail. There are walking trails found in different parts of Ireland, including National Heritage Park in Co. Wexford and at Killarney National Park in Co. Kerry.
16. You Can Indulge in Irish Coffee
Whenever you feel it getting a little too cold for comfort, Ireland has a secret that helps keep you energized, warm, and just a little buzzed. The Irish coffee, of course. Perhaps not your typical morning cuppa Joe, but much better than that.
This caffeinated drink with a shot of whisky thrown in, and a generous serving of cream on the top, is an excellent cocktail for coffee lovers. After a day of browsing Christmas markets, one of these drinks is sure to help you keep going for some evening fun as well.
Pop into almost any pub in Ireland and ask for a caife Gaelach (as it’s known in Irish), and they’ll serve you a delicious and winter-approved drink. It is also an excellent after-dinner drink.
17. You’ll Never Run Out of Indoor Things to Do in Ireland in Winter
Although the skies may be grey during winter, there is still so much to discover in Ireland. This country has stunning landscapes and picturesque views outside. And the history and culture found indoors are enough to keep you busy throughout your winter trip to Ireland.
There are museums such as the National Leprechaun Museum and the Dublin Writers Museum. There are art galleries, too, and of course, there’s still plenty to do when it comes to shopping. You can even visit a castle in Ireland in winter and enjoy the scenic moodiness of it all.
Visit the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery or spend your day exploring the famous Trinity College Library. Or simply find more of the local hidden gems, like quaint bookstores and coffee shops.
There are also several movie theatres for those who enjoy a good film. And with plenty of pubs and bars around, you’ll never be short on local drinks or company.
I bet that was more activities than you thought there were to do in Ireland in the winter! Now go out and plan your trip.