The best family-friendly Christmas celebrations in Dublin

Media captionCelebrate Christmas with the kids in Dublin.
Christmas at the Castle 2021
Media captionCelebrate Christmas with the kids in Dublin.

As small cities go, Dublin packs a mighty punch when it comes to history and culture, and ramps up its free-thinking spirit and good cheer at Christmas time when it’s even more welcoming.

Throughout December pubs are cosy and packed, at any time of the day, streets are buzzing with buskers and shoppers and lights twinkle across the city. Local or tourist, the city has plenty of Christmas traditions and new experiences that will keep the entire brood happy and jolly, whether you feel like skating on ice, hitting an outdoor market or joining the revellers for some Christmas carolling.

Here are some of the top Christmas celebrations to enjoy in Dublin this year with the entire family.

See the Big Man

Once the letters are written it’s time to visit the big man in person – if only to make sure he knows exactly what you want from him on Christmas Day. Luckily, Santa makes his presence felt throughout Dublin right up to Christmas.

Fancy meeting Santa and learning how things work on a farm at the same time? At the Winter Wonderland at Airfield Estate, kids can pen their letter to Santa before meeting him and getting a sustainably sourced gift. Besides the chance to meet the animals on the 38-acre farm, there’s also storytelling with the elves, hot chocolate made with milk from the farm’s Jersey cows, a chance to ride the vintage carousel and a playground to romp around in.

At the foot of the Dublin Mountains, the Enchanted Forest Walk of Wonder at family-run Luggwoods sets the appropriate Christmas mood with a twinkling canopy of lights that leads directly to Santa’s cabin. If your young charges are mad for GAA, the Santa Experience at Croke Park gives out GAA-themed gifts. You'll also find Santa at the Dalkey Castle Christmas Experience, where kids can sing and play through an interactive Christmas show.

For a traditional department store Santa visit, Santa's Magical Cabin at Dunnes Stores in the Ilac Centre is open to all, while the North Pole Experience at the The Royal Liver Retail Park in Inchicore includes a 20-minute play in Bounceland as well as meeting the big man and lots of magical Christmas characters. 

There's a similar level of Christmas extravagance in Malahide, where little ones can take in the Christmas Experience at Malahide Castle and get a gift from the big man himself. The castle is always decked out in beautifully festive decorations, making for the perfect photo op with the family. Or say hello to Mrs Claus at the Casino Model Railway Museum, where she'll read from her favourite story book and treat kids to hot chocolate.

At the Shoreline Hotel in nearby Donabate, parents get to enjoy their own festive feast at Santa by the Sea – each ticket covers lunch at the restaurant, followed by a visit with Santa overlooking the sea. If your pup is a member of the family, bring them along to Santa Paws at Newbridge House and Farm for a doggie gift and festive photo op.

Media captionGAA-loving kids can meet Santa at Croke Park.

It’s no ordinary panto

For many, the panto is as much a part of Christmas as turkey and ham, and in Dublin there’s quite a good choice to keep all panto fans happy. There’s no panto like a Gaiety panto (or so the saying goes), and this Christmas the Gaiety Theatre is celebrating 150 years of panto with Cinderella. At the 3Oympia Theatre, Fair City TV star Ryan Andrews and popular TV personality James Patrice will perform Olly, Polly & The Magic Lamp, a fun twist on the classic tale of Aladdin.

There’s another fairytale panto at Liberty Hall Theatre with Rapunzel. Una Healey joins panto veteran Alan Hughes for Sammy, Buffy and the Beanstalk at the National Stadium, while drag star Dame Stuffy returns to take on Snow White at the Axis Theatre in Ballymun in January. Leah Barniville will take the stage for swashbuckling fun in Treasure Island at the Helix, while Dundrum’s Mill Theatre will transform its stage into a magical panto wonderland for Sleeping Beauty. The Civic Theatre in Tallaght will perform another take on Cinderella until the end of December, and the Draoicht Theatre in Blanchardstown offers a twist on a more recent Disney hit with Freezin in January. It’s all good old-fashioned fun.

Get your Christmas market on

Want to really soak up the festive atmosphere? Pay a visit to one of Dublin’s Christmas markets, where the city’s collection of artisan producers and creative craftspeople get into the spirit of the season, helped by tasty snacks, hot mulled wine and lots and lots of Christmas songs.

The biggest one in town takes place in the handsome courtyard of Dublin Castle, where traditional alpine market stalls dispensing decorative crafts, treats and mulled wine surround a vintage carousel, all lit up for the occasion. 2023's edition of Christmas at the Castle is unticketed and will run from December 6-19, with the OPW offering free self-guided tours of the festively-decorated State Apartments during the market. There’s more magic in the stunning Chapel Royal, where an 18th-century style Neapolitan Crib takes pride of place.

Media captionGet the proper Christmas market experience in the heart of the city at Christmas at the Castle.

For a great day out with the chance to pick up some gorgeous handcrafted gifts made in Ireland, head to Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park for their food and craft market which takes place every Saturday and Sunday in December until December 17. The estate also turns its attention to Christmas this time of year, with a packed weekend programme of family-friendly events and performances. Elsewhere north of the Liffey, the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin will host their Christmas Craft Market with over 70 stalls on December 9 and 10. The focus is on sustainable gifts, with stalls both indoors and outdoors against the backdrop of the garden's glasshouses. 

The Stillgarden Distillery in the Liberties is hosting another Stillgarden Christmas Market from 11am-5pm on December 9 and 10. There will be a mix of craft, jewellery, art and literature, as well as mulled spirits with a Stillgarden twist for the adults. At nearby Richmond Barracks, the Richmond Barracks Christmas Fair will bring workshops, unique gifts and food galore to Dublin 8 on December 2 and 3.

You'll also find a Christmas edition of the classic Moore Street Market running every Wednesday through Sunday from November 23 to December 23.

Light it up

Everything looks better when it’s glistening in lights. You can’t miss the bulbs that beam over Grafton Street throughout the Christmas season, but for something extra special drop into Dublin Zoo for their annual Wild Lights display – now a key date in many families’ Christmas calendar. 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.

Media captionDelight in the Wild Lights experience at Dublin Zoo.

North of the city, 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.

For a tour of the city's best lights displays, hop on the Christmas Twinkling Lights Trip with Vintage Tea Trips. You'll nibble on mince pies and finger sandwiches with a cup of warming tea as you get into the holiday spirit. DoDublin also offers a 90-minute Christmas Tour of the City that brings you through the city's twinkling lights, complete with Christmas carols.

Media captionHop aboard the Vintage Tea Trips Christmas Twinkling Lights Trip.

A chorus of voices

The sound of an angelic choral choir is a Christmas staple in Dublin, where church singing has been a tradition for over 500 years. The best-known concerts take place throughout December in St Patrick’s Cathedral, whose world-famous choir established in 1432 is the oldest in the country, and in nearby Christ Church Cathedral, whose own choral tradition is only just a few years younger. On December 23, the Choristers of St Patrick's Cathedral will be performing music from The Snowman. For classic Christmas carols, head to Christ Church on December 13 and 14 for O Holy Night - A Concert of Seasonal Favourites.

But smaller, lesser known churches (and other venues) can be equally atmospheric. You can expect a cacophony of beautiful voices and the occasional Santa sing-a-long at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral just off O’Connell Street, St Bartholomew’s on Clyde Road in Dublin 4, St Teresa’s Carmelite Church on Clarendon Street, St. Ann’s on Dawson Street and St. Andrews on Westland Row. 

You'll also find choral performances by Cantóirí at the Chester Beatty, the Dublin Gospel Choir the Pavilion Theatre, New Dublin Voices at the National Concert Hall and Sing Ireland at EPIC, the Irish Immigration Museum.

Media captionTake in the world-famous St Patrick's choir.

Ice, ice baby

Is there anything more fun and festive than whizzing around an ice rink with your friends and family at Christmas followed by a post-skate hot chocolate or gluhwein to warm you up? We don’t think so. This year sees the brand-new Ice Skating Dún Laoghaire opening in Dún Laoghaire Harbour. With two separate rinks for learners and experts alike, it's now the biggest ice rink in the country – so lace up your boots and get swishing. 

Now in its 11th year, Dundrum on Ice is a popular spot, especially if you want to eat, shop and go ice-skating all in one-go. Located at Dundrum Shopping Centre, the 500 sq m rink has three sessions a day and lots of penguin skating aids for little ones. When you’re done on the ice, hit the shops and one of the many restaurants at the centre. 

Ice skating and shopping seems to be a theme in the city with a rink at Ice Skating Blanchardstown and Swords on Ice at the Swords Pavilion. Blanchardstown’s dedicated rink for children, skating aids, fresh ice on the hour and a chance to skate with the big man himself makes it a firm family favourite while kids and teens love Swords for its light show and loud music guaranteed to up the atmos.

It's showtime!

Panto and choral concerts might be the most traditional ways to celebrate the season on stage, but you'll find loads of unique shows running through the season at venues around the Dublin. At the National Concert Hall, the hills come alive with The Sound of Music, the Echo Band will perform festive classics with a jazz twist, and Theatre Lovett and the NCH Christmas Orchestra return with The Snowman. Christmas movie buffs can even sit back and enjoy Home Alone with a live accompaniment by the National Symphony Orchestra. 

Over at the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire, you can catch more Christmas classics like Elf and The Muppet Christmas Carol, or revisit the original with Livin' Dred Theatre Company's A Christmas Carol. There will also be an encore screening of the Royal Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker, filmed at the Royal Opera House in London.

And at The Ark, littles ones will get The Giggler Treatment with this mischievous new musical based on the novel by Roddy Doyle. It may not be traditional Christmas fair, but it will get them giggling through December.

Media captionTake in a Christmas classic at the National Concert Hall.

New Year’s Eve fun

See in 2024 with the family at Dublin’s New Year’s Festival, taking place across three venues in the city from December 29 to January 1. While the adults-only events kick off at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, there will be live music and family-friendly activities running throughout the weekend at Dublin Castle and in Meeting House Square. For fun with the family on New Year's Eve, head to the Midnight Moment Matinee at Dublin Castle, featuring performances from rising Irish pop singers Moncrieff, Lea Heart and Lucy Gaffney and ending with a "countdown" at 6pm – so the kids can be in bed before Picture This takes the stage for this main event. 

Media captionThere's family-friendly fun on at New Year's Festival.

Discover Winter in Dublin

Looking for more festive fun? Explore Winter in Dublin and find events running through January.